This unexpected life..finding hope after divorce

In Touch Magazine Feb 09

Finding Hope After Divorce
When my wife left me for another man, I had to start over with my life.
I will always remember that night with crystal clarity. We had just moved to a new city 11 days earlier to enable my wife of three years, Amy, to begin a master’s program. Having graduated from seminary 10 weeks prior, I was working a retail job while I searched for a church ministry position.
By William Ryder

Weary from a 10-hour workday framed by a one-hour commute, I slowly climbed the steps to our new apartment.

Inside, I sank gleefully into my favorite chair and turned my attention to Amy, who was sitting at the edge of the couch beside me. She nervously cleared her throat and said, “We need to talk.” I was not prepared for what came next.

Dropping the Bomb

In what seemed like a single breath she said: “Well, I have not been very happy lately. I have been racking my brain trying to figure out why, and I think I’ve finally realized the truth. I don’t love you. I don’t have the feelings for you that I think a wife should have for her husband. I think marrying you was a mistake, and I don’t want to be married anymore.”

Wow! There was simply no response in my mind to what she had said. I was numb.

I stood up and paced the floor as I desperately strove to work through this information. I understand that in most divorces, both parties usually see it coming; however, there is occasionally that hapless idiot who is caught completely off guard. That was me, catching butterflies in left field while my wife decided she no longer loved me.

Almost immediately, Amy moved out of our apartment to stay with a friend. She would only speak to me through e-mails and, soon after, her attorney.

For several weeks, I pleaded with her to change her mind. However, two months after the initial bombshell, Amy had divorce papers drawn up and I realized that our marriage was truly over. Knowing her decision was final, and because I had no job or friends in the new city, I prepared to leave town.

Moving Out

Walking through the apartment, trying to separate “my” things from “her” things was impossible. It was like reaching inside of a baked cake, trying to pull out the individual ingredients.

No longer was there a unity of belongings, but rather a collection of two people’s possessions thrown together. Looking over our things, I was no longer able to see any gray; everything was either black or white, hers or mine, staying or going.

As I made the last inspection after packing all of my things into a U-Haul, my attention paused on a framed wedding picture on the kitchen table. For a moment, I stopped breathing. I looked into the eyes of that beautiful bride in the photograph and I trembled.

Returning the picture to the table, I became painfully aware of the now-defunct piece of gold on my left hand. I slowly pulled the wedding band off of my finger, gently kissed it and sat it on the table beside the portrait.

With that I turned, walked outside and locked the door behind me. At that moment, in every way, I was a man with no home.

The Truth Comes Out

Weeks later, I suffered the tremendous indignity of piecing together the abhorrent truth behind Amy’s departure. Her “rational, adult decision” to leave our marriage was a sham; she had actually been embroiled in an affair with another man for almost a year–one-third of our marriage.

This was the “friend” with whom she was staying while I pled for her return. With this insight, my last hopes were destroyed, and I signed the divorce papers…two days before Thanksgiving.

Ministering to the Heartbroken

This is my story. Tragic? Absolutely. Pitiful? Without a doubt.

The real question, though, is why should you care about all of this? Why did I invite you into the darkest part of my private nightmares?

The answer, sadly, is that if you do not have such a painful story yourself, you can be certain that you know someone who does. Roughly half of all new marriages in America end in divorce; surprisingly, for born-again Christians this percentage is higher.

Despite all of these “newly single” people populating American churches, the church in general has no idea how to react, relate or respond to the needs of this heartbroken crowd.

I believe the first obstacle that must be conquered is a matter of identity. Let me explain.

In the last year, I have become painfully aware of how, when and where the word “divorce” is used. It often appears in a checklist under the heading “Marital Status,” which gives people four options: single, married, widowed or divorced. I have seen this in the most unexpected places, from a church visitor information card to an application for health insurance.

The issue is that people have grown accustomed to categorizing others according to certain “pegs” in their social life. The problem with this, however, is that there is no such thing as a “divorced person.”

Divorce is an event, not a condition. My divorce was something that happened to me, a tragedy in my past. However, that misfortune should not characterize my whole life from now on.

New Vocabulary

The church can go a long way toward ministering to the wide population of “new singles” by simply striking the word “divorced” from its vocabulary. Using “divorce” as an adjective simply identifies an individual by a horrible event in his life. In this, saying, “Will is a divorced person” is tantamount to saying, “Frank is a pancreatic cancer person.” No one would be so insensitive as to say the latter, so why would it be acceptable to commonly say the former?

The most shocking and hurtful appearance of the “divorce check-box” that I have seen was actually church-related. I had taken myself out of the ministry search for almost a year while I worked through my divorce. Then, as I began to test the waters, I sent résumés to local denominational associations, asking for help in finding possible positions in their areas.

One group mailed back a Personal Inventory Checklist to be stapled to my résumé. The checklist contained a brief list of yes or no questions that inquired about any involvement in child abuse, spousal abuse and other indiscretions.

There, wedged neatly between “Obscene/Harassment Phone Calls,” and “Do you use illegal drugs?” was the question, “Have you been divorced?” That is when I realized that in many people’s opinions, my new peer group consisted of wife beaters and child molesters. I completed the form, but obviously never heard from any church in that area.

Another problem is the average person’s inability to understand what divorce does to a person. Unfortunately, many well-meaning people attempt to help their hurting friends by uttering the five most potentially destructive words imaginable: “Get on with your life.”

This encouragement is built on the premise that their friend’s life is still there, but he has just removed himself from it. This is a mistake. Even though he may still be breathing, your friend’s life, for all intents and purposes, was taken by his divorce.

Out of the Ashes

Let me demonstrate this point from my own experience. For eight long, continuous years I worked hard in school, held a full-time job, took on various church leadership roles, got married and began making long-term career and family plans. However, my wife’s actions effectively ended that life.

In a real sense, my divorce murdered the man and the minister that I was becoming. I will simply never be that man again.

The miracle is that God has raised a new life from the ashes. I now have a new career and ministry that I adore. I honestly cannot imagine being happier doing anything else.

Does this mean that my current life will always be second-string to what “might have been?” I do not think so; however, I do know that this life took time, patience and the determined work of God to bring about.

Do not be quick to urge the newly single person to “get on with his life;” he may actually be stuck between the old life and the new. Only the Holy Spirit and a hearty amount of patience will truly enable him to get on with his new life.

The Best Advice

When my ordeal first began in August of 2000, I met with a trusted mentor, a minister who had been through a similar situation. He said something to me that I will never forget: “Will, there is nothing that I can say that will make this less painful. But I do know that if you get through this with your faith intact, you will know some things about God that most people never realize.”

Now, looking back, I see that he was right. I have never been more aware of the enduring presence of the Holy Spirit than I have this last year and a half.

I have never before known the complete joy and release of casting everything at the foot of the cross, and coming to God with a broken heart and empty hands. Mostly, though, I never expected to actually like my new life, but God was more gracious than I ever imagined.

If you are standing where I have been, or if you love someone who is going through the whirlwind of divorce, do not expect any trite words of comfort and solace here. However, if you are a hurting individual who is crying out to God for the strength to endure, be encouraged by His response through the prophet Jeremiah: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future'” (Jer. 29:11, NIV). Even if the present seems insurmountable, you can trust that the future is wide-open for your success, love and happiness.

How do I know? Because God said so, and because He has done it for me.

William Ryder (a pseudonym) is a writer for an Atlanta-based Christian magazine.

Not a faith of fear

By Dan Edleman
Cerulean Sanctum

If you asked me what I thought was the general feeling sweeping the contemporary Church in America, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second. It’s fear.

Each day, my email inbox fills with messages of conspiracy, worries of persecution, legal rights abridgments, last days mania, and so on. What troubles me most is that I don’t ever get these messages from unbelievers but only from the Body of Christ.

If I were a visitor from another planet come to investigate the blue planet Earth, my assessment of American Christians would be that they are the most frightened people on the planet and that large chunks of their day are spent worrying about one threat after another. To find a reason for this, I would, being a good alien sociologist, consult their holy books to learn the reason for their fears.

That holy book, to my surprise, says this:

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh, my adversaries and foes, it is they who stumble and fall. Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident.
—Psalms 27:1-3

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah
—Psalms 46:1-3

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.
—Psalms 91:1-7

The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?
—Psalms 118:6

The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.
—Proverbs 29:25

Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread.
—Isaiah 8:12

Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.”
—Isaiah 35:3-4

…Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand….For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.”
—Isaiah 41:10,13

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
—Jeremiah 17:7-8

Do not fear the king of Babylon, of whom you are afraid. Do not fear him, declares the LORD, for I am with you, to save you and to deliver you from his hand.
—Jeremiah 42:11

You came near when I called on you; you said, ‘Do not fear!’
—Lamentations 3:57

And he said, “O man greatly loved, fear not, peace be with you; be strong and of good courage.” And as he spoke to me, I was strengthened and said, “Let my lord speak, for you have strengthened me.”
—Daniel 10:19

Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice, for the LORD has done great things!
—Joel 2:21

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
—Matthew 6:25-34

“When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour.”
—Matthew 10:19

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
—Matthew 10:29-31

But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”
—Mark 5:36

“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do.”
—Luke 12:4

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom….”
—Luke 12:32

“Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”
—John 12:15

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
—Romans 8:15

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
—Philippians 4:6-7

…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
—2 Timothy 1:7

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”
—Hebrews 13:5-6

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,
—1 Peter 3:13-14

Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.
—Revelation 2:10

And being an alien sociologist, I would conclude that while Christians say they believe their holy book, they seem to leave plenty of room not to believe it when confronted with certain realities.

I would also note that while many portions of that holy book speak of fear, the majority of those references are to fearing the Christian God—though I would suspect, given the rest of the verses about Him, that this kind of fear is more reverential awe.

So I would scratch my scaled head with one tentacle and wonder about this strange religion that doesn’t believe its own holy book and seems to be more fearful of people, events, and man-made devices and schemes than the God of that same religion.

Stepping out of my overused illustration, I have to ask what the unbeliever thinks of all this fear coming out of the Christian camp in America. Isn’t it a turnoff? I mean, where is the comfort of faith that Christianity affords? Heck, if I were an unbeliever, what kind of witness do I receive when I hear talk from Christians that Congress is even now sharpening the blades on all those guillotines they’ve got stored away in some warehouse in North Dakota in preparation to remove a bunch of Christian heads? What sense do I get that Christians are any less fearful than the general populace (and perhaps even more fearful, when you get down to it)? Why would I want to have anything to do with Christianity?

All this fearmongering also makes us look ignorant, because in most cases those fears are unfounded. My email inbox fills with one warning after another, fear after fear, that a simple check of or would prove to be a hoax, one that only makes us look silly for going off half-cocked. But then there’s the folks who believe that Snopes and Fact Check are in on the conspiracies…

Still, what is the worst that might happen? That we die and go to be with Christ our Lord, where we reign forever and ever with Him in glory? Does that sound awful? Or do we not believe our own message?

Here’s the truth: every person dies. Then why all the fear?

I’d say that this is a crisis of faith within the American Church, but as I’ve grown older in the Lord, I realize a different truth:

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
—1 John 4:16-18

The genuine crisis here is one of abiding in God and in His love. We don’t often think of love as the opposite of fear, but I would offer that the more we love God and love others, the less room exists for fear. As John notes, love is so big that it squeezes out any place for fear. Which proves what I have seen in my life: The most loving people I have known are also the least fearful.

So the word I have for the Church today is this: Love, don’t fear. If we spend time serving God and others in love, we won’t have time to worry, to read the latest fearful headlines in the newspaper, or to forward yet another conspiratorial email that only sends weak people’s shaky knees a-knocking.

Tags: Faith, Faithlessness, Fear, Fearmongering, Frightened, Love, Scared