I said the “D” word again, oh boy.
* I know that not everyone will agree with me here, and that’s cool – I’m interested in understanding your perspectives too! But know that this is my truth.
I think about divorce often, because it’s part of my story and at any given time someone I know seems to be trying to navigate the murky icky waters of divorce. Divorce sucks, but it isn’t always bad. I found myself and true joy when I ended my marriage! Because it was not right or good for me.
As a Christian person I was raised to believe that divorce is bad, and you simply don’t do it – but you know what I say to that now? Ouch! That teaching is why I stayed in such a toxic relationship for so long and why it took something so big for me to finally be able to rationalize leaving that marriage. I do believe that marriage should be a lifelong commitment – but I also believe that if either of you is breaking your promises, or even not feeling fully committed anymore, or simply not happy, then separating is the lesser of two evils and it might be the best option. I of course would suggest counseling and reconciliation first (especially as a social worker!), but sometimes even after that things just aren’t going to work out and that is OK.
Imagine if we as a culture could come to a place where we understand that not all relationships are meant to be, and we were able to create safe spaces for people to get out! It takes a lot of imagination for me because I did not experience that, especially in the church/Christian context (as a whole).
I did have very supportive pastor friends who loved me through my divorce and supported me, even though divorce likely made them uncomfortable. Based on my lived experience it was also a biblical reason to end the marriage, so that probably helped, but I can’t imagine that it was comfortable or felt “good” to them – but they loved me nonetheless. Not everyone treated me that way though, I’d dare to say that the majority of the church folks I know did not support my decision initally – and they didn’t even know why I was leaving. I was sent letters telling me to stick it out and not give up on my husband, telling me that I was not honoring God or my Christian faith well… and as I was trying to find a church closer to home to go to, where I could be known as simply me (not part of a broken couple), I was invited to a dinner and it turned out to be an intervention of sorts, to try to make me stay with my ex. NO ONE knew how bad my marriage was, but they all felt responsible to tell me why I was the sinner and letting God down.
I don’t blame them, though, because I was raised the same way and I think that I would have likely thought the same kind of things (though I doubt I’d have said them out loud), and I know that I was incredibly judgmental in regard to divorce before it was my lived experience, which is why I think that it’s so important to tell my story.
I still believe in the church though, and I refuse to give up hope that our generation can create safe Christian spaces for people ending relationships/marriages, where they can come to feel safe and held as they navigate the changes – rather than pressured, ostracized, and shamed like we as church folk seem to gravitate toward.
So why am I writing this post today, out of the blue?
Because currently more than three people who are close to me are trying to navigate separation, divorce, and being alone and single for the first time as adults – and I don’t want them to feel like I did.
What I want to see from us, from our culture and from the church, is the normalization of divorce. As I keep saying, I still believe in the sanctity of marriage, but I also believe in the beauty and holiness of divorce. Bet you’ve never heard divorced referred to as holy before – but I think it can be! I know that my life is holier now and my relationship with God is stronger now, after my divorce than it was in that marriage.
SO how the heck do we still honor the biblical principles of holy/pure/honorable marriage while also honoring divorces? It’s not an easy question and there isn’t an easy answer – but I think that it can be done. Here are some of my initial thoughts/ideas for how to make that happen:
- As a community we need to create safe spaces to talk and share our experiences. Especially in my experience with the church, we readily share our accomplishments and the “good” things that are happening in our lives, but rarely do we talk about real, personal issues. We might occasionally offer vague prayer requests during sharing time, but I’ve never heard anyone ask for help in navigating abusive situations and getting out, talking about problems with intimacy or sex, feeling depressed and lonely, really struggling in general. I think we can prove this theory too, because when someone does share this type of struggle it gets awkward and everyone whispers behind their back, and kind of judges their stability for even bringing such a thing to the public table. If we were to make space for this kind of conversation more often, then it wouldn’t be so difficult.
- Listen first. When someone shares something private, simply listen – don’t offer suggestions or opinions unless asked, and even then, assure that what you’re saying is with the goal of being helpful to the other, period. Don’t talk to make yourself feel better, just shut up and listen. Also remember the importance of privacy! I remember when I first told folks about my divorce, the news of it spread like wildfire – even when I asked that it be held in confidence. I don’t blame people for this, it’s juicy gossip and everyone wants details, but I BEG you – do not do that to anyone else. Keep your mouth shut. If people want to share their story, they can. If they don’t want to tell anyone but you, that’s their choice too.
- Honor the person for their individual gifts, strengths, and wisdom – apart from their “couple” role. I felt like people didn’t even know ME as a person without him, especially because I was so reserved and quiet when I was a part of that marriage. One of the most helpful things that my pastor said to me at that time was that he saw me for me. I didn’t believe it at first, but it’s seriously one of the most meaningful things that I heard initially. I doubted my worth immensely, so simple statements of encouragement meant more than anyone could have known.
- Another thing that is incredibly important is believing what is told to you – even when it seems a little unbelievable. Most people were shocked when I told them that I was getting divorced. There are people to this day that don’t believe the truth about why my marriage ended, which no longer affects me (just annoys me), but initially I felt crazy and constantly doubted myself because I was being questioned so much that I started to believe their stories over my truth. (THANK YOU to everyone who has loved me through all of this!!).
- Shift the focus. We assume that marriage is always the answer, but more and more that might not be the best option for the individuals – and that is NOT for us to judge or try to help decide. I didn’t tell anyone my plan for divorce until I was set on it, and I think that’s often the case with people – so don’t try to change their minds. I was probably my harshest critic and I shamed myself as much as anyone, so I really didn’t need that from others – I needed support, that’s it. I had already made all of the pro/con lists, I’d considered the fall outs, the possible good things that might come from staying – I thought a LOT and ultimately made the best decision for me.
- Recognize that prayer doesn’t fix everything. It made me crazy when people told me that they’d “pray that everything would work out”, by the time they knew there were any issues, my marriage was 6 feet under and dead cold – prayers wouldn’t help. The prayers that DID help were the ones offering me comfort, strength, and love as I navigated the struggles of divorce. Those prayers made me feel held when I felt completely alone otherwise. Those are the kind of prayers that I pray for my friends who are currently going through this. Prayers for comfort are incredibly important and meaningful.
- Acknowledge that everyone is different, every situation is different, the answers/journey/conclusion will be different. Be open to understanding and growth; we all have a lot to learn and teach one another.
I hope there’s something helpful here in this blog, sometimes I feel like I write to help you and honestly other times it’s just to get it off of my chest. My goal today is to accomplish both things. I hope that this helps, I hope it encourages understanding and reflection, I HOPE that we can decide as Christians to move away from shaming one another, to a place of acceptance and love – because ya know, Jesus called us to LOVE each other, not tear each other down and guilt/hate/shame/devalue one another – that’s worldly nonsense that we’re called to live above. So as I said yesterday in my blog, let’s walk the walk and talk the talk as we grow in our love of Christ and love for others.
I have faith that we’ll do better at this someday, but I think it will take time… So let’s start working to shift narratives and become more inclusive and loving now. Let’s own our stories and not try to control or dictate others. Jesus loves divorced me, no less than he loved married (unhappy) me. I think that God wants us to be happy, at least the God I serve does. Life can be beautiful and full of joy, and I’m so thankful that my marriage ended because I wouldn’t have known it the way that I do now. I wouldn’t understand love the way that I do now either; I honestly didn’t know what a good relationship felt like – but now I do, and it’s amazing. I wouldn’t change any of my past because it brought me here to this place and moment, and here is good.
I have lot’s of questions for God, and I’m curious to know Her real feelings about divorce someday – so unless God comes back before I’m dead, I’ll add it to my list of questions for the gates!
Thanks for pondering this topic with me – ask me your questions, tell me your thoughts, & let’s learn from one another 💙