Touch, You & Your Family

Mercy or judgement?

HELPING MY CLIENT consider what adjustment she would have to make when she divorces her husband, one consideration stands out clearly. “How will my church receive my decision?” she wondered aloud. She was long past deciding on whether to divorce or not. Now comes the equally difficult step of thinking about the consequences of her decision.

She had consulted both her church’s assistant pastors earlier. One was very clear about his opposition to her decision. He advised her to forgive her husband and give him another chance over this, his second adulterous relationship. e second assistant pastor was more sympathetic. Yet he would not say a clear “yes” or “no” to her decision. She also made an appointment to see her senior pastor and approached this meeting with dread.

Her confusion and anxiety mirror the experience of not a few Christians who consider the difficult decision of a divorce. With this mix of emotions, some have avoided discussing their decision with their church leaders. Others decide to leave their churches and attend a new church incognito. Still others have left the church altogether.

Is this uprooting really necessary? After all, it means losing a point of contact with both family and friends who share a common faith and who can provide support at this time of need. Other Christians may argue that we should expect no less from divorcees. After all, they had taken vows publicly to stay wedded for life.

Others are not so “black-or-white” in their response to divorcees. They may sympathise with the aggrieved spouses and be somewhat cold to the other whom they see as the cause of the marital breakdown.

What happens when it is difficult to find a couple where one spouse is completely blameless and the other a scoundrel? How should you relate to a friend who has gone through a divorce?

Here are some suggestions:

• Offer a listening ear when either party wants to talk. Listen sympathetically and avoid offering suggestions especially when they are not sought for. These unwelcome suggestions can be confusing at best and even hurtful.

• When a friend expresses regret for actions that might have worsened the marriage, do not add your voice to the chorus of fault finders. Encourage the divorced to refrain from doing too much introspection and self-blame.

• If your friend does not wish to talk about the divorce, suggest things that you both can do. Having the company of a non-inquisitive and accepting friend can bring great relief.

• Offer practical assistance, be it looking after the children or going on joint family outings together.

• Encourage the continuation of attendance at church and fellowship group meetings. Accompany him/her so that you can help parry away the unwanted attention of busybodies.

• If your friend happens to be seen as the one who has caused the marital breakdown, for example, offer him/her an opportunity to be reconciled to God. is is done not by ostracising, but by welcoming him/her to the fellowship of the family of God.

These suggestions come from a stance that remembers that our Lord chose not to condemn others but to be merciful – not to stand apart in judgement but to embrace in merciful inclusion.