Thursday, June 26, 2008

The devestating effects of divorce--how can the church help?

On Tuesday, Becki and I went to look at apartments and homes that are for lease. One home was very sad. The yard was in terrible shape. The locks on the door were in poor condition. And the home in general was very dirty. From the interior furnishings, it looked like it was a divorce situation. There probably was a father with a child, living by themselves, working two jobs and just barely hanging on. No time to spend on the lawn. No energy to clean. No hope to give to the children.

I was struck with a profound sense of sadness. What problems exist in a marriage that are so bad that it was worth risking home, companionship, a mother for the children, time, energy, and so much more?

The divorce rate in the US used to be 1 in 1000. I still can hardly believe this statistic, which was taken straight out of the leading book on families, Family Ministry by Charles Sell. Today, as a nation, we are far to quick to divorce. We need to encourage married couples to stay together, to learn to love one another, and to help them conquer selfishness.

At the same time, we need to minister to those who have gone through divorce. Those who have gone through this are often financially, emotionally, physically, and spiritually overwhelmed.

In recent weeks, after having spoken of the need to minister as a church to those who are hurting, several have come to me about the need to begin a divorce recovery ministry. This is indeed a great need, both for our own members and for the community.

How can the church help minister to those who have experienced divorce? How can we help couples stay together?

16 comments:

Alison said...

I have a couple of comments on this topic.
1. I think we as a church need to be more proactive in teaching people how to work on marriages so that they don't get to the point of divorce. There is still a prevailing mentality that it is not acceptable to have "problems" in a marriage, and many people don't reach out for the help they need. Others allow the small things become neglected to the point that there is such a large disconnect in the relationship that it feels hopeless to fix. We need to find ways to be more open and honest in our struggles, and reach out to each other with the tools and support to prevent damage.
2. When a separation or potential divorce is happening, love, prayers, and support should be the priority. It's so easy from the "outside" to get wrapped up in personal feelings about the situation rather than focusing on what the couple needs to fix the relationship. The support from the church family can be a shining example of God's love, if the focus is on what He can do with the situation and not what we as humans perceive.
It's never easy, but we serve a God who can do the impossible and heal all those who need it! We should be prepared to help in every way, and not allow our "human-ness" to hinder.

Garth said...

I think Alison has really hit on several great points here.

I think we really need to be more transparent with the reality of our lives. I know that problems are embarassing and possibly sometimes things are best left unsaid.

I have problems, my wife has problems, my children have problems, and most often my initial inclination is to hide them. But ... if I do what the Bible tells me and I confess, thus exposing them to the light, they do not seem so big.

Many times it's as if the Lord has simply taken them away.

I say all this because as Alison points out, we have a prevailing mentality that it is not acceptable to have "problems"; especially in a marriage.

Is the answer that we confess to one another our troubles?

If I trust you to know me, and I become transparent will the church still love me? Or ... will the church talk about me, behind my back and hold it against me? How will or do I know?

jeremy said...

I thought those were both excellent comments.

I think back to my parents, and I honestly have no idea about how their marriage is. I know everyone has problems and struggles, but what are theirs? What did they have to teach me? Maybe we need more... generational transparency? If my view of my parents is that they have a perfect marriage, how can I approach them about my marital problems?

The same goes for peers, if I perceive that my friends have a perfect marriage, how will they know what I'm going through? How will I know they can actually help me, and not talk about me behind my back, or judge my situation and give me advice that may not be in accordance with God's Word?

The church can help minister to those who have experienced divorce by providing (or at the bare minimum, direct the hurting to) resources such as trained Christian counselors and therapists to counsel and help those affected so deeply by divorce. I think divorce recovery groups or classes would be beneficial as long-term recovery.

Also, it may not hurt to have a series or a class on marriage and divorce for the entire body. There are a lot of different ideas and opinions, people grew up from various backgrounds, but what does the Bible say? It never hurts to go back to God's Word to re-ground our knowledge. More importantly, I think there are a lot of Christians who don't really know how to react when separation and divorce affect those closest in their church family.

How can we help couples stay together? That's the million dollar question. I think we need to put emphasis on pre-marital counseling, preparing couples for marriage. I don't buy into a lot of the 'compatibility' thing, but I think it's not wise for some couples not to marry to begin with. "Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial." I think we need to place an emphases on marital holiness not happiness, and couples who have speed bumps in their relationship can realize that most of these issues can be resolved, and are not as unique as a couple in trouble thinks.

I believe if a couple doesn't think they can turn to their church family for help, we are all doomed.

James said...

Alison,

What you say about the church needing to be proactive in marriages is true. By the time people start really having problems, they do not want to attend marriage seminars and the like. But shoring up marriages before they get to that point is good.

Love and support needs to be showered on those who are struggling. I think most would respond in this way--if they know about the situation and if others will let them in. Unfortunately, many who are experiencing problems seek to keep others away until it is too late to help. How can we prevent this from happening?

Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Alison.

James said...

Garth,

Confession is the key for any healing of sin. We do need to be a confessing church, where people are not shocked to find sinners.

What sins can we confess? It seems that people are willing to confess and be understanding about sins like anger. But sexual sin, substance abuse and the like are often viewed differently.

And what sins are okay for church leaders to confess? Do we expect them to be sinless? Someone could confess the sin of pride or anger--but what about sexual sin and the like?

James said...

Jeremy,

I do not believe it is healthy for parents to shield their kids from every single argument. Kids need to see their parents as human. They need to also see how to resolve conflict in Christian ways.

Garth said...

James,
Those are interesting questions.

I know that I am guilty of accepting "assumed" sin. You know the notion that you are a sinner. But, "assumed" sin is different than "real" sin. Right?

I am fairly certain that once a congregation knows of a "real" sin. Then, that "real" sin pretty much eliminates you from any leadership position.

And to get "real" for a moment (pun intended).

I'm not sure I would be comfortable knowing that you are a "real" sinner. I would like to comfortably assume you are a sinner as opposed to actually need to help you.

Now I am laughing inside, because not only are there "true" believers, but now there are "true" sinners. Or would it have to be "false" sinners?

I'm not even sure that anger is really acceptable. What if I simply confessed that I yelled at my wife? Look what happens when I paint the picture of anger. A big angry husband yelling at his sweet and innocent wife. I mean, isn't that emotional abuse, absolutely distasteful and completely unforgiveable?

Now ... how can we even consider a sexual sin?

Anonymous said...

I agree with Allison. I can't remember a marriage encounter type seminar ever given by our church. Sometimes there is a very "vanilla" marriage class during Bible class time, but nothing is ever said to really help a marriage. I think alot of Christian marriages don't break up because of fighting or sexual sin. We just become complacent until finally there is no intimacy left in the marriage. People aren't satisfied with a polite roomate anymore, and now there is the freedom to go looking for something better.

Garth said...

I guess I am confused, but wouldn't a church full of complacent marriages be a blessing? And ... what freedom do married people have to go looking for something better?

Perhaps I am misunderstanding what you are trying to say?

Barbie said...

There was a Marriage Enrichment Seminar given by this congregation, but it was when we were in the old building on White Street in the late 1990's. We are way overdue for a Marriage Encounter Weekend and anything else we can come up with to help couples "shore up" their marriages. We have way too many negatives that tax our marriages with jobs, children and all of our outside activities that we end up volunteering for. We need to concentrate on our marriage and then our children, instead of the other way around. We have to have a strong marriage so that we can be an unselfish example to the next generation as they grow up and get married. We also definitely have to show our children that we are human and by God's grace we can make it if we just trust in Him. We HAVE to remember that our children are a precious gift from God who, if at all possible, (and I do realize this is not always possible) need both parents to be there while they are growing up and beyond.

Sometimes we just need to stop and think about the whole picture. And pray ---together--- A LOT!

JB said...

I agree with Garth whole heartedly. Freedom?? really??? My Bible doesn't say anything about divorce or 'looking for something better' OK just because my marriage may not be as exciting as it once was. If that ever happens it's time to look for something in OUR marriages to bring that back. The Church is a great support and placing a focus on marriage daily is what we as Christians need to do. We need to wake up every morning and ask ourselves what we can do to make our Spouses life that much better.

James said...

To be fair to our friend here, I that he/she means social freedom. That is, our society now is much more accepting of divorce. Women are also not totally financially dependent upon their husbands anymore (though divorce generally recks both people's financial state).

God, of course, does not abide by social standards, but his own. I believe that most all would say that the ideal that God wants for his people is lifelong, fulfilling marriages.

We need to hold to the balancing act of ministering to those who have gone through divorce, while holding up God's high standard--lifelong commitment.

It sounds like a marriage encounter type of seminar is needed here. Thank you for alerting me to this and sharing your thoughts! Please continue to do so.

Garth said...

Certainly a marriage encounter type of event would be useful, but what changes as a congregation do we have to make in order for us to be perceived as a place of healing?

I heard you use the word "hospital" recently. Which made me smile.

Then the concept of the complacent marriages that "anonymous" brought up are probably marriages where there is basically already a divorce. A marriage where the husband and wife are really living seperate and independent lives. I hope "anonymous" clarifies what he or she meant, but if I were guessing I think that is it.

This is where I think the church and its ministries really play a roll. Look at the Centurian Project for example. This is a great opportunity for a marriage that is suffering detatchment or separation to be drawn back together through the good works of the Lord. This could be a labor of love that has, in my opinion, a high probability of healing this type of broken marriage.

I don't know, but I always feel better about our relationship when Rebecca and I do something for God together. Is that because at those moments I am certain we are united in Christ?

Anonymous said...

I think Jeremy had some great points...especially to teach about marriage and divorce (and remarriage) to the ENTIRE body...because as he said, there are a lot of opinions out there....but what does the Bible say about it? I don’t remember the last time I heard any real teaching on this subject...marriage or divorce or remarriage after divorce.

Good, sound knowledge of what God expects and approves, as well as the consequences of rebellion against it, could go a long way to prevent some problems. I think plain teaching and study is the first step to prevention.

When we become aware of problems, whether early on or later when a separation has occurred, I think we could do a better job of praying with and for couples. Several ‘prayer groups’ made up of friends of the couple...or elders...or family....or a combination of all of the above...could meet together regularly for the sole purpose of prayer on behalf of the couple. Either or both of the couple could be included in the prayer group....that might help them to feel loved, supported and encouraged to know how much people care and that they are actively lifting them up to God in prayer.

I don’t know what all the answers are....but I think we have looked away for far too long...we’ve been reactive instead of proactive, allowing this worldly problem to take root in the church. We’ve got to start teaching about marriage...and commitment...and responsibility to our spouses. Marriage is the foundation of the home and the family. As Jeremy said, we need to emphasize marital holiness.....and happiness will follow.

JB also brought up a key point....each one put your spouse first every day..and it will likely amaze you how happy and fulfilling your marriage will be.

jeremy said...

Not only is there a growing "social freedom" or social acceptance, but technology has made these things more easily accessible and hidden from others. Satan is assaulting our families daily with tools like this.

Garth, I think you're right on when you talk about service bringing a couple closer to God as well as each other. One book I read ("Love and Respect" by Eggerichs) mentioned a marital relationship being a reflection of each spouse's relationship with God. I think there's a lot of truth to that, and I think there are some who'd agree that we need to hear it more.

James, I would agree with the balancing act. We need to help those hurting because of divorce, but at the same time emphasize to couples going through trials that God's ideal is not divorce.

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