I never imagined it would happen to me. Divorce was for other people, non-Christians, people who took commitments lightly. But as I signed the final divorce papers, I realized how wrong I’d been. The unimaginable had happened, and now I had to find my way in an unknown world where I felt misjudged, rejected, and alone.
The early years after my ex-husband left were the hardest. I wanted to run from the Christian community, feeling that I didn’t fit anymore. I cringed as I overheard people talking about our situation, speculating on what had happened. I wanted to over-explain and justify myself to everyone who knew I was divorced.
I wanted to run from the Christian community, feeling that I didn’t fit anymore.
People get divorced for a variety of reasons—some are sinful and self-centered while others involve unfaithful or abusive spouses, and still others are hard to define. Whatever the reason, we who are in Christ can confidently go to the Lord and find grace and mercy in our need (Heb. 4:16). The Lord knows our hearts. When he convicts us of sin, we can confess it to him, and he will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
When Shame Remains
Even when our hearts are clean, shame seems intertwined with divorce. Gossip often separates us from a community that once felt like home. We may avoid social gatherings because we’re not sure who we’ll talk to or what awkward questions might come up.
The Samaritan woman in John 4 may have felt similarly. She met Jesus at the well at midday—a time when few women would congregate because of the heat—perhaps to avoid all the awkwardness. We don’t know her whole story. But we know that she had been married to five husbands and was living with someone to whom she was not married (John 4:18).
In that culture, men held the power and could divorce their wives for almost no reason, leaving them alone and unprotected. If the Samaritan woman had been unfaithful, it’s unlikely she could have avoided being stoned, let alone remarry. Perhaps her husbands were unfaithful or grew tired of her, or maybe some died in her arms. Whatever the reason for her many marriages, she likely carried a burden of shame to the well that day.
But after the Samaritan woman encountered Jesus, her life trajectory changed. She went back to her community, no longer living in the shadows but enthusiastically telling everyone about Jesus. Her story teaches us great truths about how to move forward after we feel broken and rejected.
1. Don’t let shame pull you away from the church.
I understand avoiding contact and conversation. It was hard for me to engage with church friends who weren’t privy to the details of my divorce. I had taught women’s Bible study for years but suddenly felt my ministry was over and my witness tarnished.
Shame whispers that we have no value and pushes us away from relationships. It’s easier to run away from others, to want a fresh start. But there is incredible healing in staying in community and trusting God to provide. I had to let go of my concerns about what others were thinking and root my identity firmly in Christ.
Shame whispers that we have no value and pushes us away from relationships. But there is incredible healing in staying in community and trusting God to provide.
The Lord helped me face my fears, letting go of my shame and recognizing my own misperceptions as I drew near to him through Scripture. Isaiah 54:4–6, God’s words and promises spoken originally to Israel in captivity, took on new meaning: “Fear not, for you will not be ashamed. . . . For your Maker is your husband. . . . For the LORD has called you like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit, like a wife of youth when she is cast off.” God had called me, understood my grief, and taken away my shame.
2. Run to God who offers you living water.
Jesus told the Samaritan woman that he could give her living water so she’d never thirst again. That living water is Christ himself, yet we often refuse it and try to provide for ourselves. It’s a subtle but destructive shift as we go less and less to God and rely more on our own wisdom. We may find new friends, take up new habits, look for life outside Christ that may satisfy for a while, as broken cisterns can. However, their slow leak of brackish water will eventually run dry and leave us drained and thirsty.
Feeling hopeless after my divorce, I wondered if life could ever be good again. I was empty and dry. In desperation, I started getting up extra early, reading the Bible and crying out to God, begging him to meet me. Every day I repeated Psalm 119:25 (NASB), “My soul clings to the dust, revive me according to your word,” and miraculously, God drenched me with his living water. What began as a devastating time in my life grounded my faith in ways I still remember with awe.
3. Trust that God will use your story to minister to others.
The Lord often uses the hardest things in our lives—even divorce—to show people who he is.
Many Samaritans from the woman’s town believed in Jesus because of her testimony (John 4:39). Though she may have felt shame about her past, hearing her story drew others to Christ. The Lord often uses the hardest things in our lives—even divorce—to show people who he is.
Divorce doesn’t necessarily mean our ministry is over. My ministry was more fruitful after divorce, not less, and people were more supportive than I envisioned. When we see seemingly perfect families in church, we want their lives, but when we see broken families trusting the Lord, we want their God. Our story of God’s faithfulness amid shattered dreams may be the greatest witness we could ever offer.