I’ve had interesting talks in the last two weeks with two godly friends who have both found themselves, one in the past and one in the present, in very difficult family circumstances. The husband of the first left her years ago when they worked together in ministry and had 2 young daughters. The second’s husband moved out a few months ago after distancing himself from her at every level (financially, spiritually, emotionally, and physically). Both have recounted how uncomfortable it seems to make others in the church. A young widowed friend had a similar experience. She wanted to say, “Um, it’s not catching!” When asked how she was doing at church, another was honest about her situation and pain. The response she got? “Wow. That makes me uncomfortable.” At least the responder was honest, putting into words what everyone else who heard her story seemed to feel based on their nonverbal response.

I thought about writing this article long ago as I contemplated my own godly sister. I am fortunate to have a biological sister who is also my spiritual sister. I can always count on her to give me strong, Biblical encouragement no matter my struggle. Her husband left her for another woman 5 or so years ago. It was TOUGH. She wasn’t perfect and would do much differently now. Yet she loved the Lord, volunteered in prison ministry, sang on her praise team, had her children in church every week, prayed diligently, and studied the Word regularly. Even so, it all fell apart.

It hasn’t been easy for her being a single mom. But if ever there was a phoenix rising from the ashes, it is she. I sat in her small Sunday school class last year and was awed by her teaching. And was struck–she has so much to say, she says it so well, and what she says is right and true, taught in Scripture and confirmed by her life testimony. Yet, I know of so many in Christianity that would have no natural desire to listen to her, much preferring the woman who saved her marriage and children through faith and obedience over the one who lost it despite her best attempts.

Therein lies the point of the title of this article. Pariahs are outcasts who are generally avoided. The term comes from the caste system of India. Our Christian culture has its own caste system, and it is out of line with Scripture’s presentation of sin and redemption. There is no caste system in Scripture. ALL have sinned and fall short of God’s glory. And God loved ALL and gave His precious Son for us. There was a group of alienated strangers (Ephesians 2), and we were all in it. But now in Christ Jesus, everything has changed. And that HAS TO MEAN SOMETHING when a believing woman’s world falls apart, be it ancient Ruth or modern day Alice.

I think it is personal fear that feeds this unspoken but real Christian reaction to such things. I understand the fear well. Watching my sister’s marriage fall apart shook me. I loved my brother in law. I LIKED him too. And when it happened to them, I knew it could happen to anyone. It could happen to me! And I so much do not want it to happen to me. I overcompensate looking for all the ways my marriage isn’t like theirs. All the things I’ve done right that they didn’t do. I run from the fact that her prayers and dreams are the same as mine, and hers seemed utterly ignored by God. Facing it calls me to examine hard things. How strongly do I believe in the goodness of God? In the sovereignty of God? In the TRUSTWORTHINESS of God? It’s easier to believe that my sister didn’t pray well than to believe that a good God didn’t answer to save her marriage. But I know her prayer life. I’ve seen her prayer journal. I know her weekly fasting schedule. The Christian woman whose life falls apart challenges our IF/THEN view of Biblical blessings. We don’t know what to do with such devastating unanswered prayer.

I’ve spoken before of the prosperity gospel of conservative evangelicals. It’s a tightrope to walk since Scripture does speak of blessings that follow obedience.

Proverbs 22
4 The reward for humility and fear of the LORD is riches and honor and life. 5 Thorns and snares are in the way of the crooked; whoever guards his soul will keep far from them. 6 Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. … 9 Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor. … 11 He who loves purity of heart, and whose speech is gracious, will have the king as his friend.

We know that proverbs are different from promises per se. But can’t we take away anything tangible from a straightforward reading of these verses? Neither of my friends from the opening of this article have riches. Instead of honor, they received betrayal from their husbands. They each have children who have rejected God. Yet for all of their shortcomings, they are humble women who fear the Lord.

We get the timing of the IF part of God’s promises. I know that such obedience, humility, and fear of the Lord is for me to do in this very moment. It’s the timing of the THEN part that’s always been our stumbling block. It’s easier to think of our friends as missing the IF in the first place. Surely they dropped the ball somewhere. (They did by the way, just not measurably more than you did. That’s why it’s called grace.)

What we really need is an eternal perspective of the THEN. You likely have a good friend (if not you yourself) who is watching her life fall apart according to her earthly hopes and expectations. God does have an answer for this. Wait. Endure. Hope. Live strong and confidently for the long term EVEN IN THESE CIRCUMSTANCES. Because more than a life that seems outwardly blessed, a woman that is planted toward God long term in her painful loss, much like Job, brings great glory to His name, especially in the heavenly realm. Her THEN will be beautiful even if it is not NOW. It’s those women who get books of the Bible named after them. Young Christian women naively want to be like Ruth because they think Boaz is all that. But Ruth has a book named after her because, when society viewed her as an outcast, God called her to look to Him with outstretched hands though (even because) her life had completely fallen apart. She did, and He did. The THEN of God’s promises is coming for you too, woman who fears the Lord even in your circumstantial misery. He is trustworthy with His promises, and He is trustworthy with His proverbs. He didn’t drop the ball when He chose you to endure these things. And though His timetable is obviously not yours, your prayers are not cursed. The blessing IS coming, to the praise of His glorious grace! Rest there today, dear sister.

11 Responses to Pariahs

  1. Geldie November 22, 2010 at 5:59 am #

    God doesn't promise us “happily ever after”….He promises us His grace, peace, joy and love. A peace that surpasses understanding….we will never know Him or need Him if life was a bed of roses.
    It's not what we do…it's who we love and is it Him? An undefiled religion is visiting widows and orphans….they are just like widows because they're husbands have abandoned them and the church is called to take care of them…not abandon them as well.
    Our trials here help us to long for heaven…..may we live our lives everyday with heaven in sight.

  2. michellemabell November 22, 2010 at 12:16 pm #

    I cannot express how much this post ministered to me…thank you so much for writing it and posting.

  3. Anonymous November 22, 2010 at 3:04 pm #

    You just wrote about my life. Thank you so much for being brave enough to post this, as it is certainly not popular teaching. I know when I am asked to address women that many will tune me out when they learn I have been divorced. I know this because I used to do this. Then I lived it and realized no one plans for this to happen to them. And you can pray and do all the “right things” and still have things fall apart. You have ministered to my heart more times than you know, but I haven't said thank you because I still feel the sting of rejection. There is something that people who have not been divorced may not understand: to be rejected by your spouse is devastating. To be rejected/shunned by your church family makes it almost unbearable. I thank God for people willing to look past the incident and see hurting, broken people. Again, much thanks to you and many blessings to you.
    In His grace,

  4. Anonymous November 22, 2010 at 6:53 pm #

    It seems like church attendance fosters a false sense of friendship and closeness to people who we actually barely know, and who often don't want to know us well. In 20 years of going to several different churches, the only one with people that seemed interested in closeness and a 'church family' turned out be be a destructive cult. I have Christian friends in other parts of the U.S. with similar experiences- I guess I've learned that church isn't the place to look for friendship or support.

  5. Anonymous November 22, 2010 at 7:23 pm #

    Thank you for your article (can I call it that when it's in blog form? New to all this-my kids would laugh.)In my opinion a lot of the people who need to hear this wouldn't find it, but those who do can be better equipped if this happens in their lives. I have been blessed to be part of church communities who seek (even though imperfectly) to be redemptive and grace oriented. Being part of a small group in church (or outside your church community, if it is not available within) has really helped my husband and I to know others and be known. You can still hide if you're intent on that, but I think it is a useful tool. The key to this is to not simply seek accountability (that can sometimes end up in legalism if accountablity is the primary goal), but to really share life together in all its ups and downs. My husband and I have been doing this for the past 28 years, have experienced many similar situations. I have seen this work. But overall, it is important to remember that no church, pastor, leader or individual is perfect. You and I need to put our trust in the Lord, who will never leave us or forsake us, who accepted every one of us in our sin and clothed us with His righteousness.

  6. Anonymous November 22, 2010 at 9:51 pm #

    Oh my – this is so true. My husband left after 23 years – 3 children – and so many things happened. It was like I was a second class citizen going to church I found. Very sad. Then he died and it was still there although some of the stigma was gone, but still no real response from the church. A good lesson for me to remember and I pray that I will be a comfort to those who are going through tough times even though they love the Lord with all their heart. Thank you. I really need to see this.

  7. Lisa November 24, 2010 at 12:53 am #

    Argh! We went through a job layoff that shook my faith because I believed those verses and more like them, that IF I did Christian woman thing right, THEN no evil would befall me. You articulated right how I have felt for the last 22 months, except I lost my faith. Church folks thought layoffs were contagious too and offered little if any support. You can do everything right and still wonder where God is. This can apply to a divorce, an illness, loss or death of some kind, to so many bad things that happen to good people. I am trying to trust God again and figure out what I believe. Church for me has not been the place for true support and friendship. Secular folks are better at that.
    Thank you for your thoughtful posts, I enjoy them greatly!

  8. Wendy November 24, 2010 at 1:00 am #

    Anonymous and Lisa,

    I am so sorry you haven't found support and friendship in the church. I believe it is there. Somewhere. But likely only with people who have similarly been hurt and survived. But there are a lot of them out there. May you find encouraging, supportive, gospel centered places of worship and community. I know of one in Seattle. 🙂

  9. Sarah Guild November 29, 2010 at 9:35 pm #

    This is absolutely, absolutely, absolutely true. I would love to post this for all women's ministries (and mens', for that matter) to read and ponder. I had a friend who's life fell apart when her husband walked away after her INCREDIBLY God honoring love for him. And, I came face to face with fear that so many of us face who “have it all”. Fear that we'll lose it. Fear that our spouses will leave, our financial stability will run amuck, our children will fall ill or walk away from the Lord…

    And I had to come to grips with the reasons for my obedience to God's commands and guidance. My foundation was shaken when tragedy struck my friends because I realized it could happen to me despite my best efforts.

    I think this applies to child-rearing, as well. We make so many decisions out of fear for our children's spiritual well-being. We cite statistics about the number of children raised in Christian homes leaving the faith, we talk about the horrors of this thing and that thing. We hammer Bible verses and lessons on Bible characters into our children with fervor in attempts to quell the fear.

    And God spoke clearly to my heart that the results are not my concern. The obedience to His calling in raising my children is my concern. My obedience should be this: I pray, seek Him, ask Him, plead with Him, teach them to love Him as I love Him, ask the Lord to allow me to show His face to them, and I lay my fears at the foot of the cross daily. I ask for his mercy for them, and that He would direct them and draw them to Himself in spite of my failings. I seek to teach them about My Savior because there is no greater joy than knowing him, but I also know that there is no guarantee of their salvation. Salvation belongs to the Lord, and He will save them… not my best efforts.

    I fail to trust (not in the guarantee but in the nature of God) and I fear often, but I sit down and surrender often my fears and my failing.

    Thanks for writing this!!!

  10. Anonymous July 4, 2012 at 11:11 pm #

    So true, thanks for the encouragement!

  11. Anonymous July 4, 2012 at 11:15 pm #

    Amen 🙂