What I Wish Pastors Understood About Divorce

What I Wish Pastors Understood About Divorce

April 7th, 1984 was the worst day of my life. It was the day my marriage died. My husband was having an affair, he no longer wanted to be married. No amount of crying, begging, promising, or counseling could change his mind. My parents divorced when I was eight years old, imbedding one goal into my life: I will never be divorced. I was a baby Christian during my divorce, but I knew enough to ask God to use the trauma,

shame, and agony to help others. Over the last 36 years, that’s exactly what He has done.

Here are ten aspects about divorce that I would love for pastors to understand:

  • Divorce is a death. Regardless of the circumstances, divorce signifies the fatality of the vow. It’s the death of the dream, the death of the covenant, and the death 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 who 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.”
  • There is No Casket—No Closure. In a divorce you, and your child, must experience the funeral, the loss and the humiliation over and over and over every time you check the “single” box on a form or your child cries for the other parent. And if you don’t heal you drag the corpse of the first marriage into the second. You MUST do an autopsy on the first marriage, and the church should be providing the tools.
  • 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 Identity. One of the most humiliating tasks was being labeled “divorced” rather than “married.” Being labeled a single never bother me. But divorce tattooed an imaginary red “D” on my forehead, which announced “failure,” “reject,” “ugly.” It took a long time, great friends, and a terrific church to help me recognize that divorce was something I experienced. It was not my identity. God still sees me, Laura, His precious daughter, as one purchased and healed by Jesus.
  • It Takes Two to Get Married—But Only One to Get Divorced. Precious Pastor, will you allow me to speak honestly? Just because the sin of divorce has occurred, it doesn’t mean both spouses have sinned. We all sin. But that doesn’t mean both spouses are destroying the marriage. It might be only one who is involved in addiction, adultery, abuse, pornography, anger issues, gambling, deception, drugs, mental illness, outrageous spending, and unwilling to work.  One spouse can destroy the marriage, no matter how hard the other is trying.
  • Don’t Assume the One Filing For The Divorce is the Guilty Party. After 30 years in divorce recovery ministry I have 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 they withhold money, child support, visitation, etc. to force the other spouse into taking legal action. That way they can manipulate others into believing, “I didn’t file for divorce—my ex did.”
  • Sunday Was the Worst Day of the Week. Walking into church witnessing all the nice families and loving couples was a stark reminder of just how abandoned I was. After church was a long-dreaded day that I attempted to survive. Too depressed to visit friends and releasing my exhaustingly perfect “I’m fine” church face, I collapsed at home. Devastatingly alone I spent 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 Strengthened and Weakened My Faith. 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 away from Him. Fortunately, my heavenly Daddy 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).

His confident smile said everything. And somehow, in that moment, I knew that eventually I’d be all right.I understand that divorce is an exceedingly difficult subject for the church. I’m not called to be a theologian, but I’m certain that we don’t want to ignore God’s commands, or give the impression that marriage is temporary. Divorce has severe long-term consequences.

  • My Pastor Helped. 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 read, 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 him asking me, “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.” 

No one comprehends that better than I do.

And after more than 30 years in divorce recovery and stepfamily ministry I’ve seen many people play the victim in an attempt to biblically get out of a marriage.

My passion is to help pastors, and/or 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.

Pastor, please hear me. It is possible to love the brokenhearted, and not condone divorce.

I wrote When I Do Becomes I Don’t in a FAQ format to answer the most frequently asked questions I receive from Men and Women who are separated or divorced. It is biblically based and endorsed by many reputable leaders.

Copyright © 2021 Laura Petherbridge. All rights reserved

Laura Petherbridge 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 When “I Do” Becomes “I Don’t”—Practical Steps for Healing During Separation and Divorce, 101 Tips for The Smart Stepmom, The Smart Stepmom, co-authored with Ron Deal and Quiet Moments for the Stepmom Soul, Seeking a Silent Night: 30 Days of Advent for Stepfamilies . Laura is a featured expert on the DivorceCare DVD series. She has been published with Lifeway, Crosswalk.com, idisciple, and Dr James Dobson. She has spoken at the Billy Graham Training Center and has been featured on numerous broadcasts including: Focus on the Family, Joni Lamb Table Talk, and Jim Burns.  Laura and her pastor husband of 36 years live in Flowery Branch, Ga. She can be found at www.TheSmartStepmom.com