VICTIMS OF DIVORCE THE PARENTS
By Patrick J. Casey
While denouncing divorce, Christians should not turn their backs on hurting fellow believers.
New Testament Believers share the God-given responsibility to love other Christians. In fact, God specifically commands His followers to love one another, and this includes fellow Christians who are suffering the cruel consequences of divorce.
The Bible clearly teaches that God intends marriage to be a life-long commitment. Yet, in today’s society, divorce has become common place. And regrettably, even among believers there is an ever growing number of divorces.
Most Christians who view divorce from a Biblical concept, regard it as a violation of the sanctity of marriage. Because they hesitate to condone that which God expressly disapproves, they tend to avoid fellow Christians who have gone the route of divorce. Instead of reaching out to them in their need, these Christians treat divorced people with disdain, behaving as though they have some type of infectious disease. Even those who are innocent victims are often shunned rather than helped.
Many born-again Christians feel ill-at-ease when trying to relate in a social way with a single parent. So they shy away. One divorced mother shares:
I’ve found my church to be the most depressing place I know. I feel more alone there than I do at home…. People seem awkward around me, afraid they’ll say the wrong thing. Those of us who are hurting need to feel the love of other Christians….Is it that they don’t care?
For obvious reasons, most Bible-believing churches are couple-oriented. This is evidenced in the preaching, teaching and the majority of social activities. A divorced person does not identify with the singles’ class and feels awkward without a spouse in the couples’ class. This translates into single parents who are often left out. There’s no place for a third wheel.
The problems divorced parents face in our churches often involve more than being overlooked. Many times they become the objects of gossip and must bear the pain of personal criticism. This should not be. Another Christian divorcee expresses her feelings this way:
I’ve had two Christians tell me that I’m paying the consequences of my sin and that I’m not living in the center of God’s will. When I asked them for a shoulder to cry on, this was the sermon I got. I’m already aware of all these things, and would have benefited from a little compassion.
Believers suffering from a marital breakup need help and should not be forsaken by the body of Christ. When a husband leaves a Christian mother, believers should be there to offer her encouragement and help. They must practice the art of good listening. One does not need a degree in psychology to provide an attentive ear. Sharing the pain of others is not easy, but Christians are called to be burden bearers (Galatians 6:2).
Those rebounding from divorce have special needs – spiritual needs, domestic needs, sexual needs, emotional needs, and social needs. They may also need help in understanding and applying the healing principles of God’s Word.
It is essential that divorced persons develop a vital personal relationship with Christ. Apart from this they face their hurts and their battles without the power and comfort that God alone can give. Many become bitter and feel that not only has their spouse abandoned them, but God has too.
Personal Bible study as well as preaching, teaching, fellowship, and opportunities for serving Christ are essential in helping a divorced person grow spiritually. Sadly the emotional confusion of the divorce, as well as many new demands upon the now single parent, often leaves that person too depressed to be interested and too stressed to spend much quality time in prayer or in the Word. Once the solo parent gets the children to the sitter, goes to the workplace, picks up the children after work, does the shopping, prepares dinner, does the wash, cleans the house and puts the children to bed, little time and energy are left. The result is a Worn-out Christian who is struggling to “keep afloat” without the sustaining power of God.
Divorced parents need other Christians to whom they can turn for spiritual support. They need godly men and women who will stand with them in times of difficulty. They should not have to face their spiritual battles alone.
Following divorce, the custodial parent faces a variety of emotional battles. Until these emotional trouble spots are resolved, the divorced parent cannot effectively help his or her children, who are also confused and hurting.
When a man and woman divorce, they are terminating a relationship in which they have invested time, trust, physical intimacies, and dreams, and the result is emotional chaos. The pain from breaking such a bond is intense and inescapable.
Feelings of resentment and anger commonly plague victims of divorce. These emotions have immense destructive power. They produce deep animosity between former mates. Children are caught in the crossfire of demeaning accusations between Mom and Dad and are confused because they love them both. Life becomes a perpetual war zone.
People who have been deeply hurt often cling to their bitterness. To be controlled by resentment is contrary to the commands of Scripture (Romans 12:17-21). Bitterness disrupts the healing process.
To be freed from resentment, one must eliminate the need for it. As difficult as it might be to achieve, Biblical forgiveness is the only way to eradicate the self-destructive attitudes of bitterness. God commands forgiveness to protect people from their own anger. Thus, Biblical result in self-pity which then leads to depression-a feeling of hopelessness, overwhelming sadness and apathy. There is a time for tears and the victim of divorce needs a comforting shoulder upon which he feels free to cry. Self-pity, on the other hand, must be identified and dealt with. God can help the divorced person to overcome despondency. This will come as he or she focuses on and strives to fulfill God-given responsibilities.
Divorce and single-parenting bring a variety of complex challenges to family living. Child-rearing which once involved two adults must now be carried on by one. The burdens upon single parents are great. Yet, loving, godly parenting is necessary if children are to properly adjust to the drastic changes the divorce has brought to their lives. Single parents need to know that with God’ s help they can be good moms and dads. A simple compliment on their parenting by a Christian friend or a church leader can be a great boost.
Sometimes a newly divorced parent feels overwhelmed by the weight of unfamiliar duties in day-to-day living. Single mothers worry about what to do when the furnace does not work or the car fails to start. They cannot afford to pay a professional but are not capable of fixing it themselves. Single fathers, in addition to working, must prepare meals, shop for food and clothes, clean house, and sometimes nurture little children. Women are often burdened with making big decisions or challenging a salesman who does not keep an agreement. These are real problems that do not go away. Single parent-families encounter a variety of domestic challenges. Non-custodial parents usually feel cheated out of a family life. Fellow Christians should be aware of these needs and find creative ways to be of help.
Social And Relational Needs
Maintaining meaningful relationships with other Christians is a necessary outlet for a single parent’s battered emotions. Verbalizing feelings with a trusted friend allows the hurting parent to see things more objectively. Someone who will listen can often provide the greatest help.
God uses believers to build up other believers. When a believer is isolated, God’s work is limited in that person’s life. Christian friends can provide a balanced perspective that a hurting person cannot attain alone. Feeling that one belongs and is accepted gives the parent without a partner a sense of identity and security – he knows he has a place in God’s family.
The divorce experience is not a point-in-time courtroom event. A variety of factors make the post-divorce environment an extremely difficult one. Often it is filled with feelings of failure, rejection, condemnation, misunderstanding by friends and family, a broken family structure, parenting, relocation (frequently the loss of home, friends, and neighborhood), strained parent/child relationships, lower living standards, loss of one’s sex partner, and many times there are on- going, continuing disagreements with one’s former mate. Divorce is a traumatic experience second only to death. No wonder God says He hates divorce (Malachi 2:16).
Yet, despite many troublesome problems facing the victims of divorce, they are not condemned to a life of misery. With God’s help and the loving support of His people, divorced Christians can learn to deal with their difficulties and live productive lives for God.
(The above material was published by PSYCHOLOGY FOR LIVING, 1993)
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