Tuesday, February 4, 2014
Choosing your Church Carefully after your Divorce...
His Church? Her Church?
You are in the middle of a divorce. Everything in life goes into upheaval. One person stays in the home, the other is forced to leave. Somebody has more time with the kids, the other is handed leftovers. Friends, what do you do about friends? Some were your friends as a couple, some were primarily friends of one or the other, and some may surprise you because their loyalties go in the opposite direction from that expected. Sometimes things even go so far as that one of the two of you end up deciding it is best to move to another town.
But there is one more area that can be very tricky indeed.: church.
Hmmm. What do you do about church? Somebody said to me the other day, as we were talking about this very subject, that clearly, someone has to leave and find a new church to attend. Do you agree?
Many people outside the church (and granted, some inside as well), perceive the church as a place you go to attend a service called worship. But if you are actually an active participant in your church, and truly are seeking to grow in your relationship with God, then you experience church as so much more. For people like that, church is the place of nurture for your spiritual life, the group of individuals God uses to give you the support, guidance and strength you need to stay close to God. The experience of church is one filled with meanings from the past and hope for the future. It is the environment in which you entrust your children to individuals who will help them learn the ways of God, and in which your wrestle with understanding those ways for yourself. There are many other things one could mention, but I want to highlight just one more: church is a significant social circle in your life.
But when a divorce occurs, things become more complicated. The church doesn’t change, but relationships within the church necessarily adjust to the split that has occurred. Frankly, very often the individuals in a church will have already formed an opinion concerning the divorce, frequently amazed that the divorce had not come much earlier, as they have long sympathized with and prayed for a spouse who has clearly suffered. Sometimes, they have been blindsided, or have seen things from a warped point of view and back a person who has deceived them about their actions. Some individuals find themselves torn, wanting to be friends with each party, but not sure how to do that, since odds are that the two divorcing individuals will no longer BOTH be attending the same Bible study..
I have known of couples where both tried to stay, but generally speaking, to do that well is extremely difficult, if not impossible. To both be in the same congregation, with all the history you have had, results in a tension and uneasiness for those around you. And all too often, when you walk in, you feel a bit out of place yourself. I visited with a friend today, reminiscing over my post divorce time in a church I attended at the time. My ex had long since left the congregation, but even so, it was awkward to sit alone in the sanctuary that had once hosted my family. I found a unique little refuge in the chapel at the back, in which a small collection of people with children and a few others chose to sit for whatever reasons they had. For me, it became a kind of congregation within the congregation, at least for a time.
Your spiritual journey suffers great onslaught in the process of divorce. Standing strong is a challenge. In fact, that is the very reason I have published my devotional books, as aids to help those divorcing keep on track with God during the upheaval.
For some, starting fresh in another congregation is the refreshing wind of a new spiritual movement.
For others, the stability of familiar faces and traditions are what keep them on track.
And sadly, for far too many, it becomes too difficult and they simply walk away.
I encourage you to think carefully about what God the ways God might guide you, open to the possibilities that may stretch you into something new, and yet being wise in what traditions to retain. And one of you may need to be big enough to make the gracious choice of stepping away from the congregation you attend, so that the other spouse may continue there as you find a new direction. If children are involved, I would encourage the one who has less time with the children to consider that a gift you give to your children: the opportunity for stability in at least this area of their lives, when so many other things are in flux. Whatever choice you make, I urge you with all my heart, do NOT make the choice to let anything drive you away from regular participation in a congregation of fellow believers who can walk with you through the difficult adjustments that come with divorce.
TL:dr Negotiating the troubled waters of divorce requires you to make wise choices regarding church involvement.