Complete this sentence: God [blank] divorce. Did you fill in the blank with “hates”? If so, I’m not surprised, because yet another verse in the long list of Bible passages that I’ve heard taken out of context is Malachi 2:16. Granted, some English versions do read, “‘I hate divorce,’ says the Lord …” or, “The Lord God of Israel says, ‘I hate divorce …’” However, several other English translations interpret the verse this way: “‘The man who hates and divorces his wife,’ says the Lord …” Even the historically beloved King James Version says that God hates “putting away” and advises the reader to “deal not treacherously.” English is complicated, and whichever way the verse begins in the translation you prefer to read, it ends with the same sentiment: be faithful. The context of the verse is about unity within marriage, and the context of the whole chapter is a warning to the priests of Judah for a whole litany of reasons, not just marriage. It’s very easy to make the leap from “God hates [fill in the blank]” to “God hates ME because I fit that profile.” Don’t buy into that, dear friend. If you get nothing else out of this message, understand this: God loves you with the deepest, most passionate, most enduring love that your brain can imagine. In fact, he loves you even more than you can fathom!! So, what does God hate? Proverbs 6:16-19 itemizes several issues: “Here are six things God hates, and one more that he loathes with a passion: eyes that are arrogant, a tongue that lies, hands that murder the innocent, a heart that hatches evil plots, feet that race down a wicked track, a mouth that lies under oath, a troublemaker in the family” (MSG). Our character and the attitude of our hearts is what concerns God. Is your life characterized by the types of problems listed above – arrogance, lies, wickedness, deceit, etc. – or does your life reflect a heart that strives to honor the Lord? Whether you are single, married, widowed, or divorced is not the point. How are you being faithful to God in whatever situation you are in?
If you’ve ever attended a wedding, then you know of the “love chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13. Starting in verse 4, Paul describes various characteristics of love: “Love is patient, love is kind …” He concludes the list in verse 8 with one of the most frequently misused Scriptures I’ve ever heard: “Love never fails.”
This passage is popular at weddings, obviously, because no one enters matrimony with the intention of ending it (except Prince Humperdinck, but he’s a conniving fictional character). Yet, if “love never fails,” then how do we explain divorce? I don’t think many divorcees would honestly say that they never loved their ex-spouse. Somewhere along the line, though, that love failed, so does that mean Scripture is wrong?
The problem is not with Scripture. We’re trying to read a vague English word (“love”) that we assume here to mean the kind of lovey-dovey love between a husband and wife, but the Greek word used in 1 Corinthians 13:8 is actually “agape,” which refers to God’s love. That’s the kind of love that never fails! We humans fail all too often, but God’s love never, ever fails. Furthermore, if you look at that passage in context with the rest of the chapter, Paul isn’t even talking about marriage; he’s discussing spiritual gifts and how we should use our gifts in the spirit of God’s love, not for our own glory.
Please don’t interpret what I’ve just said to mean that I think marriage is trivial; it is ideal for a couple to stay in love for the rest of their lives. It’s just that if we don’t grasp the meaning of Paul’s words, then it’s very easy to make the leap from “love never fails” to “you are a failure because your love failed.” I don’t know about you, but as someone who has experienced such failure, it’s a huge relief to know that God’s love for me never diminishes, and my worth in his eyes goes light years beyond my failures.
As a sinful human being, I am adept at failing (there are multiple examples daily), but that doesn’t mean I’m a failure. I’m a redeemed child of God! In case that doesn’t convince you, I encourage you to do a keyword search in the Bible using “God” and “love” – you’ll find 100+ references! No matter what your failures in life have been, God loves you always & forever.
Our church youth leaders hosted a Parents Night event tonight, which was partly a meeting to discuss upcoming activities and partly getting-to-know-each-other time. We split into two smaller groups for Q&A, and I was the only single parent in attendance, which made me the odd man out. It wasn’t as terribly awkward as it could have been, but I still felt a little self-conscious. I knew one of the couples in my group already, which helped me loosen up. Some of the questions were silly, and others were more serious and/or spiritual. It was nice to get to know some other parents and youth leaders better, which was the point of the activity.
I’m really glad I went, but the whole day has brought my single-parent status to the front of my mind, as if it’s tattooed across my forehead.
A dear friend was going through a really tough situation earlier today, and as we talked about it over the phone, she made the comment that I’m stronger than her because I’m independent. (Those weren’t her exact words, but I think it captures the gist of what she said.) I appreciate where she’s coming from, and I realize she meant it as a compliment, but sometimes I think it must be more difficult to be dependent on someone. I don’t really know what that’s like, beyond my growing-up years at home.
I read in the Bible and hear pastors teach about biblical roles in a marriage, and I don’t disagree with the concept, but I have seldom witnessed it firsthand. (That’s not to say that I have no godly marriage examples in my life, but I’m talking about a situation similar to my own, where the wife works outside the home and there are more than a couple of kids in the house.) Truly, I would like to not have to make all of the decisions and pay all of the bills, in addition to other daily chores like cooking, cleaning, sorting mail, grocery shopping, driving kids hither & yon, and household repairs. It’s just that I’ve had to do those things for so long (yes, for the most part, even during my marriage) that I’m not sure what it would be like to have someone to share the load. On the other hand, I want my ideas, opinions, and intellect to be valued in the decision-making process, as well. Being submissive doesn’t mean (or shouldn’t mean, that is) being bossed around.
For example, I heard a preacher on the radio this week who, I suppose, thought he was being funny as he talked about husbands and wives, and he made the comment, “Thank you, ladies, for cleaning up after us.” I thought to myself, “Are you kidding me? Clean up after yourself!” It is not ok for my kids to leave plates & cups sitting on the dining room table. The older three have rotating chores that include loading & unloading the dishwasher. The younger two take turns wiping the table and sweeping the dining room & kitchen floor. Are they still messy? Of course — they’re kids — and I bark at them 24/7, it seems, to pick up after themselves. My house is far from pristine, and I have bad habits that I need to adjust, as well. But to pick up dirty dishes left by a grown man too lazy to take them to the sink?!? I don’t think so.
I don’t recall anywhere in the Bible where it says that a woman should clean up after a man. Some people may think that perhaps I’m too independent for my own good, but if that’s their interpretation of biblical submission, then I may as well stay single forever.
I had an email exchange with an old friend last night that started me thinking. (Not that *we* are old, but we’ve been friends since middle school, lost touch somewhere between her move to another state and our lives after high school, then reconnected a few years ago thanks to the marvels of Facebook.) She has a unique perspective on health and fitness that begins not only with nutrition and exercise, but also with a healthier understanding of self-worth. I strongly encourage you to watch her recent conference presentation about her own journey.
According to the Holmes & Rahe stress scale, which measures life stressors such as changes in work & family, illnesses and finances, I scored 282 points in the past year. A score of 300+ puts you at risk of stress-related illness. (“Moderate risk” is 150-299.) To take it a step further, I scored 734 points over the past five years. So, yeah, life has been a wee bit stressful. Interestingly, even some of the really wonderful things — like finishing school — are counted on the stress scale. It makes sense, though, because it is a significant shift in how I spend my time and manage my day-to-day life.
The thing is, I have talked/vented/cried/blogged at length about my brother’s death five-plus years ago. In fact, aside from this post, I reckon that nearly all of the entries in this Grief category have to do with him, in some regard. Yet, there are other sources of stress and grief that I have experienced that I don’t talk much about, and the elephant in the room is my divorce.
Talking about my brother’s death and my grief journey feels like the right thing to do. I want others to be encouraged in their own grieving scenarios, and it also helps me to talk about it. My hope is that God receives glory through the whole process. There’s nothing to be ashamed of in talking about losing him; no one can blame me for my brother’s death.
Talking about my divorce, on the other hand, feels … different. There is a very real sense of shame — perhaps largely self-imposed, but it’s still there. Self-worth and shame go hand-in-hand. Twenty-year-old Me would have told Thirty-something-Me that she was giving up, throwing in the towel, disobeying the Lord, breaking a promise. Twenty-year-old Me had a fenced-in view of the world and believed that a marriage between two Christians would be healthy and stable, by definition. Twenty-year-old Me would have been adamant that the only two acceptable reasons for divorce are abuse and infidelity, and anything other than those extreme situations means that you should just put on your big girl panties and work through it. Oh, Twenty-year-old Me … you were so very naive.
Part of the reason I don’t talk about it much — in fact, I still run into acquaintances around town who I’ve known for years and realize they don’t even know that I’m no longer married — is because sharing my pain/hurt/frustrations feels a lot like gossiping or berating another individual. Besides that, even trying to verbalize the 1,001 things that were wrong with my marriage would probably sound like a trite list of petty crimes. In the grand scheme of things, did it really matter that he seldom cleared his plate from the dinner table, mowed the yard without being asked for three weeks, or suggested going on a date without me having to plan it? Probably not, but when combined with 998 other things, those seemingly minor issues became major indicators of a relationship severely lacking in care, responsibility, attention, initiative and love.
During our separation, he told me, “I said that I would never leave you. You are the one doing this.” Guilt trip much? But it was true. I did initiate it, and he was correct that he didn’t walk out on me. Yet, what he failed to realize is that he had already left me in every way other than physically walking out the door. He had disconnected, disengaged, and withdrawn into himself years before we actually got divorced. Ours wasn’t a healthy marriage; we were roommates who raised kids [somewhat] together.
I was a solo parent long before I became a single parent. In fact, “only” having five kids to raise actually feels a little easier than having six people in the house to tend to. He was a nearly invisible presence in our home that the kids would literally walk straight past in order to ask me something. Sometimes you could ask him a question, and he’d just look at you and never respond.
Our visitation arrangements are more flexible than the decree states, mainly due to his work schedule and living arrangements. What that means is that I have not had a full day and night to myself since the last time I went out of town. Even on days off when he says that he’ll take all of the kids for the day, he might show up around noon to get them, and then come back in a couple of hours because so-and-so and so-and-so were bickering, so he brought them home. WTH?!? I’d like to drop off so-and-so and so-and-so at his house one day and say, “Oh, they were arguing, so here you go — you deal with it. Bye!”
See what I mean? It’s hard to talk about without complaining, and I don’t want to complain. It doesn’t change anything, and I don’t want to sound like the nag he always accused me of being. I don’t see how talking about my divorce is helpful to anyone, except perhaps just to know that you’re not alone. If there is some good to come of it, then I’d like to know. I’d like to find a way to redeem the circumstance, but for now, I just deal with it like everything else that life has thrown in the mix. When it comes down to it, my sense of self-worth is negatively impacted, and it’s something that I’m going to have to work to overcome.
My favorite movie of all time is a fantasy classic, The Princess Bride. One of the climactic moments involves a conceited ruler, Prince Humperdinck, as he is standing at the altar to marry his reluctant fiancée, Princess Buttercup. The Impressive Clergyman (that’s the character’s name) opens the scene with this line in an accented drawl: “Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday. Mawage, that bwessed awangment, that dweam wifin a dweam …”
(I won’t bother with spoiler alerts, because the book was written in the early ‘70s, and the movie came out in 1987. If you haven’t seen it yet, then you are missing out and need to come over and watch it straightaway. Bring popcorn. I’ll try not to quote the entire film.) Anyway, back to the wedding. Prince Humperdinck loses his patience and his temper, demanding the priest to “skip to the end.” The Impressive Clergyman says man and wife, and the couple is married. Or are they?
We are looking at Matthew 5:27-37 this week, which is a passage of Scripture that has provoked a lot of controversy over the years. I’m not going to get into the nitty-gritty of it, but I want to encourage you to think about the message behind the words. Using three examples (adultery, divorce & oaths), Jesus states the existing law and then gives a broader interpretation of it. In each instance, his perspective deals with the heart of the matter, not just the letter of the law. Regarding adultery, he focuses on lust as the root issue. For divorce, he emphasizes the broken relationship. And about oaths, he reminds us of our humble place before God Almighty. We can’t skip to the end when it comes to heart matters.
When Princess Buttercup is finally rescued, she learns that she was never actually married to Prince Humperdinck because they never said, “I do.” By skipping that essential, personal element in the ceremony, their marriage was void. Relationships are not about crossing Ts and dotting Is. They’re the wholehearted investment of your life into another person’s life. That “bwessed awangment” is a partnership; it can’t be a one-way effort. You can’t skip to the end and call it done.