In his booklet Divorce Recovery: Growing and Healing God’s Way, Winston Smith, begins with a sympathetic word to those experiencing the pain of divorce:
The pain you are experiencing has many different faces: Your hopes and dreams for your marriage were ended by the bitter reality of your divorce; your life is full of unwanted changes; and you struggle every day with a mixture of grief, fear, guilt, and anger. God might seem far away right now, but he is not. He is with you in your day of trouble. The Bible says, “But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand” (Psalm 10:14). God sees you. He sees your trouble. He is the one who is able to “take it in hand” and heal your heart. Although your life is full of changes, God does not change. In him you will find understanding and hope as you face your grief and the power to overcome fear, shame, bitterness, and guilt” (p. 3).
Smith’s counsel begins with sympathetic hope and proceeds to consider what the Bible has to say to those who are recovering from a divorce. His words are addressed to believers in Jesus Christ. If you are experiencing a divorce and it has caused uncertainty about your standing with God, let me encourage you to read through Two Ways to Live before reading on. God may be using this horrible situation to show you your weakness and sin and to magnify his grace and mercy to you.
However, if this event has reaffirmed your trust in Christ and his promise of forgiveness of sins, then the outline below and the entire booklet, Divorce Recovery, would be a sensitive guide to help you think through some (but certainly not all) of challenges that you are or will be facing. May God use it to grow in grace and to reflect more truly the image of his Son (2 Cor. 3:18).
Some of the principles are rearranged and combined from Winston Smith’s chapter.
- God understands your grief. Amazingly, in his long-suffering relationship with Israel, God too experienced a divorce, with a people that the Bible described as his (spiritual) wife. See Jeremiah 3:8. Likewise, Jesus Christ became a man to become a sympathetic high priest (cf. Heb 4:14-16). He understands more than you know, and Jesus grieves with those who have been hurt by the ravaging effects of sin (cf. John 11:28-37).
- God will restore you. Smith writes, “To God, the repaired is more beautiful than the new. That doesn’t mean God will restore your previous marriage, but it does mean God will restore and improve you through the wounds of divorce” (p. 4)
- Healing begins with your relationship with God. In all situations, the gospel of Jesus Christ is the solution to the problem of sin, brokenness, bitterness, death, despair, and the list goes on. God promises that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is used to restore the lives of those united to Christ by faith and repentance. Healing begins with God, when a person is trusting in Christ for forgiveness of sins and daily sanctification.
- God’s forgiveness helps you deal with sin and feelings of guilt. Marriage is a covenant made before God that God’s takes very seriously (Matt 19:8-9; 1 Corinthians 7:12-15), but divorce is not the unforgivable sin. The promise still holds, “if you confess your sins to God, he is faithful and just to forgive sin and cleanse us or unrighteousness.” Where sin has increased with the result of divorce, grace has increased all the more (cf Rom 5:21).
- The grace of God overcomes shame, anger, and bitterness. Three things to know about God’s grace and forgiveness is (1) Forgiveness does not depend on your ex-spouse; (2) Forgiveness is a process, not an event; and (3) Forgiveness means changing the way I see myself (p. 12-14)
- Change your focus. Focusing on things in heaven (Matt 6:19-21; Col 3:1) and dwelling on what is good (Phil 4:8-9), puts today’s problems in perspective. Likewise, as God supplies strength, serving others can be one means by which God refreshes your soul and grants you the gift of self-forgetfulness which fights against self-pity.
- Only try to do the next thing. Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus teaches us that worrying doesn’t add an hour to our lives; today has enough trouble of its own. Smith provides a helpful strategy for ordering your chaotic thoughts in the weeks following a divorce.
- Help your children (if you have any). Surely, children suffer in their own way when parents divorce. Smith gives five helpful steps to help your children, even as God helps you: (1) Model your faith as you talk and listen to your child(ren); (2) Use the Psalms for guidance as you talk with them; (3) Don’t use your children as pawns [to get information or get back at your spouse]; (4) Don’t try to hide your struggles from your children; (5) Go with your children to the Lord in prayer (p. 18-20).
- Ask for help. God never intended for Christians to walk alone, especially in the aftermath of events like divorce. Finding loving friends and families in your church, will prove invaluable to growing and healing.
- Seek biblical counsel from your church before proceeding with another relationship. At this point in time, remarriage may not be anywhere on the radar. But someday it might. Before moving in this direction it is important to get wise, biblical counsel.
- I would add a fifth practical strategy: Worship. Continue to worship the Lord. Private worship (Bible reading, prayer, singing, crying), yes; but just as important is corporate worship with God’s people, under God’s word. Psalm 95 indicates that worshiping God has a way of protecting our hearts from the dangers of hard-heartedness, which is a real threat in the midst of a divorce. Moreover, Habbakuk 3:17-19 models that even in the worst times, God is worthy of worship. Worshiping God in the storms of life preaches the gospel to ourselves (cf Psalm 103:1-5) and strenthens the heart by God’s most powerful means of grace–the preached word and corporate assembly which looks forward to Christ’s return (Heb 12:22-29)
Praying that God will restore broken homes and shattered lives by the power of the gospel, dss