So Does Spirituality Make a Difference During Divorce?
As I mentioned in part one, the life crisis of divorce brings into our lives an opportunity for deepening our spiritual experiences and practice in life….an opportunity that is sometimes neglected or even rejected. The first question of this opportunity I want to raise is that the divorce crisis, which alters so much of life’s directions, causes one to wonder what the value of one’s faith is. That is, if someone believes that their faith experience is something that ought to shield them from life’s hardships, then a crisis like this forces them to examine whether they have misunderstood their faith and need to reflect more deeply. Other individuals instead cling to the understanding that faith should have protected them from divorce, and so they give up, deciding that faith is a waste of time. It is THIS choice that, ultimately, determines whether one’s spiritual life grows deeper in the midst of the divorce crisis or withers away. I say this, even though I know some are taught that the divorce proves faith was useless, or that the divorce somehow disqualifies the person from fully participating in the faith tradition. But even then, one must choose whether to allow someone else’s understanding and restrictions to determine one’s own spiritual life. I believe the personal nature of one’s faith experience implies that, at least to a significant extent, its validity and meaning are NOT subject to the whims and determinations of others.
As I move to the next section, I want to share of a couple of conversations that struck me in a similar and peculiar way. One was many years ago. An individual, who was not particularly religious at all, made a comment to me about a conversation she had with a Christian friend of hers. I don’t remember all the details, but what struck me was, when the individual told me that her friend was talking to her about God, she thought it odd her friend talked as if she had just talked with God in a conversation. I thought, “well, the friend probably did….it’s called prayer!”
Then, more recently, I was visiting with a person of another religion who was chuckling as he was telling me about some friends he had talked with who spoke as if they had just heard God talking to them. He thought it was hilarious. Since he and I were learning about one another’s religion, I felt free to respond and tell him that the idea of hearing God speak is NOT such an odd thing….at least for us Christians. Our practice, experience and belief is that God does, indeed, speak to us. He speaks through the Bible, He speaks through His people, He speaks through nature, He speaks through our consciences….and the list goes on. It was that day I realized very pointedly that the Christian experience of faith as personal and living relationship with God is not the kind of experience offered in some other faiths. I bring this up at this point because it is significant in the rest of the article…..the assumption behind the concepts offered is that the experiences are in the context of a God who seeks to have vital, daily relationship with individuals like you and me. Just thought I should be clear before moving on.
So when a divorce comes into one’s life, there are abundant opportunities to test one’s faith, beyond the choice to believe or not. There is, in most religions, a practical and ethical aspect to the faith. For the Christian, the first and strongest test is in the realm of forgiveness and relationship. Forgiveness is the example Christ set, and the example He expects to be followed. When a marriage brinks on divorce, Christians must face their own willingness and ability to forgive. In some cases, that willingness to forgive means the divorce will not be pursued in the first place. In others, it is a matter of choosing not to nurse grudges, offenses and bitterness. If the ex was particularly vicious in the court proceedings or the settlements, will you forgive, or will you not? It is a true test of one’s commitment to Christ. Oh, sure, it may not mean you feel all at ease and lovey-dovey around your ex, and you may have to intentionally forgive over and over again…but it remains as the choice you must make in a divorce: will you choose to be a person who follows the example of Christ and forgive or not? In fact, it may require daily or hourly prayer time with God, learning from God HOW to forgive. In some cases, this can pave the way for reconciliation…..the restoration of the marriage to a hopeful and healthy future. It may mean forgiving someone who has no interest in whether you forgive them or not, and who will never appreciate that you even tried. In some cases, it may mean you have to forgive people not even involved who judge you and speak unkindly about you because you are divorced.
Other areas of testing of one’s commitment and faith arise time and again. Another good example is honesty. In the divorce process, assets, expenses and income are all to be reported. There can be a great temptation to hide funds, to misrepresent expenses or assets, especially if the person is worried about their financial future. Honesty? Refusing to lie? Even if it costs you? This is a test many divorcing folks fail to pass. Their faith is strong, but not if it is going to cost them. The enticement to fudge a bit here, distort a bit there and justify it as looking out for the kids, or payback for past abuses. Even just being able to hang on to your faith during the whirlwind, not giving up but believing that somehow, at some point, God will get you through, and that there is a future. Despair looms large, but God looms larger when we look to God.
Then there is the area of speech. Spreading rumors, talking down an ex, even the language one uses to describe the ex…..the words from our mouths reveal a lot about what is in our hearts. Or the way we handle anger and revenge can be entirely inappropriate. The stories of clothes and belongings torn and thrown into the street, the vengeful way time with children is denied or court charges are filed over the most idiotic things…..anger out of control and the desire for revenge can be very strong. But our scriptures are clear that vengeance belongs only to God, and that our anger is not to be harbored and nurtured, but resolved and released. Those things may sound silly to someone not divorced, but have you not heard the stories of the ex spouses who come and kill their ex and children, then commit suicide? Any person who has been through a difficult divorce understands exactly where the anger comes from, anger that, untamed, turns into such tragic and senseless action. Nevertheless, the intensity of the emotional upheavals in a divorce is often so profoundly strong, that to deal with it effectively means turning for strength to God and scripture time and time again….sometimes within a matter of minutes or hours!
Well, those are a few of the places our faith will be proved and tested during the divorce proceedings. There are many, many more. But the upside is, even though the best of us will probably make mistakes and poor choices at times, we can also discover that we really DO want to follow Christ, or that God really can help us in our despair. We can also discover what, for me was my favorite insight: we can come to a deeper understanding of just how incredible and costly forgiveness really is, especially the forgiveness God offers to us. If you are in the midst of divorce, and having to make choices about how you will respond to the challenges that come your way, I encourage you to let your faith guide you that your behavior and your commitment will glorify God and make you more like Christ. It is a tragic, but unparalleled opportunity to grow in your faith. Don’t waste it.
TL:dr Specific examples of the ways divorce tests one’s faith and commitment.