During this week where many families are traditionally on vacation celebrating the 4th, I suspect this post won’t be widely read. For others, though, a holiday week like this just highlights anew a very painful season of loss. If you find yourself there, I hope this post will encourage you during a hard time.
Over the last few years, I have walked with two friends in particular through the bitter betrayal of a divorce they didn’t want. I wrote a few years ago on Pariahs and our subtle way of avoiding divorcees in conservative churches because they threaten our prosperity gospel that we don’t even realize we believe. I had dinner this week with one of those friends, and she shared such wisdom with me that she had me writing notes on napkins so I wouldn’t forget.
Her burden for herself is to not waste her divorce. Does that sound odd or controversial? Our strong churches often preach on solid marriages and healthy relationships. Divorce care seems more the function of liberal churches we perceive as having a low view of the sanctity of marriage. Yet I know many godly women with a high view of the sanctity of marriage and strong convictions from Scripture on the covenant relationship between a husband and wife who find themselves there. Their high view of marriage and Scriptural convictions magnify the shame they feel! They need divorce care more than ever.
My friend’s wise advice as she journeys through the depths herself is DON’T SETTLE FOR COPING MECHANISMS. Getting a pet, turning on the news, or reading a novel can ease the loneliness and distract you from the pain. For a time. But don’t let yourself rely on such things totally. Face the truth and the seemingly overwhelming pain, friend, and walk through the middle of it. Because God can and will do much in you through this very pain! Even when we are sinned against in divorce (and we know that we too sinned in it!), God will still use this for our good.
Joseph’s story in Genesis 37-50 is beautiful. Not only did God use sin and betrayal for good in Joseph’s life, he used it for good in his brothers’ lives too. They sinned grievously against Joseph, and no one should twist what I’m saying to say it’s OK that they sinned against Joseph. Yet, God used even their grievous betrayal and abandonment of their brother for good in ALL of their lives. You may see yourself as Joseph, his brothers, or some mix of the two. Regardless of who bears the brunt of responsibility for the demise of your marriage, sin dive bombed your life and left devastation in its wake. Yet God sovereignly guides the fallout and can bring unexpected and profound beauty from the ashes. Only He can do that, and it is a miracle indeed.
According to my friend who has researched this more than I, there isn’t a whole lot written from a Christian perspective on divorce. A lot is written on avoiding divorce, reconciling marriages, and enduring in a painful marriage. But not so much for the woman who loves God and wanted her marriage to be different, yet finds herself right in the middle of a painful divorce. Elisabeth Elliot includes a chapter on divorce in The Path of Loneliness, a book I love and recommend. Divorce is different from widowhood. The general difference is that widows experience grief, but divorcees experience grief AND shame. And that second piece can be toxic without a robust understanding and application of the gospel to ourselves daily.
There is a supernatural gift in divorce, a unique experience of beauty and identification with God that can rise out of the ashes of devastation in your life. When you feel most abandoned, most shamed, and most betrayed in this life, that is when the gospel can seep into your psyche in a way it never has before. Isaiah calls God the father of the fatherless. Profound abandonment becomes the doorway through which we realize the depth of His profound provision of HIMSELF for us in the place of those who have left us.
Isaiah 54:4-5“Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood (or divorce) you will remember no more. For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called.
Not only is God here to meet you in your abandonment, but He identifies and understands that abandonment better than any other. Hosea is a good book of the Bible to read in this season. It teaches us that God Himself understands betrayal and abandonment at a very personal level. His identification with us in the midst of betrayal is the key to the battle against bitterness and cynicism. And, oh, how those two things can rob us of hope for the future. Whatever you do, don’t give in to bitterness and cynicism. Fight them hand in hand with your Savior who understands your pain.
Others may feed the bitterness, shame, and anger in you. My friend recommends Shame Interrupted by Ed Welch. Churches can be shaming by the mere fact that you sit alone in a congregation dominated by couples and families with children. Do not waste how vulnerable you feel and how easy it now is for you identify with the poor and the hurting of the world. My friend has experienced a renewed burden for the homeless because she could actually envision herself becoming homeless. She resonated with the pain of the elderly and the disabled because she felt the same loneliness, isolation, and fear that they feel. God has used this to bless others (and bless herself as she gets involved with those in need). It distracts from the self pity that can debilitate her in such a season.
If you are in this season, you likely face the temptation to hurt others the way you have been hurt. If we can’t hurt the one who has wounded us, we may hurt our children or our family/friends trying to help. Or we may just turn it on ourselves. Instead, we need a healthy, holy grief. Mourn the loss and acknowledge the devastation that has hit you. But do it hand in hand with your Savior, knowing He understands exactly what you feel and He willingly bears the pain with and for you.
I remember the moment that both of my friends moved from seeing their husband as the enemy to seeing him as a prisoner of the real enemy. That is a powerful moment! Each moved from anger and bitterness to pity and compassion for the one who had wronged them. Only the gospel can give us that perspective.
As you walk this road of betrayal and abandonment, know that, in Christ, you do not walk it utterly alone. Think of the Man of Sorrows stumbling under the weight of the cross. A man steps out of the crowd and bears the cross with or for Him. For you, the roles are reversed. It is the Man of Sorrows who is well acquainted with such grief who steps beside you to shoulder the weight of the burden with and for you. His shoulders are wide and strong, and He will never leave you.
Psalms 68:19-29 Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death.
Deuteronomy 31:6 Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.