I’m twenty nine years old. A Westmont College and Fuller Seminary graduate, born and raised in a loving Christian family. My Dad sat on the Elder board of my church growing up, started numerous International non-profits, and ran a successful family business that funded dozens more. I started my own non-profit when I was twenty five, and have traveled the world to educate and deepen my understanding of the anti-trafficking field. My life, in many ways, was picture perfect. When I was 26 I married the love of my life. But three years later I found myself divorced. The big D-word.
Our marriage was a short one but full of life. He supported my dreams by moving to Thailand with me, I supported his by helping get his music career off the ground. On the outside it seemed ideal. People often referred to us as a ‘power couple’ and I found my strength in other people’s praise. Because on the inside I was crumbling. Confused. And losing myself. After months of counseling I gathered my guts and finally admitted to myself that it was over.
I’m still healing from this, and this essay is simply one of many letters that will come from my exploration during this time. So I’m writing to you, women and men, who are a part of the church and love the church, but are struggling with divorce. You might be asking yourself if you still belong, or feeling the need to justify in biblical terms why it didn’t work. I can remember weeks of crying out to God for a miracle in my marriage. That I would fall back in love with my husband. But like many, I learned the hard way that God’s silence was not a lack of his love but rather a time for me to soak in his grace.
Divorce was not something talked about growing up. I’d liken it to the way college was treated in my family ‘we don’t care where you go, but you have to go!’ Divorce was similar – ‘we don’t care if you get married, but stay married!’. Divorce was never an option. It was what happened to those ‘other’ people.
So how dare I entertain the idea of a divorce, let along go through with it, as a Christian!?
I’ve gathered my little bullet points of touchy topics on this journey. Whether they’re questions people have asked or simply ones I hear in my head from pastor’s growing up. But here they are:
1. What happened? This is the most commonly asked question and coming from some, I pour my heart out. From others, I guard my marriage and protect it because I know the questioner is more interested in gossip than matters of the heart. In the end it’s never an easy answer. People want the black and white and unfortunately life, especially divorce, is not usually so.
2. How has the church responded? I’ve found myself very careful in answering this because I realize that for many this is a loaded question. Some want to hear that the church fired my husband (who is a worship leader at the church). Others want to hear that they’ve been a supportive community. To be honest, I don’t really know how the church has responded because I’ve stepped away to give him space in his work community. But what I do know is that our pastor has loved me. He’s reached out, offered support and encouraging words, and made it clear that I’m beautiful and loved and accepted. Furthermore, I’ve been shocked at the amount of support I’ve received from the community at large. I’d like to think that the way we live our lives is breaking down the stereotypes that most held about divorce. And that perhaps the church’s conversation as they see authentically the pain that divorce brings, even to people who live their lives in service to their creator.
3. How do you justify divorce? I don’t. I’m broken. I’m a sinner. I realized that I felt the pressure from my community to justify it and I just can’t. Marriage is hard and should never be walked away from lightly. Ever. My husband and I visited counseling for months – both marriage and personal – and both knew we were better off separately. We might have been able to make it work – stick it out – but we would have been extremely unhappy. Whether divorce can be justified or not is a complicated and long conversation that get’s into interpretations of scripture and God’s message behind divorce. But what I do know is that it’s a choice. And it’s hard. And it’s now a part of my brokenness, my journey.
4. Is it because you’re an independent woman?Truly, this is a question. Maybe just as much as my husband was independent? Like many fellow feminists I don’t see myself in the ‘traditional’ light of wifely-ness. I wasn’t home in time to cook dinner for my husband every night, nor did I rise hours before him in the morning to prepare his breakfast and join him in a quiet time. But what I did do was provide adventure, and passion, and a global perspective that (I’d like to think) he appreciated. Supposedly he was attracted to my independence – but the question is whether or not he meant it. I would surmise that it threatened him in the end.
But the question I’ve begun to crave and I think the church needs to be asking of it’s people in a time like this is different than any of the above. It’s a healthier question, in my opinion.
Am I rooted in God’s love?
In my times of prayer the only thing I ‘heard’ from God was Ephesians 3:16-19. Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians to be rooted in love so that they may grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ. [Paraphrasing and emphasis mine]. Was I grasping the vast extent of God’s love for me? This is a lot to take in, especially when you feel like a failure in the eyes of yourself and the church.
This journey has reminded me of our need to fix one another – especially in the church. To provide the black and white answers according to scripture and to have things fit neatly into a box. This isn’t the Jesus I know. Is it the Jesus you know? This conversation is uncomfortable and controversial. It’s open to interpretation and can cause arguments depending on how we view scripture or what stories we carry with us that contribute to our experiences. But exploring divorce – especially with those who it has personally affected – is so necessary in communally pursuing the heart of God. God doesn’t look for perfect people – we have an entire book that shows us that he loved the broken. He simply wants what is best for us. So why do we expect such perfection, and shy away from brokenness? Jesus did not come to heal the healthy, but the sick. He did not come to call the Righteous, but sinners. Jesus came for us, broken and all, and asks us to repent.
The questions people have asked me in this journey are valuable. But church, I would call us to a different question. Are we rooted in God’s love? In my community this is what I hunger for – not for people to judge me, but rather for people to continue encouraging me towards the heart of God. My desire is that my actions, my love, be of Him and from Him. There is no black and white to divorce. I’m sorry, it’s just not that simple. But there is a current we can fall in to during times of immense pain – one that the church should humble themselves to – and that is simply the love and grace of a Lord that cares for the hurting and the sick in ways that are extremely difficult for us to comprehend. So let’s rest in that confusion. Give in to it’s greatness. And daily ask ourselves if we’re living rooted in something bigger than ourselves. Even if we don’t understand it.
Rachel Goble is the President and Associate Producer of The SOLD Project organization and film. She also has a passion for the intersection of justice and the arts and is the owner of Rachel Goble Photography.