Divorce & the Church
Ever since the 8th grade, I’ve been a full-fledged Jesus freak. I’m talking, bring your highlighted teen study bible to school while reciting John 3:16 with worship music blaring in the background. It was always real to me. My relationship with God, my prayer life, this faith … it was in me. And, it never left. In all the seasons. Through high school’s drama and college’s frat parties. It kept on.
After summers of being a counselor at church camp (obvi), I met my first husband (at church, duh). I was still a virgin at 22, committed to my purity and the Lord. We played by the Christian dating rules and then, married two years later. In my world, our marriage had struck gold. We had it all. And, then, insert our sweet baby girl. Jackpot.
What happened next was something no one saw coming. I had stayed the path, I knew the Bible, I discerned in prayer, I loved the Lord. This doesn’t happen to people who do everything “right,” it can’t. But, it did.
The response I received from my church family varied. The advice from church leaders differed from the affair to the separation to the finality of our divorce. In the beginning, the advice was a very harsh “Stick it out. Marriage is hard.” and was, I ever ready! I wanted to stick it out. I was (still am) pro-marriage. There are difficult seasons, but your covenant is forever.
As things unfolded further and it appeared as if divorce was our only outcome, I received life-giving advice on God’s will. I was exhausted. I had gone to the healing masses, I was on every prayer list, I had hands laid on me, I had sought counsel in every capacity. I sat with a priest at a penance service. The priest looked at me as I sobbed asking if getting a divorce would be against God’s will for my life? He calmly looked at me and said, “The fact that you are desiring God’s will IS God’s will. Your heart and your desire will reveal God’s plan for you. You desiring God is all that matters.”
Peace took over. I finally accepted the hand I was dealt. Did my church family accept it? Not always. Did a lady on the internet named Wendy tell me God would never bless me because I got divorced? YUP. It’s hard to fully understand what you’ve never experienced. I get that now. I sure as hell didn’t get that before (one of the many lessons God taught me about empathy). Even present day, do all members of our church body fully understand our blended family and the re-marriage? Nope. There’s judgment. There’s doubt of how hard I tried. There are side-eyes at the forgiveness and how well we co-parent.
And, when I asked my community, I will say some people had my experience: judgment from the Jesus folk on their decision to get divorced and some had nothing but open arms and comfort. YES. That is what the church family is meant for. Less advice and more LOVE. Less division and more grace. In my research, most Christian marriages that end in divorce are not the cliche we grew apart or fell out of love scenarios. These marriages were not disconnected partners or two people needing to learn how to communicate. These marriages ended in cheating, emotional abuse, addiction and/or one person’s selfish choice to peace out.
People don’t go into marriage ever thinking it will end in divorce. And, divorce doesn’t happen overnight. In most cases, the choice is years of pain and sadness. If you are a God fearing outsider looking in on a fellow believer’s divorce, I beg of you to extend love and not judgment. I pray daily that church leaders will give the advice I received. I pray that they will remind people of God’s design for marriage. His design for this sacred covenant. His design for love and forgiveness, but also, loyalty and genuine care for each other. I pray that our church body would be less judgey as a whole. That we wouldn’t assume the worst about the single mom or think harshly about someone coming out of a rough season.
We all belong to each other and when we forget this truth as Jesus-followers we forget our core. Extend the grace, assume the best, and trust that God’s hand is in all of it.