So ya’ll know by now I’m a candid person. But, sometimes I hold back some things I want to say for fear of “perception”. Once in a while these things stick around long enough that I finally get over that fear and share. This is one of those things.
Today I had to do something frightening and vaguely traumatizing. While experiencing it I had a well meaning, sweet Christian lady ask me, “so do you think there is no opportunity for reconciliation with your husband?” (said in a way that really meant, “I think you should consider reconciling)
phew…. where to begin…
Here’s the thing I want to begin with… I know she was so well meaning. I know she was legitimately concerned and valuing marriage the best way she knew. I know that divorce is so extremely hurtful, and is never God’s first choice (and if you haven’t picked that up from my posts let’s talk in person shall we).
But, that question stung. It didn’t feel healthy. Here’s why…
Firstly, this was not the first time I’ve been asked something similar. It actually is THE MOST common comment that is made when it is discovered i’m going through divorce (in the Christian community at least). And every time it comes up it feels like a knife in my gut.
I think this question is more hurtful than helpful…
Before you burn me at the stake with “don’t you value marriage?!” and “don’t you know how rampant divorce is?!” questions and comments… hear me out.
I have never been more pro marriage and more anti-divorce than I am at this moment. I value the covenant of marriage in a way that I never could have fathomed before now. I believe divorce is a scourge on society, and the breaks in the family unit all over the US breaks my heart. But, I am still a statistic. I still ultimately chose to walk away from my damaging relationship. And because my marriage fell in that “scriptural exception” category, I am given a pass by most in the church.
So knowing all this… how could I ever have a problem with the question she asked me?
Ok, on to the point…
This question does nothing but stir up angst, without a healthy direction no matter my response.
Let’s for a moment, play out some possibilities. Remember, this is a woman I do not know. I am not in community with her. She knows hardly the tip of the iceberg about my life…
So, her question, and other variations of it, basically say, “why don’t you give this another shot?”
If I am in a truly damaging marriage situation (like I was), with scriptural/religious backing to leave my marriage, all this question does is stir up fear, shame, regret, remorse and all sorts of traumatic feelings. It is like asking a rape victim to regale you with details of their experience. I now feel required to give adequate justification as to the severeness of sin in our marriage that gives me the “right” to leave. It forces me on the defensive and re-exposes me to the details of my traumatic experience.
All of this happens so I feel that I can “justify” my actions before a perfect stranger.
Ya’ll… this isn’t ok.
If this was a member of my Christian community… someone who has been invested in my life and well-being before this conversation, someone who has connected with me on a heart level… at that point I think a question like that, born out of an understanding of my heart posture and details of the experience, is a totally fair question.
But, in that scenario, i’m not required to go through those details and justify myself. It is now a heart to heart connection, with exhortation and love at the core. It prioritizes me as a human being, before my marriage as an entity.
If, on the other hand, my divorce wasn’t scripturally justified. If I was just being selfish and self serving… it still doesn’t change anything. Unless you have been in communion and connection with me, unless you have a deep investment in me as a person, pushing me to stay in a marriage isn’t going to be effective or healthy. It is the equivalent of the Christian on the street corner yelling “repent lest ye perish”… it is lacking all grace, and I would suggest it is lacking actual love as well. It is a fear based conversation, idolizing marriage at the expense of a human being and their unique need to feel loved and change from a spirit of love, not coercion. Ultimately, it is trying to cash in trust when you’ve not yet earned it.
Now, let’s finish with what I think would be more helpful, and, what I’m NOT saying.
I feel that you can still value marriage highly, while also not overstepping bounds and potentially stirring up trauma or resentment. You don’t have to be silent and stoic if your heart is hurting for a broken marriage. If someone I don’t know said to me, “I am so sorry to hear that. That is such a tragedy. Do you have anyone you can talk to about that? Can I offer a listening ear if not?” I would be so incredibly thankful.
A comment like that one does two things: It acknowledges the devastation of divorce, while also recognizing that a proper discussion of a marriage and divorce happens within community and relationship. It allows for someone like me to share that I am receiving counsel, or it gives me a space to ask for help.
Lastly, what I’m NOT saying.
I am not saying that all Christians need to “shut it” and let people go on their merry way towards divorce. I’m saying, that we need to be more concerned with relationship, rather than idolizing any one element of a person’s “right actions”. We need to trust people to those who have spent time building relationships with them, or be willing to truly jump in the trenches with them… not just shout directions from our ivory tower.
I’m not saying that divorce is always ok. I’m saying the exact opposite. But, I’m saying that putting someone that you hardly know on the defense never is going to get the desired results… no matter how kindly you intended it. If you stand beside that person and ask how you can help, I guarantee you will be able to speak into their lives with much more grace and authority as that relationship blossoms.
This goes for many many arenas. Divorce is simply the one I’m witnessing in this season. Take the time to pursue relationship before correction, and watch the true power of heart to heart connection take place.