On Lament, Hope, and Divorce

Lament and hope have become a theme in my life. I began to wrestle with the already, but not yet, nature of the kingdom of God in the aftermath of the destruction at Mars Hill back in 2007 and again in 2014. What happens when something good, of kingdom value, falls apart by the sin of others, and you are powerless to stop it? It can actually be easier to come to terms with such destruction when our personal sin is the cause of or major contributor to the destruction. The good news of Jesus equips us to wrestle with our own sin and destruction in its wake. It’s not easy, mind you, but if you can see the clear mistake you made, it is a help at times when you want to avoid the same in the future. I’ve made my fair share of mistakes by my own ignorance and selfishness. But I’ve also lost some things because of the sin of others, despite my best efforts to obey God in working to avoid the loss. Most reading this post have experienced some form of similar loss. A church, a marriage, a friendship, a ministry. Because we love God and His word, we grieve and wrestle with God deeply when the sin of others disrupts our relationships, our churches, or our homes.

We are all imperfect disciples of the kingdom of God, but I think most readers here truly love that kingdom and truly love our God. We sin. But the Spirit also convicts, and we submit to Him. And, yet, we can not hold God’s kingdom together on our own, and at times, things fall apart that we thought God would hold together. These have been the places that I have most deeply wrestled in my soul—when I’ve lost something despite obedience to God. Why does this happen, God?! What’s the point of following you and obeying you in hard places if it leads to such destruction anyway? Such wrestling takes us to a deep, dark place. Thankfully, we have passage after passage in Scripture, a whole book even, on lament. We are not left without guidance on mourning sin and its destruction. Yet we are not left without hope either. Love hopes all things, and any earnest lover of God and neighbor holds on to hope. Always.

Lament and hope. These have guided me as I’ve walked my own path, one I desperately sought to avoid, through divorce. I don’t speak of it publicly much, because it involves more people than just me, more stories than just mine. I have done my best to reach out to ministry leaders privately that I have worked with publicly and have shared similarly with numerous readers, many of whom have become personal friends. I am now divorced, which precipitated my move back to South Carolina to live on our family farm with my parents and sisters close by. God has blessed me deeply, in ways I can not fully express, through elders at my church in both Seattle and now South Carolina who truly pastored me through it, in every sense of the meaning of pastor/shepherd. God did not leave me an orphan to walk this road, and my faith has increased big time as a result. Interestingly, my convictions around manhood, womanhood, marriage, and divorce have only grown stronger as a result too. Also, convictions about Christian community, the authority of the Word, the incredibly important role of pastor/elders in a believer’s life, and well, a boatload of other things, many of which I write about here, have been clarified and solidified in the wake of my divorce.

I feel compelled to say something publicly here because for the third or fourth time, someone has approached me with a ministry opportunity and seemed blindsided when I shared details privately of my life, as I always make sure to do before engaging in some type of public ministry outreach with them. My best efforts to handle this off social media have still left some holes in communication.

I find two interesting reactions. There are many others, so I don’t mean to paint these as the only two options. Instead, think of them as two primary ones. You don’t have to choose between just these two.

1) Fear

The fear reaction is one I well understand, because I experienced it strongly when a dear friend went through a divorce not of her own doing about ten years before I did. In my head, at some level, she had to be at fault, though I now recognize that her marriage failed in the end simply because her husband didn’t value covenant commitment in marriage the way she did. He wasn’t willing to work on things the way she was. This fear, at least for me, came from a place of lack of trust in God’s sovereignty over all of life. It is the prosperity gospel that lingers over a lot of evangelicals that don’t know they hold to a prosperity gospel. Surely, if I obey God, I won’t have these types of struggles in my life. Surely, if I make the right decisions in youth group and Christian college, my children will turn out right, and I’ll have a happy marriage until “death doth us part.” One friend, before I went through my divorce, spoke to me of this fearful reaction she experienced from others when she went through her own. “It’s not catching, you know,” she said. She said others would hold her at a distance, like if they got too close to her their marriages and those at their church might catch “divorce.” It was sad to me, because I have found her and others like her friends with the most clear convictions against the kind of things that lead to divorce. Few have an understanding of covenant commitment quite like someone whose life was devastated because their partner did not.

2) Solidarity

Thankfully, what I have found most among serious believers as I’ve shared with them my story is solidarity, not over divorce but over suffering in general. I, too, when I was watching the slow moving train of destruction approach my family, unable to figure out a way to get us out of its path, found solidarity in stories of others’ suffering, but interestingly, they were not stories of divorce. Dee Brestin wrote The God of All Comfort about the lead up to her husband’s death from cancer and the time after as she mourned the loss. That book blessed me greatly, and I have recommended it again and again, a friend to walk with anyone during any kind of suffering. Wesley Hill’s Washed and Waiting had a similar effect on me as did Elisabeth Elliott’s These Strange Ashes. Both wrote about a totally different struggle than the one I was walking, yet I found solidarity with each and great comfort in the truths that comforted them.

I have found similar solidarity with parents of struggling teenagers. I’ve found it with wives withering in marriages in which divorce is not on the table yet the estrangement from their husband still runs deep. I’ve found it with friends who wrestle with same-sex attraction and others struggling to come to terms with the mental illness of a child or parent. I’ve found it with foster parents longing to minister grace to broken kids and with ministry leaders seeking racial justice in broken communities. It’s simply the solidarity or fellowship found in any kind of suffering, something dear and precious in the Body of Christ.

Though I wrestled for a long time with the path God allowed for me and my children, I have emerged from that season, broken yet confident, lamenting yet hopeful. I feel better braced for the hardships that face our world, globally and locally. I have no shiny vision of the good life I need to protect now. But instead of feeling cynical and jaded, I feel free and hopeful. I mean, when you are sitting in jail for attempted rape that you did not actually do, why not offer to translate a dream for the king’s taster? What have you got to lose?! Though my story is very different from both Joseph’s and Ruth’s, I have nevertheless found a lot of comfort and direction from them both.

If my story feels scary for you, remember what my friend said, “It’s not catching.” Divorce not of your choosing, or children who walk away from the faith, or cancer, or whatever the trial, isn’t a communicable disease. And it won’t manifest in your home just because you walk with someone else who experiences it. If you find yourself with that kind of gut reaction, I encourage you to examine your theology.

I have a book I recommend for that by the way, one I wrote at a very different stage of life, yet whose truths continue to sustain me.  It’s an odd, full circle kind of thing.  And, yet, in the walk of faith, that’s exactly as it should be.

37 Responses to On Lament, Hope, and Divorce

  1. Sandra July 3, 2017 at 10:14 am #

    Wendy, I’m so sorry to read this. We all suffer, but none of us get to choose how. Will be praying for you and your boys. Thankful you’ve got a strong support system in place.

    • Wendy July 3, 2017 at 10:24 am #

      Thanks, Sandra!

  2. Melissa Deming July 3, 2017 at 10:34 am #

    Wendy, I am so thankful for your heart. Your writings have impacted my own faith and spiritual growth immensely as you have pushed me closer to Christ by pushing me to the trustworthiness of His Word. You are a gift. Praying for both our hearts today.

    • Wendy July 3, 2017 at 10:41 am #

      That’s encouraging. Thanks, Melissa!

  3. John July 3, 2017 at 10:36 am #

    While my experience is certainly different than yours I relate to a number of things you’ve said here. I’m a man who went through divorce not of my own choosing. Largely because she did not understand what commitment and building a relationship was all about. I generally don’t talk much about this because it’s hard to explain and people twist your words through filters you don’t share.
    Thank you for writing.

    • Wendy July 3, 2017 at 10:42 am #

      Thanks for sharing some of yourself, John. I now similar circumstances are really hard for men too.

    • Coralie July 3, 2017 at 11:11 am #

      “people twist your words through filters you don’t share.” What a beautiful description, John. Thank you. While my laments have been differemt, I find my ability to weep with those who weep is strengthened, regardless of shared details, or not. Our filters change, I think. So I weep with you both, but thank you for letting your pain build up the Body of Christ.

  4. Jen July 3, 2017 at 11:20 am #

    So much YES to this! My family just experienced a week at Hope Heals Camp. We attended something like because of my son – three years ago he lost both legs below the knee in a traumatic accident…a lawn mower accident with my husband the one on the riding mower. I was full term pregnant with our fifth. It was a horrific scene and it is a long journey from that day. The crazy thing about our time at camp was seeing all the VERY different stories of disability, yet finding so much common ground in our suffering. Really, that was the point! I’ve been deeply blessed by Nancy Gutherie’s writing, for example. Very different context!

    Sovereignty and the lurking prosperity gospel theology that we’ve experienced in people’s reactions…yes!

    Oh, I’m just so sorry for the hardship you have faced. I’ve read your blog for a very long time and deeply appreciate your writing and thoughts. I’m a child of divorce and my mom fought long and hard to stay in covenant with my dad. It meant a lot of heartache as he bounced between us and his mistress for nearly FIVE years. It was terrible and I know my mom feels bad for what those years looked like…but I have a real example of someone enduring and fighting for marriage. In all of it, my son, my husband, my parents…I rest in God never losing control but working out this tapestry of grace in many unseen ways. Lament is crucial.

    I’m rambling. But just YES. Thank you again for sharing good + hard truth.

    • Wendy July 3, 2017 at 11:35 am #

      Thanks for rambling here, Jen. Your story and experience caused me to both lament and hope all in one reading.

  5. Sheila July 3, 2017 at 12:25 pm #

    Your words are a gift to me- and I’m coming out of my own crazy, limping but not without a deeper understanding of God’s love and care for me. I know Jesus better because he has held me when averything else completely unraveled.

    I’m not trying to butter you up, but your honest and deep hope and truth have been part of the way God brought me through a nearly tragic season. Thanks for still being there and for still sharing your voice.

    • Wendy July 3, 2017 at 12:33 pm #

      Shelia, I really can’t say what your words mean to me. Thank you!

  6. natalie July 3, 2017 at 12:48 pm #

    Thank you deeply for your words. It is so hard to walk the line in ministry between making those around you understand your journey, yet protecting all parties as our story is not ours solely to share openly.
    “Few have an understanding of covenant commitment quite like someone whose life was devastated because their partner did not.” Can I just say, AMEN! I cringe every time I hear a well-meaning brother or sister in Christ say someone “gave up” on their marriage or that marriage today is viewed as disposable. Takes someone who has been trampled in the trenches and dragged against their will into war to fathom the true meaning of covenant.

    • Wendy July 3, 2017 at 1:05 pm #

      Yes, indeed. Thank you, Natalie.

  7. Herb July 3, 2017 at 1:25 pm #

    Wendy, God has used your writing to bless my soul & sharpen my thinking on countless occasions; thank you. I’m sorry to hear what you are going through—may God exponentially multiply His grace to you in proportion to each new day He gives you.

    • Wendy July 3, 2017 at 2:12 pm #

      Thank you, Herb!

  8. Lisa Spence July 3, 2017 at 2:18 pm #

    I’m so sorry. I will pray for you and your boys. I echo Sandra’s observation that we all suffer. Indeed we do. May the Lord continue to sustain you in lament and hope. He is faithful.

    • Wendy July 3, 2017 at 2:22 pm #

      Thank you, Lisa!

  9. Jackie Callan July 3, 2017 at 2:29 pm #

    I have read your blog for a long time and have always been challenged to think by what you say. Although my situation is not the same as yours, we’ve had our heartaches in other areas. Although debilitating, I think I’m coming out on the other side and am able to rest in and have a degree of victory in trusting God’s sovereignty. His ways certainly are not our ways, and although hard, I am thankful that He has seen fit to do what it takes to mold me into His image. I agree with you that many of us were brought up in a veiled prosperity gospel culture. If we just do this or that, God will bless and we will get what will humanly make us happy. It has been a rough path to come to terms that that will not happen. Eventually we learn that the path we are on develops us in ways that would not have otherwise happened. And yes, it does give us a much better heart for others who also suffer.

    • Wendy July 3, 2017 at 5:51 pm #

      Thank you, Jackie!

  10. Melodie July 3, 2017 at 5:15 pm #

    Wendy, thank you for this thoughtful piece. My husband struggled with SSA and ultimately chose to divorce me. The pain of his decision was tremendously magnified by the reactions of friends, especially those in the church. The majority of people severed relationship with me because they wanted to support his SSA. Others feared it was catching. One friend actually said to me, “I see you sit in the pew and cry and I think, if this can happen to you, it can happen to anybody and I just can’t be around you.” It was an excruciating and long season of lonely grief and loss. Thank you again for your words.

    • Wendy July 3, 2017 at 5:50 pm #

      Oh, Melodie. What a hard road to walk. I am so sorry you experienced that kind of rejection when you needed support the most.

  11. Tiffany B July 4, 2017 at 12:57 am #

    You are one of the most courageous women I know. You taught me so much by allowing me to witness your gracious & gracefulness through amazing hardship. Your faith was evident and beautiful even when dealing with the messiness. Your courage to be vulnerable here & deliver truth through pain is a testimonial example of the life you lead outside this blog. Honored to call you a friend and so proud of you!

    • Wendy July 4, 2017 at 7:48 am #

      Thanks, dear friend. You have been a gift from God at very hard times. Love and miss you!

  12. Barbara Roberts July 4, 2017 at 3:16 am #

    Resubmitting this comment in case it didn’t work the first time….

    Wendy, there are so many good things in this post.

    THE SOLIDARITY — yes. A person who has suffered is more likely to be able to empathize someone else who has suffered.

    Here is what I have found: Sometimes the differences in the kinds of suffering do not matter — there is a bridge of empathy and understanding across the differences between the two people. Other times, the differences in the kinds of suffering — and the filters people bring with them ( thanks John, upthread ) — result in no bridge being felt between the two sufferers.

    And then, sometimes, the person who has suffered X is judgemental or fearful of the person who has suffered Y. I won’t elaborate further on that, as it would take a whole blog post!

    THE FEAR REACTION — yes, that often happens, in my experience. There are so many reasons why people may react with fear when we disclose our suffering. You addressed the fear of contagion very well Wendy. Allow me to add a few more reasons why people have a fear reaction when someone announces they are divorced or are getting divorced:

    If a Christian woman announces that she is divorced:

    —the godly Christian man often steers away from her – shuns her – in case bystanders think he is going to be chatting her up for a sinful liaison.

    — married Christian women are wary when they see her talking to their husbands, even in a large group like the coffee time after the church service.

    — most men and women in church who have not been divorced have so many false ideas about what the bible says about divorce. Those false ideas cause them to judge the divorced woman as being ‘on a perpetual precipice of committing adultery’.

    — many Christians think that divorce is a sin, no matter what the reasons for the divorce. They may think it’s allowed for x or y, but they still think it’s kind-of-sort-of sinful to be divorced. They think all divorcees are second-class Christians. And, to keep their own Christian credentials nice and shiny and squeaky clean, they hold the “second-class Christians” at arms length.

    I long for Christians to wake up and recognise and dispel the unbiblical ideas they have about divorce.

    BTW Wendy:

    The link in the last paragraph of your post is not working for me.

    And there is a typo in this sentence of yours:
    “It was sad to me, because I have found her and others like her friends with the most clear convictions against the kind of things that least to divorce.”

    • Wendy July 4, 2017 at 7:47 am #

      The link works for me. Not sure of the problem there. I got the typo fixed. Thanks!

  13. Barbara Roberts July 4, 2017 at 3:17 am #

    And Wendy — (((hugs))) if you want them, for what you’ve been through.

    • Wendy July 4, 2017 at 7:45 am #

      Thank you, Barb!

  14. Margaret July 4, 2017 at 12:49 pm #

    Two years ago I went through a divorce not of my choosing that ended a 20 year marriage and reordered life for us and our 3 children. I thought I was a fairly progressive person until this happened. I wondered who I was if I wasn’t his wife. How could I possibly leave the house and even go to the grocery? They would all know I was divorced, a failure. I wouldn’t even say the word divorced and still catch myself referring to him as my husband. After months of being unable to get it together, suddenly the Spirit spoke to me and said, you are the daughter of a King. I realized that I was a child of God who happened to be married, not a wife who happened to be a child of God. I remembered that my identity was in God, not the marriage. Anyway, I say all of that to say, thank you for this post, I understand all too well some of the things you have experienced. It has shaken me to my core but have emerged with a better understanding of grace and mercy.

    • Wendy July 4, 2017 at 2:32 pm #

      I understand what you are describing very well! Thanks for sharing, Margaret.

  15. David J. July 4, 2017 at 5:25 pm #

    Wendy: I am very, very sorry to hear of your loss. As I type this, I am tearing up for you and your children. You know from our previous correspondence that I too was on the receiving end of an unwanted (and unbiblical) divorce, as were my four children. If over the course of this ordeal you have raged against the unfairness of your husband’s behavior (and of the behavior of some of your former friends, etc.), against the very real harm it has caused to you and to the kids and to the reputation of Christ, and against the permanence of that harm to your kids especially (humanly speaking), I join you and have joined you. From the timing and the wording of your thoughtful announcement, it seems you are well on your way to seeing your experience rightly/biblically/in a God-glorifying way. I’m tempted to say that’s what I would have expected from you, knowing what I know of your faith and theology, but that’s an unfair expectation, isn’t it?

    There may be no need for it at this point in your “recovery,” but I found the DivorceCare program very helpful in keeping me sane (I had to do it twice; once in the throes of the divorce and again a short while later when I learned my ex was quickly remarrying). It’s not perfect, but in my emotionally devastated state the program materials and the fellowship of other unwilling divorcees was very, very helpful.

    I could write much more about the rightness of your observations about the frustration of suffering the effects of another’s sin, the convictions you mention that have been clarified and solidified, the camouflaged prosperity gospel, disparities in covenant commitment, and solidarity of unchosen suffering. (Can’t help one comment about something your post just triggered me to realize: Mid-way in my courtship of my ex, she broke things off for a brief fling with an unbeliever friend from her hometown. Daily, I struggled to reconcile my conviction that she was “the one” with what was actually happening. Was it possible for someone else to take me “out of God’s will”? Thanks to you, I realize how much my faith and my theology have grown to allow me to understand much better God’s will and His sovereignty.)

    But for now I’m more interested in lamenting and hoping with you. I don’t know how active the pain is for you at this point; we’re all different in that respect. But however active it is now, it will get better, I promise. I wasn’t sure earlier on that I could believe people (who knew from personal experience) who would tell me that, but they were right. It’s slow, but it happens. It probably would have been a little more accelerated for me than it was, but I made the mistake of more or less dropping out of church for a year or two; it seemed too hard to be crying at some point during every service, and I was probably inert from depression. (Interacting with your blog was one of several alternative ways of staying engaged with Christian community that helped me during that time.) You’re not making that mistake, so good for you. I join in your thankfulness for your local church and its leaders. On the issue of hope, this is entirely premature, but I’m going to mention it anyway in the hope (ha!) that it may be of some long-range help: Now, nearly exactly 7 years after my ex filed for divorce the final time (of two), three months shy of 6 years since the divorce was final, and a little more than two years since my youngest graduated high school, I am 18 months into the courtship of the woman I plan to marry in about 11 months. Her husband divorced her several years ago after cheating on her, leaving her with a significantly handicapped son. We will have courted for about 2.5 years before we marry, with the scrutiny and support of extended families, children, church friends, and church leadership. We have done as much as we can do to confirm with each other and with those who know us best that we both have that “understanding of covenant commitment . . . like someone whose life was devastated because their partner did not.” My point is: there are some out there who really do share the level of commitment you have.

    Finally, one quibble (because I always have to have at least one, right?): I agree completely that divorce is not “catching” among those who didn’t want it; to think otherwise is silly (is that too harsh?) — no one knows better than they the pain and the injustice of divorce. But I think we have to distinguish the erroneous thought/feeling that divorce is catching among that group of people from the situation among those who were the moving party in an unbiblical divorce. Among those people, men and women, I believe frivolous divorce is often contagious. “Hey, my friend (or fellow church member) so-and-so was unhappy in their marriage, tried for a while, and then got a divorce. They seem (keyword) to be a lot happier now that they’re free to start over. They still get to keep/see their kids and do fun stuff with them. Nobody died. The church didn’t have a problem with it and they still have friends. I’m really tired of all this work and still being unhappy, and I know God wants me to be happy, right? So it’s my turn.” I’m sure you were speaking only of the non-moving parties, but I was a little uncomfortable with leaving the distinction implied rather than explicit.

    The Lord bless you and keep you, Wendy. The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

    • Wendy July 4, 2017 at 5:40 pm #

      Thanks, David. And your clarification of the point on not catching divorce is appreciated. I did go through Divorce Care’s year of emails and found them a kind help to me at several points.

  16. BEvans July 4, 2017 at 5:28 pm #

    Hi Wendy:
    I’m a long-time follower but first-time commenter. And I’ve been through what you speak of, not just once, but twice, all before my 35th birthday. As a youth group standout, the daughter of two ordained ministers, and as a person who has served in various roles in many churches myself, I know that some people look at me and think: “what happened to you? You should have had such a bright future?” I’m now in seminary and as I read stories about women who ministered even in the 19th and early 20th centuries, so many of them had complicated relationship histories. I choose to just continue following God and doing my best to love Him and treat other people well. I know for certain that I will never judge another person and their life’s circumstances quickly again… My tragedy has made me into a deeper and more loving Christ-follower. Blessings to you and to your children.

    • Wendy July 4, 2017 at 5:39 pm #

      Thanks, Rebekah! Glad you commented, and may God continue to draw you deeper into Himself.

  17. Deb de Haan July 5, 2017 at 11:57 am #

    Wanting to pass you a personal response that I’m not sure would be wise to post publicly. If this doesn’t post immediately, I’ll assume you’re able to intervene and read posts without actually posting them, and will therefore post my actual letter as the very next reply.

    • Wendy July 5, 2017 at 12:01 pm #

      Deb, you can email me privately at theologyforwomen@gmail.com or fill out the response for on the main page of this website.

  18. Rachel, South Africa July 18, 2017 at 4:09 am #

    Oh Wendy, I am so sorry you are going through this. You have been my support system ever since I stumbled through your block.

  19. KatharineKN July 30, 2017 at 5:55 pm #

    I’ve read and enjoyed your blog for a while but never commented. I’m so sorry for what you are going through, it must be massively difficult. Your post also makes me think about how I can definitely feel the kind of semi-prosperity-gospel thing you mention – I think most of us try to do everything right as wives and mothers, from healthy food to regular devotions, but its a good reminder that there are many things we really have so little control over. I will be praying for you sister.