If you’ve read some of my archived posts about marriage, you know that I celebrate marriage, that I’m a pastor whose most popular activity after prayer some years is leading marriage services, and that I’m concerned to ensure that people get married, stay married, and that they build strong marriages. But the article made me think about a few things in relation to marriage and divorce:
- We need to ritualize divorce. I’m not talking from a position of strength when I make this point, so that should be clear. But I think communities that love people, communities like churches for example, need to find ways to acknowledge when a marriage ends. In the article, Angela Helm talks about how society’s understanding of divorce has moved from a hardly talked about decision to be more accepted and even public. Even with that social movement, I think my professor’s words ring true in Promising Again that “The end of a marriage is often a secret sadness.” I imagine a church, like mine and others, will be concerned that ritualizing divorce will erode matrimony, that nodding and walking through transitions like separations and divorces, will somehow take away from marriage. However, if people (i.e., families, communities, and churches primarily) cannot develop rituals to name and understand and accept divorces, we will miss opportunities to continually love people.
- We need to support couples who make the hard choices to leave their marriages. I think people who often talk about divorce hardly ground their words. They speak about it as a concept and not as a personal (series of) decision(s) that has difficult consequences. Moreover, people divorce. And people who choose to end their marriages, whatever their reasons for ending them, need help. The men and women who end those relationships are at a most critical time in their lives. Quoting Christine Gallagher, an author, Helm writes,
“Friends can throw a party to show their divorcing pal that they are supported, loved and not alone, [and] the party can be a great way the newly divorced person can thank all the people who stood by them through the ordeal of separation,” Gallagher writes.
- We need to provide all kinds of support. Support may look like these parties, events which push people to mark the endings of their marriages and continually look forward to what’s next. Support may resemble counseling sessions with therapists who specialize in counseling with people who divorce. It may look like listening on the phone to an ex-husband while he laments the end of his relationship or sitting at a table where a wife brightens up after being “freed” or “relieved” or finally let go by a deadening marriage. It may certainly look like awkward moments where you don’t know how to introduce someone who was always a part of a couple. It may mean having some clarifying conversations so everybody feels ready to go forward. But with more than 50% of our couples divorcing, we do well to prepare for being more supportive.
- We need to ensure that churches are equipped to serve people who have divorced. Churches are places where the good news about God’s alternative to things as usual is proclaimed. That good news is a message for everyone. It is about a person and is personal. And we have to work hard not to exclude people with particular histories (do we not all carry our stories?) from our churches. No one was excluded during the early church and no one should be excluded these days. I believe with some hard thinking and careful praying and a lot of listening, churches are best suited to bring people who have divorced to the great message about Jesus. Earlier I quoted Promising Again, a pastoral resource about renewing, remembering, and revisiting the promise a couple makes when it marries. I’ll end with another quote from it.
The sad truth is that for some couples, promising again will not occur. Some couples keep the initial promise unchanged for the sake of the children. These couples survive in hollow shells of marriages, occasionally managing to maintain appearances of family tranquility. For others, even the best help may not be enough. With some marriages ending in these painful circumstances, the church’s presence becomes crucial, though difficult.
If you want, tell me what you think. And if you’d like to read the entire article at the Root, click here.