What Divorce Taught Me About Marriage
by Josh Hunt
I never wanted to get divorced. I never wanted to be the one who filled out the form and check the "D" where it says marital status. I didn't want our kids having two homes. But, I try to teach my kids that you don't get everything you want in life, and I didn't get everything I wanted in this one. I fought and thought and read and prayed and went to counseling and worked and dealt with issues and eventually I was divorced. It still shocks me to say it.
Not only did I not want to get divorced, I never thought it would happen to me. I am a preacher's kids who grew up in a Christian home. My brother and two brothers-in-law are all in ministry. We all live pretty conservative lives. Those other kind of people do a lot of things we don't do. One of those is get divorced.
Divorce was always mentioned in a shameful light in my family. Whenever we talked about someone we didn't respect, someone who blew it and made a mess of their lives, we would often throw this in, "and he got a divorce." Everyone knew what that meant. He was one of those kinds. Those kinds we can't respect. Shame. Shame. Shame. Now, it is me.
There is a reason why God hates divorce
Just about everyone I know who has been divorced hates divorce. Even people who wanted a divorce hate divorce, in the sense that this is not ultimately what they wanted, not what they longed for, not what they dreamed of. It is at best a lesser of two undesirable situations. Divorced people hate divorce more than the rest of us. I mean, more than the rest of you.
No one ever means to get divorced. No one sets out to get divorced. No one sets the goal of getting divorced. We all long for the same thing-to love and be loved forever.
God did not mean to get divorced. What I means is, it was not his heart's desire. He did not begin a relationship with Israel just to divorce her. That is why God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). He has been there. He knows how painful divorce can be. He knows it is awful. I would hate anything that would do that to one of my children.
We serve a divorced God. He says, "I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries." Jeremiah 3:8a That is why He hates divorce. He has been there and knows how painful it can be. I hate divorce far worse now that I have been through it.
"We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses," (Hebrews 4:15). He has been there. Our God hates divorce because he has experienced the gut wrenching pain of a failed relationship.
A mediocre marriage is better than a good divorce
I have often described our divorce as the world's best divorce. By that I mean we have a very cordial relationship, we live about a mile a part, and I get to see my kids on a daily basis. With three kids I often thought that if we could get along, there are plenty of kids for both of us. This turned out to be the case. I enjoy my kids, but I enjoy having some time to myself as well. My relationship with my kids has grown stronger through this and they have done pretty well. Not to say that it has not hurt them. I am certainly not saying that it is best for them. But this cloud too has a silver lining. I took my boys on separate vacations this summer-Dawson to New York and Dustin to the Grand Canyon. That was really fun.
I remember the day it hit me, "This is not so bad." I thought it was going to be awful being in a house by myself. I thought I would be totally lonely and depressed all the time. And there was some of that. I spent the first summer crying. I can remember the first conference I did after the divorce. I don't get a lot of invitations to do conferences in the summer. There was this feeling of joy in taking a shower and washing my face and hopping on an airplane and going on with life. The Bible speaks of a "period of grieving." I am sure the amount of time is different for everyone and my experience was that there was not an all-out stopping time to the grief. But there did come a time for me when I was tired of crying and ready to go on with life. I remember sitting in my living room sometime after that and thinking, "This is not so bad."
Every life situation has pluses and minuses. Joy or grief can be found in a variety of places. Eventually, I discovered joy in what I perceived would be unspeakable sadness.
Still, I prefer marriage. I like the whole living life together thing. I like living life as a couple.
Ours was not a great marriage by any means. Mediocre may be too flattering. I was constantly aware for years that we had troubles. Sharon was unhappy and wanted out for years. There were many evenings I would drive home and wonder if this would be the night she would finally leave me. It was very distasteful knowing that someone wanted to get away from me. I tried to please her and couldn't figure out how. I felt repulsive. Still, I prefer a mediocre marriage to a good divorce.
I talked to a friend some time back about his marriage. It is not going well. She is not giving him what he wants out of the marriage. I am sure the opposite is also true, though I didn't have a change to talk to her. I found advice leaping from me: Don't do it. Don't get divorced. It is awful. You have no idea how painful it can be. Stay with it. Work it out. Keep working. A mediocre marriage is better than a good divorce.
I am sure that all of us who teach sometimes wonder if we are doing any good, if anyone is listening or if truth even matters. What I learned through my divorce was that truth really does matter.
Truth drives behavior which gets results which creates our feelings. Behind all of life is truth. There were concrete, objective issues of truth that drove my behavior that were wrong. There is a reason we do what we do. Issues of truth caused the failure of my marriage. Truth matters. Perhaps an example would help.
I had more goofy ideas about love than you can imagine. I believed that love was merely a decision, that it was all about commitment, responsibility, duty and doing. I aspired to make a promise and keep a promise. I believed it did not have to do so much with issues of the heart as issues of the head. "Love is a decision" I was taught. And I bought it. I bought a heartless, feeling less, emotionless love . I bought it because I thought it was true and it was easy for me. A decision based love came easily for me. A feeling based love was less accessible so I was glad to learn the "truth" about love is simply commitment.
Only problem is Sharon didn't buy it. She wanted me to have heart. She didn't care that I was there because I was committed. She wanted me to want to be there. She wanted me to feel love for her, not merely commit love to her. She wanted me to take her out on a date because I wanted to spend an evening with her, because I couldn't think of anything I would rather do than spend an evening with her, that there was no one I would rather be with than her. It was distasteful to her that I was with her merely because I was committed.
I remember one particular date night. I remember taking Sharon out and patting myself on the back saying, "What a good boy am I." We had gone to a New Mexico State Aggie basketball game. (She grew up as her father's only son-if you get my drift-and this was honest to goodness something she loved doing, so I took her.) I am committed. I made a decision and I am following through. I am doing. I made a promise and I am keeping the promise. I am taking my wife out on a date. As I slipped into my chair, I thought to myself, "You know, I can multi-task." I can take Sharon out on a date night and get some work done.
We were experimenting with using direct mail as a means of reaching people for Christ at this time in the life of the church. I calculated that if we sent out a 10,000 piece mailing an got X% response rate over Y period of time we could expect Z number of visitors. I had this "magnet factor" and "velcro factor" percolating in my head about then and I figured that if we had so many visitors, so many would join and that would impact our attendance by ____. I even knew, on average, about what they would give, and after I calculated the cost of the mailing, I was surprised to discover that we would actually have more money when we were done than when we started. That didn't sound exactly right, so I recalculated the whole thing on a 20,000 piece mailing.
Is anybody surprised that my wife was not deeply satisfied by my commitment, my doing, and my promise keeping? If she were less kind, she would have said to me, "If you would rather be home with your nose is an Excel spreadsheet, why don't you just stay home." She wanted me to want to be there.
Eventually, we paid the price for this and a myriad of others issues like it. There were dozens of issues. I remember coming home from one week-long counseling session with a list of 25 issues, any one of which could have single handedly killed my marriage. My situation was analogous to a guy trying to drive his car with no gas in the gas tank, water in the radiator, air in the tires or oil in the crankcase. Thing is, you can fix three out of four things and you car still won't drive. Similarly, we fixed a lot of things over the years-real things that really needed fixing. Still, it didn't work.
Truth matters. I could go on for pages like this. With this much mis-truth in our heads, no wonder our marriage failed. Truth matters.
The people of God can be gracious
We nearly got divorced seven years ago. When I say, nearly, I mean nearly. Sharon had a deposit down on an apartment, she had her own checking account, she had a job, and we had an appointment with a judge. We were thirty days away from being divorced. I was on staff at a church at the time, and this kind of thing gets to be public information rather quickly.
Meeting #1 was held by the management team. They were sympathetic. They did not see any professional complications and offered their prayer and support.
Meeting #2 was held. This one held by the deacons. They had a different perspective. Isn't there a verse somewhere that asks "if a man cannot manage his household, what business does he have leading the church?" They felt the better course of action was for me to resign.
I will never forget that Monday morning. I bopped into work like I had every other Monday morning for the last eleven years. I came home around 10:30 unemployed. To say that that was a dark hour is to grossly underestimate the case. (The only thing worse was when I actually did get divorced some six years later.) I knew that this was going to forever change my relationship with a huge network of close friends. I was out of a job. I lost my ministry. I didn't know how I would eat and provide for my kids. I have a degree in Bible and Theology-not terribly marketable on the street. Shock, grief, disbelief, sadness, pain, worry, these are all words that come to mind in describing that moment. It was a soul crushing day.
Well, I am the lucky one, or so I thought. Sharon couldn't see adding insult to injury by leaving me during this dark hour. In fact, we went and begged that the decision be reconsidered. She agreed to call off the divorce and work on our marriage. We pleaded, but to no avail. What was done was done.
With this background you can understand why I might be a little nervous about how my divorce my affect my current role as a conference speaker. Would my speaking engagements dry up? Would people cancel my existing engagements? How should I handle the situation? Should I tell? Who? When? I called some friends for advice.
"I wouldn't hop off the plane and say to people, 'Hello, my name is Josh and I am divorced.' But I wouldn't try to hide it either. Bring it up when it comes up," a minister told me. "And by the way, how did you know to call me?" "What do you mean how did I know to call you?" "You didn't know I was divorced?" I had no idea. Life is funny some times. I felt Heaven smiling at me. It turned out to be good advice. At first, I was really nervous when the subject came up. I thought people would reject me, lose respect for me, or feel that I should have told them earlier. Life surprises you sometimes. Without exception the people of God have been accepting, gracious, sympathetic and kind. No exceptions.
Perhaps the greatest example of love and support came from my new church, First Baptist. I was preaching one of our services at the time. When this broke I called my pastor and told him the news. I suggested that although for many it might not matter, there might be a few that thought it inappropriate that I be the regular preacher being a divorced man. I asked him if he could step in. He agreed. He has continued to allow me to preach from time to time. Life rocked along pretty much as normal. In a thousand different ways they have been loving and supportive.
"It came to pass"
Feelings are funny. How ever we feel at the moment is our eternity. We think it will last forever. We think we will feel that way forever. Grief is no exception. When I am down, I think I will be down forever. I think it will never get better. I think I will feel like crying for the rest of my life. The pain is not only intense, it makes you think it will stay forever.
I am basically an optimistic, happy person. But in divorce I moved from happy and optimistic to almost suicidal. I never made plans, but I sure wanted to die. It really got the best of me. In those times I do well to remember, "It came to pass."
It doesn't last forever. I won't feel blue forever. I won't feel hopeless and depressed and rejected and awful and lonely forever. It came to pass and it will pass.
I will never forget that first airplane to do my first meeting after the divorce. I remember thinking, "This feels good." There is a time to move on. It came to pass.
The Bible speaks of a period of grief. A period. Meaning, it doesn't last forever. It is like Winter. It comes and it goes. No matter how cold, it always comes and goes. Then it is Spring again. There comes a time to wash your face and put on some clean clothes and go outside and breathe clean air and remember that it came to pass.
No, I didn't get everything I wanted in life. I try to teach my kids that we don't get everything we want in life. That is how life is. If we are ever going to be happy, we are going to do it in a less than perfect world. We don't always get our way. I didn't get my way in this one, but, life goes on. It came to pass.