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.
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.
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.
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,