Anniversary of a Dead Marriage: The Painful Lessons of Divorce

wedding-ringsAlthough I wrote this article almost a year and a half ago, someone reads it almost every day. Readers stumble upon it when they Google phrases such as “divorce anniversary.” That’s just one small token of the multitudes of people who struggle to recover from a broken marriage and the lifelong scars that violent separation can bring. I am reposting it on my blog today so that perhaps it will reach some who haven’t seen it. This is my own unedited, raw reflection upon what divorce did to me, as well as what I learned from it. I’m sure some will take issue with my disagreement with St. Paul, but that’s okay. Perhaps I misunderstand the apostle and need to be corrected. If you are reading this as one who suffers the ongoing pains of divorce, know that I am praying for you, that Christ may work healing in you, as He has in me.

Today, December 29, would have been the twenty-second anniversary of my first marriage. Five years have passed since our divorce—years raw with emotion, scarred by mistakes, scabbed over with hints of hope. Every year, when this day rolls around, I turn over the stones of remembrance that litter my mind, to see what lurks beneath. I see things there I don’t want to see, learn things about myself that I never wanted to know, but do anyway. I also see there lessons learned, painful but positive lessons. This piece is more for me than anyone else, though you are welcome to tag along and spy on my thoughts.

1. The Undivorced Don’t Get It. I’ve never stood by the freshly dug grave of my beloved wife. Never has the blood of a fellow soldier been showered on me during a firefight. I’ve never been bankrupt or homeless or had cancer. I don’t know about a lot of things, because I haven’t experienced those hells. The happily married, undivorced man or woman knows nothing of the agony of divorce, and should never pretend otherwise. This includes pastors, and all those who may seek to counsel the divorced. They should never assume they “get” what the divorced person is going through. Every loss, every grief is unique, and to make it generic by universalizing it cheapens the hurt the divorced feel.

2. I disagree with St. Paul. When he writes to the Corinthians, Paul says, “One who is unmarried is concerned with the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife,” (1 Cor 7:32-33). Not for me. Most men who are unmarried are concerned with finding a woman whom they can marry. And until they do that, most of their thoughts, energies, time, and, yes, money, are directed toward that end. I was much more concerned about the things of the Lord when I was married than when I became single. It is not good for the man to be alone, and so long as he is, it won’t be good for him personally, or his service to the Lord. With notable exceptions, men are created for women. And it is in the vocation of husband that they serve the Lord best, for they are completed by her.

3. Lonely, Hurting Men Make Bad Decisions. I made the mistake many men do immediately after their divorce: the first woman I dated, I “fell in love with” and soon we were making wedding plans. I later broke off the engagement as the reality that this was a rebound relationship slowly sank in, although, of course, it was at an additional emotional cost to both of us, as well as our mutual children. Every relationship is a risk, but the risk skyrockets when the man is still nursing wounds from a failed marriage. He wants nothing more than a restored wholeness, to recreate a past that either did exist, or exists only in his nostalgic imagination. And in this state of yearning for healing, he tends to idealize a woman, seeing in her the wife he wants her to be instead of the woman whom she really is.

4. Divorce Unveils the Monster Within Divorce brings out the worst in people. It certainly did in me. I was little aware of the fathomless depths of anger, spite, depression, regret, pettiness, and selfishness within me until my marriage ended. Then it all came oozing, or exploding, to the surface, in various ways and at various times. I remember late one night, while working in the oil field, having a conversation with another driver who was going through a divorce. His wife had left him for another man. He described how his every waking moment was consumed with fantasies of revenge, murderous payback, horrid thoughts he’d never entertained before. Divorce can do that, unearthing new evils within. It’s a dark journey of self-knowledge. And although, thank God, most of the time these monsters within us remain caged, never acting out the evils of which they are capable, the sheer fact that they are there at all is enough to make me scared of the man I have the potential to become.

5. Healing Will Begin, But It Takes Its Sweet Time I’m fortunate because I survived divorce. I didn’t put a gun to my head and pull the trigger, though on my darkest of days I held the pistol in my hand. I didn’t become addicted to something that would dull the pain, though I did my fair share of self-medicating with alcohol. I came through, wounded and scarred to be sure, but at least alive. Not every one is so lucky. God placed into my life a few select friends without whose love I would not have made it. Not surprisingly, these friends are divorced as well. They get it. I am at a point of healing now, five years later, that I thought I’d never reach, even if I had five lifetimes. I still have a long way to go, but at least I’ve made progress. Baby steps are steps nonetheless. I have two children, a son and daughter. They live with their mother and step-father. I see them four to six days a month—days that mean the world to me. As heart-breaking as my time apart from them is, I have grown to thank God that, in the aftermath of our divorce, our children are still provided with a stable, secure, Christian home in which to grow up. Indeed, they are blessed with a good mother and a caring stepfather.

The very fact that I can write that last sentence, and mean every word, is proof positive that, five years after my divorce, the Lord has made a little progress in putting this shattered man back together again.

If you’d like to read more of my writings, check out my new book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. If you’re looking for feel-good, saccharine devotional material, you’d better keep looking because you’re not going to find it here. If you’re looking for moralistic guides to the victorious Christian life, you’ll be thoroughly disappointed by all the Gospel in this book. But if you’re looking for reflections drenched in the Scriptures, focused through and through on the saving work of Jesus Christ, and guided by a law-and-Gospel approach to proclamation, then I daresay you’ll be pleased with this book. Purchase your copy by clicking on CreateSpace or Amazon. And thank you!

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12 thoughts on “Anniversary of a Dead Marriage: The Painful Lessons of Divorce

  1. Rhonda on said:

    My understanding of that passage is that Paul is saying that if you get married you need to focus on your wife/family instead of being completely consumed by your ministry. If you are going to be consumed by your ministry then you shouldn’t get married. When you get married you have an added vocation so unless you’re willing to set aside some of your vocation of ministry then don’t get married. The proper order is God, family (spouse then kids), job. When God’s work is your job, the family often gets neglected because the lines between the personal relationship with God and the work of God are blurred. Churches have a responsibility to not take advantage of the blurring of these lines, but instead often have unhealthy expectations of their church workers that other workplaces would not have. The Called worker also has a responsibility to work on his personal relationship with God, nurture his family, and lastly do the work of God that he is called to do. This is true for non-churchworkers too, because we are all called to do His work whether we are a churchworker or not.

    • Thank you, Rhonda. I agree with what you wrote. My concern is the other part of what Paul seems to imply, namely, that the unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord since he has no need to be concerned with the needs of a wife. But very often the unmarried man is so concerned with finding a wife that any concern he may have for the Lord’s work takes a back seat.

      • Rhonda on said:

        Yes, I see what you’re saying. I see it as Paul saying if you can stay focused on God’s work then don’t take a wife so you can devote yourself fully to God’s work. If your focus is shifted off of God’s work by this need, then find a wife, but realize that it brings commitments with it that may take some of the time that would have been devoted to God’s work. So generally, if you’re going to get married, take care of your family; but if you can do God’s work without being married, then more power to you because there’s a lot to be done.

  2. Roger Rench on said:

    Chad, I went through a divorce after 25 years five years ago as well. Worked thru six years of seperation & a year after divorce to reconcile. Initiated counseling, mentoring, etc. She participated in all those things but her heart was hardened. It was the most painful experience and greatest disappointment of my life with many repercussions. I learned unconditional love during that time. I am leading our worship team this coming Sunday and introducing the song, “Keep Making Me” by Sidewalk Prophets. Check it out at http://www.youtube.com/watch? This song is amazing – a prayer for brokenness, emptiness, loneliness – things we don’t desire. The lyrics are powerful. Yesterday I was practicing at home and just broke down and had to pray, not for any particular reason but was just overwhelmed with the pain of the last few years and how God is using the brokenness to change me. My wife has a different man than my x-wife had. I wish I could have been the man I am now for her back then; I’m sure the outcome would have been different. But unfortunately we can’t go back. I praise God for the way He’s working through brokenness, and I know He’s got a lot more work to do. Roger _____

    • Thank you for sharing your story, Roger. It is in breaking us, and healing us, that the Lord does His best work. So goes the cross in this world. I believe it was Luther who once said that everything that belongs to God must be crucified. That’s the way my divorce seemed. It was a being put to death. Like you, my wife has a different man now than my ex-wife was married to. God changes us by transforming more and more into the image of His Son. I pray He continues to bless you in your new marriage.

  3. I found your posts thru a close friend. She thought your word may help me.
    Indeed the pains are deep. I’m nearing my second divorce now. While reading your message brought me to tears, it made MW feel just a little less alone.
    Thank you

  4. I hope my words will help you in some way. They are written after I went through two divorces, years of pain, and eventually found healing in Christ. No doubt you do feel alone. I’ve felt that way so, so many times. I now know that, even in my darkness, the Lord was near, right beside me. He will sustain you, even in your brokenness.

  5. No matter how long you have been divorced, some enlightenment comes from remember and reflecting. It does take time to get through the hurt – I am learning sometimes it is a lifetime. I also agree people do not get divorce unless they have been there themselves. Having Him has helped me every step of the way.

    • I agree, Meghan. Remembering and reflecting does have value, perhaps even more so as time goes by. Distance does allow for a deeper reflection on what can be learned from past mistakes and pains. And, yes, sometimes it does take a lifetime to get through the hurt. Thanks be to God in Christ that He is with us through that lifetime to heal us along the way with His love and forgiveness.

  6. Mary Snow on said:

    Hello Chad,

    Here is a book that might be helpful to you and others recovering from divorce. Please just preview the first couple of chapters on Amazon. Based on what you’ve written here, I think you’d appreciate it.

    http://www.amazon.com/Other-Side-Ring-John-Shepherd-ebook/dp/B00KNFBQVO/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1405435756&sr=1-1&keywords=john+shepherd+the+ring

    God bless you,
    Mary Snow

  7. Nancy Stepp on said:

    As I near the divorce (almost 1 year from “the event” and after 22 years of marriage) I never expected, dreamed of, or wanted your words are comforting and on the mark! This is the MOST painful road I have ever traveled! I never knew I was capable of producing that much rage and feeling that much sadness. I praise God that I can now see joy and hope and gladness. My journey has been one of learning to trust, trust in Him in all things. There were many moments I would have rather been dead but I was blessed with the many faces of Jesus (He looked just like many of the people I know and love. wink-wink) and He (they) would be right there to pull me out of the depths of despair and remind of His love, His mercy, His grace, His healing and mostly His salvation.

    I know I am far from “done”, but each day is easier and I pray that my journey brings me (and my daughter) closer to The One who is my hope, my joy and my salvation!

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