It’s hard to walk through the doors of a church when you’re going through a divorce.
My pastor once described divorce as an amputation. It’s an accurate description of how I felt every time I walked into our church building. We’d been a family of four attending church each Sunday; now we were only three. While other families grew, ours shrunk. The loss weighed heavily on my soul.
My pastor once described divorce as an amputation.
Despite being in a church with brothers and sisters in Christ who loved me and my children deeply, I felt disfigured. I felt other—on the outside looking in at others enjoying normal life.
Financial setbacks related to my divorce forced me to move across the country closer to family. There were new church doors I needed to enter, new church people to meet. But these new people didn’t know my story. Opening up to them felt impossible.
What would I say when new people asked how I was or why I had moved back home? How could I answer without breaking down crying in the church lobby? I was raw and wounded. My instincts for self-protection told me not to go to church at all.
I Was Pushed
My convictions, however, didn’t allow me that luxury. Moving closer to family didn’t either. We are a good Southern family with a cultural religious heritage. Everyone simply goes to church.
Now, there are lots of problems with a cultural religious heritage. But this one particular aspect of it was good for me. It pushed me to do what I did not want to do, but what would eventually be deeply good for my soul. It pushed me to enter the doors of that new church.
It would be wrong of me to paint my journey as a divorced woman in conservative religious culture as easy or without painful moments and conversations. I have experienced awkward conversations and weird looks. I’ve experienced insensitive comments and even isolation as others in the church didn’t quite know what to do with a newly divorced woman in their midst.
Means of Grace
There is an old phrase in the Reformed church that has meant a lot to me: “Avail yourself of the means of grace.” There is something about the habits of Christian life—prayer, Bible study, corporate worship, the Lord’s Supper, baptism—that ministers grace to our souls. Despite awkward conversations and occasional insensitive comments, the weekly rhythm of corporate worship has been a means of God’s grace to me and my children through my divorce and the years after it.
An unexpected thing happened to me when I moved back to my hometown after my divorce. People surprised me with how they received and treated me and my children. I admit that I often expected the worst. Cynics, hurt by others in the past, expect the worst so they won’t be disappointed.
God, however, funneled me down to a church that regularly responded to me in ways that chipped at the self-protective, cynical shell I had built for myself. And now, years later, it’s hard to remember that I once feared opening myself to these folks who have become dear family.
Years later, it’s hard to remember that I once feared opening myself to these folks who have become dear family.
God Knew What I Needed
One year after forcing myself to go to the new church in the new town, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a stunning diagnosis for a single mom just beginning to crawl out of a deep emotional pit.
I thank God so much for the cultural religious heritage that pushed me to go to church before I was ready. I didn’t know how much, in just a few short months, I would need my church family. I didn’t know how much my children would need them. But God had known. He pushed me to risk with a new church family, and they became God’s hands and feet to me, a means of his grace I deeply needed.
If you are in the pit, avail yourself of the means of God’s grace. He ministers it to us through weekly corporate worship and singing, the reading of the Word, and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
And may you find in the family of Christ that your family grows, not shrinks, despite the amputation you’ve experienced.