A woman dying of emphysema taught me the hard way that God will not often physically heal someone just because they ask: rather healing is an extraordinary miracle which should never be reduced to an everyday occurrence. However, God does promise and is always offering healing comfort. Paul wrote: “God is the source of every mercy and the God who comforts us.” (2 Co. 1:3)
Through Joni Eareckson Tada and her struggle as a quadriplegic, I learned how God’s healing comfort turns into an opportunity for ministry. Joni’s transition from wanting to die to becoming a painter, author and founder of the Christian organization, “Joni and Friends” has allowed her to witness her faith worldwide. “He comforts us in all our troubles so we can comfort others. When others are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” (2Co. 1:4)
My personal encounter with divorce, however taught me the greatest lesson of all: God will allow us to feel pain, disappointment and heartbreak but in the midst of the crisis, God stands ready to offer healing comfort and then provides an opportunity for us to offer that same comfort to others.
When my marriage was disintegrating I begged God to heal our relationship… He didn’t!
“I’m leaving you. I don’t like this town or this life and I don’t love you!” The conversation took longer but it was what she meant. Within days, my wife of fifteen years packed her clothes, half our furniture and many of our memories in a borrowed pickup truck and moved away to start over. Left behind were two crying children, an emotionally wrecked husband and a confused church.
So many questions come to mind during an experience like this and I remember asking them all. “Why is she leaving me? Am I really that hard to live with? How will I care for my children? Will she come back? What about my career as a minister? How can I stand in front of a congregation and admit to being a failure? Will they let me continue as pastor? Do I even want to continue? Is this what God had in mind when I changed careers to serve the church? Oh Lord… why me?”
Divorce explodes the perfect pastoral image. In addition to the excruciating personal pain of a marital break-up there is also the public humiliation of having your leadership abilities challenged before church and community. So clergy divorce becomes a dual tragedy, personally and professionally, causing severe emotional damage to the pastor, his/her family and the church.
God did not heal our marriage but I soon received healing comfort…
Within hours I was surrounded by friends, church members and pastors. No one knew what to say but it didn’t matter. They offered reassurance that I was loved. Their gestures touched me in ways I will always cherish. A neighbor listened quietly while I talked, cried, rambled and even cursed. He lovingly allowed me the opportunity to be angry… to say stupid things… to be human… to release years of pent-up frustration… to grieve. Through him and others God provided healing comfort.
Over the next few months, I discovered additional people facing similar difficulties. Eventually we formed a divorce support group and began meeting regularly. We all needed a chance to talk freely in the company of those who understood the unique problems of separation and divorce. One session would be about anger, then a Bible study on divorce or possibly a discussion on how to raise children as single parents. I soon began preaching and writing on those experiences.
Divorce is a sin against the sacred covenant of marriage. Yet in the midst of my sin I rediscovered the precious gift of God’s amazing grace. I found healing comfort in the midst of my crisis. Then God unveiled a vital new ministry. I was broken, received comfort and then transformed by God.
“He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When others are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” (2 Cor. 1:4) Thank you, God.