Til Death Do Us Part

Our church staff engaged in a round of emailed conversation a few weeks ago when one of us forwarded a question this brother raised.  Another coworker asked if anyone knew the questioner.  I chimed in that I did, that I served as his premarital counselor, in fact.  I could already tell that this was going somewhere: I was about to be somebody’s punchline. 

Indeed, our lead pastor replied that something was amiss with the couples I had been working with.  A few weeks prior, he informed me of my “first divorce,” the first time a couple whose marriage I officiated ended in divorce.  Of course, that conversation was serious.  In this emailed case, he was suggesting that my track record was not good.  He was being playful.

But it stung.  It still stings.

Any pastor paying attention to his congregation takes notice when a couple is in trouble.  If the pastor doesn’t, he or she should look to another type of work.  Leaders care when marriages experience trouble or falter.  Some of our best work is done in crisis.  I know we have limits, but there’s much room for grace when trouble fills a person’s life.

Nonetheless, my own small record, if I can call it that, has me thinking hard about my role in people’s lives and about the community’s role in helping sustain relationships when possible.  It’s not always possible, I know.  But I’m thinking that I shouldn’t lead people in taking vows when and if I cannot be in the immediate community who will help that couple live those big words.  That’s the idea behind the ceremony being led by a pastor, in a church, after all.

Leading a couple in vow-taking is a joy and a responsibility.  It’s fun to see a pair in love, standing before me with nothing but bliss in front of them, to look at them and to know some–again, some–of the things that will work against that bliss.  It’s a responsibility I enjoy, living with them, side by side in the faith community, as they push their feet to keep up to those uttered promises. 

In my congregation, a lot of people get married and leave.  They graduate from school and go off to some place else.  It’s a part of our mission to do with those good folks what we can, but we know that many of them will leave.  In some cases that means “marrying them off” and watching them go to (hopefully) other communities of faith where they will be supported.  But my first divorce has me considering how to approach my pastoral responsibility.  

It’s why I don’t officiate just anybody’s wedding in the first place.  I’m not a service provider.  I’m selective.  Because I’m a pastor.  But this sting is bothering me.  It has me thinking about what I’ll say to the next pair who sends an email looking for an officiating minister–and I’m always thinking about this.

Not everybody’s married, but we all know that relative divorce, don’t we?  You know a friend or a person you trust or a person you believed with all your heart would maintain a successful, enduring marriage.  You have an example or two, an up close one, that makes you wonder about marriage and divorce, that makes you ask questions about things you once assumed.

So I ask you: Has divorce made you do something differently, made you see something differently?  What can you share?


5 thoughts on “Til Death Do Us Part

  1. When Austin and I were engaged and going through premarital counseling, we talked about our own view’s of divorce with our pastor. My parents are divorced, so this was a tough subject for me to discuss. But we agreed upon the fact that divorce just isn’t an option for us and committed to the fact that we will work through whatever life throws at us to cause us strife.

    Also, we are now just driving home from Arkansas, where Austin just performed his first wedding ceremony of our friends. It was good to read this, as I also believe that whether you perform the ceremony or are just an attendant, that it is our responsibility to help the couple throughout their marriage in any way we can. Not a lot of people take this seriously and as we have worked through our first years of marriage, it has made a world of difference when our loved ones support us, without us having to ask.

    Great post, Pastor Michael.

  2. Hmm…this is an interesting topic for me. My parents’ apparently very stable marriage in which “divorce was not an option” collapsed about a year and a half ago, with no warning, leaving my family in shambles. I’ve been a part of or witnessed several similar collapses over the past several years, of 25+ year marriages of committed Christians. Now, obviously there’s a lot of pain, frustration, and confusion that this has caused in my own life, and I’m only at the beginning of the process of working through those things – i can’t write an eloquent summary of all of the things that divorce has made me see differently. But I’ll give you one.

    As a woman in her early twenties, I’m in the season of attending lots of weddings – I think I’m on my 7th this summer. I have many friends who are in love, engaged, or newlyweds. I also know and work with many couples around their 10 year mark. All of these people are overflowing with opinions on marriage – on how to build a strong one, on how to handle conflict, etc. The 10 year folks have a little more experience, a little more sobriety, and fewer stars in their eyes.

    Yet, I think that witnessing the many divorces of solid Christian couples in their 40’s and 50’s has given me pause, when listening to all of this advice. None of my friends or coworkers has arrived at that point, yet. They’re in the “should we get engaged now or later?” or the”should we have another kid?” or the “should we move further from family?” or the “can we afford another car?” phase. They haven’t yet reached the “inevitable foreclosure” or the “unachieved life goals” or the “problem teenager” or the “empty nest, what do we do now?” phase, which seems to be the catch point for many of the couples whose marriages I’ve watched disintegrate.

    So, the lesson of divorce. Even though I’m single with no wedding bells within earshot, I think I’m way more humble than I was, when I think or talk about marriage. I’m coming more and more to the conclusion that a lasting marriage happens not because people follow the right formulae, or go to the right marriage retreats or counselors or bible studies (even though all of those are good things). I’m starting to recognize that a lasting marriage happens because of God’s grace alone. It happens when husband and wife are on their knees in humility, desperate for God to pull them through the Major Hurdle. The Death of a Child. The Bankruptcy. The Miscarriage. The Infidelity.

    I think I understand sin as way bigger, now, and way more insidious and pervasive – how it can eat to the heart of a person and a relationship. I think I understand marriage as a spiritual battleground, where Satan can gain and has gained strongholds in the lives of seemingly dedicated men and women.
    Which doesn’t mean I want to chuck marriage out the window – I just think I (and maybe we?) need to take it a lot more seriously. We need to protect our marriages and the marriages of those close to us zealously.
    We need to rediscover the spiritual discipline of confession, I think, to reify the sins that we like to bury in our private prayers.
    Here’s my last comment: if we recognize that Satan has gotten into and used broken marriages to undermine the church and its ministers, it should tip us off that there’s power there. There’s something immensely important and powerful in the rightly-functioning, redeemed and redeeming, marriage of a man and a woman in the church. And we should fight for that.

    • Lauren, you’ve offered a more eloquent summary than you give yourself credit for. And you great high points. Grace and confession, which make me think of forgiveness, the largeness of sin and the stronger reach of salvation, which remind me of the good news there is to tell about marital relationships. We should fight for marriage. There is great beauty in it, even with all the ugly things. Thanks for thinking about this and writing this comment. Really.

  3. Pingback: Why Don’t Pastors Tell People Who To Marry « Intersections

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