Sherry was married at sixteen and is now the mother of two children under twelve. Abandoned by her husband, she must work outside the home for the first time. She is hurt, financially strapped, depressed, overworked and desperately needs help.
“I hate divorce…” (Malachi 2:16) is God’s response to divorce. But I constantly find it necessary to remind the people who attend our divorce recovery workshops: “God hates divorce, but still loves divorced people!” That message needs to be heard. The price for marital breakup is always high.
John’s wife left him after 11 years of marriage and took the two children to another state. He cannot see them but once every few months when he makes the thousand mile drive. He is angry with her, with the system, and even God for allowing this to happen.
The statistics are cold and clear.
· Fifty percent of those who marry today will divorce.
· On the stress scale, divorce and separation are ranked 2nd and 3rd. Only the death of a spouse is rated higher.
· More than 80 percent of those who are divorced will remarry within three years and 65 percent of those marriages will fail again.
· More than a million children each year are involved in divorce and more than 13 million children under 18 live with one parent so that single parent families are growing at a rate twenty times faster than two parent families.
Phyllis was trapped for 24 years with an alcoholic and abusive husband. She struggled for years trying to decide what to do. Years ago, she went to her pastor who advised her to “stick with it.” Now she is divorced, estranged from the church and doesn’t know how to get on with her life.
Divorce profoundly effects children, in-laws, friends, businesses, churches and even society itself. The stories of tragedy are numerous. The pain is real. What should be our response?
A recent Gallup poll seems to indicate that people who experience divorce often draw closer to God by praying and reading the Bible more frequently. However, the same poll also found that those who are separated and divorced feel alienated from their church. The common complaint is that churches are focusing on the needs of intact families and ignoring the divorced.
So many divorced people find a stronger faith in God, yet so few belong to the church. Look at your own church. Of those who have experienced divorce, how many are still active? As a divorced and remarried pastor, I have seen this to be tragically realistic for two reasons.
1. We have simply not learned how to offer ministry to those going through the emotional, financial and physical pain of divorce.
2. Those experiencing divorce often mistakenly assume the church will only judge them and therefore avoid any contact with their church family.
The Gallup poll goes on to say, “From the standpoint of the church, divorced people are an intriguing and challenging group to try to serve. Their lack of church involvement may make them appear to be alienated or hostile to religion in general. But their private religious practices — frequent Bible reading, regular religious television and radio exposure and dedication to prayer — show that they are far from being a lost cause.”
With so many people experiencing divorce… isn’t there something we can do to help?
1. Offer Forgiving Love! When someone dies, we know what to do. It is one of our rituals. We visit, send cards and bring food. There is a visitation where everyone has a chance to say good-bye and finally a funeral service where the deceased is remembered and the family is comforted.
When a couple separates we really do not know what to do. There is no ritual. We don’t visit for fear of taking sides. Divorced people receive few cards and little food. There is no visitation or funeral. There is only silence and our silence condemns us!
During my divorce, a neighbor came over and quietly listened while I talked, cried, yelled and talked some more. I don’t remember his words, but I will never forget his presence. The children and I received phone calls, food, offers to baby-sit and most of all prayers. It’s often the simplest gestures that offer the most reassurance. We can extend our forgiving love.
2. Offer Understanding Patience! Most experts list four basic stages of recovery for divorce:
· Survival: There are more responsibilities but less income: more demands but less energy. The pace is often frantic and filled with the anxieties of learning to cope. One person must now fix the car, balance the checkbook, do the laundry and prepare the meals.
· Grief: A precious relationship has died and divorced people must grieve. We can’t sleep. We lose weight. It is often difficult to concentrate. An old song on the radio often brings tears.
· Identity: This is also known as the crazy stage. It could be as subtle as redecorating the house to buying a new car, jumping out of an airplane, going back to school or diving into a new relationship. It can be an exciting but dangerous time of discovery.
· Directions: We are becoming more comfortable with who we are as single adults and beginning to think about our future.
All of these stages take time and it is so important for us to be patient and ready to offer help.
3. Offer Continuing Guidance! Divorce is clearly a sin against God and the sacred covenant of marriage, but it is not an unforgivable sin. Your church has a unique opportunity to become a source of healing and encouragement for the separated and divorced. Many churches sponsor divorce recovery workshops each year. I don’t completely understand why the workshops work so well, but I am certain God is wonderfully present amidst the stories of intense loneliness and suffering providing comfort, strength and much needed hope for the future.
Jesus said to the crowd: “If you had one hundred sheep, and one of them strayed away and was lost in the wilderness, wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine others to go and search for the lost one until you found it? And then you would joyfully carry it home on your shoulders. When you arrived, you would call together your friends and neighbors to rejoice with you because your lost sheep was found. In the same way, heaven will be happier over one lost sinner who returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!” (Luke 15:4-7)
Like sheep lost in the wilderness, the divorced among us need to know about the loving God who is willing to go out and actively search for them and will joyfully celebrate when they are found.