The Stigma Of Divorce


Man sticking his tongue out and gesturing loser

I’m at a party. People are enjoying drinks, chatting, and laughing. I find an old acquaintance and we strike up a conversation.

Then comes the inevitable question: “How’s your wife?”

I have to tell him we split up, then both of us stand there awkwardly until one of us quickly comes up with some small talk to ease the conversation into more comfortable territory.

It sucks being divorced.

It’s not just the mourning of a lost love or once-bright dreams that will never be. It’s not just the struggle with forgiveness or the loneliness. No, one of the worst things about being divorced is the stigma.

Even though people don’t know all the details of how your relationship ended, they almost always look at you with pity when you tell them you got divorced. And you stand there, mind cluttered with self-conscious thoughts: They must think something’s wrong with me. I’m a failure. I couldn’t make my relationship work.

Unfortunately, the Christian community often treats its divorced members the same way.

I sometimes teach for a Christian organization. Recently, a high-ranking board member of that organization told his colleagues that I shouldn’t be allowed to teach anymore because I’m divorced.

I understand that many Christians who feel this way are sincere, and they’re just trying to live according to their convictions. But too often, I’ve found that they’re not even interested in your story. They don’t ask for the gory details of how your marriage ended. They don’t even seek to know the current condition of your heart. They just decide that because you’re divorced, you’re morally unfit to serve God.

But then I think of the Samaritan woman Jesus met at the well (cf. John 4: 4-30). She’d been married five times and was living with a guy she hadn’t even bothered to marry at the time of her encounter with Christ. With a track record like that, her community surely saw her (and she saw herself) as a moral failure. She had suffered the condemning looks and harsh gossip that come from being in so many broken relationships.

But Jesus didn’t inquire about her past. He didn’t look at her moral condition and decide she was unqualified to serve Him. Instead, He engaged her in conversation. He revealed to her that He was the Messiah she had been waiting for.

Suddenly, the disciples showed up and were surprised to find Him speaking with her (just like many disciples today are surprised to find Him reaching out to people who appear to be moral failures). But they kept quiet.

Meanwhile, the woman went back to her town and told all her neighbors about her encounter with Jesus. And: “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony” (John 4:39). This was a woman who’d been divorced five times and was now living in sin with her current partner. Jesus chose her to spread His message.

Did her brokenness render her unfit to do His will? On the contrary, it was arguably because of her brokenness that she was especially fit to spread the message. She knew what it was like to be judged and written off, so she could appreciate it when someone finally accepted her.

It’s the same with us today. Jesus looks past the ruins of our failures. And He still choosesJesus Calls Even The Most Broken us to serve Him.

So the next time I’m at a party and run into an old friend and they ask about my wife, I’ll tell them we split up. We’ll both feel awkward and stammer for the next right thing to say. I’ll wonder what they’re thinking of me…

But I’ll try to remind myself that they’re not the only person looking at me. Jesus is too. He’s looking at me like He looked at the Samaritan woman. And He’s telling me He’s the Messiah who knows my history but accepts me anyway.






7 Comments

  1. Lisa-727959 July 29, 2012 Reply

    Chris,

    Thank you for this insightful and candid post! The stigma of divorce is one of the hardest things to deal with, primarily because people do not know all the circumstances and it’s not always easy to launch into an explanation.

    I’m sure a lot of people will appreciate reading this.

    – Lisa Duffy

  2. Jeannie-822585 July 29, 2012 Reply

    Chris,

    Thank you for your insight. God wants us all healed inside and out, He’ll take the ashes and make something beautiful….you wait and see! He’s so faithful. Resist the enemy and He will flee from you. James 4. It’s the enemy that thinks your happiness is over. I’ll pray that you don’t believe His lies.
    Psalm 27:13
    I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.

    God bless, Chris

    Jeannie

  3. Stephen-725391 July 30, 2012 Reply

    However there is a MORE insidious, in the Catholic churches (I’m not sure he was talking strictly to Catholics), annulled/non-annulled. It’s not hard to find out who is divorced and separated (two different civil orders) in the parish but WHO is ANNULLED and WHO isn’t ANNULLED! Further, if you are over 45-50 and single and one of these annulled/non-annulled – well you are the ‘crazy aunt’ locked in the up-stairs bedroom, an embarrassment not spoken of but yet ever present.

    CM blog 4-6 months ago blogged that a Report on Singles was going to be available shortly and you could sign up to get a free hard copy or email copy – CM, WHERE IS IT?

  4. Em-883370 July 30, 2012 Reply

    Thank you for this article. Though I was not married, I was engaged to a boyfriend of almost 5 years and breaking off the engagement and a relationship that lasted so long feels like a divorce in alot of ways. This article was very encouraging and loving from a Biblical perspective. God bless you!

  5. David-364112 August 3, 2012 Reply

    ” Recently, a high-ranking board member of that organization told his colleagues that I shouldn’t be allowed to teach anymore because I’m divorced.”

    Reading this ENRAGED ME. How dare he? Being divorced isn’t a problem – being re-married without an annulment is the problem. This jerk should be told in no uncertain terms to mind his own business.

  6. Joan-684265 August 3, 2012 Reply

    Here is an idea that may work. I tell the folks who matter to me, AND whom I think would understand and would care, that “Father Perusina worked with me when I was seeking an annulment.” We do have to keep in mind that Our Lord and Saviour has lots and lots and lots more on-the-ball, and lots and lots and lots more loving and caring than this-and-that acquaintance, who may not care for you at all, but may be endeavouring to make you feel bad, or may be envious of you for some reason.

  7. Ann-980060 December 6, 2013 Reply

    Thank you for a very well written article. I read another one of your writings and liked it so much I started reading more. Articles such as this one are one of my favorite things about being on CM. I am in the 45-50 age group but widowed. I know that what you speak is the truth. Because of my age, people think I am divorced and give you that “look” of pity. When I tell them that I am not divorced but in fact I am widowed, their facial expression changes from the “divorce pity” look to the almost relieved “oh I’m sorry” look and their demeanor changes. It has been interesting to encounter this time and time again over the past 3 years since my husband died. I don’t know if the people doing this are even aware they are.
    The woman at the well is one of my favorites. We are all sinners but Jesus loves us. That is the BEST news!! Let’s all hang on to that :)
    Thanks again for sharing the gift God gave you of writing!! God bless!

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