5 Things I Wish My Christian Friends Knew and Did During My Divorce

After my ‘Open Letter to My “Fellow” Christians’ post (which I admit, I was a bit angry when I wrote it), I received so many messages from people all over the world who sadly had similar stories. Time and time again, stories of people seeking solace in a place that was supposed to be a refuge for the weary only to be met with judgement…what a sad commentary on the church today.

When I made the decision to leave my husband after almost 11 years of marriage, I had been fully involved in my local church. I led a mother’s group, went to weekly Bible study, sang in the choir, had a community group that met at my house every Sunday night, and my daughter was in the kid’s programs. All that came to a halt the night I decided that enough was enough. The following weeks were a blur of heart-wrenching conversations, putting puzzle pieces together, logistics, paperwork, trying to break the news to our daughter, our friends and our families. It was the worse 6 weeks of my life. During that time, my church friends fell into three categories: the Looky-Lou’s, the Avoiders, and the True Friends. The Looky-Lou’s just wanted the gossip. Under the guise of “praying for us,” they got every single gory detail, and I never heard from them again. The Avoiders just ignored that anything happened, or they just avoided me like I had the plague and the True Friends, well, they could be counted on one hand. My best friend, tops the True Friend list, never leaving my side, was there to listen, to pack and even to serve the papers.

Reflecting back on this time, there were five things I wish my “fellow” Christian friends knew in the days of my divorce and beyond.christian-divorce

1. Divorce Is NOT Contagious

Word of my impending divorce got around quickly, as most bits of juicy gossip does in the church circle. And almost just as quickly, people began to avoid me. Whether they didn’t know what to say to me, or they didn’t want their own spouses to get the idea of divorce in their heads, I wasn’t going to stick around to find out. Digging through the fallout of life, I didn’t have the time nor the patience to stay where I either felt like I had the plague or the woman with a scarlet letter branded on my chest.

I got a few phone calls from friends whom I later realized just wanted the details so that they could “pray for me,” but mostly, my best friend fielded the barrage of questions and concern about me. Even now, she gets people from church asking how I am doing…to which she finally began replying with, “Why don’t you call her and ask?” (I’ve never gotten a phone call from any of these people, by the way).

Some studies have shown that divorce, or rather the emotions, attitudes and behaviors of divorce, can be contagious; that if your loved ones or someone close to you gets a divorce, your chances of getting a divorce increases as well. That just tells me that when someone in your circle gets divorced, it makes it safe for you to see that divorce isn’t the end of the world.

I stayed in my marriage 5 years too long because I was raised to believe that Christians should not divorce. I would’ve left when I discovered his second infidelity instead of stay for the child and because that’s what Christians were “supposed to do.” If you get a divorce because I got a divorce, it would serve you well to look deeper at your marriage and figure out your responsibility in the split, which has nothing to do with me.

What I wish you did:  If you want to know how I’m doing, CALL ME. If you want to know the details, ASK ME. Don’t hide behind Christian talk or gossip with each other. And if you really think I’m going to poison your spouse’s mind toward divorce, feel free to avoid me, you’ve got bigger issues to deal with.

2. You May Not Agree With My Choices

I’m the first to admit, that I made a few (more like 6,000) choices after my divorce that most of my former Christian circle did not approve of. So, you know what they did? Unfriended me or unfollowed me on social media and stopped talking to me. How passive aggressive.

People process a breakup in so many different ways. Even though I chose to leave, it was still a shock to suddenly be alone. I was 34 years old, didn’t know how to buy car insurance, had never dated anyone but my ex, didn’t know how I was going to manage raising a child (at least part time) by myself…I didn’t even know how to change the water filter! During the first 6 weeks as we were packing and having terrible and emotionally draining conversations talking through everything, I didn’t eat. I had no appetite and wasn’t hungry.

I was terrified of being alone, and so I made up for it by making sure I was never alone. For the first year after I left, I went to parties, soothed my wounds with alcohol and went away for long weekends with friends every single weekend. Don’t get me wrong, I had a great time, but looking back, this was a period of avoidance and denial. Not only was I alone, but my former church family had all but disappeared (with the exception of about 4 people). The following year was what I call the “Roller Coaster” stage, where I stopped going to parties, drinking a lot, and began to settle down a bit. Emotionally, it was the most difficult time of this journey and luckily I had my handful of true friends left over and brand new friends that helped me through.

At my time of greatest need, when I was most lost and most afraid, the majority of people I could count on were nonbelievers. And that is just sad.

What I wish you did: Sought to understand where I was and why I was making certain choices – however wrong or “sinful” you deemed them to be. Don’t encourage me to make “better choices,” love me no matter what I do.

3. What I Need Most Is Support and Understanding, Not A Bible Verse

I understand that prayer changes things. I know that God works through many tough situations, and I have studied the Bible and have memorized verses since I was 8 years old – and all of that is well and good. But often, hidden behind the concern and promises of prayer and Christian talk, there was judgment. Some looked at me liked I had committed an unforgivable sin. People would want to get all the juicy details to determine who they could deem at fault, and I would never hear from them again. Everything was kept hush, hush. Our names were spoken behind hands and closed doors.

What I really needed during this time was support and understanding. You may not have been in my position, but there are people in the church that have been in the same situation (I’m not sure who specifically, because no one would actually talk to us about it). What I needed was a safe place, a space where I could seek refuge and mourn, a place where I could find a way to become whole again, a place where I could be encouraged and feel safe. I didn’t find that safety within the church, so I sought it outside of the church.

What I wish you did: Created a safe space where mentors could guide me through the rough patches, know what I am going through and hold my hand through it. 

divorce-life

 4.  Divorce Doesn’t Make Me A Failure

Growing up in an Asian home, failure was not an option. If I got a report card with all A’s, my mom would ask me why one was an A minus. It was expected that we excelled in what we did, and if we didn’t excel, then we worked harder and smarter to get it done. Aside from my daughter, telling my mom that I was leaving my husband was the hardest call I had to make. I remember my hands shaking and my heart pounding, butterflies fluttering in my tummy, and the feelings of a panic attack encroaching. I’m not sure what I thought was going to happen – my mom never fully liked my ex-husband anyhow – but deep down I felt like I totally failed and let everyone down. I felt embarrassed and ashamed. Was I that undesirable that my ex-husband was compelled to go find someone else?

Having attended church since I was 8 years old (on my own volition), I fell into the perfection trap that many Christians sometimes fall into. I tried to be perfect in everything I did – even though I knew that it was not possible. Would my friends see me as a failure? Four years later, I’ve worked through many of these issues and I now see my divorce as not a failure, but a marker in my journey to where I am now.

By the way, my non-Christian parents were immediately, unequivocally, 100% supportive, and encouraging. Unfortunately cannot say the same about my church friends.

What I wish you did: Treated me the same as you did before my divorce. I was the same person, just a little broken.

5. There’s No Joint Custody of the Friends

It’s a fact of life. Friendships after divorce are complicated. Going to couples retreats and marriage conferences are a thing of the past. Some friends tried to remain friends with both my ex and I. Usually the wife would continue to invite me to things, and the husband would invite my ex to hang out. But we were no longer invited to the get togethers because having us together at the same party would be awkward.

We actually got invited to the same Christmas party (an annual one thrown by some good friends of ours) about 3 months after the divorce. I brought my roommate, Lisa, and he came solo. I could feel the weight of his judgment on me as I had a cocktail (he was against alcohol consumption), and I’m sure everyone was a little uncomfortable with us there. I even have a few photos of my roommate and me at the party and in the background, my ex is glaring at us. I was never invited to that party again.

A few weeks ago, my daughter mentioned that so-and-so friend of mine had talked to my ex, and they had lunch. I felt an immediate betrayal because they took me to lunch a few months back. I tried to squelch that feeling really quickly, but I found it interesting that even now, years later, they reached out to him, and I wasn’t happy about it. It’s not impossible, but sharing friendships after divorce is nearly an impossible task.

What I wish you did: You can try to have joint custody of the couple, but you’ll probably end up either picking a side or avoiding us altogether. There really isn’t anything you can do to win in this situation.

Conclusion

Christian friends, I know it’s uncomfortable when someone you know does something that you’ve been taught was wrong or unbiblical, but if the statistics still are accurate and 50% of marriages end in divorce, perhaps it’s time to figure how you can be a good friend in a very difficult time for a member of your church family. You don’t need to be “equipped,” or experienced to love on someone. Instead of judgement, show acceptance; instead of condemnation, show compassion. Be the safe place for your friend who is in need. Listen and seek to understand.

“Don’t tell me about your God with your words. Show me about your God with your actions.” ― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free

 

18 thoughts on “5 Things I Wish My Christian Friends Knew and Did During My Divorce

  1. I wasn’t attending church when all this started. I hadn’t heard anything about it until I saw you were divorced on Facebook. We weren’t really friends but I want you to know I would have come along side you and loved on you. As far as I can see you had every right to divorce and I don’t know why other Christians would have had a problem with that. I think it’s good you wrote this letter. Other Christians need to read this.

    1. Thank you, Jan, for your sentiments. It was a rough time, but glad I came out of it better and stronger. Please feel free to share this to those you feel need to hear the message. If it can help one person, it will have served its purpose.

  2. Replace Divorce with Excommunication and this could be my blog. Keep writing. Keep working to become who God created you to be. You are beautiful inside and out, flaws and all. Love and Hugs

    1. I’m sorry that that is your story as well. It saddens me to hear that a place that should be welcoming to those that are fallen, have let you down as well.

  3. Hanssie
    I was going to comment but I think Jan took the words right out of my mouth (or odd my finger tips?) We were acquaintances in choir but not really friends. Had I known the difficulty you were having I would have tried to be there for you, even though I was young and not very knowledgeable in that area of life (I wasn’t even married yet) I hope that you will be able to find a community of believers that will come alongside you and encourage you in life and faith. Please don’t let this one experience (as big as it was) keep you from attending church and worshipping with fellow believers. It’s good for the soul as well as for your girl. I hope all is well.

    1. Thank you for your words, Ellen. Unfortunately, looking for a church is not a desire of mine for now and won’t be for a long time. If it were just this one instance – albeit significant – it might be something that I could bounce back from quicker, but having been betrayed so many times by people in the church – not just one church, I’m keeping my handful of solid friends who are believers and find more comfort from those that are non-believers, sad to say.

      My daughter does attend church; her father takes her. Ironically.

  4. I love your open and honest talk. I havent experienced a divorce, but I struggle with my Christian friends too. I’m very liberal, but I’m still a Christian. It’s sounds like it shouldn’t be a big deal, but my liberal views are sometimes a hard pill for my Christian friends to swallow. I haven’t been to church in a while because I feel like an outsider when I go.

    1. So sorry that you’ve had that experience, Becky. That’s why I wrote the post I mentioned in the first sentence, my “Open Letter.” It was indeed a little pissy 🙂

  5. Interesting how he frowns on alcohol, but not adultery. Hanssie I am sorry for the rough road you have had to travel. Some friends are not good at a loving friends during the hard seasons of life. Some of it is niavety, but I think a lot of it is hard and people don’t want to “do” hard. I like you post, it is good insight on how to be a better friend when life is hard.

  6. Ah, so much to say and so little time.
    First, expect no call. I only text and message 😀
    On divorce being caught: I think we’re born with “divorce” Divorce like murder and lust starts in the heart to begin with. What is caught is fidelity. What is taught is commitment. What is caught is that love is an action not a feeling.
    Last, lets share a bottle of wine sometime and discuss Pharisaical tendencies to tithe mint and cumin (eschew alcohol) while neglecting justice and the love of God (adultery).
    Love you Hanssie

  7. This was great to read. I have dealt with many of the same issues at church, which is why I haven’t gone in years. Especially since I am viewed with the exact same judgments by my Christian “friends” since my marriage is headed in the same direction. I’m sorry you experienced this but I’m glad you wrote about it. I would have supported and been there for you 1000% had I known what had happened!!

  8. Well, thanks for this Hanssie. You are a brave woman and I am convicted of my vain efforts to help you and Tim in my office as an elder in your former church. I will say that I resigned that post and since then I have been learning the importance of loving as God does and leaving the judgement to Him-the One with perfect knowledge. I should have realized that more fully in my relationship with you two.

  9. Hanssie, I’m so sorry you went through this, but proud of how you are now empowering other women with your story. Your transparency is such a gift to women going through the same journey. So much to say, but the short version is, your conclusion got me chocked up and reminds me to be a better friend and reach to people in need. Stay beautiful friend. If I could ever help in any way, please know I may not have the answers, but I will be there.

  10. Thank you. I just went through a divorce and lost Christian friends whom I known for 6 years. Those who have stayed don’t go to church, it’s so sad… I’m crying so hard now it hurts. But I’ve cried a lot already before I read this and it made me feel better. Really wish I could talk to you & at the same time give you a true sincere hug. I’ve been betrayed by so many & questioned the authenticity of the relationships. For someone to misrepresent another misrepresents God. Stay beautiful & love truely.

    1. Hi Lacie,

      I’m very sorry that you had to go through both experiences. Nearly 90% of my friends are non-church goers and my relationships are more real, open, and loving. It’s sad that it has to be that way.

      Feel free to email me at any time! I’m happy to talk to you about my experience. Hang in there, friend, you’ll be okay and will look back one day, happy to have learned the lessons and grateful for the new blessings in your life!

      1. Hey Hanssie, I didn’t know you left a reply to me, never received an email notifying me someone responded.
        I’m sorry for delay, it’s been super busy in my life and I hope I still have the chance to talk with you. I hope you are doing well, and I’m glad you have so many true authentic people you can call friends there for you. I don’t know what your email but I am open to talking about things too.

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