Are you saying divorce for abuse or adultery is “giving up” on your marriage?

pexels-photo-800323.jpegSince Tuesday, when Desiring God published my letter to a woman married to an unbeliever, I have received many private messages from Desiring God readers.  Among them questions, objections and concerns were brought up that I responded to privately.  I want to address those issues here.  This post will be the beginning of a few posts dealing with the most common questions I received from my article.  But before I delve into sharing my thoughts on these issues, I just want to say: I am not a trained counselor, pastor or scholar. But I am a woman in awe of Christ. He’s got a hold of me.  I just want to follow him.

Through my hard marriage I’ve been tested and I’ve learned a few lessons I think are important to share.  My hope is that as I share what God is teaching me He will be honored and someone will be helped.

One of the responses I received went something like this:

Q: Are you saying if you divorce your spouse for a good (Biblical) reason, such as abuse or adultery, you’re sinfully “giving up”?

A: Anytime a person speaks about divorce in the Christian community serious concerns rise to the surface.  What about cases of abuse? What about adultery?  Isn’t there Biblical cause for divorce?  All of those questions are serious and Biblical answers should be sought out. But my article wasn’t specifically aimed at those issues. My aim was to speak to women, who like me, are married to unbelievers, and feel like giving up at times because it’s just hard.

Sometimes I feel like those issues are brought up sort of like the issues of rape, incest and harm to the mother’s health are brought up when speaking about abortion. I know there are hurt women who’ve been abused and abandoned by their husbands and then found no support or help in their churches and/or from people they trusted .  These women are not who I was aiming my thoughts at in my article at Desiring God.  But addressing issues of adultery and abuse is very important.

My article was speaking specifically to women ready to give up on their marriages because of the everyday hard things of my being married to a man that doesn’t share your love of Jesus. I also had in mind women I know who’ve left their Christian husbands because their marriages were getting hard.

Why Most of Us Divorce

The truth is the majority of divorces, as well as the majority of abortions, are not carried out because of abuse, adultery, rape, incest or life-threatening health issues.  The majority of divorces (and abortions) are carried out because of the inconvenience of dying to self and dealing with the hard things of loving a sinful person.  We get tired of each others sinfulness.  We get tired of being not loved well.  Whether it be marriage or raising children, both require commitment to die daily to your own needs and wants, trust Christ to provide all that for you, and to get down low and engage in the mess real relationships are.

As I see it in scripture, God created marriage. And for the Christian, marriage is a ministry, not a place to find your ultimate fulfillment.

Whether you’re married to a believer or unbeliever, the example God is displaying in you as his child is one of his faithfulness and self-sacrificial love. But that faithfulness and love is not to be confused with enabling or ignoring adultery or abuse. The Christian woman is called in marriage help her husband by faithfully loving him and dealing with his sin with the grace and truth found in Christ.  That includes everyday offenses, abuse, adultery and all other kinds of terrible situations one can find themselves in when they’re married to a fallen person.

We all sin.  There is no escaping that.  And whether it be an accumulation of passivity or aggressiveness, or negligence to cherish, or refusal to show longed-for affection… whatever daily sin-pattern you can bring up as an example, it’s going to get hard to enjoy and love the person you vowed to be faithful to until death parts you.  You are going to have to suffer something to love your spouse.  You are going to have to die to something to foster a loving relationship.

Don’t Mistake Mercy for Enabling Evil

When it comes to particularly egregious sins like adultery, physical or emotional abuse, theft, drug use, alcoholism, addictions, etc., God provides a way to deal with these kinds of sins with transparency, boundaries, accountability and safety.  Women who find themselves in relationships with these evils will need wise council, Biblical guidance and clarity on the difference between mercy and enabling. God teaches us to expose and deal with sin in a way that hopes for restoration and reconciliation. But a cheap-grace message taught in church can lead to a misunderstanding of the gospel, the mark of Christ’s majesty in Christian submission, forgiveness, mercy and reconciliation.

This confusion about how the gospel of Christ plays out in dealing with sin in our daily lives, combined with our natural tendency to either wink at sin (boys will be boys… that’s just her personality, etc.), sweep it under the rug, enable it, or condemn the person for doing it, has led many into unhealthy relationships.  When we mistake mercy for enabling sin and  grace for ignoring wickedness, and then condemn people for sins we personally can’t handle, we cheapen the costly blood of Christ and minimize his  power to change lives.

Author Jen Wilkin summed up the heart of the problem in pointing out that the gospel is not just being declared innocent of sin in a recent tweet:

“Don’t reduce “gospel-centered” to “justification-centered”. The Good News is more than our freedom from sin’s penalty. It’s also our progressive freedom from sin’s power and ultimate freedom from sin’s presence. Justification, sanctification, and glorification are all the gospel.”

Looking back in my marriage my thinking has been clouded by a misunderstanding of grace and my self-preserving tendancy to not deal with sin like Christ teaches us to.  Both the Old and New Testament show us a God who is faithful to his covenant with his people, and exposes and disciplines them for the purpose of their redemption.

Help From The Scriptures and a Warning

In the Old Testament the Lord’s people are typified as a wife to God (Read Hosea). Israel is adulterous in her relationship with God. But her unfaithfulness and betrayal is not ignored, winked at or enabled.  And although Israel’s sinfulness is dealt with harshly, she is not utterly condemned because God is faithful. In the New Testament you see Christ deal with Israel’s ugly, bigoted, perverse, greedy, hypocritical and abusive behavior. And he clearly speaks to the harsh consequences adultery can have on a marriage (Matthew 5:31-32)

Much wisdom can be gleaned from looking at how God dealt with his people’s sin in the Bible.  But I want to give a clear warning here to women who might misunderstand the gospel: You and I are not Christ. We cannot save our spouses.  We don’t suffer to atone for their sin.

It is not your job to suffer abuse to save your husband. Christ did that.

If your husband is abusive, the kind of suffering you may be called is the loss of your marriage because you hold your husband accountable for his sin using the governmental and legal means God provides.  Hand your husband over to the legal authorities, seek safety for yourself while giving your life to following Christ and interceding for your husband.

Whether it be adultery or abuse, Christ does not lead us to enable, ignore or dismiss the sin in our spouses lives.  He leads us to humbly, yet boldly expose sin and follow him.  We should pray for and want our husband’s to be truly saved and made new. And that is shown by our willingness to deal boldly with our husband’s sins in the light. Saving grace and mercy is not shown by enabling, ignoring or dismissing a husband’s evil behavior.

John 13 is on passage that has taught me to vulnerably expose the sin that needs to be brought into the light and then forgive.

Not ignore.

Not say it’s ok.

But to do what the Bible teaches us to do: expect to see repentance and reparations (fruit of repentance) before reconciliation can happen.

Ignoring, enabling or dismissing your husband’s adultery, abuse, addictions, etc. is not the way Christ has called you to be a Christian wife to him.

Get Help and Follow Jesus

If you find yourself in a marriage to an abusive man seek safety and legal help.  If you find yourself in a marriage wrecked by adultery, unless your spouse is repentant and willing to seek counseling and set up measures of accountability and do the hard work of establishing trust over a long period of time, send him away.  Wait on God. Pray. Get counseling for yourself. And get on with following Christ.

Your truth and grace stance with your husband may be the very means by which God does a life-changing work in him.

May God bless you as you seek Christ and follow him!

“Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible,  for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

“Awake, O sleeper,
    and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.” -Ephesians 5:11-14

 

*** For more help, here is a list of a couple of books and resources I have found helpful in gaining sobriety and wisdom in being a Christian wife.

Boundaries In Marriage by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend

Healing Your Marriage When Trust is Broken by Cindy Beall

Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas

Enough Is Enough by Gary Thomas

Divine Guidelines For Marriage from Grace To You

 

When your heart is broken on Valentine’s Day

It’s not that other days with a broken heart aren’t painful.  It’s just that on Valentine’s Day everywhere you look, go or listen pink shiny hearts and candy pour like salt on your wounds.

I’ve waded my way through the gushing pink day with my own busted up heart many times.  This year I do it again.  If Valentine’s day feels like a mockery of your broken heart and a deceitful allure to try and find love in cheap thrills I offer these three rescuers:

1) The Lord whose heart was pierced right through is with you and me.

I don’t know what broke your heart.  Maybe it’s the death of someone you love.  Maybe it’s the betrayal of a dear friend.  Maybe it’s a prodigal child.  Maybe it’s a divorce or a breakup.  Maybe it’s a daily hard keeping of your covenant. Maybe it’s the rejection you’ve endured time and time again.  Whatever pierced you through and is causing your physical body to hurt and reel from the wrongness of what has happened or is happening, Christ has felt it in his body too.

“But he was pierced for our transgressions;he was crushed for our iniquities;upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,and with his wounds we are healed.” – Isaiah 53:5

Blessed are those who turn to our wounded Savior for healing.  For us, he is enough.  We don’t look for healing in chocolates, or wine, or romantic cards, or a dozen perfect thorn-less roses.  Jesus is enough for us.  We hurt, but we know our hurt is not the end of the story.  His brokenness has redeemed ours.  Every weapon formed against us will fail.  Every trap laid, every betrayal, every rejection will only be for our formation into the likeness of the One who saves us.

“no weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed,and you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment.This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord and their vindication from me, declares the Lord.” -Isaiah 54:17

2) Only the Heart-Maker can be your heart-healer

The only one able to heal our broken hearts is the one whose heart was pierced for our transgressions.  Our hearts may break because death has inflicted a crushing wound or because betrayal has stabbed and turned in the place where we loved, but Christ’s death and his sin-bearing body swallowed the power of sin and death.  Only Christ, the Word made flesh, the Image of the Invisible God, only he can heal what was meant for destruction.  Only he has the power to bind up our wounded hearts and bring real healing.

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound…” – Isaiah 61:1


Blessed are those who believe that Christ was not only wounded for our transgressions and has the power and the mission to bind up our broken hearts, but he is also the one who miraculously designed our brokenness that he might bring about our healing and the spreading of his glory in our lives.  He breaks us and heals us to cause us to know him for who he really is- the One who lays down his life for us.  There is a cycle of death and resurrection that spreads life in every way he works with his children.  This is his design.  This is his way.

Come, let us return to the Lord;for he has torn us, that he may heal us;he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.After two days he will revive us;on the third day he will raise us up,that we may live before him.Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord;his going out is sure as the dawn;he will come to us as the showers,as the spring rains that water the earth.” – Hosea 6:1-3

3) Your broken heart poured out in love of Jesus is like priceless perfume spreading his aroma everywhere!

Your broken heart is not a waste!  The pain you bear is not for nothing.  Christ has borne our sin in his own body!  He has made us one with him.  He has joined us to God in peace and unbreakable covenant.  When we pour out our bleeding heart on him and see our aching lives as his, for his use, for his purposes, for his glory, for an eternal harvest, our cracked up stories become a broken bottle of priceless perfume spreading the aroma of the worth of Christ to everyone in our lives.  Not everyone will smell him as beautiful, but those who do will be drawn into knowing him too.  As Ann Voskamp says, what some mistake for destruction is really growth.  Our lives become a seed, planted and falling apart in this earth to spring up life-giving life.  And Christ says that is a beautiful thing!

“And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.” – Mark 14:3-6

Blessed are the ones who see their lives in light of God’s great story.  Blessed are those who don’t say, “YOLO!”  you only live once,  and suck as much life for themselves out of this broken place as they can, but rather they say, “YOLF!” you only live forever, and let their redeemed lives be planted in this world that others might live and know the worth of the One who has loved us to death!

Dear Beloved Brokenheart, you walk the path of ever lasting life.  You walk hand in hand with the author of such a life.  Let every expression of love you see today be a reminder to you that your life is not your own, you are Christ’s, and He is yours, and because of him all your pain is for the spreading of the priceless aroma of the God who so loved the world that he gave his only Son.

An Unlikely 23 Years

 Wedding Day- Sept.4, 1993
Connor’s birthday- April 1, 2003
During our first separation and pregnancy with Ryland- November 2004

Seeking a new start in Arizona all together- October 2005
 Second separation March 2010

Still together on a desert trail- Spring 2015

Today has been a tough day, emotionally.

Twenty three years ago today I made a vow before God and about 100 family and friends to take James as my husband, to have and to hold from that day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, till death do us part.

Those are some serious promises.  Better, worse, richer and poorer, sickness and health have all been part of these 23 years.  Honestly, most of it has been hard.  We weren’t a very likely match at 19 and 21.  He from the big city, me from a small town.  His dad a pharmacist, mine a log truck driver.  We met in a child development class, taking pre-reqs for nursing.  He hated it.  I loved it.  He had long hair and torn jeans and loved Journey.  I was on fire for Jesus after having decided to heed the call to follow him a year previous at 16.  He was raised as a Catholic, but more as tradition than devotion and by his teen years religion was not on his radar at all.  He had already been in a very serious relationship and at it’s end decided to move to Roseburg, Oregon from Phoenix, Arizona to take his dad up on his offer to pay for college as long as he lived at his house.  I had never had a true boyfriend.  I liked a couple of different boys, but that’s about as far as it went.  One guy from my youth group at church was really trying to win me, but I thought of him as a good friend and not a boyfriend or potential husband.  And then I met James.

We had a few conversations during the breaks at our evening child development class at Umpqua Community College.  He teased and asked me to share my chocolate cake and wondered what kind of music I liked.  I thought he was handsome and talked about my favorite Christian artists and invited him to church.  He came.  He met my family, played basketball with my dad and brother, went to the beach and camping with my friends while I worked as a C.N.A. at an Alzheimer’s facility, and on Easter Sunday he wrote me a love note.  I would say we started dating after that, but it really wasn’t dating.  In fact, I think we only went on maybe one or two “dates” before we were married.  Most of our time together was spent at either my house or his dad’s house, church or after work talks.

I was head over heels for James almost immediately after we became an official couple, but because of my convictions as a Christian, my relationship with him between April of ’92 and September of ’93 was stormy and full of indecision, conviction, guilt and desire.  I knew, after 8 months of hanging out with each other that we did not share the same desires in life, but the desire to be with him and the dream of being married and on my own and having my own family overtook my conviction that we were not heading the same direction in life.  Storming around my dreams, desires and convictions, the emotions of that time made it very hard to discern what I just wrote.  If you were to have asked me then how I felt about James and marrying him, I would have said I loved him and believed we would grow together.  I was naive to say the least.  On Christmas of 1992, the same year I graduated from high school, James proposed to me and I accepted.  On Labor Day of 1993 we were married at the church I grew up in.

In the past 23 years we both have come face to face with the reality that we want different things in life.  Through 2 separations and the birth of 2 sons we’re still married.  I’m sure that means something different to him than it means to me.

Over these 23 years I’ve learned that life is not about me, it’s not about my marriage, it’s about Christ.  The trials and fires of this unequally bound relationship have caused me to wrestle with God, ask hard questions, face hard answers and no answers, and come to grips with what I really believe.  I believe I can’t really know who I am, or why I am or what marriage is, or how relationships work best until I know God in Christ.  I believe marriage is his creation and has little to do with romance and anniversary presents and wedding rings and much to do with displaying how Christ has self-sacrificingly and faithfully loved his people.

I believe happiness in marriage ebbs and flows.  I believe in toughing it out when everyone says you shouldn’t stay in a marriage where you’re not happy.  Every married person is not happy with their partner at some point.  It’s inevitable. We’re human.

I met a couple at work the other day who have been married 59 years.  While talking with them about the significance of that, the wife said she didn’t believe it was good to stay married if you weren’t happy.  I was taken back.  Here was an 80 something year old woman who had endured 59 years with a real man (not a contrived romantic ideal as seen on t.v.) telling me a person who isn’t happy shouldn’t stay married.  In my surprise I asked, “I bet you’re glad you didn’t give up on this marriage when you weren’t happy somewhere in those 59 years or you wouldn’t be sharing with me the achievement of being married this long?”  She conceded and admitted there were unhappy times, but that they were too broke to afford a divorce then.  She was glad of that now.

We’ve looked divorce in the eye a couple of times in these 23 years,  I’d be lying if I didn’t say those eyes were alluring and I still catch a seductive glance from them now and then.  I can’t say with pride that I’m a woman of my word and I made a vow and I’m going to keep it.  Nor can I say that I am doing it for the kids or grinning and bearing it.  So what’s keeping us together?  I can’t speak for James, but for me, it’s love.  Real love.  The kind that is happy to make the beloved happy and hurts when the beloved hurts.  The kind that endures brokenness and offense and strives for forgiveness and reconciliation because it wants to be close to the beloved.  I wouldn’t know this kind of love were it not for Christ.  I’ve looked around and have seen a few other examples of “love” in the world.  None compare to the love of Christ.  And his love is in me.  And I love James.  It’s that love that binds that vow I made before God through every minute of every year with him like flesh and bone and vessels.  We were James Dougal and Sheila Deane.  And God made us one.  We are bound to each other through this life and it’s the love of Christ that binds.

With all that in my heart every day,  I woke up today and faced the hard reality of Sundays:  I love to gather with Christ’s local church and worship him together and receive his heralded word and my husband does not.  And, at this point, neither do my kids.  My oldest is more vocal and defiant about it right now.  My youngest goes cause he wants to be with mom.  This is a deep ache in my heart that spurns a constant pleading with God for salvation to come to this house.

So it was an emotional day.  My husband worked in the yard.  Connor metal detected for coins in the yard.  Ryland worked on a school project.   My eyes were heavy with hot tears all day and they spilled out a lot while I sang to Jesus at church and drove between errands alone.  I read a Psalm today that defines what I long for in this 23 year old unlikely marriage and precious family:

Oh magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together! -Psalm 34:11

Quieted,
Sheila

An exercise in getting it out there

Above are pictures from an album I got at my mom’s.  They’re stuck together, and are two pics from some of my most vivid middle-school memories.  Top left: Last minute science project work with my dad.  We built a circuit, due the next morning.  I’m still a procrastinator.  The one with the pig:  My best friend in 8th grade, Delcina, lived in the country.  Her parents offered to let me keep and raise a pig to sell at the fair in 4-H.  One of the best experiences of my childhood.  Her name was Piggie-Sue and I won 1st place in showmanship.  I made a profit of $300 on her and saved it towards buying my first car.

The following is an exercise (begun yesterday) in getting some writing done.  It comes in no particular order.

The greatest lie of divorce is that you can escape. You can leave it all behind. You can start over. You can have a new life. It’s a lie. There is no escape. There is no starting over. There is only mangled pieces of torn parts you have to daily mend and tend to and deal with lest you become wholly infected and septic and poisoned.

I learn about myself in looking at the reflections in my kids. In Ryland I see my wonder of things and creation and my tendency to be lazy and procrastinate and be easily distracted.  We are very curious people. We greatly enjoy learning and studying creatures and laws of nature and how things work and what they mean in the grand scheme of things.

In Connor I see my bent towards the snare of the fear of man and an adventurous spirit… I want a jeep too Connor! Connor and I are both introverts. We re-energize when we’re alone. Ryland re-energizes when he’s in a group. He hates being alone!

 Today at Ryland’s parent teacher conference I was blessed to hear that his teacher recognizes the character I seen in him. She said he’s very social, a leader, assertive and creative. I agree! Connor blushed during his entire parent/teacher conference and practically held his breath the entire time.  I am just like that!  I have to make myself take deep breaths, remember to focus on the other person, not what the other person thinks of me, remind myself to play to an audience of One and press on.

I hope to teach the boys how to deal with their weaknesses and strengths using the grace and mercy supplied them in Christ, first by being totally reliant on that same mercy and grace myself!

I want to learn how to paint. I think I’ll pick up a kit of some kind. Probably should start with Crayola.

The more I expose myself to the shades of doctrinal perspective in the worldwide and historic Christian church, I realize my convictions place me in a category outside the circle of the congregation I worship with in non-critical issues.  But I like it that way.  The more I listen to the various perspectives, be it on baptism, or predestination, or the inerrancy of scripture, and many others, the more I believe none of us have an inerrant description of the whole doctrine of Christ as revealed in scripture.  That doesn’t mean I don’t have the courage of my convictions, it just means I’m convinced that loving people in the body of Christ that differ from some of my views is more important than finding people that share my perspective.

Today the government shut down… oh my gosh!  I’m still breathing, writing, doing dishes and driving a car!  How could I ever get along?  If there’s a government shut down, shouldn’t that mean the people in DC arguing over paying bills should go home without pay until they can agree to pay their bills?

I watched some of the U.N. General Assembly this morning.  I felt like I was watching something verrry important.  Netanyahu quoted from Amos and spoke like a strong, determined leader.  The Iranian representative sounded like a bully acting like a fussy baby whiner from the playground, pointing his finger crying, “Teacher!  He hit me!” after he finished threatening to knock the lights out of a kid half his size.

As I watched these world leaders in a room, I thought, “These are not descendants of apes that resulted from collision of matter in random, chance processes over time!  These are the ‘gods’ of Psalm 82.  Ruins of Imago Dei ones, nevertheless Imago Dei.  And in their brokenness and fallenness they image their Creator God who rules them.  They have been given power by Him and He takes their power away!

Quieted,
Sheila

Shadows and Mysteries

I was at a county courthouse today. Not a place I usually spend any time. In fact, except for filing for a legal separation almost exactly two years ago today, I’m never there. Today I was there to file a motion to vacate the order of legal separation.

In that quiet, rigid building I felt like a cloud about to pour out its rain.  I didn’t cry until I got to the car.  In the building I felt like a little girl following the instructions of a tall police man or principal at school.  I did what I was supposed to do to make it right, legally.  While I was waiting in line, I overheard a silver-headed woman say with a smile to the silver-headed man sitting next her, “Now’s your chance to back out.”  I figured they must be there to get a marriage license.  A few minutes later, when they were called to the window, I heard the woman say, “Yes, we’re here to get a marriage license.” The man next to her looked eager and content.

I believe marriage is a mystery and a shadow that speaks of more than two people in love.  In fact, I believe all human relationships are not about the people involved… they are about God.  They reveal something about the One who created them.  The marriage relationship is about God in a very special way in that it reveals the mysterious relationship God the Son has with His Called-Out-Ones.

What we do at the courthouse is a way of honoring marriage.  Its not something we can just… do.  There’s an appeal to authority involved.  In some places that’s the county courthouse, in some places its the patriarch of the family, or a tribe leader.  If there’s an end to be made to the marriage, there’s a difficult process involved.  I’m glad there is a heavy fee and a lot of legal paperwork involved in separation and divorce. I don’t say that to pour salt in the wounds of divorce or separation.  I have those wounds.  I’m just saying, the fact that its legally a hassle and costly is just a little bit of evidence that marriages aren’t meant to be torn apart.  Because that’s just what happens… you get torn apart.

I wish I could take back the past 3 years.  I’m so eternally thankful I can have full confidence that Christ has already bought it back for me.  For He works ALL things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose, that He might conform us to the image of His Son.  (Romans 8:28-29 my paraphrase)

Marriage is His.  I want to magnify Him with it!  I may not get to keep it, but on my part I want to build it up for His glory.

So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate. -Matthew 19:6

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”  This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.- Ephesians 5:32-33

The wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down. -Proverbs 14:1

Quieted,
Sheila