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Sunday, July 31, 2016

Considerations in a Separation


Remember the old adage:  “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”?   Well, MAYBE!  

In the first blog about separation, I made some observations about things that could be important to have in place to make a separation successful in restoring a marriage.  But now let’s consider some of the things that might make it counterproductive, again, in no particular order.  I would also remind you that I am talking about separation in which BOTH partners are genuinely choosing this strategy as a tool toward reconciliation, not the first step toward getting out of the marriage.  And again, these thoughts are not based on a lot of research nor is the list exhaustive; these are simply the things I have observed through my years in ministry.

  1. There is an "artificiality" - built into separation.  It is a state of being “not quite” a marriage, but also “not quite” a divorce.  A separation can provide some respite from ongoing tension, but in some ways it is an artificial stress reliever.  Because the daily pressures and contacts have been drastically altered, it can make one or both spouses feel like things have gotten better, when in fact nothing has changed except that the problems are being avoided through lack of contact.  It is important to realize that a separation in and of itself is NOT progress; it is merely an altered state.
  2. Another difficulty of separation is the idea that the couple can step out of the pressures and tension of daily married life, so that they can instead try to focus on their key problems and issues without having to deal with additional daily stressors between them.  However, by being removed from those daily stressors, the urgency to work on the problems lessens.  Instead, one or both spouses might be so contented with the stress release, that going back to honestly face and work through the issues becomes less and less attractive.  In my observations, that is often only ONE of the spouses who comes to feel the release; the other is left to struggle with the daily grind and waiting for his/her partner to get around to working on the marriage.  This kind of experience becomes counterproductive, and can create a great deal of resentment.
  3. Separation also creates a kind of illusion of what it would be like to be divorced or single again: going where you want when you want with whom you want, being freed from having to communicate and cooperate with a difficult spouse, etc.  But again, this is not a reality.  Divorce is not at all the same experience as being separated.  There is not a temporary aspect to divorce…it deals in finality.  Divorce does not leave one thinking they can go back anytime they want, but separation implies that notion.  Divorce involves feelings of failure, rejection and deep hurt.  Divorce means that each partner is now permanently embarking on a new path in life on their own, so while compromises and consideration take place, both spouses makes those choices in an atmosphere where they have to secure their own future apart from their spouse.  Divorce also means loss of control, as the courts step in as the final decision maker in the dissolution.  Sure, the couple may make agreements through mediation that the court will honor, but the decision itself is ultimately the right of the court, and a judge may or may not agree with what the couple chooses, assuming the couple is even able to COME to agreement at all.
  4. Suppose a couple decides to use a trial separation, and each one works on some of the issues in him or herself in that environment.  For instance, perhaps one spouse is irritable and short tempered, and so begins to focus on that while separated.  That individual may find he or she learning how to not get irritated or how to handle anger in more appropriate and less hurtful ways.  The person may even sense a great deal of progress.  But the progress can give a false impression of HOW MUCH progress has actually been made.  It is much easier to be less irritable when you are not in the presence of the person or thing that irritates you!  Learning to handle irritation when the source is present is another matter.  When this happens, the person who gets irritated can too easily decide that, since they don’t get irritated when the other person isn’t around.  The conclusion can become, “I don’t have any problems, because I don’t get irritated when my spouse isn’t around, so the problem must be that my SPOUSE behaves in irritating ways and needs to change!”  Yet, if someone never learns how to handle irritations when the irritating factor is present, then really all that is happening is that the person is practicing avoidance and placing the blame on somebody else, instead of honestly seeking personal growth.  

Don’t get me wrong, a person can make great strides in growth given the time to be apart and seriously look oneself in the mirror.  But the evidence of the growth is found in context…and growth in how a person handles things by him/herself is not the same as growth in how that same person handles him/herself in a relationship!  And it doesn’t count that you have learned to get along better with other friends, because other friends are not sharing your bank account, your home, your future, your responsibilities with your children—in short, you aren’t MARRIED to your friends.  It is the MARRIAGE relationship you are supposed to be working on, remember?

In separation, temptations can become overwhelming.  Having been with a partner for a period of time, suddenly being the only adult in the house can result in a great sense of loneliness.  Having been in a struggling and perhaps hostile relationship, the sense of freedom that comes with being away from it can beckon to further “freedoms.”  Having been in a relationship where kisses and hugs had once felt good and loving, and in which it was appropriate for sexual needs to be met (even though none of these things may be currently happening), in separation the needs and desires still exist, but the partner is no longer present.  It can be very easy to be so overcome with longing and need, and seek fulfillment in the arms of another person, which only compounds the problems in the marriage.  In addition, even if it is only a hug, that experience with another person can create the illusion that this is what it is SUPPOSED to feel like.  There would be, obviously a grain of truth in that, as good marriages are loving marriages.  HOWEVER, this other person with whom you are feeling that positive response is NOT your spouse…it is NOT the same context!  Again, it is easy to mistake an artificial moment as being the same thing as a marriage, when it is not.  If you were sharing the bank account, the home, the responsibilities, etc. with this other person, your experience might be altogether different.  The goal is to learn how to make changes toward positive experiences WITHIN a marriage relationship, which is different than outside the marriage.  Don’t confuse the two.

As the last entry today, let me also make one more observation about a potential pitfall or illusion in trial separation, and that is the possibility of self-deception.  Do you remember what Jeremiah 17:9 says about our hearts?  It says, 

         “The heart is more deceitful than all else
 And is desperately sick;
 Who can understand it?  (NASB)

Many times when a couple separate, each one will say they are doing it not as a step toward divorce or to get out of the marriage, but as a tool to help them get things worked out.  Sometimes that really is what they are doing.  But there are other times when it appears that this is more what they are TELLING themselves they are doing, but are actually not being honest with themselves or have been deceived by their own heart thoughts.  Once off in separation, the deeper intent starts to rise and instead of working on the marriage, the individual gets too busy to go to the counselor, or is too exhausted to talk about the problem anymore, or any of a multitude of avoidance excuses the demonstrate the TRUE intent in that person, which is to not have to deal with his/her spouse any longer.   And that means the agreed upon purpose for the separation was based on a lie; the separation will doom the marriage to failure.

Well, those are some of the traps I think of, and have observed.  I haven’t yet decided whether this will end the series, or if I want to add some final thoughts on the topic.  Perhaps there is something in particular you would like addressed, and if so, feel free to make a suggestion in the comments, or via email, and I will take it into consideration.  In the meantime, if you are considering a trial separation, tread carefully and wisely!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Would a Trial Separation Work?


I recently received a pretty interesting inquiry.  After reflecting on it, I gave the writer a bit of a response, but decided that the topic was important enough it was worthy of a blog, so promised him I would have a blog for him today that begins to address the topic more fully.  I decided to invite you, my readers, to eavesdrop.  

Let me begin by sharing the contacting note with you, minus the identifying features—

I just read your 7 day seasons of divorce bible plan on my Bible app. It was very encouraging. My wife and I have been married 4 years and have two small children. What are your thoughts on trial seperations (sic)?

The blog will focus on the question raised about trial separations, but I wanted to make a couple of simple comments about the situation first.  However, let me first say, I don’t like the term “trial” separation because in a trial of a product, it is with the understanding that if we like the product we will make it permanent.  Implicit in the term “trial separation” is that we are trying separating to see if we like it.  I prefer the use of the term “temporary separation,” which implies that the goal is reconciliation.  It may not seem like much, but the words we use can often shape the way we think.

Sometimes people enter marriage and in a relatively short time conclude that it was a mistake and headed for divorce.  Having been both a pastor and a wedding photographer over the years, I have seen this happen many times.  Probably the record time was one couple who were split up after only a month!  Others begin to question their marriage within a few years.  I have known some individuals seeking divorce who discovered soon after their wedding that they had married a person who was abusive, an addict or had some other serious character flaw he or she is unwilling to face, which creates a very difficult situation.  But there are others who simply ran into disillusionment or found marriage was more difficult than they expected, and chose to get out of the relationship.  In those cases, they MAY have missed the possibility of the kind of great marriage that can come through commitment and hard work.  

In addition, I want to comment on the presence of children, especially small children.  (And let me add that it isn’t surprising a couple with small children might consider separation or divorce…though there is lots of joy with small children, it is also a time of much stress.  The good news is that the related stress does not last forever.)  I have known in my life many children whose parents got divorced, including my own children and step children.  It is a tragic thing to see.  If you have children in your home, and you truly love them, I would strongly encourage you to do everything in your power to make the marriage work (not just continue, but actually WORK), because of the impact it will have for the children.  One of the best gifts we can give our children is to truly love their mom or dad.  

At the same time, I do not believe it is healthy for children to grow up watching mom being beaten by dad (or vice versa!), or to constantly see a parent strung out on drugs or booze, especially if mom or dad also beats the children.  Short of that, I believe in the long run, doing the serious work and self-examination required to turn around a failing marriage will pay big dividends in the lives of the children and your relationship with them.  Yet there are times one partner refuses to even try, and though sometimes a partner will pray and wait until their spouse comes around, more often the unwilling partner just chooses to leave.  

I certainly would not claim to be an expert, so in responding to the question, I emphasize that the individual asked simply for MY thoughts about separation.  Out of curiosity, I decided to run a quick search to see what evidence there is on the internet as to how frequently separation saves or finishes off marriages.  What I found, as one often finds on the internet, is that the answers are all over the place, with people strongly advocating all kinds of opinions.  The better articles that I found tended to make some of the same kinds of suggestions I usually include, so I decided to merely offer my own thoughts and observations from what I have seen over the years.  This will take 2 or maybe 3 installments to address well, so below I offer what I think are the first 4 priorities (not in any particular order):  

  1. The first thing is purpose.  It seems to me that the couple needs to determine (and find agreement on) on what their purpose is in having a trial separation.  Is it for safety, to protect a partner who is being abused?  Is it to be a relief valve, providing opportunity for the heat of anger to dissipate and more rational thought to prevail?  It might be to remove the pressures of daily living, so that the couple can instead focus on working on the larger issues together.  However, sometimes it is done with one or both spouses figuring it is a preliminary step toward divorce…which, barring radical change of attitude will, of course, result in divorce.  Some might use it to provide opportunity for one or the other spouse to “test the waters” by dating and comparing their spouse with other individuals out there.  If the purpose is truly an attempt to save the marriage, then there needs to be some careful plans laid for the separation.

  1. The second thing is to plan for regular communication.  More than electronic contacts, there needs to be a plan for regular face to face, or at minimum phone communication with one another.  In extreme cases, this may occur only weekly and may have to be in the presence of a mediator, counselor or pastor to assist the conversation.  But there needs to be ongoing contact, and it needs to also include communication that is NOT about the problems and issues, focusing instead on staying in touch with one another and sharing personal thoughts and feelings.  Since trust likely will have degenerated already, that sharing may be rather surface at first, but keep the contact, and find ways to take risks to move to a deeper level of sharing.  I would also encourage a nighttime and morning contact…”good night,” “good morning,” “hope you have a good day,” “I miss you,” “this is really hard for me,” “I do love you,” or “I know I loved you once, I want to be there again.”

  1.   Third is the need to agree upon clear boundaries.  This can go lots of directions.  If your separation is in the same home but different rooms, establish how you want to set up personal space, and whether certain spaces are off limits or restricted to certain times.  (There are real advantages to staying in the same home…but sometimes it may not be the most practical or realistic option.)  If you are in separate homes, then one of you will likely be in the family home in which you both lived.  What are the ground rules for the outside person to be able to come inside to pick up needed items, or to share bedtime stories with the children, etc.?

Boundaries should also be established in terms of relationships with others.  In a separation working toward reconciliation, I think it would be most wise to not permit one-to-one contact with members of the opposite sex, even if they are just friends or married themselves.  Such contact will almost inevitably begin to fill a void that ought to be filled by your spouse, which can serve to drag you further apart, rather than provide insights that bring you closer together.  It may be true that you could handle yourself appropriately, and that your friendship is different.  But if you are trying to save your marriage, why take the risk?  Or why set up something that might create false impressions and could complicate the process on down the road?  Why have a relationship about which your spouse is going to have to just “trust you” that it is strictly platonic?  Especially since trust is likely already a problem, otherwise the marriage wouldn’t be on the skids!

There are other boundaries that need to be agreed upon:  time with and responsibilities for the children, contacting one another at work, who the appropriate people are with whom to share the struggle, how to handle contacts with other family members…you have to decide what all is relevant for your situation.  If something pops up later and you realize you missed one, negotiate it when you recognize it is there.

  1. Commit to pray:  for God to help you see where you need to change and grow and to be more understanding of your spouse, for God to work to save your marriage, for God’s blessing and good for your spouse, and for God to use this time to help you both build the foundation for a strong and healthy marriage. Don’t only make the commitment, make sure you actually DO pray.  God is always the key to help us with any problems in life, and especially for marriage.  After all, marriage was God’s idea in the first place!



Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Over and Over Again!


“Mary had a little…..”   

“Twinkle, twinkle, …”

“Peter Piper picked…”

So did you have any trouble completing any of those?  If you were from another country or culture you might not have immediately completed them, but I suspect a very large majority of us in the United States can complete every one of those lines and more that aren’t listed.  In fact, these may even remind you of others (anybody seen any wood chucks chucking lately?)

Learning by repetition, or by rote, is very out of vogue these days.  People talk more now about learning styles, whether one learns aurally, or visually, or kinesthetically.  They talk about integrated learning, where english composition may be taught through the medium of writing essays on the current History lesson. Up-to-date teachers use methods that have the children actively involved in the learning process with more than just hearing and seeing, but actually doing and learning through inductive investigations.  And I happen to believe all these things are actually pretty good ideas.  HOWEVER….

However, I also think we should be careful about giving repetition such short shrift.  After all, you still remember those little ditties, don’t you?  (as in Doo wah, doo wah, doo wah, ditty, talk about…)  Perhaps repetition is dull and boring, but it can cement things into our hearts and minds in ways that one just never forgets.  

Perhaps that is why God repeats so many of his teachings and admonitions in the Bible.  I was reminded of that fact first hand today, as I was doing my morning readings in scripture, and using different materials, but ended up with a divinely planned serendipitous experience.  In fact, my experience was to explore readings in materials designed for the years 1999, 2015 and 2016, when today they intersected upon one topic from a variety of verses scattered throughout the scripture.  

I don’t know that it is necessary that I give you the specifics of those so much as it is to remind you of the kinds of things God apparently believed were so important for us to hear, that the topics are addressed over and over and over in scripture.  If God thinks they are important enough to repeat, it seems to me there are two things clearly implied:  1) in the eternal scheme of things where God make the final decisions, these things really are important;  2) we human beings tend to forget or ignore some of these lessons, and so need reminding of their importance…which also means that you or I will not have been the only person who has struggled with these lessons.

Having said all that, let me give you some words and phrases that you can run through a concordance or search and find that over and over God has stressed that these things really are important, and we really do need sometimes the reminders.  So how about these as messages from God--

Do not fear, God is with you.
Love one another.

God loves you.  Seriously, deeply, passionately and unflinchingly loves you.

Sin damages us and others more than we think.

Be courageous and be strong, with God’s power at your side.

God is to be the most important being in your life.

Rejoice, be a person of joy, confident in God’s care for you.

Eternal life is available to any who would be followers of Jesus.

This world and its possessions are not what really matters in life.  
Your relationship with God is.

Sin is serious business, which is why Jesus died to pay the penalty on your behalf.

Serving is more rewarding than being a big shot.  And much more pleasing to God!

Trust God…no matter what.

There is always hope if God is in your life.

And this list contains just a few.  Perhaps you might find encouragement, strength and guidance by perusing scripture to discover your own list that relates to the needs you are experiencing in life.  There is something in the Bible for every person, and for every situation in your life.  You just have to look.  And realize that things that are important really are worth repeating!  Maybe it’s time to repeat some of them to yourself.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Does Your Marriage Need Weeding?


(not our actual garden... but a picture of a very similar garden...)

We have had a lot of rain the last few months.  And last summer and fall were pretty busy.  As a result, I have been pulling weeds.  A lot of weeds.  Some pretty big weeds, and some weeds with pretty strong roots.  And lots of baby trees that have decided to take root among the weeds.  The worst part of it all, is that some of the weeds I am pulling are in places that I had already pulled and cleaned out just a few weeks ago.  But the rain and the sunshine in between…and probably the neighboring weeds that I haven’t gotten to yet, have all conspired to replenish the weed population in those places.  


I hate weeding.  It is hard on your back and knees, it is very tedious, and it is never ending.  I have a long standing hate relationship with weeding.  I remember as a little kid being asked to do some of the weeding in the flower beds.  I remember being told that it doesn’t do any good to pull weeds if I don’t get the roots out, too.  But I hated weeding, and I wasn’t vey good at it, and the ground was pretty dry, so all that happened way back when was that the tops got torn off the plants until they just came back.

One thing I’m learning about weeding is that, like Henry Fonda says about parenting in the movie, “Parenthood”, it never ends!  I suspect that if I ever get to the point where I have some of the garden and flower beds weed free with rich and loose soil, then keeping them that way  may not be as bad as getting them that way.  But I’m probably wrong.  Somehow I think weeds are bound up in the Genesis curse where Adam is told that the ground is only going to bear fruit through the sweat of his brow.  It sure has turned out that way!

I think a lot of things in life need regular weeding.  I think a sometimes divorces occur because the couple didn’t do a good job of weeding in their marriage relationship.  I think sometimes people give up on their faith or quit going to church because they haven’t done a good job of weeding in their spiritual life and their faith has been overwhelmed.  I think a lot of people, probably including me, don’t do a very good job of weeding their daily schedules to match their desired priorities.  I think a lot of times there are weeds going wild in our thought lives.

I also think we make the mistake of assuming in all these areas that weeds once pulled don’t ever need to be pulled again.  Or that areas of our lives once cleared will stay cleared without effort forever.  But that is wrong.  We never get done.  And just like weeding in a garden, sometimes it takes a lot of work to get rid of life’s other weeds.  There is always something new to learn, more opportunities to pursue.  A marriage is never a completed task, it is always an ongoing venture of growth and change.  Our spiritual journey is not one of having arrived, but is about the journey itself.  Our movement toward purity will not be complete this side of heaven, but is a living work of grace that beckons us forward on a daily basis.

Are there areas in your life that need some weeding?  

Some behaviors that need to be pulled?  

Maybe some of your relationships have developed some habits that need to be removed and discarded.  

Or maybe life has just gotten cluttered with too much stuff.  

At least, that’s some of the things I got to thinking as I was pulling out all those stupid weeds.  And there are still more weeds out there waiting to see me tomorrow.  But I promise, I won’t turn it into another blog!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Used By God


In the first church I pastored, I had opportunity to help a lot of different people through a lot of different struggles of life.  Most of that kind of a pastor’s work is pretty invisible in private conversations at all sorts of hours.  There is in 2 Corinthians a pretty profound passage that makes a good guide for anyone willing to be used by God.  It’s found in 1:3-4 and says (in NASB)—

  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 

Sometimes I would end up attempting to help individuals going through the throes of divorce.  As I had little experience, I did the best I knew how, and, looking back, some things I did pretty well, and some of my assistance was probably was way off base.  But one of the smartest things I did is something that any of you reading could do as well.  I applied the principle given in the passage above; I would find another individual in my church who had experienced divorce, and ask them to be a friend and mentor to my parishioner going through divorce at the time.  When I went through my own divorce and learned so much from others who had experienced it as well,  I realized how good the to make partners had been.  

As I took advantage of a nearby DivorceCare ministry, I encountered again the experience of learning myself from more individuals who had experienced the trauma of divorce.  The shortcoming, though, was that the support was merely a few weeks long, while the struggles from divorce continued for a much longer period.  I came to the conclusion that God could use the same principle in my life and help fill the gap I had experienced if I put together some personal and relevant devotions for others going through divorce that would provide support for an entire year.  Hence the birth of Finding God in the Seasons of Divorce, Vols 1-2.

I would encourage you examine your own life.  What are the areas in which God has encouraged, helped or ministered to you, and then ask yourself how you could pass along that those encouragements to others now going through a similar experience.  Not everyone will share the support in the same way.  But the principle can be applied in lots of different ways.  

For example, if my books have been helpful in your life or the life of someone you know, you can make a practice of purchasing copies for others you know going through divorce.  You could also choose to provide copies to your pastor so that he or she can have them at hand to help parishioners who turn to them for support and godly counsel.  (I would have been thrilled to have something like those books available for my use in my first pastorate!)   The same thing is true of my latest book to encourage those doing Caregiving…who do you know that could benefit from it?  Those are a couple of tangible actions you could do.  But there are so many more.

No matter what you have gone through in life, whether it be financial reversal, grief and mourning, the devastation of serious illness and subsequent bills…whatever, if you would but open yourself up to the opportunities, there are people somewhere around you who need what you have to offer, because of your experience.  God does the bulk of his work through human beings willing to give of themselves.  In fact, one could almost read the passage from 2 Corinthians to say that the main reason God gives us the comfort and encouragement we need in tough times is so that we can pass it on to others!  

Have you mistakenly hoarded the comfort and encouragement God has sent your way?  Have you allowed yourself to become oblivious to the multitudes around you needing the help and hope that YOU are an expert in?  I invite you to reach out and become part of something bigger than yourself.  You will find, as I have, that you are amazed at how God can use what little you have to offer to make life better for someone else.  

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Real Story Behind the Divorce


I was preparing to write my new blog, and then happened across a comment in something I read that struck me in such a way I decided to shift gears.  Since I am not going to be talking particularly favorably about the comment, I am going to refrain from citing the source.  

In the material, the commentator was discussing very effectively how so often things in our world appear wonderful and tempting, but once we take hold of them, they often don’t quite live up to what we expected.  That can be foods, possession, experiences…lots of things, and several biblical examples were provided.  The last two provided were King David in relation to his ill-fated affair with Bathsheba (which I think is the kind of thing we see a lot!), and then a reference to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4.  The writer suggested that this lesson of false allure was probably learned by the Samaritan woman by the time she reached husband number five.  The structure of the writing was such that the implication was the woman was the one at fault for jumping from husband to husband to live-in-lover.  This is that point that really struck me.

Notice, I said the “implication” was that the woman was at fault…there is a mild chance the author did not intend that and that the author had no clue of the implication, or it may well be that the author had decided it was all the Samaritan woman’s fault and chose to say so.  

I guess it stuck out to me, because I had never really thought about who was at fault in her past relationships.  Or if I had, it was with an awareness that women had few rights in those days…especially in the realm of divorce…and that men (especially in the biblical influenced culture of that time) tend to be the ones who believe that “the beautiful little temptress that just walked by” is worth abandoning one’s family to pursue.  In other words, I tend to think she was a woman scorned time and again, who finally became so jaded she either accepted or intentionally limited her current relationship to that of living together.  

So what is my point?  My point is that the writer made assumptions about the woman’s choices and commented in such a way that it assigned blame, and that happens all too often.  

]I can guarantee you this was the same kind of comment the Samaritan woman had heard in her village for years.  “I hope you learned your lesson!”  “That girl doesn’t know how to keep a husband!”  “Maybe she’s finally gotten it figured out!”  That was why she came to the well alone in the middle of the day, instead of coming with other women from town first thing in the morning.  That was also part of why she was thunderstruck by the fact that Jesus would talk kindly with her.  In my observation as a pastor, frequently individuals who have multiple divorces have as their biggest “fault” the inability to choose wisely in the first place, more often than not due to conditioning that arose in their childhood experiences.

It is unfortunately all too common for people to make judgments about a marriage that ends in divorce, and to assign blame based on limited information.  It is also far too common that people make comments without realizing the impact of what they are saying.  “Well, maybe you will do better next time.”  “They just took the easy way out.”  “I’ve had hard times in my marriage, too, and you don’t see ME giving up.”  Judgment, condemnation, insensitivity.  Clueless.  Why?  Well, let me tell you.

As a pastor, I have often been privy to the inner workings of struggling marriages.  That information, of course, has been confidential.  Time and again I have known of marriages end in divorce, and heard people making comments afterward.  The most striking comments tended to be when people blamed one individual or the other, not realizing that they didn’t even know the full story.  In such instances, one could almost long to say things like, 

“Yeah, she filed for divorce….but he used to beat her…did you know that?”  

“Yeah, he left her and yeah, he committed adultery, and he could be blamed, but did you have any idea that she didn’t share his bed for 20 years?”  

“Yeah, it is a shame it ended in divorce, but did you realize she was forced into that marriage in the first place?”  

“Yeah, they got divorced, but they’ve had problems for 15 years and spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours on marriage counseling, so do you really think they didn’t try?”

“Yeah, she filed for divorce, but do you realize he refused to even try to work on the marriage?”

“Yeah, they are divorced…and now broke, laden with guilt, struggling to survive emotionally and alienated from their families.  

Do you really think that is the ‘easy way out?’”

You get the idea.  There is always more to the story than appears on the surface.

Sometimes we may know more of the story, but may have heard it only from one spouse’s perspective.  Or sometimes we know more of the story, but know little of the upbringing of the person involved, so don’t really understand the difficulties they face.  

Sometimes the troubling or insulting statements are very subtle.  Sometimes they are outright mean.  But the wise and godly person’s statements are filled with compassion, humility and grace.  

In my first book I share the impact made on me by a pastor’s wife some 40 years ago.  I met this lady only that one time, as she was actually the friend of the person I was visiting with at the time.  She told of the sadness in her church over the fact that the chairman of the deacons and his wife were getting divorced after 25 years of marriage.  After mentioning the heartache over the divorce, she then said, “But for the grace of God, there go I.”  

Far too many people whose marriages last lack the humility of this pastor’s wife.  They fail to recognize that every one of us is susceptible to weakness and failings, and that it really is the grace of God that sustains us.  Sure, we each have to do our part, but bottom line, we cannot take credit for the fact that we were raised to value the marriage commitment, or that we did not suffer abuse disguised as love, or that God has healed us from the raging temper we once had, or an endless list of things we neglect to notice.  

When you know of a couple whose marriage ended in divorce, encourage them as best you can, show compassion and humility, perhaps even offer challenges to help their marriage get back on track, but never judge.  No matter how much you know, you never know the whole story.  Only God knows that, and the Bible is clear that judgment belongs only to God.