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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.  

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