By Laura Petherbridge
April 7, 1984 was the worst day of my life. It was the day my marriage died.
My husband was having an affair, and he no longer wanted to be married. No amount of crying, begging, promising, or counseling could change his mind.
I was a new Christian when we divorced, but I knew enough to ask God to use the trauma, shame, and agony to help others. Over the last 34 years, that’s exactly what He has done.
Divorce is a difficult subject for the church. I’m not called to be a theologian, but I’m certain we don’t want to ignore God’s commands or give the impression that marriage is temporary.
Divorce also has severe, long-term consequences. No one comprehends that better than I do.
Here are 10 aspects of divorce I’d like to share with church leaders to help them love the brokenhearted while not condoning divorce.
Divorce is a Death
Regardless of the circumstances, divorce signifies the fatality of the marriage vow. It’s the death of the dream, the breaking of the covenant, and the ending of “what should have been.”
It often feels as if death would have been easier because death is natural and doesn’t carry the shame.
Divorce is a Soul-Entrenched Betrayal
It’s a rejection like no other. The person you thought would be your lifetime partner, your soft place to fall when the rest of the world abandons you decides, “I never loved you. You aren’t worth it.”
Divorce Has No Closure
A divorced person experiences the loss and the humiliation over and over and over every time you check the “single” or “divorced” box on a form or your child cries for the other parent.
Divorce is a Gut-Level Accuser
Night and day, the spousal rejection hauntingly whispers, “You are a loser. You are unlovable. You are a failure. You deserve to be alone. Life is over. You will never be loved again.”
Satan loves divorce. It’s a superb weapon of soul-deep destruction.
Divorce Becomes an IdentityIt took a long time, great friends, and a terrific church to help me recognize that divorce was something I experienced. It was an event—not my identity.One of the most humiliating tasks for me was being labeled “divorced” rather than “married.” Being labeled a single never bothered me. But “divorced” tattooed an imaginary red “D” on my forehead, which can seem synonymous with “failure,” “reject,” or “ugly.”
It took a long time, great friends, and a terrific church to help me recognize that divorce was something I experienced. It was an event—not my identity. God still sees me as His precious daughter, one purchased and healed by Jesus.
Divorce Takes Only One, When Marriage Takes Two
Just because the sin of divorce has occurred, it doesn’t mean both spouses have sinned in this way.
There might be only one who is involved in addiction, adultery, abuse, pornography, anger issues, gambling, deception, drugs, homosexuality, mental illness, outrageous spending, or unwillingness to work.
One spouse can destroy the marriage, no matter how hard the other is trying.
Divorce Isn’t Always Initiated by the Guilty Party
After 34 years in divorce recovery ministry, I’ve found that the men and women who didn’t want to be divorced are often the ones to legally file. These are individuals married to someone who doesn’t love them, the kids, or God enough to do the hard work to keep the marriage alive.
But the culpable one doesn’t want the guilt associated with divorce, so he or she will often withhold money, child support, visitation, etc. to force the other spouse into taking legal action. That way they can say—and manipulate others into believing—“I didn’t file for divorce—my ex did.”
Divorce Causes Those Affected to Dread Sundays
Walking into church witnessing all the nice families and loving couples was a stark reminder of just how abandoned I was. Sundays were often dreaded days I just needed to “survive.”
Too depressed to visit friends and exhausted from flashing my perfect “I’m fine” smile, I collapsed at home.
I would spend most of the day crying. I could barely pray, so I sat by my stereo and sang worship songs, begging God to heal my tormented heart.
Divorce Can Strengthen and Weaken Faith
As previously mentioned, I was a new Christian when my divorce occurred. On one hand, I knew Jesus was the only One who could carry me through the horror.
On the other hand, the feelings of failure, humiliation, shame and loss enticed me to run back to my former life and anesthetize the trauma with alcohol.
I seriously contemplated suicide to stop the madness. My life was hanging by a thread. I teetered between running to Jesus and running away from Him.
Fortunately, my heavenly Father wooed me back into His loving embrace. He became the faithful Husband I had lost.
He declared, “I will make you my wife forever, showing you righteousness and justice, unfailing love and compassion. I will be faithful to you and make you mine, and you will finally know me as the Lord” (Hosea 2:19-20 NLT).
Divorce Is an Opportunity for the Church to Reach the Broken
Because I was such a young Christian, and in a smaller church, I didn’t realize that not everyone has a pastor to run to for advice.
Now that I’ve spoken and taught in many denominations and churches, I realize how uniquely blessed I was. My pastor provided sound biblical advice. He didn’t encourage me to divorce, but he also didn’t ignore my husband’s ongoing sin.
He gave me questions to ponder, Bible verses to study, and prayers to plead. He was a rock solid influence of God’s perfect truth and grace.
Even though it was 34 years ago, I remember his question, “Are you struggling with knowing who you are?” and I replied, “Yes, definitely. But I’m certain of whose I am. I belong to Christ.”
His confident smile said everything. And somehow, in that moment, I knew I’d eventually be alright.
My passion is to help pastors and church leaders understand how they can help the one, like me, who didn’t want to be divorced. Because even though I detest divorce, I love divorced people.
Why? Because Jesus does.
He longs to heal and restore them, as He did me.
LAURA PETHERBRIDGE (@TheSmartStepmom) is an international author and speaker who serves couples and single adults with topics on relationships, stepfamilies, divorce prevention, and divorce recovery. She is the author of several books, and can be found at TheSmartStepmom.com.