Maybe things will work out, change, be different. And maybe soon. Maybe he’ll be who I need him to be, and I will be someone who’s good for him. Maybe. Just maybe?
Never did I think I would become one of many in the vast sea of divorcees. I didn’t tuck the option in my vail as a backup plan while walking down the aisle. But I, we, also didn’t take precautions to safeguard our hearts from this devourer. And there I was, 22 years later, at the edge of “there’s no other way,” breaths away from taking that undesired plunge. I ached for longing not to be in that place.
I’ve learned, though, that sometimes the blackest hours are the most opportune backdrops for hope’s glow.
Out of the Darkness
I did leave my husband. On Easter Sunday, 2012, I walked out the door with some clothes, my hair dryer, and a heart overloaded with grief. The very day we celebrated Christ’s resurrection, my marriage was dying. We were barreling toward a dead end and neither one of us could find the brakes. He was devastated. But I couldn’t breathe any longer. I had to leave.
At 19, I entered our marriage with a fragile, broken heart, filled with unforgiveness and pain. Emotionally, I was a little girl in a woman’s body with a mind filled with wrong perceptions. Marriage did not improve this. At the time I left my husband, he was a raging alcoholic and I was a codependent enabler. By the world’s standards, we had ticked off every box that indicated divorce was the right solution, the necessary thing to do to have any hope of salvaging the remainder of our lives.
Even then, I knew there was still hope – divorce couldn’t be the only option. I had learned enough about the Lord to know that He saves, and He was willing to save our marriage too. I just couldn’t find the faith to see it yet.
It’s called a “constructive separation”, a holy retreat as it was, and it did have a role in saving my marriage. Every heartrending moment of this season proved to aid in healing the broken places.
Oh, the broken places.
Left to our own devices, my husband and I proved ill equipped to make healthy choices for our marriage and family. I knew the chaos wouldn’t end until we chose a new way. The better way. God’s way.
The vulnerability and loneliness of the decision to leave planted doubts in my mind and fear in my heart. I was blessed to have the shoulders of godly friends and family to lean on (and cry on) during that season. But even in their fleshly desire to protect me from the pain, their advice was not always motivated toward true healing.
Finding Purpose in Separation
Before I go further, let me say that in cases of abuse, protection through separation and possibly other measures is a must.
My story illustrates how even in the most desperate of marital situations, reconciliation can be achieved through the power of the Cross of Jesus Christ.
For me, separation was the only way my husband and I had a chance of turning toward one another in love once again. For some of you, separation may not be necessary to right the ship. Either way, the outline that follows applies to both situations.
There are so many details I could share that lead up to this pivotal fork in the road, each life lessons on their own. And I could speak about steps to prevent you and your spouse from reaching the place where divorce enters thoughts and whispered conversations.
But today’s message is for those who are already there. These words are for the ones who find themselves staring down this enemy, either unable to muster the courage to combat it or incapable of discerning a healthy strategy to overcome it.
STEP 1 – Seek Holiness
I won’t lie. I contemplated divorce over and over, imagining the freedom of cutting loose and letting go. It was tantalizing. But it was also a lie. No freedom could ever be found while chained to an unresolved relationship. The Holy Spirit impressed on my soul that beauty could rise from the ashes if I chose to submit to His plan in these three ways, and I pray you will consider them:
- Turn to the Lover of your soul, the Consecrator of your marriage, pleading for forgiveness and yearning for wisdom. In this time of separation, pour yourself out to the Father and fill yourself up with the truth of who He is. Knowing God opens yourself up to love again and restores hope and faith that may have been lost. He can then speak into your heart the truth of who you really are in Him.
- Look inward to your own heart and evaluate your role in the condition of your marriage. I launched into this separation fully convinced that my husband was completely to blame. It took humility to recognize the consequences of my own actions. Resist the lure to focus on your spouse’s faults, and ask the Holy Spirit to show you areas in your own heart that need healing and forgiveness.
- Commit to not entertaining advice from everyone willing to give it (and there will be many). If it doesn’t come from a biblical worldview, reject it. Initially, it would be a good thing to avoid all advice until you have established your commitment to seeking God’s solution.
STEP 2 – Seek Godly Counsel
The key word here is “godly”. I have nothing against secular counselors and I believe their help can bring positive change in many life issues and situations. But with the pervasive meism in our culture and divorce so rampantly accepted, it’s important to entrust your spiritual health to a counselor who approaches your situation from a Bible-based perspective.
Your degree of willingness to be counseled will have a bearing on your spiritual growth. Out of desperation, I was highly motivated and willing to read recommended books and do required “homework” as a means to the desired end of wholeness and healing.
Something else I learned was the importance of honesty during the counseling sessions. As difficult as it was to speak about my past and woundings, I chose not to hold back. The reality that God already knew everything about me and loved me in spite of it all gave me the resolve to speak honestly.
It was during this time of reflection in my life that the Lord brought to my consciousness an event that took place when I was only ten years old. I realized that what occurred so many years ago created a rift in my soul that promptly filled with shame. It was this, along with other relational encounters, which smothered my heart with fear. But through this biblical counseling process, I was able to put into practice and reap the blessings spoken of in James 5:16.
“Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayers of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”
STEP 3 – Seek Reconciliation
Early on, my counselor gave me the instruction of praying for my husband’s healing and blessing. I honestly did not think that was possible. I was so terribly hurt that it was difficult to even form the words to pray. At that time, my heart was not open toward my husband, so how could I ask the Lord to bless him in love?
I could have chosen not to, but by doing so, my healing intensified. Positive feelings followed obedient actions. By praying for my husband, the walls of protection I had formed around my heart began to dissolve, and a new compassion arose in my heart for him.
This new compassion, coupled with God’s grace and love, gave me the vision to see my marriage could be restored. I knew we had a long way to go, but there was now a new hope, which according to Proverbs 23:18, would not be cut off.
As Much as it Depends on You
You are only in control of your actions and choices, not your spouse’s. As I sought the Lord and began counseling, my husband chose to stay in the darkness of a downward spiral. But I persevered. It wasn’t until we were separated for three months that he chose to also receive counseling.
You may think that your spouse will never change or that your marriage will never be what God intended it to be. And that may be so. I had to come to terms with this myself. What I’ve learned is that I don’t have the power to change another person. But God does. My role is to trust Him with myself and others. In the process, He will refine my character to be more Christ-like, which has been His will all along.
Not every constructive separation results in reunion. Sometimes the result is divorce, as it was for Elisabeth Klein as she describes in her message, The Unraveling of a Christian Marriage: Three Common Questions. Either way, the Lord desperately loves us and longs for a relationship with us above all. If your marriage dissolves, know that He is still working in you and in your spouse, and personal restoration is still available when we submit our will to Him.
It takes bravery to stay, to do the work reconciliation requires of both spouses, to defy the world’s standards. It takes a new courage, sufficient courage from the Lord, which can only be found in Christ. Wherever you are on this journey, I pray this message brings hope to your heart and peace to your soul.
If you are at this place, rest in God’s grace and know that He is for your marriage. And if you know someone that’s struggling, please share this hope with them too.