What I Wish the Church Knew About Divorce

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Thirty-one years ago, I got divorced. I’ve lived 59 years, and without a doubt, divorce was the worst season of my life.

Nothing I’ve suffered since that time even comes close. Not a wayward child, stroke, betrayal of a close friend, job loss, collapse of a ministry, or death of a parent. Not even a root canal when the Novocain didn’t work. Absolutely nothing compares to the horrific pain of having a spouse choose “I don’t” after vowing “I do.”

Absolutely nothing compares to the horrific pain of having a spouse choose “I don’t” after vowing “I do.

So what do you do with that kind of pain and shame? You give it to God. And he forms something beautiful out of the ashes.

God took the cinders of my shattered heart and created a new purpose. I learned that while God does hate divorce, it’s not for the reason we learn in most churches, that it breaks his law. No, the Almighty’s root reason is much more intimate and affectionate. God knows divorce endeavors to steal, kill, and destroy his beloved creation — us.

That’s why God hates divorce.

Yet when divorce occurs, God can use it. He is so mighty that the sins done to us — and by us — can be used for his glory, if we let him. And that’s what he did for me. God gave me a passion for the hurting by bringing this verse to life:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed. He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the Lord’s favor has come (Isaiah 61:1-2a, NLT).

For more than 25 years I’ve ministered to the divorced through creating resources and leading support groups. And for those who have ears to hear, and the desire to have a heart like Christ, this is what I wish the church understood about divorce.

It takes two to get married, and only one to break the vow

Please stop placing both spouses under one sin. Just because a sin has occurred, it doesn’t mean both spouses sinned.

Get more — Free! e-book — Les & Leslie Parrott's, The Good Fight

As much as we’d like to believe gender equality exists in the church, it rarely happens during a divorce.

For some reason the church blames the wife when her husband chooses to have an affair Click To Tweet. I’ve never witnessed the church saying to a man, “You should have given her more sex, and then she wouldn’t have left you for another man.” But I’ve lost count of the women who tell me this is what their pastor or church leader said to them after a husband’s infidelity.

That’s not to say men aren’t ostracized by the church when a wife leaves. Sometimes, they are ignored or tossed aside. But they typically aren’t reprimanded for a wife’s sinful decision.

There is usually more to the story

I’ve learned over the years how to detect when “a piece is missing” in the marital account. Don’t assume you know the entire situation, because there are often hidden issues. A manipulator is masterful at hiding those things, especially from church leaders.

Admit there is a problem

After watching thousands get divorced, I’ve observed three main reasons why marriages fail (hint: it’s not money). They are: addiction, adultery, and abuse. Most of the church-related marriage classes focus on Venus and Mars, communication, respect, and intimacy. Those are great subjects for the couple who merely needs a “tune up.” But when issues such as pornography, abuse, manipulation, addiction, domestic domination, or an extramarital affair are involved, those classes don’t work. Ironically, they can exacerbate the problem because the offender often uses the information to his/her advantage.

Minister to stepfamilies

It breaks my heart that so few churches recognize the need to minister to second marriages with their unique needs. Many shun the idea, thinking it condones divorce. Ridiculous. Stepfamilies shy away from church due to shame. Isn’t this the entire reason Jesus came, to seek and save the lost? We need to decide if our church is going to be part of divorce problem, or the solution. Stepfamilies are truly an untapped mission field. And ministering to them prevents another divorce!

You don’t know what you don’t know

Most pastors don’t truly understand divorce, single parenting, or remarriage. However, if we’re going to be salt and light in today’s world, pastors need to surround themselves with people who do understand. I grew up with divorced parents and two stepmoms. I’ve been divorced and remarried. And I’m a stepmom of 29 years. I get it! Let people like me teach you how to reach this hurting audience. They are panting for help, but do not see the church as a place to find it.

There will be some reading this article who will label me as “soft on divorce.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Divorce nearly killed me when my parents split, and then it attempted to murder me again when my husband walked out. You will be hard pressed to find anyone who hates divorce more than I do. Loving like Christ is much harder. It’s messy and inconvenient. But the truth is, I love divorced people, because Jesus does.
And he sacrificed everything to prove it.

Will you? Will your church?

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About Laura Petherbridge

bio-petherbridgeLaura Petherbridge serves couples and single adults with topics on spiritual growth, relationships, stepfamilies, co-parenting, single parenting, divorce prevention, and divorce recovery. She is an international speaker and author of four books including, When “I Do” Becomes “I Don’t”—Practical Steps for Healing During Separation and Divorce, and The Smart Stepmom, co-authored with stepfamily expert Ron Deal and endorsed by Gary Chapman (Five Love Languages), 101Tips for The Smart Stepmom—Expert Advice from One Stepmom to Another and Quiet Moments for the Stepmom Soul-a devotional. Read more at  TheSmartStepmom.com and laurapetherbridge.com. See Laura's Books

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