Healing the Broken Heart of Divorce
As I watched Susan, I saw a once strong Christian leader now living in complete despair and depression. Life, according to her, was over. The saddest part was that she didn't even know how she got there. She said, I have not only failed at the relationship with my husband, but I have failed God and the church.
As she continued, I realized that her utter despair with life was not just from her husband being unfaithful to her, but from impending judgment pronounced upon her by Christians.
I'm supposed to do everything right, she said. If I had known what I did wrong, I would have changed. I've been a pillar in the church. I am a Bible college graduate. And worse, I'm a preacher's kid.
Her question to me was, Why has the church abandoned me and not reached out to me?
My thoughts were: Where did we go wrong as a body of believers that we failed to reach out? If Susan's husband had died, would we have acted differently? Did Jesus come to heal all those who are in despair, all those who hurt and mourn? Are the divorced included?
Divorce in the church has always been a challenge because we are afraid of what we don't know. We are afraid that if we reach out a helping hand, people might think we are condoning or even supporting divorce. Yet doesn't Scripture say, The Lord upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down (Psalm 145:14)?
Since divorce is everywhere, we cannot close our eyes to it. We must educate not only those who are in our churches but those who are soon to be our leaders (cf. Hosea 4:6).
As a counselor in the church and at a Bible college, I have learned that the keys to helping counselees are to: (1) genuinely care about them; (2) rely on the Holy Spirit for discernment; and (3) have knowledge of their problems and understanding of their inner world. If you can grasp the feelings associated with devastation and hopelessness, you are on your way to understanding the inner world of the divorced.
Jesus was our example of how to treat hurting people. He never turned anyone away, and He was moved with compassion for the hurting. We can follow in His steps by applying His Word. The steps are outlined for us in Isaiah 61:1-3.
Why Marriages Fail
Here are four usually unidentified reasons that marriages dissolve.
1. One or both persons fail to understand the stages and changes of individual developmentthe seasons of their livesand how these affect their marriage. Many men and women experience an identity transition around 30 and experience a midlife transition in their late 30s or early 40s.
2. People have an inadequate basis upon which they build their personal identity and security. Too many build their identity on performance, perfectionism, or appearance, and these eventually fade. The best basis for marriage comes from the one who instituted marriage in the first place; but for too many, the teachings of God's Word have not been incorporated in depth into their lives, transforming both their identity and their security.
3. People come to marriage with unresolved issues between them and their parents, or they come from dysfunctional families. Either can intrude upon their marriage.
4. Some marriages dissolve because the partners were never prepared for marriage, and their expectations were totally unrealistic.
Adapted from H. Norman Wright, The Premarital Counseling Handbook (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1992), 12. Used by permission.
PREACH GOOD NEWS
The good news in the issue of divorce is that there is hope for healing and a way to get through the trauma. But before we can share the good news with the divorced, we must first examine our own hearts.
Before we can help, we must be free of preconditioned ideas that the divorced person did something to make his or her spouse leave. There are too many reasons why a person leaves. People are less willing to tolerate an unsatisfactory marriage than ever before. The ideology of marriage has become increasingly hedonistic, focusing on what brings pleasure rather than faithfulness and commitment. With the availability of pornographic material, there are more and more people who are looking for another high and are finding it outside their own marriage.
It is time to stop pronouncing judgment on those who are experiencing divorce and recognize that even a committed Christian's spouse can leave. The good news is: You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done (Genesis 50:20).
BIND UP THE BROKENHEARTED
Bind denotes a commitment to defend or oversee a broken heart, not put a bandage on it. A bandage simply says to the hurting, Oh, I hope things get better. I will pray for you. What we need to give the divorced is a safeguard: I may not understand, but I support you. You can trust me to help you through this. I will not abandon you.
It means more than words, however (cf. James 2:16). It means phone calls, visits, and listening to the same story time and time again. It may mean helping with repairs or helping with a financial need. Binding up the brokenhearted means faith in action.
PROCLAIM FREEDOM FOR THE CAPTIVES
Freedom does not necessarily mean freedom from an ex-spouse or freedom to love again. It means freedom from the bondage that failure brings. Those in the church who have spouses leave them not only feel they have failed in the relationship but feel they have failed God and the church. They feel they will never again be a whole personone who is free from his or her past.
God forgives. So why do well-meaning Christians feel they must remind the divorced of their past? We must ask ourselves if we have extended acceptance and positive regard to the divorced.
COMFORT ALL WHO MOURN
There is no grief quite like the grief of those who go through divorce. Their grief is not only for the loss of a person and the death of dreams for the future, but it is a loss of trust, loss of belief in marriage, and often a loss of friends. Comfort indicates a strengthening and uplifting of the spirit.
Those who have lost a spouse need a time to mourn. It takes about 1 year to go through the grieving process before divorced people can go on with life. We must be patient with them as they go through emotional ups and downs.
Dealing with anger and unforgiveness are all part of this process. Forgiveness may take 9 to 12 months, even with daily prayer for those who have caused hurt. Time does not always bring healing. Choosing to forgive and bless those that hurt us will bring change. Our job is to pray, guide, and be patient with the hurting.
BESTOW ON THEM A CROWN OF BEAUTY INSTEAD OF ASHES
Ashes signify being covered with grief. Yet this verse says we are to bestow a crown of beauty to the hurting.
Wearing a crown of beauty depicts giving value and honor to someone, especially after all feelings of worth have been ripped away. We need not be afraid that this step endorses divorce. If God is no respecter of persons, why are we?
The phrase I often repeat is: The only thing that matters in life is how we treat people. How often we forget.
BESTOW ON THEM A GARMENT OF PRAISE INSTEAD OF A SPIRIT OF DESPAIR
Despair pictures a depth of suffering that many of us will never encounter. The remorse and regret of things not done seem to bring a pervasive spirit of depression. What a complete opposite we see when someone is clothed in praise. We must guide hurting people to praise and worship God, regardless of their feelings. Praising God wins the battle and moves us out of despair (cf. 2 Chronicles 20:17-22).
We must encourage the divorced to make choices that will move them
step-by-step to complete healing. Encouraging is modeling optimism in what God can and will do. It is never giving up on someone. Are we willing to provide strength and hope for the hurting?
THEY WILL BE CALLED OAKS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS
If people truly heal from life-changing traumas, they can be a source of strength to the church. No one can provide hope to the divorced more than one who has already been through the suffering and has not only survived but has learned to live full of the joy of the Lord.
Thankfully, Susan experienced true healing. Her life that was once uprooted and devoid of all hope is now restored. She has sunk her roots deep into the Lord and has become a compassionate counselor, a source of strength to all those who hurt. She is truly an oak of righteousness, one displaying a life of complete stability.
How did she do it? She found a body of believers who reached out to her with compassion, and she claimed Genesis 50:20 and never gave up.
Susan's story proves the truth of the comforting ministry. If we will stop expecting less from those who have experienced pain and instead encourage them to reach for their potential, they will find the untapped inner strength that will minister to others.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).
1. Not actual name.
2. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version.