Married to the Cross in Divorce

sufferingdivorceThere are times when you feel like a spectator who views in slow motion the demolition of your life. Mini-explosions rock the foundations of everything that gave you meaning and purpose. Maybe it happens when you stare at the surreal spectacle of a coffin descending into raw earth, or the X-rays of a brain tumor, or the officer standing at your front door serving you papers for divorce. At those moments, it’s not like something inside you dies; it’s more like all of what’s inside you dies. What remains is a thin shell veiling a rapidly diminishing life.

There are no funeral rites for the corpse of a marriage, no official way to lay it to rest. So most of us make up our own. I did. Mine was a liturgy of whiskey and promiscuity, alternately screaming and crying toward heaven, and seeking salvation in every new girlfriend. One step forward, two steps back…or three, or four. All the while I was sinking a little deeper into the quicksand of sorrow.

I wish I were blowing things out of proportion. But I’m not; I’ve really only scratched the surface. For some of us, following divorce there are a string of debaucheries, flirtations with suicide, and grisly plans for revenge. Others self-medicate, hole up and lick their wounds, shun the opposite sex. Everyone reacts differently, but most of us react in ways we later shudder to recall. And like so many of life’s heartaches, unless you’ve been there, it’s hard to imagine the magnitude of the pain and the foolish things you’ll do in your quest for relief.

Maybe you’re thinking that I’m going to tell you that divorce made me a “better Christian.” But I don’t even know what that means. Better than what? Better than I had been? Better than other people? Better how? I wish I could tell you that through divorce I became a stronger person, but thank God I didn’t. If anything, my perceived “strength” is what paved the way for the destructive decisions that caused my divorce in the first place. If the death of my marriage revealed anything, it was my profound weaknesses.

What I do know is that divorce was for me, as it is for most of us, a process of unmasking—a slow peeling away of various lies. Unlike a Halloween mask, I had worn these masks for years, so long in fact that they had grafted to my skin.
The mask of “thank God I’m not as bad as those people are.”
The mask of “I have a happy marriage.”
The mask of “I never have any doubts about God.”
The mask of “I’ve fallen short, but not way short, of the glory of God.”
And my favorite mask: “I have everything under control.”

As the truthful realities of divorce scratch away at the face we exhibit to the world, one by one the layers diminish. What I discovered beneath was what I’d always claimed I had but never really believed: the face of a liar and cheat, a face pockmarked with pharisaism, a face as dirty as the filthiest sinner. What others discover beneath their chosen masks are faces flushed with anger, eroded by the weather of worry, or gargoyle-like monsters of hate. Whatever we find, they are faces only a God can love.

I don’t pretend to speak for everyone. But divorce was for me a blessed destruction, a splendid disaster. God hates divorce (Mal 2:16), to be sure, but through it he revealed other things he doesn’t think highly of either: like a haughty spirit, hypocrisy, lust, self-reliance, and on and on it goes. It took time, long dark years, for this blessed destruction to have its way with me, but God is more of a marathoner than a sprinter. I was in a hurry to be healed but he was not.

Who I ended up being was not a better Christian (whatever that means), not a better person, not a stronger person, but simply this: a man who grasps more fully that, in and of myself, I am nothing. I have zilch to offer God. I have nothing of my own to claim, except my faults. I have no strength, no righteousness, no moral pedigree to wow heaven. I am Jonah, sinking beneath the waves. I am Lazarus, dead and decomposing in a grave. I am a corpse in Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones. I have and am nothing. And come to find out, once we realize that, be it through divorce or any other suffering in life, we are in the perfect position to gain everything.

In divorce God married me to the cross. I didn’t want it; indeed, I hated it. But upon my shoulders God laid it. The ring of nails. The veil of darkness. The kiss of death. When we are stripped of all the good we think we are and have, we come face to face with the evil within. We fight and wrestle and gasp and die and become nothing.

Then our Lord, who created everything out of nothing, says, “Now I have you exactly where I want you.” The only material that God really works with is nothing. He brings to nothing the things that are (1 Cor 1:28) that through this nothing he might show us that our everything is that one who is the source of our life, Christ Jesus, whom God makes our “wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption,” (1:30). He opens our eyes to see that we are not dead on a cross alone. We are part of a thorn-crowned Savior who became our everything. We die in him and life returns. We have no hope in ourselves but in him we receive hope of cosmic proportions. Our face, which only a God can love, the Father of love bends down and kisses. He bathes away our filth. He lifts up our downcast eyes. He gives us his own name. We are married to the cross, and there meet the bridegroom of our souls.

Like so many of the hardships in life, it is only in hindsight that we realize the hidden hand of God at work in our deepest woes. He is not making us stronger but is making us dead, that we might truly live in the strength that he provides. He is not making us better people but unveiling how bad we are that we may find in Christ the riches of our Father’s goodness.

Some people talk about life after divorce, but I prefer to talk about death after divorce: the death of self, the death of masks, the death of a sham existence in which we pretend we’ve got this life thing figured out. Unless we die, there is no resurrection. When we die to those things worthy of death, we find him who is the resurrection and the life. And we find in him all those things—and more!—that we searched for apart from him. Things like joy. Things like peace. Things like hope and healing and love and meaning and purpose. All these are in Christ, and they are ours.

If you are facing a divorce, going through one, or recovering from one, let me tell you the most important thing: Christ will not and cannot sever you from himself. The sun will lose its light, the water its wetness, the night its dark before that happens. He counts the hairs on your head, every tear you shed is so precious to him that he collects them in a bottle (Matt 10:30; Ps 56:8). Like Zion, your image is engraved on the palms of his hands (Isa 49:16), your name tattooed on his heart. You will not always feel his love, but his love clasps you in its strong arms. You will probably feel abandoned by God, but he will never leave you, never forsake you. As you bear this cross, you bear it not alone, but in him who is the crucified and risen Savior. He is for you. He is faithful. He has married you to himself with a love larger than heaven.

christ alone coverWhat we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who InfantPriestfrontcoverwelcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

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22 thoughts on “Married to the Cross in Divorce

  1. Scott Strohkirch on said:

    Pastor Bird,
    I don’t think I’ve read anything so profound as this meditation on Divorce. Your experience is unique and yet is so familiar because it is almost a mirror of my own. Thank you for posting this today.

  2. Amy Wurst DeVries on said:

    Yes! Thank you – it could not have come at a better time! Scott said it best that this writing was “so profound.”

  3. Karen Janssen on said:

    and not just divorce. Death is equally destructive – does it ever end?

  4. Though never divorced, I can completely relate to these wonderfully transparent truths that have emerged through failure and loss. I’ve never read them expressed more completely or beautifully. Thank you so much for this, Chad!

  5. Terri on said:

    Finally, something about divorce that makes sense in reality. Thank you so much. I’m not divorced, but my marriage ended a long time ago and I’m staring all sorts of options in the face right now. I don’t know what to do. I feel sick on every level. It’s really good to be reminded that God doesn’t leave us or forsake us.

    • You are not alone!

    • Here, Here! I, too, am facing big decisions. It is a very lonely place to be.

    • Linda on said:

      Like you, Terri, my marriage ended long ago…perhaps a decade or two…and we are just now flailing and crashing and blaming and crying and accusing our way to the decision to make “official” that which has been true for so long. Each day…excruciating. The future…terrifying. My friends…disappearing. My faith…fragile & fickle. But if He is who He says He is…then we are HIS…regardless of our failure, sin and terrible mistakes. He is the God who never stops loving, even when we feel completely unloved. I don’t know how it all works yet, or how it all will end. I certainly don’t expect to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant” at the end of my days. But I pray that I WILL hear, “There’s still a place for you.”

      • Recovering on said:

        I do think we bear the wounds of divorce until we enter Heaven. It is a tearing of the one flesh union. It’s not clean like death, where there is a legacy of love. Regardless I do know that when we belong to Jesus we have HIS righteousness and our sins are forgiven as far as the east is from the west. I know I have grappled with all this too.

  6. Suellen on said:

    I led a couple of support groups for separated/divorced/widowed people after my own divorce. So much of this struck home. We always called that period through the separation and divorce “crazy time” where you would date a gorilla if it would stop the pain for awhile. Thankfully that is just a phase and most people get past it. Thankfully, too, the groups I was involved with were Christian groups and the emphasis was on Christ where our real help comes from. Sharing this insightful article.

  7. By what you wrote, I can see that you know what divorce does. My wife divorced me back in ’95 and at times it feels like yesterday. We had children and that just made it all the harder. That and the fact that she automatically got custody of them. They lived in a very unhealthy environment. We were living north of the northern border and I was not a citizen and had too eventually move back home away from the kids. The whole event left me having feelings towards God that I am ashamed of. What you said about divorce not making you stronger is spot on. I had no one to help me. It was only God and me and I felt He had forsaken me. That was a feeling I shall never forget. I know that He didn’t abandon me in fact and He got me through it all. He does love me and I love Him. I am not the same man I was before. I am not better or stronger. The only thing is that I know more of how I need Him. That I am indeed totally dependent on Him. Praise Him for His love toward us all and for His gift of salvation.

  8. Recovering on said:

    Divorce was the most painful treacherous thing I have ever had to endure. Was married 22 years, he left me at age 47 for a 27 year old. It later failed. He would not come back and kept his adulterous life style. Supposedly he found his true soul mate and remarried. It’s been 4 years since our divorce and the deep wound is there and it still bleeds. I am a Christian have been for 15 years.

  9. I have never heard anyone articulate the realization of nothingness so well.
    I have always felt like the only one who experienced this realization that I am nothing. Divorce exposed so completely my nothingness, my weaknesses. Divorce did not make me stronger, however it made me a more loving, sensitive compassionate person. It made me very tender to the plights of others and to all of life’s pain and I learned there is only one thing that I can count on; The perfect love and sacrifice of my Lord, Jesus Christ.

    • Maggie on said:

      Deirdre, the enemy would have you walking in shame. That shame comes from him, and him alone. God is love and only love and He absolutely LOVES you. I needed to learn to forgive myself and accept that God loves me and forgave me before I even sinned and you need to forgive yourself as well. I know you wrote this two years ago, but I hope it means something even now. Maggie

  10. Deirdre on said:

    Wow! This really brought me to my knees! I don’t know who you are but I thank you for this blessing… I am a woman, a mother, a failed wife… I am not the martyr, I’m the perpetrator and I’m walking the walk you talk about 😦
    Somehow, somewhere i know that gods grace is there waiting for me… I know in my heart he still loves me but I’m finding it very hard to love myself….

  11. dajochris on said:

    Reblogged this on Rants by dan.

  12. Steph Gillet on said:

    Thank you for your words of comfort and experience. Divorce is miserable, but God does pick up the broken pieces and makes a stained glass window from it. Stained in sin and stained in Christ’s blood.

  13. Shedding the masks — the most terrifying and rewarding work I’ve done. Behind all the masks is my baptism, my clothing in Christ, and THAT is worth showing to the world.

  14. Hanna Mercier on said:

    I thank you for your writing. Very well worded. I remember at one point telling my pastor that my faith was gone and the only reason I was at attending church was because of my son. He was gracious and told me he didn’t care why I was there, just to keep coming. I did and he was right. But it was only after going through much of what you described.

  15. Pingback: Married to the Cross in Divorce | LIBERATE

  16. Is remarriage adultery? (Mark 10:11-12, Luke 16:18)
    Are spouses bound to each other until death, or until divorce? (1 Cor 7:39)
    What does it mean to have hardness of heart?

    • Recovering on said:

      I am remarried and have been accused of disobeying God. I do not believe I did. I was the innocent party in my divorce….he committed adultery and abandoned me, renouncing everything Christian. Pastor John MacArthur says in his sermons on divorce that where divorce was permissible, remarriage is also permissible. That is my understanding.

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