Does getting divorced mean that in church you are a second class citizen? I certainly grew up in a church that implied this! So when a Christian ministry was my life and the D-bomb was dropped it seemed like everything was over...
I still remember the moment that those words ran through me and the bottom suddenly dropped out of my life, all sense of myself that I thought I had was shattered in a few little words. "I just don't love you anymore!"
I cried, I begged, I promised to change, I accused, I admitted transgressions - the flood of overwhelming emotions caught me up and tossed me around like a cat playing with a ball of yarn. I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep my life had fallen apart. I knew that from that moment my life would never be the same. At the time I was working voluntarily full-time on a Christian website and magazine and the very moment I heard those words I vowed that I would give it up.
And I did, right at that very moment I let go of something that had become important to me.
It was my identity. It was my ministry that had been built up over 10 hard years with a small team of friends. I gave it up for 2 reasons. The main one was the fact that I knew that it took a lot of my time and brought in no money, it had become a dominant thing in my life, but God had also blessed the work repeatedly over the years, a validation that it was a worthwhile thing. The second was one of principle. If my life was swirling around the porcelain and heading quickly towards the sewers, then who was I to advise anyone about ideas for a Christian lifestyle.
Underlying this secondary thought was many years of preconceptions and distorted views of divorce from both within and outside the church.
I remember the church that I grew up in had some pretty serious views about divorce and the ability to serve within a church. Basing their teaching on passages like;
“A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;” 1 Tim 3v2 (KJV)
“Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.” 1 Tim 3v12
Other similar passages were used to imply that people who had got divorced were considered second-class citizens in church. They shouldn’t be teaching, preaching or taking a role of any importance in the church. This was an influence on my thinking and I remember wrestling with this when starting to go to other churches and learning that men, and indeed women, who were on their second partners were allowed to teach and lead!
Looking back now, this view was incredibly harsh. It didn’t allow for anything other than complete 100% commitment to your spouse no matter what happened. It certainly didn’t allow for people who had got divorced and remarried before they become Christians. It didn’t allow for people who had ex-husbands and ex-wives who had ripped out their spouse’s hearts by cheating. It didn’t allow for dealing with severe mental health disorders where their spouse had found that they just could not cope anymore. Or for those who suffered through mental, verbal and even physical abuse to the point that they felt their lives were in danger!
This was so black and white and ingrained in me that when I joined this number through my own circumstances I knew that I was in no position to lead a ministry, or to teach even through my writing! Looking back I was most definitely right to pull back from many things that I was doing for a time. Right at that moment though I thought that I was unworthy of anything, of any position and that I would never bring a message from God to people through writing or speaking ever again.
One thing that rigid teaching that I had swallowed as a young Christian didn’t allow for was that we have a God who has overwhelming Grace!
When you find yourself at rock-bottom there is only one way, up. At this time in my life there were some other huge life events going on within a very short period of time. I had no job, no home and as far as I was concerned, no future! I did consider giving up on life completely at one stage, but thankfully the preservation of life won out and I didn’t actually do anything.
I had secrets, things that no-one knew, not even my wife – and I confessed them. Firstly I confessed them to God, then to some people that I trusted and respected it was time to come clean. Pride and arrogance was a huge problem in my life, I didn’t realise how I was sometimes perceived by other people. With my identity being tied up with the magazine and website I loved that we got some great numbers of people hitting the website. When I gave that up along with my marriage being shattered I was a totally broken person.
I can’t explain how much all this hurt, but a broken person was exactly what I needed to be in order to be open to God doing anything. Being broken gives God something to work with, He can rebuild you! I searched and searched for what the Bible had to say about divorce and marriage.
When you are searching like this the internet can become an incredibly dangerous place. No I wasn’t redeveloping a porn addiction! Instead there are so many people out there who are trying to help, as long as you are willing to pay, they promise that your chances of saving your marriage will increase. Other well-meaning ministries don’t ask for money, but provide support and encourage praying of formula’s to break the spirit of divorce. Some people find these really helpful, but do they move God to action on the person’s behalf? Well there are testimonies that certainly seem to show that is the case.
I became convinced by ministries that God’s desire was for all husbands and wives that had been separated was for reconciliation. I then became something that seemed to be quite rare, a male “stander”. A “stander” is someone who will stand for their marriage long after the world says that it is over, in the belief that God made a covenant agreement with the married couple. A covenant is not something that should be broken, it is an eternal promise. If anyone asked me at this time what was happening about my marriage I would declare that I was a stander, and quite often to people who wouldn’t ask!
I am not going to knock this as a viewpoint, I made some friends on the online forums through various groups. These are faithful people, mainly women, some in some fairly complicated circumstances relating to exes, remarriages of their partners and more, but they stand for their spouse no matter what.
From day to day I lived for the Rejoice Marriage Ministries devotional called Charlyne Cares. This ministry was born when Charlyne and Bob Steinkamp experienced a restored marriage. They started to share their story and people responded. Her daily reflections on the Bible relating to standing for your marriage were encouraging but as time went on I felt this was less and less for me. Charlyne had told Bob that she would be sitting in her rocking chair aged 80 still devoted to him and waiting for him to come home. I tried saying this to my wife but it had no impact, it was Charlyne’s thing and definitely not mine.
Once you have declared to anyone who would listen that you have decided to stand for your marriage it is very hard to change your mind and follow a different path. What if God’s plan was not for restoration, but for a brand new marriage to come out of the wreckage of 2 failed marriages, how does that work?