Beyond Divorce: Living After Heartbreak & Separation

fighting coupleThere’s really nothing funny about divorce. No humorous little anecdotes can ease into this conversation. I’ve never met a divorced couple that was untouched – unscathed. The truth is that divorce hurts. As a pastor I wrestle with helping people discover God’s ideal and standard regarding marriage and divorce on one hand and then trying to find a Christian way to live after the divorce is final.

Truth be told, I find that the biblical perspective on divorce is really unpopular. People don’t want to hear what God has to say if he conflicts with what they want to do. I recently preached on divorce in my church. I have a habit of letting my church know in advance what the messages will be about (it helps get people in a mindset to receive the word for that day). I know of at least one person who intentionally skipped church because, as a divorced person, he didn’t want to listen to God’s perspective. This saddens me – that he felt we couldn’t have an honest discussion about God’s ideals without feeling judgment and condemnation. No one is perfect, and divorce is merely another sad reality of broken people living in a broken world. But we should still know what God’s ideals are. So here’s my take on what the Bible says:

First – divorce is NEVER God’s ideal. His preference is for a lifetime commitment, a covenant, between one man and one woman. In the Gospel of Mark Jesus says:

And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

But even the Bible has some “exception clauses” that recognizes that broken people live in a broken world and end up breaking relationships. One of the divorce exceptions is, in the event of infidelity, the victimized spouse has permission to divorce and start life over. The Apostle Paul notes that if one partner abandons the other then the abandoned spouse is no longer bound.

All said and done, while divorce is NEVER God’s ideal – God recognizes that it happens. So you’re divorced. Now what?

  1. As much as possible, reconcile with your ex. WHAT?!? Not my words, but the Apostle Paul’s. The Christian life is about forgiveness and grace, so as much as you can try to reconcile.
  2. Ask God to help resist hatred, resentment, and bitterness towards your ex. You may be hurt and your ex might have acted in horrible, villainous ways. You can’t change the past, but you can work on your present attitude.
  3. Forgive and ask forgiveness for your role in the divorce. Sometimes a spouse is a real dirtbag and does damage to you. Sometimes there are two sides to the story. In all honesty, ask yourself what role you played in the divorce. You may need to seek forgiveness for your part.
  4. Continue to behave in kind, Christian ways. This one is HUGE. I’ve seen so many people forget how to behave decently when it comes to an ex. Mean talk, back-biting, and hurtful words come easily. Swallow them. Don’t do it. Keep your mouth shut. Behave in kindness and do nothing out of anger or hate. It’s about your behavior before God, regardless of what she did (or what he did). Here’s your model – follow Jesus’ example as he still behaved decently and sought forgiveness to the people who terribly wronged him.

Though divorce is a serious matter in God’s opinion, it’s not an unforgivable sin. God shows a lot more grace to people and their brokenness than we show to each other. If you have found yourself in a divorced status I hurt for you. It is not God’s desire for people to hurt each other and split. If you are divorced please know that you are not a “second-class citizen” in the church. You matter to God just like everyone else.

Through it all remember that God desires us to live in strong, healthy, and committed relationships. If you’re married and struggling, God can mend broken hearts and restore relationships. If you’re divorced and hurting, God can renew you from this point on and you can begin living in God’s grace, building healthy relationships from here on out.

No matter who you are – you matter to God.

Will You Dance?

forgiveness

Humans are funny creatures. We have a unique ability to hear selectively. It really comes down to our circumstances in life. Grace vs. Justice. Forgiveness vs. Consequences. Often it feels like these are binary opposites – completely unable to mesh one with the other. We especially see these concepts in opposition when it comes to relationships and personal conflict. And our selective hearing comes into play.

If we are the person who has wronged or hurt another person our selective hearing turns to the Bible and hears GRACE and FORGIVENESS! We cling to these words as life-giving words. We may have sinned against God and against another person, but there is hope and newness is Jesus Christ: we can know grace and forgiveness.

If we are the person who has been hurt or wronged by another person our selective hearing turns to the Bible and hears JUSTICE and CONSEQUENCES! We cling to these words as sustaining words in our misery, knowing that God will repay others for the wrongs they have done to us and he will eventually vindicate us. We can know justice and see others face consequences for their actions.

But in our selective hearing we miss the major elements of what the Bible actually would say to us: that there is grace AND justice, and we may simultaneously experience forgiveness AND consequences. The offender will find grace and forgiveness through Jesus, while still suffering the consequences for past behavior.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite scenes in the movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” In the scene, three escaped felons come across a church’s baptism service at a river. One felon gets caught up in the moment and rushes in to get dunked. He comes out proclaiming that no man has anything on him now for the preacher “done warshed away my sins.” The other felons end up having to tell him that, though he might be right with God, the state is still going to hold him accountable. That’s us, isn’t it?!? When we get right we God we expect (or hope?) that the person we wronged will welcome us with open arms.

We forget that we will still have to own up to the damage done by our actions.

On the flipside, when we are wronged and the offender repents, we often have a hard time accepting the fact that Jesus has cleansed that person and given him a new start. “Jesus might forgive, but I’m not ready yet!” That’s too often our attitude. The funny thing is, Jesus never put a limitation on forgiveness. How often should we forgive? 70×7 is what Jesus tells the Apostle Peter. And, hard as it may be, God calls us to be people of forgiveness just as he is a God of forgiveness.

It’s a difficult dance these binary pairs dance – the movement between grace and justice, forgiveness and consequences. When it comes to personal conflict each side needs to be willing to put down his word and pick up the other’s word for a while. Put it on and wear it for a bit. If you have been wronged, remember that Jesus has forgiven the offender. If you have done the hurting, remember that forgiveness does not mean avoiding the consequences of our behavior.

Wherever you fall, dance the dance. Repent. Forgive. Show grace. Accept consequences. And in the end we will find that relationships only really move beyond conflict when each side is willing to dance.