I don’t usually write about current events. For some reason I see it as the foray of “other” bloggers. But, Lysa Terkeurst’s recent divorce announcement and subsequent blogger commentary I’ve stumbled upon has me prompted some thought. (For those who don’t know of her, Lysa heads Proverbs 31 Ministries, a national and influential ministry to women.)
Lysa has built a following because her writing is honest and genuine. She’s never made her platform about knowing more than or being more holy than anybody else. Her platform is that she’s a fellow-struggler, in the trenches with you, fighting the same battles other women fight- those of body image, of how and when to say no, and of feeling left out.
When I read of her husband’s adultery and her impending divorce, my heart was broken for all the reasons other bloggers hearts were broken- because God hates divorce and the enemy hates marriage, because of the impact on her children, because of Lysa’s broken heart, and because of the brokenness in Art that led him down his path. My heart was also broken because I know how it feels. I know how draining to have fought with every last once in you to repair a marriage gasping for breath. I know how humiliating to have another woman preferred and chosen over yourself. And I know how condemning fellow Christians can be.
My first job after divorce was at a church daycare center. I had experience in bookkeeping and as an administrative assistant- both jobs I was good at- but I had a preschooler, and my two older boys had been homeschooled and were having their first entrance into the world of public school. Daycare didn’t pay much, but made me available for my boys after school, and enabled me to cut daycare cost. I worked diligently at loving on children, doing inventory of supplies, delivering lunches to classrooms, and pretty much anything else that was needed.
One day I was called to the director’s office. He had noticed my efforts and praised my hard work. He had taken another look at my resume, seen my Bible college, ministry, and administrative experience, and wondered if I would be interested in a different position he had available- that of a full-time children’s minister in the church. The position came with a great salary and benefits. It would have provided for my children far better than I was able to at that time. And I declined it. I felt I hadn’t been divorced long enough for it to “look” okay. I wasn’t educated enough. I didn’t have it together enough. That director believing I had potential gave me enough belief in myself to continue in a ministry major in completing my bachelor’s degree- to believe that maybe God wasn’t done with me yet, and He could still do something with my life despite my divorce.
But why did I ever feel “not enough” in the first place? Was it because God said I wasn’t enough? Did He
say I was damaged goods? Disqualified? No. It was attitudes of church people. Church people who, though they might not say it out loud, took “God hates divorce” to mean that He somehow also thinks less of the divorcee. Church people who demanded to know, when finding out you were single, if the divorce was “your fault” or not- if it was a “Biblical” divorce, which means you have to qualify it by telling them about the adultery and everything you did to get help and all the second chances and forgiveness you gave and all your efforts to prove yourself a worthy person to the one who rejected you. You have to explain how he basically was living as an unbeliever, because if an unbeliever leaves you aren’t bound to the marriage (1 Cor. 7:15). Every time I was called upon to repeat my speech, I thought, “Thank God I had a Biblical divorce. What if he had been an abuser or something and I had to think about leaving him?” As though adultery was something to be thankful for.
True confession: My second husband and I do not have a perfect marriage. Are you absolutely shocked and in disbelief? I’ll betcha that not every pastor or counselor out there has a perfect marriage, either. Yes, I know and believe in the Biblical qualifications for deacons and elders. That list is more to do with how a person is living their life right now than what they’ve done in their past and been forgiven of and freed from. Because I also know that God used David the adulterer, Moses the liar, and Paul the persecutor of Christians.
And yet still some days I live disqualified. A church person said to me once, “You’ll never be a counselor because you need too much counseling yourself.” You’re too broken. Not enough. Some days I believe that voice, and other days I remember, I am human, and it’s not only perfectly okay to be imperfect- it’s expected, and even beautiful. My brokenness means I understand others who are broken. I know what it feels like and can feel with them.
The Christian life is a marvelous equilibrium between “I am weak,” and “In my weakness He is strong,” between “I’m a sinner in need of a Savior” and “He calls me righteous and redeemed,” between all that is human in and broken in me and being created in the likeness of God- adopted, chosen, called, made whole.
Though Lysa has already stated that she worked to reconcile with her husband, Christian voices demand she keep doing so. So that she can continue to experience his rejection as he pursues the other woman? So that she can continue to feel over and over the heartbreak of stumbling over the signs of his substance abuse and adultery as she walks through her own home? How can anyone but those involved most closely be the judge of how long is long enough to keep fighting?
Though she has said she will take a season for healing and is under Biblical counsel and accountability, they demand she step down from her ministry altogether and let someone with a healthy marriage lead it.
There are certain ministry leaders out there I don’t particularly care for. But, my choice as an adult is I don’t have to buy their book if I don’t want to read it. I don’t have to question and put down their ministry in the public square, I just choose not to place myself under their teaching. I’ve seen plenty of ministries go down because of sin in the heart of the leader, so I think God is big enough to decide whose to bless and whose is leading people astray and whose influence needs to be stopped. I don’t think that’s my job. It makes me as angry as the next person when someone uses a position of leadership to misrepresent Christ and Christians, but it makes me just as angry when we misrepresent him by judging or wounding our own.
There is a Scriptural precedent for Christians to sharpen, challenge, and help one another grow by pointing out sin and questioning potentially unwise decisions. However, I wonder if those passages really mean for us to correct someone we don’t even know? I don’t know about you, but when someone tries to correct me without any place of influence in my life, I feel defensive, not receptive. Sometimes I feel plain old ticked off. The people I receive from are those, first of all, who deliver their admonition in a spirit of love, and second of all, whose influence I have welcomed into my life. Lysa is surrounded by fellow ministry workers, under a pastor and Biblical counsel, and probably has some Bible study or prayer group friends. If she is making bad decisions, I submit that it’s those people’s job to challenge her, not a person who wants to see someone they like more and see as more worthy in her place.
So church people, please just love the divorced or separated person. Listen if they need to talk, but please don’t label them, judge them, or demand an explanation of the details before you can accept them into your circle- love them for who they are, where they are, right this minute. Yes, standards for ministry leadership are different and exist for a reason. Yes, I believe in seasons for healing, in accountability, and in examining your own heart for your contribution to a conflict situation. I believe in allowing the Holy Spirit to refine you and in not jumping quickly back into a relationship or ministry without evidence of the fruit of a healthy spiritual life. But if you proclaim to love God, understand that He loves people, just as they are, before they have completed the 12 Steps. Be like Him.
Divorced person, know that when it comes to God, divorce is not a life sentence that disqualifies you from love, happiness, and a place to be useful in His kingdom. Use wisdom, get healing, but don’t give up on yourself, because God hasn’t.
I love Lysa’s statement on her blog, “I’m Lysa, a beloved child of the one true God. My true identity doesn’t shift or fall apart under life’s strains, failures, my own imperfections, setbacks or heartaches.” Her attitude is an example I wish I had had seven years ago, and am thankful others have now.
Lysa, I pray that on the days you don’t feel beloved, that you do doubt your identity and feel like a failure, God will wrap His Daddy arms around you and remind you again that you are His. Your divorce doesn’t make you unqualified- it perhaps makes you more qualified. Able to understand another person, bear another person’s burden. It exposes all that is ugly in your own heart and refines you a little bit more. It makes you a little more grateful for forgiveness, for restoration, and for God’s astonishing ability to take something shattered and turn it into something new.