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Archive for the ‘Divorce/Remarriage’ Category

TRUE REPENTANCE OR NOT?

Source:  Mark W. Gaither, Redemptive Divorce, 2008, 141-142

How do we know that repentance is genuine?  John the Baptist told the multitudes to “bring forth fruits in keeping with your repentance” (Luke 3:8).  Paul told the Gentiles “they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance” (Acts 26:20).  It appears, therefore, that genuine repentance will make itself evident by its deeds.  The truly repentant sinner will freely acknowledge his sin (1 John 1:9).  The truly repentant sinner will seek to make restitution for the wrong done, especially if material loss or property damage has resulted (Philem. 18-19).  The truly repentant person will exhibit genuine sorrow over sin (2 Cor. 7:8-10).  The truly repentant person will manifest the fruit of the Spirit:  “love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23).  (Source:  J. Carl Laney, A Guide to Church Discipline, 1985, 93)

Sometimes people merely pretend to repent in order to avoid loss or retain control.  And they can appear authentically sorrowful, only to return to their destructive behavior later.  An obvious change in attitude and behavior always accompanies repentance.  The following signs of repentance should be observed:

  1. Repentant people are willing to confess all their sins, not just the sins that got them into trouble.  Has the person demonstrated a desire to be completely honest about his/her behavior?
  2. Repentant people face the pain their sin has caused others.  Has the person allowed you to express the intensity of emotions you feel—anger, hurt, sorrow, and disappointment—without trying to justify, minimize, or shift blame?
  3. Repentant people ask forgiveness from those they hurt.  Has the person asked your forgiveness?  Does his/her sorrow seem genuine?  Does the person pressure you to say, “I forgive you?”   Does the person expect you to “get over it” without sufficient time to heal?
  4. Repentant people remain accountable to a small group of mature Christians.  What has the person done to address any issues that may have contributed to his/her destructive choices?  What is the person doing to avoid a relapse and to grow stronger as a God-honoring person?
  5. Repentant people accept their limitations.  Does the person resent your need for reassurance?  Doe he/she seem to understand the need for the rebuilding of trust over time?
  6. Repentant people are faithful to the daily tasks God has given them.  Is the person putting forth good effort to fulfill his/her duties at work and at home?  Is the person moving forward in life with humility, or do you sense that he/she merely wants to get things back to normal as quickly as possible?

The Marriage Map

from The Divorce Remedy, Michele Weiner-Davis, M.S.W

The marriage map is meant to give you a broad overview of the experiences most couples have when they negotiate the marital terrain. As you read through these stages and developmental passages, don’t get too hung up on the timetable. Some couples move through these stages more quickly than others, and some bypass certain stages entirely. See if any of this sounds familiar to you as you think about your own marriage and that of friends and family.

Stage One- Passion prevails
Head over heels in love, you can’t believe how lucky you are to have met your one and only star-crossed lover. Everything other than the relationship quickly fades into the background. Much to your amazement, you have so much in common: you enjoy the same hobbies, music, restaurants and movies. You even like each other’s friends. You can finish each other’s sentences. When you pick up the phone to call your partner, he or she is already on the line calling you. You are completely in sync. Everything is perfect, just the way you imagined it would be. When little, annoying things pop up, they’re dismissed and overlooked.

At no other time in your relationship is your feeling of well-being and physical desire for each other as intense as it is during this romantic period. The newness and excitement of the relationship stimulates the production of chemicals in your bodies that increase energy, positive attitudes and heighten sexuality and sensuality. You feel good in your partner’s presence and start to believe that he or she is bringing out the best in you. Depression sets in when you’re apart. There aren’t enough hours in the day to be together. You never run out of things to say. Never, never, have you felt this way before. “It must be love,” you tell yourself. While in this naturally produced state of euphoria, you decide to commit to spending the rest of their lives together. “And why not,” you reason, “we’re perfect together.” And marry, you do.

Unless you elope or opt for a simple, judge’s chambers-style wedding, your euphoria takes a temporary nosedive as you plan and execute your wedding. Once you get past the superhuman challenges dealing with family politics and hosting a modern-day wedding, your starry-eyed obsession with each other re-emerges and takes you through the honeymoon period. At last, you are one. You have committed your lives to each other forever- soul mates in the eyes of God and the world. And for a period of time, nothing could be more glorious. But soon, your joy gives way to an inevitable earth-shattering awakening; marriage isn’t at all what you expected it to be.

Stage Two- What was I thinking?
In some ways, stage two is the most difficult because it is here that you experience the biggest fall. After all, how many miles is it from bliss to disillusionment? Millions. What accounts for this drastic change in perspective? For starters, reality sets in. The little things start to bother you. You realize that your spouse has stinky breath in the morning, spends way too long on the toilet, leaves magazines and letters strewn on the kitchen counter, never wraps food properly before it’s put in the refrigerator and, to top things off, snoring has become a way of life. There are big things too.

Although you once thought you and your spouse were kindred spirits, you now realize that there are many, many differences between you. Although you share interests in hobbies, you disagree about how often you want to participate in them. You like the same kinds of restaurants, but you enjoy eating out often while your partner prefers staying home and saving money. Your tastes in music are compatible, but you prefer quiet time in the evening while your mate enjoys blasting the stereo. You have many common friends, but you can’t agree on which nights to see them.

You’re confused about what’s going on. You wonder if an alien abducted your partner and left you with this strange and complicated being, a person with whom you can’t agree on a single thing. You argue about everything. “Who is this obstinate person I married?” you ask yourself. “What was I thinking?” You knew life wouldn’t always be a bed of roses, but you never thought all you’d get was a bed of thorns. You figured that love would carry you through the rough spots, but you didn’t imagine there’d be times you didn’t feel love. You feel so disillusioned and you wonder if you made a mistake. When you remind yourself you made a life-long commitment, you start to understand the real meaning of eternity.

Ironically, it is in the midst of feeling at odds with your once kindred spirit that you are faced with making all sorts of life-altering decisions. For example, it is now that you decide whether and when to have children, where to live, who will support the family, who will handle the bills, how your free time will be spent, how in-laws fit in to your lives, and who will do the cooking. Just at the time when a team spirit would have come in mighty handy, spouses often start to feel like opponents. So they spend the next decade or so trying to “win” and get their partners to change, which tr

Stage Three- Everything would be great if you changed
In this stage of marriage, most people believe that there are two ways of looking at things, your spouse’s way and your way, also known as the Right Way. Even if couples begin marriage with the enlightened view that there are many valid perspectives on any given situation, they tend to develop severe amnesia quickly. And rather than brainstorm creative solutions, couples often battle tenaciously to get their partners to admit they are wrong. That’s because every point of disagreement is an opportunity to define the marriage. Do it my way, and the marriage will work, do it yours and it won’t.

When people are in this state of mind, they have a hard time understanding why their spouses are so glued to their way of seeing things. They assume it must be out of stubbornness, spitefulness or a need to control. What they don’t realize is that their spouses are thinking the same thing about them! Over time, both partners dig in their heels deeper and deeper. Anger, hurt and frustration fill the air. Little or no attempt is made to see the other person’s point of view for fear of losing face or worse yet, losing a sense of self.

Now is the time when many people face a fork in the marital road. They’re hurt and frustrated because their lives seem like an endless confrontation. They don’t want to go on this way. Three choices become apparent. Convinced they’ve tried everything, some people give up. They tell themselves they’ve fallen out of love or married the wrong person. Divorce seems like the only logical solution. Other people resign themselves to the status quo and decide to lead separate lives. Ultimately, they live unhappily ever after. But there are still others who decide that it’s time to end the cold war and begin to investigate healthier and more satisfying ways of interacting. Although the latter option requires a major leap of faith, those who take this leap are the fortunate ones because the best of marriage is yet to come.

Stage Four- That’s just way s/he is
In stage four, we finally come to terms with the fact that we are never going to see eye-to-eye with our partners about everything and we have to figure out what we must do to live more peaceably. We slowly accept that no amount of reasoning, begging, nagging, yelling, or threatening changes our partners’ minds. We look to others for suggestions; we seek religious counsel, talk to close friends and family, attend marital therapy, read self-help books, or take a relationship seminar. Those of us who are more private look inward and seek solutions there.

We more readily forgive our spouses for their hardheadedness, and recognize that we aren’t exactly easy to live with either. We dare to ask ourselves whether there’s something about our own behavior that could use shaping up. When disagreements occur, we make more of an effort to put ourselves in our partner’s shoes and, much to our surprise, we have a bit more compassion and understanding. We recognize that, as with everything in life, we have to accept the good with the bad. Fights happen less frequently and when they occur, they’re not as intense or as emotional as in the earlier years of marriage. We know how to push our partner’s buttons and we consciously decide not to. When we slip, we get better at making up because we remind ourselves that life is short and very little is worth the pain of disharmony. We learn that when you’ve wronged your spouse, love means always having to say you’re sorry. We mellow. We let things roll off our back that might have caused us to go to battle before. We stop being opponents. We’re teammates again. And because we’re smart enough to have reached this stage, we reap the benefits of the fifth, and final stage.

Stage Five- Together, at last
It is really a tragedy that half of all couples who wed never get to stage five, when all the pain and hard work of the earlier stages really begins to pay off. Since you are no longer in a struggle to define who you are and what the marriage should be, there is more peace and harmony. Even if you always have loved your spouse, you start to notice how much you are really liking him or her again. And then the strangest thing starts to happen. You realize that the alien who abducted your spouse in stage two has been kind enough to return him or her to you. You are pleased to discover that the qualities you saw in your partner so very long ago never really vanished. They were just camouflaged. This renews your feelings of connection.

By the time you reach stage five, you have a shared history. And although you’d both agree that marriage hasn’t been easy, you can feel proud that you’ve weathered the storms. You appreciate your partner’s sense of commitment and dedication to making your marriage last. You also look back and feel good about your accomplishments as a couple, a family and as individuals. You feel more secure about yourself as a person and you begin to appreciate the differences between you and your spouse. And what you don’t appreciate, you find greater acceptance for. You feel closer and more connected. If you have children, they’re older and more independent, allowing you to focus on your marriage again, like in the old days. And you start having “old day feelings” again. You have come full circle. The feeling you were longing for during those stormy periods is back, at last. You’re home again.

About the marriage map
I’m certain that if more couples realized that there really is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, they’d be more willing to tough it out through the downpour. The problem is, most people fool themselves into thinking that whatever stage they are in at the moment, is where they will be forever. That can be a depressing thought when you’re in the midst of hard times. And in marriage, there are lots hard times- unexpected problems with infertility, the births of children (marital satisfaction goes down with the birth of each child), the challenges of raising a family, children leaving home, infidelity, illnesses, deaths of close friends and family members. Even if there is lots of joy accompanying these transitional stages, it’s stressful nonetheless. But it’s important to remember that nothing lasts forever. There are seasons to everything in life, including marriage.

Also, it’s important to remember that people generally don’t go through these stages sequentially. It’s three steps forward and two steps back. Just when you begin to feel more at peace with each other in stage four, a crisis occurs and you find yourselves slipping back to stage three- change your partner or bust! But if you’ve been fortunate enough to have visited stage four, sanity sets in eventually, and you get back on track. The quality and quantity of love you feel for each other is never stagnant. Love is dynamic. So is marriage. The wiser and more mature you become, the more you realize this. The more you realize this, the more time you and your spouse spend hanging out in stage five. Together again, at last.

Michele Weiner-Davis, Author of Divorce Busting

A High View of Marriage Includes Divorce

SOURCE:  Rebecca VanDoodewaard

God hates divorce, doesn’t He? Absolutely.

Isn’t the gospel about forgiveness and love? Yes, it is.

And pastors and elders can use these two truths in isolation from the rest of Scripture and biblical principles to deny people divorce for biblical grounds. “But marriage is a precious thing,” one pastor told a woman whose husband was in prison for pedophilia. “It would be a wonderful picture of God’s grace to move on from this and focus on your marriage,” another one told the husband of an adulteress. “We’re working with him; he’s really struggling, and so you need to forgive him,” a session tells a woman whose husband has been using pornography for years.

Evangelical and confessional churches are striving to maintain a high view of marriage in a culture that is ripping the institution to shreds. So extra-biblical barriers to divorce can be well-meant. They try to protect marriage by doing everything possible to avoid divorce. In doing so, they not only fail to keep a high view of marriage. They also spread lies about the gospel, divorce, the value of people, the character of God and the nature of sexual sin.

The first lie is that forgiveness means that the offended party is bound to continue living with the guilty party once there’s an apology.

Wives in particular are told that God requires that they forgive a repentant spouse, which is true, and that this means that they need to stay in the marriage, which is not true. It’s like saying to parents who discover that the babysitter molested their children: “Oh, but the sitter said sorry. It would be unloving to not ask them to watch the kids again. You need to demonstrate your forgiveness.” The argument is that Jesus forgave you and took you in: Why can’t you do the same for a spouse? Because I am not God: I am human, too, and can’t atone for my spouse’s sin in a way that can restore an earthly marriage.

Sacrificing a person to save a relationship is not the gospel. The gospel is that Someone was sacrificed to free us from sin and bring us to God. We cannot always bear the relational punishment for someone else’s sin. We can forgive them, and will if we are a Christian, but that doesn’t mean we have to live with them. You can forgive someone and divorce them. Scripture commands forgiveness where there is repentance, but it never requires that a relationship be continued in the way that it was before covenant was shattered. This lie of “forgiveness” places the burden on the innocent party. The sinner gets counsel, support, help and prayer, while the sinned-against gets pressure, guilt and a crushing future. Acceptance is often labelled the “Christian” thing to do. Since Christ gave divorce as an option in some circumstances, divorce can be the Christian thing to do, too. Forgiveness is always the Christian thing to do, and it simply means that the guilty party is forgiven, not absolved from all earthly consequences.

The second lie is implied: God hates divorce more than He hates abuse and sexual sin.

To put the lie a different way, God loves marriage more than He loves the women in it. While God created marriage, loves marriage and says that it is a picture of Christ’s relationship with the church, Jesus didn’t die to save marriage. He died to save people. He sacrificed His life to protect His sons and daughters, and hates when they are abused, violated and humiliated, particularly in a relationship that is supposed to picture Christ and the church.

This fact is especially true for women, who suffer at the hands of men whose actions mock servant leadership and so blaspheme the name of the Christ whom they are called to represent. Denying a woman legitimate divorce allows an unrepentant man to continue in this abuse and blasphemy. If we want to value and treat marriage rightly, we need to think about Jesus! His care for His church is not an abstract idea. We see it lived out in the gospels every day in purity, tender care for widows and intolerance of the Pharisees who thought they could be right with God while checking out beautiful women at the market. Christ’s love for His church found very concrete expression on the cross—willingness to die to save His beloved people. Yes, God hates divorce. And there are some things that He hates even more.

The third lie is that divorce is an unclean thing, often the fault of the innocent party.

This is a misunderstanding of divorce. Divorce is not the innocent party ending a marriage. Divorce is the innocent party obtaining legal recognition that the guilty party has destroyed the marriage. So often, we see the divorcing person as the one who ends the marriage—they are not! Where there has been sexual unfaithfulness, abuse or abandonment, it is the guilty party who ended it by breaking covenant. While legitimate divorce is not mandatory, it is a biblical option, on moral par with maintaining the marriage. The 1992 report by the PCA study committee on divorce and remarriage comments:

It is also interesting to recall in this connection Jeremiah 3:8, where Yahweh is said to divorce Israel for her spiritual adultery (idolatry):?“I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries.” If God himself can properly divorce his bride because of adultery, then, given Christ’s unqualified adherence to the authority of the Old Testament, it seems difficult to conclude that Jesus would not have had similar words on his own lips. (218)

The church needs to be clear about this: Legitimate divorce is holy and biblical if God Himself can speak of initiating it. And it is initiated to publicly recognize the destruction already there. Divorce does not end a covenant. It protects the spouse whose covenant has been violated—a picture of covenant protection in the face of human unfaithfulness. Always discouraging divorce, always making it a last, desperate option that really fails to show gospel power, implies that we know more about marriage than God does and value it more highly. If there are legitimate reasons for divorce, then making divorce look like a lesser option is wrong. God allows it: Who are we to discourage people from choosing a biblical option?

The fourth lie usually involved in this discussion is about pornography.

It is often classified as not technically adultery, so spouses are denied the biblical right to divorce. This is mind-boggling. Someone who seeks out sexually explicit material and has a physical response to it is in the same mental, physical and spiritual condition as someone in bed with a coworker. The difference is that the relationship with the coworker is at least private and limited, while porn use accepts and subsidizes an entire industry of sexual sin that is maintained by abuse and slavery, involves hundreds of people, and is tracked by the producing companies and Internet servers. Deliberate and repeated porn use is at least adultery, regardless of whether there is repentance at some point. Denying this makes people ask why some pastors are so committed to denying what porn really is. Our pre-technology definition of adultery allows souls and marriages to be ravaged from the inside out because we fail to admit what a porn habit really is. We look away from the institutionalized rape that it subsidizes. Countenancing sexual sin for any reason reveals a poor understanding of sexual sin as well as the gospel.

Do you see how these lies, sometimes borne out of a desire to protect marriage, actually bring about a low view of marriage? By granting, supporting and even facilitating a biblical divorce, we take a stand to say that we can forgive without being forced to live with people who have shattered us. This protects marriage by allowing the innocent party to leave a relationship that has been broken. By backing biblical divorce, we protect women whom God loves, showing Christ’s love when spouses have not. This protects marriage by refusing to allow sinners to abuse the institution with impunity. By publicly stating that sexual sin and abuse, not wounded spouses, ends marriages, we hold the marriage bed in honor. This protects marriage by creating a holy fear of violating it. By offering biblical divorce, the church affirms that pornography is depravity, and will not be countenanced by Christ’s church. Naming and disciplining sexual sin as the evil it is and offering divorce to the innocent party makes the value of marriage clear as we refuse to see it damaged, abused or treated lightly.

Developing and maintaining a high view of marriage does a lot. It protects women and children, often the people most hurt by sexual sin. It keeps us from falling into sin ourselves: The higher our view of marriage, the less likely we will be to dabble in something so devastating. And a high view of marriage honors the One who created it for our good and His glory—the One who promises to judge the adulterer and the sexually immoral.

The Role of a Stepgrandparent

SOURCE:  Ron Deal/FamilyLife Ministry

You can be an important and influential role in the family with a little grace and wisdom.

It’s a question I’m hearing more these days. “Ron, just what exactly is my role as a grandparent to my stepgrandchildren? I’m used to being ‘Grandma,’ and love being so, but I’m just not sure what I’m supposed to do when it comes to my stepgrandchildren.”

Nearly 40 percent of families currently in the U.S. have a stepgrandparent, and by 2030 Americans will have one stepgrandchild for every 1.7 biological grandchildren. But despite this prevalence, very little has been done in society or the church to clarify the role of stepgrandparents.

Not all situations are the same. The challenges stepgrandparents experience will vary depending on how the person became a stepgrandparent. For example, if someone in later life made a clear and prayerful decision to marry into a family with adult children and grandchildren, their entrance into stepgrandparenting likely comes with a higher degree of motivation than someone whose adult child marries and becomes a stepparent, forcing them into the role of stepgrandparent.

No matter how you got to this place, however, there are going to be awkward situations. Knowing how to bond with stepgrandchildren can be challenging. You’re probably asking some difficult questions: What type of authority are you in their life and to what degree? How do you go about giving physical affection? And while you’re figuring one another out in the beginning, how do you not show favoritism toward biological grandchildren that already adore you?

Finding common ground

With stepgrandparenting, bonding is a process. It won’t come naturally like it does with biological grandchildren. In the beginning awkwardness might be high, but don’t let that keep you from taking initiative. Like all relationships, it will take time and intentional effort in order for your stepgrandparent connection to grow.

One easy step that stepgrandparents can do is to take notice of the child’s interests and find opportunities to share your talents and abilities that are interesting to the child. These natural connecting points are windows into the child’s heart and start the process of bonding.

In addition, let the child set the pace for terms of endearment, physical affection, and their degree of openness to hearing you speak into their lives. Respecting their level of openness communicates your willingness to meet them where they are and grow from there. That makes bonding less intimidating for both of you.

Certainly, don’t put pressure or standards on the amount of time it takes to form a bond or the way the children respond to you. Each child is different and will interact in various ways. It often takes a “two steps forward, one step back” pattern, in which it may appear that the child is growing closer and then suddenly pushes you away. But that’s a normal reaction. Just be patient and don’t overreact.

The loyalty conflict

Just as getting connected with a stepgrandchild can be awkward, so can staying connected with biological grandchildren who primarily live with the ex-spouse. This is especially true when the divorce was difficult, and the grandparent feels stuck between two people who don’t like each other. It creates an internal conflict for grandparents who want to support their adult child. This can tempt some grandparents to avoid spending time with their biological grandchildren in order to escape the awkward encounter with the ex-spouse.

But siding with an adult child comes at the expense of staying connected with your grandchildren, and this loss creates a hole in the grandparent’s heart. This can often cause guilt when you spend time with new stepgrandchildren.

Other grandparents experience an issue on the other side of the coin. Their strong desire to stay connected with all grandchildren (and stepgrandchildren) may move them to keep the door open to their ex-son/daughter-in-law to the dismay of their biological son/daughter.

No matter what, either disconnecting or staying connected comes at a price. So, what is a grandparent to do?

Grace-filled grandparenting

Develop and maintain the relationships in your life by applying a grace-filled heart to your one-on-one connections with each family member, new or old, even if others struggle to join you. A key principle to apply, whether trying to stay connected with grandchildren or get connected with stepgrandchildren, is this: possessiveness divides, but grace connects. Having an inclusive, grace-filled heart that is open to new relationships and keeping old ones fosters bonding and love.

On the other hand, trying to hold on to what you feel you’re entitled to or orchestrate relationships according to your needs only divides family members because it exudes animosity and encourages grudges.

Grace-filled grandparents refuse to be cornered or controlled by the standards and agendas of others, even if a son or daughter tries to manipulate the way you relate with children or an ex-spouse. You actually have the ability over time to connect the generations of a stepfamily through your efforts of love and acceptance. And that is a beautiful thing.

But let me offer this word of caution: Being a grace-filled grandparent can initially come at a cost. People might resent your openness to others or relationships they find threatening. Adult children and grandchildren, who are often wounded by the past and caught in their own loyalty conflicts, sometimes find it difficult to give permission to new and old relationships.

The stepgrandparent that can struggle through the initial storm of loyalty wars, however, can actually have a positive impact on family. When you demonstrate an open heart and find the ability to love each person, biological or step, in ways appropriate to their established or developing relationship, you have a unique ability to influence the entire family system toward grace. I have witnessed this dynamic with many families.

For example, grandparents who refuse to show favoritism to biological grandchildren and include stepgrandchildren help stepsiblings accept one another. And grandparents who gently refuse to withdraw from an ex-son/daughter-in-law despite the tension, quietly but powerfully remind family members to extend forgiveness and welcome the outsider in.

Being a stepgrandparent can be an important and influential role if you remain levelheaded and have patience. And thankfully, you are not alone in this task. God is a God of unity, and He longs for all members of your family—step, ex, biological, or adopted—to love and respect each other. So don’t forget that you have the power to pray. Pray for your own wisdom in the matter, but pray that others will see your grace and follow your lead.

Does a Good God Want Me in a Bad Marriage?

SOURCE:  Sabrina Beasley McDonald/Family Life Ministry

Editor’s note: As the author states early in this article, her intent is to address unhappy marriages in which there is no unrepentant adultery, abandonment, or repeated physical abuse. As she writes, “They were simply struggling with what most marriages deal with: miscommunication, financial disagreements, selfish attitudes—the things often excused as ‘irreconcilable differences.’” These are the conditions in most problem marriages—and our desire is to encourage these couples to seek reconciliation. However, if you are married and are suffering from physical abuse, this article is not for you. You need help. We suggest reading Dennis Rainey’s article, “Responding to Physical Abuse,” which lists several practical steps to take.

A friend of mine finally walked out on her husband. She was tired of his excuses and irresponsibility. She was finished with his criticisms and cutting remarks. In her mind, enough was enough, and it was time to end the marriage.

Yet as she described their relationship, I couldn’t help but think that this marriage didn’t need to end in divorce. There was no unrepentant adultery, abandonment, or repeated physical abuse. They were simply struggling with what most marriages deal with: miscommunication, financial disagreements, selfish attitudes—the things often excused as “irreconcilable differences.”

When I later talked with her, I asked if she knew that God said, “I hate divorce …” (Malachi 2:16). Or that Jesus specifically addressed divorce in Matthew 19:8-9 saying, “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

My friend said she heard this before and added, “But I cannot believe that a good God wants me to suffer in a bad marriage. He wants me to be happy.”

It was a response I’ve heard a dozen times from other women in similar circumstances, and it’s a question that plagues the hearts of many marriages today: If God is good, could He possibly want me to be unhappy? Doesn’t He see that staying in my current marriage would cause me a lot of pain? Can I call God “good” if He allows me to suffer in a bad marriage?

Does God want me to suffer?

No one enjoys pain. Quite the opposite—we long for contentment. The “pursuit of happiness” is so valued in America it’s an unalienable right in the Declaration of Independence.

It’s not wrong to desire pleasure. As a matter of fact, the Bible teaches that God delights in doing good things for His children. Jesus said, “What man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:9-11).

The problem is that God also calls us to righteousness, and often that requires giving up our personal happiness for the greater good. This is referred to as sacrifice, and it’s never easy, fun, or “happy.”

The apostle Paul reminds us that part of the Christian life is suffering for the sake of the cross. “… We are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8:16-17, emphasis mine).

As Christians we are even called to rejoice and be glad in our trials because troubles are valuable to our character and spiritual growth. Romans 5:3-5a says, “… We also exult [rejoice] in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint … .”

So does God want us to suffer? Suffering for the sake of pain is not His desire, but there is a reason why we go through it.

You may be wondering how anything positive could possibly come from your hurting marriage. The apostle Paul wrote, “We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28, emphasis mine). Christian marriage is not exempt from this principle. Just as we are called to sacrifice in our spiritual walk, we are also called to endure suffering in marriage for the sake of righteousness.

Even though we seldom can see how God is using present trials for our future benefit, He has promised to use them for good, and He is faithful to keep His word. Here are just four of the ways He can bring about His purposes:

First, God is conforming you to His image. Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Voluntary self-sacrifice is a necessary part of the Christian life. It is often praised on mission fields or behind pulpits, but in marriage, it’s far less glamorous. Nevertheless, self-sacrifice in marriage is just as Christ-like in God’s eyes.

Staying married isn’t always easy. It often requires that you give up the right to win, stifle your pride, and defer to the needs of your spouse. But the more you practice these principles, the more you become like Christ.

Ephesians 5 explains this phenomenon by referring to the relationship between Christ and the Church. “As the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her …” (verses 24-25). Christ loved the church so much He died for her. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. In the same way, as these verses explain, when you give up your life for your spouse, you are conforming to the image of Christ who gave up His life for you.

Second, God is using these sufferings to bring you to deeper faith and repentance. Difficult times always bring us to our knees. They remind us that we are not in control, and only God is. During this experience you should be asking yourself, “How much of my suffering in this situation is caused by my own sin?”

In addition, prayer and reading Scripture will deepen your relationship with Him as you learn to trust in His sovereign control. These hard times can even give you a greater compassion for others going through tribulations.

Third, God is using these sufferings to teach your children how to resolve conflict. God has given you the responsibility to exemplify a godly marriage to your children. Psalm 78:5-8 declares:

For He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel which He commanded our fathers, that they should teach them to their children, that the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born, that they may arise and tell them to their children, that they should put their confidence in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments … .

God set up the family so that His principles could be passed down through generations. Your struggles give you the ability to demonstrate how to keep a promise through better or worse, how to give and receive forgiveness, and what sacrifice looks like.

Fourth and most important, God desires for you and your spouse to be reconciled. Our God is a God of reconciliation—He shows this over and over again throughout Scripture as He extends grace, mercy, and forgiveness to His people. When we reconcile a broken marriage, it is a picture of His relationship with us, His bride.

A bad marriage in the Bible

The Bible isn’t silent on the issue of tough marriages. The Old Testament tells the story of a righteous man named Hosea who was called by God to marry the prostitute Gomer. Even though Hosea was a kind and loving husband, Gomer left him over and over and ran back to her old lifestyle. Hosea’s marriage was not under the best circumstances. I certainly wouldn’t say it was “good,” but nevertheless, God told Hosea to go get his bride and bring her home.

I can imagine that there were times when Hosea wanted to give up. Why would he stay married to a woman who didn’t love him? Why should he rescue her from the world she loved? Why not move on to someone else who deserved his love?

Hosea was committed to Gomer because he loved God more than he loved comfortable circumstances. More than anything, he wanted to please God, instead of himself. As a result, God used Hosea’s marriage as an example of His unconditional, covenant-keeping love. God told Hosea, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by her husband, yet an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the sons of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes” (Hosea 3:1, emphasis mine).

Because we are in a covenant with Him, God has said He will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). In the same way, choosing to stay married to your spouse despite the circumstances shows a love that is unconditional, long-suffering, and reflects the nature of God (see 1 Corinthians 13). If you have no other reason to endure the suffering in your marriage, do it because you love God. Do it because He asked you to.

Restoring your relationship

If you are in a bad marriage, the answer is not to dissolve the relationship, but it is to restore your relationship the way God has restored our relationship with Him through Christ. Stick through the hard times and work on the tough issues. Even though your present suffering is being used for your good, God has not left you without hope—He desires for your marriage to be restored. Here are five suggestions that will help during your journey to reconciliation.

First, look at yourself. No one is perfect (Romans 3:10). It’s easy to see the mistakes and annoyances that our spouses have. It’s much harder to look inward and identify the ways we contributed to the problems. Think through your marriage and seek the areas where you said or did something wrong. Then ask forgiveness from your spouse. You will be amazed how this small step could eventually turn your bad marriage into a good one.

Second, identify your real enemy. At FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway, we are reminded that our spouses are not the enemy—Satan is. Ephesians 6:12 says, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” One of his greatest weapons is to trick you into blaming someone else, usually your spouse, for problems. When you start to bicker and quarrel, remember that your true enemy is the one who seeks to destroy your marriage.

Third, meditate on God’s Word daily. The proper way to battle Satan is with the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17). You won’t know how to use a sword if you’ve never handled one. The same is true for God’s Word—you won’t know how to wield its power if you don’t read and study. When Satan attacks, the Word of God will give you wisdom and the power to withstand his fiery darts.

Not only is God’s Word a weapon, it is also a guide for life. There are dozens of Scriptures regarding wisdom in everyday living—conflict resolution, handling money, roles of husbands and wives, parenting. You can find the answers you need if you will only look for them. Supplement your reading with Christian authors who can help you understand biblical concepts.

Fourth, appreciate your spouse. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Perhaps you’ve forgotten that your spouse has good qualities. At one time you were attracted to him or her in some way. What were those things that made you fall in love? Once you’ve thought of something, verbalize it or put it in a letter. You’ll be amazed at what a kind word can do for your relationship.

Fifth, pray for your spouse. It’s difficult to harbor bitterness against someone when you’re praying for that person. The more you pray, the more God will change your heart, and you will see a dramatic difference in your attitude. If possible, begin praying together. In his book Two Hearts Praying as One, Dennis Rainey says, “When you pray together, you multiply your joys, divide your sorrows, add to your experiences with God together, and help subtract your haunting past from your life.”

Finally, take action to restore your marriage. What makes a marriage good is hard work and a resolve to stay married. No matter how easy it seems for other people, no marriage can work automatically. Don’t let Satan fool you into thinking that no one else experiences problems or that yours aren’t solvable. If you remove divorce as an option, you’ll find that there are ways to build into your relationship: Attend a Weekend to Remember®, read articles from Christian marriage websites, read books and materials from Christian marriage experts. And then apply these biblical principles to your life.

Pursue all avenues of reconciliation before divorce: professional Christian counseling, intervention with your pastor, and personal forgiveness. Read “Finding a Christian Counselor” to help you find the assistance you need.

There’s no secret formula to dealing with a difficult marriage. Just because you are suffering now, don’t give up on the blessing that God is using to mold you and your spouse into His image. It may not seem like a good marriage at this time, but wait and see what God has in store for you … I’m willing to bet you’ll be glad you did.

Q&A: What Biblical Grounds Are There For Divorce In The Face Of Abuse?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Question: What biblical grounds are there for divorce in the face of emotional, financial, sometimes physical and spiritual abuse?

Pastors are largely ignorant of the real issues behind domestic abuse and only cite adultery as the grounds. When married to a Christian, they often recommend to just remain separated.

In Canada, if the other party is unwilling to separate out finances in a separation agreement, filing for divorce is the only way to get financial separation. Pastors want to believe they are the authorities on the Scripture but many have little understanding about domestic abuse in a marriage. What biblical grounds could you cite that could be shared with leaders as grounds for divorce in a domestic abuse marriage?

Answer:  I get asked this question a lot and I think the Church is slowly beginning to wake up to the reality of abuse and the necessity of thinking through this question a little more thoughtfully.

First, marriage was ordained by God to be a loving partnership. It is to be a picture to show us Christ’s relationship with his church. Marriage is a special and intimate relationship where safety and love are mutually expressed (Ephesians 5:22-32). Proverbs 31:12 says, “Her husband trusts her to do him good, not harm all the days of his life.” This is the picture of God’s view of marriage.

I think for a large part the church has been more focused on protecting the institution of marriage than protecting those who are mistreated within that relationship. And, when an individual in that relationship is repeatedly abusive, destructive, indifferent, and deceitful towards his partner, the church hasn’t really provided adequate answers for the injured spouse other than forgive and try harder to make it work.

Adultery is one place where most church leaders agree that there are Biblical grounds for divorce. However, there isn’t always agreement on what constitutes adultery.

We know that the act of sexual intercourse with a person who is not your spouse qualifies as adultery.  But what about other kinds of sexual activity? Is an emotional affair adultery? Or habitually viewing pornography and masturbating? I believe they do qualify and I wrote a newsletter on this topic that you can read here.

However, adultery at its core isn’t about sex. It’s about a deep-rooted selfishness. It’s about wanting what you want and not caring that it will deeply hurt another person who you promised to love and care about. It’s about lying to get what you want or covering up what you did so that you continue to get the perks of married life with no consequences from what you have done. It’s about being controlled by your appetites and your emotions rather than by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:19-22).  Adultery breaks the marital covenant of trust and does harm to the spouse, and the Bible says that is grounds to legally end the marriage.

So the next question we must ask is this. Are there other behaviors that also break the covenant and harm a spouse that constitute grounds for divorce? Is it only sexual intercourse with another person that qualifies as adultery or did Jesus and God use the term “adultery” as a metaphor for acts of marital unfaithfulness that may be expressed through a variety of different harmful attitudes and behaviors?

The Old Testament law said adulterers should be punished by death, not divorce  (Leviticus 20:10). So God must have allowed divorce for lesser “hardness of heart issues”.

God himself used the word “adultery” to describe his divorce with Israel for her unfaithfulness to their covenant but it represented a picture of her repeated idolatry and disregard for God, not a specific sexual act (Jeremiah 3:8).

When Jesus spoke to the religious leaders regarding marriage and divorce he knew that they were trying to trap him into contradicting Moses or endorsing their casual view of marriage and divorce (See Matthew 19).  Jesus did neither. He talked about the sanctity of marriage but he also reinforced that divorce was allowed because of the hardness of man’s heart.

To interpret the Bible correctly, we not only have to look at the original languages but also need to look at the culture to which Jesus spoke. In Biblical culture, men had all the rights, women did not. Men could divorce women (for any reason), women could not divorce their husbands.

But there are two different words for the term divorce throughout both the Old and New Testament. Our English bibles translate one word as a certificate of divorce and the other word is translated simply divorce. When you read what the Bible has to say about divorce, notice when it says certificate of divorce or just divorce because they mean different things in that culture.

The certificate of divorce was an official document of divorce where a woman was free to remarry. The other kind of divorce was a letting go of, or setting apart, or a getting rid of kind of divorce.  It was abandonment of the marriage but with no legal closure for the woman. This kind of divorce left a woman with few options.  She might remarry because she needed financial security, but she was not officially divorced.

It is this last kind of divorce that the Pharisees asked Jesus about and it is this kind of divorce that Jesus was referring to when he said that when you divorce your wife this way if she remarries you make her commit adultery because she is not officially divorced.  Jesus wasn’t forbidding all divorce, but this particular kind of divorce.

The passage that is normally used to prove that God hates divorce is Malachi 2:16. Here’s what the verse says in the NIV translation of the Bible. “The man who hates and divorces (notice the word choice – not gives her a certificate of divorce but simply divorces) his wife,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the LORD Almighty.  So be on guard, and do not be unfaithful.”

This kind of divorce, where a man abandons his wife is the kind of divorce God hates, not all divorce.  Some divorces are necessary and allowed because of the hardness of one’s heart. Unrepentant sin separates us from God and from other people. Jesus reinforces this idea that unconfessed sin breaks relationships.  For example, in Matthew 18 he says that if someone has sinned against us we are to go to him (or her) to begin the healing and reconciliation process. But when the other person refuses to listen and refuses to repent, the relationship changes.  Jesus then says, “Treat them as a pagan or tax collector.” In other words, every Jew understood that there is no trust or intimacy or friendship with pagans and tax collectors. You treat them with respect, but you aren’t closely involved with them.

We also see God protecting women in several Old Testament passages when it comes to divorce. Read Exodus 21:11 and Deuteronomy 24:12 for some examples.

I believe that when a spouse is physically or emotionally abused, chronically lied to, treated in treacherous ways, or living with someone who is repeatedly unfaithful, she (or he) has Biblical grounds for divorce.  The marriage covenant has been broken. An official divorce just makes that reality public and final.

Long-term separation puts both spouses in legal nowhere land. They can’t remarry, but they aren’t reconciled. For some people, it might work but most individuals need the protection that the law provides so that one has access to a share of the financial assets that were accumulated in the marriage.

Churches can advise a woman to stay permanently separated and not divorced.  Yet are these same churches willing to provide the backup plan to help her pay her bills, her medical insurance, and retirement needs if her husband spends their entire savings on himself while she was following their advice?  I don’t think so.

So ultimately you have to take responsibility and stewardship for yourself, which includes your physical, sexual, spiritual, emotional and financial health and well-being. You can’t put your entire well-being in the hands of a counselor, or pastor, or doctor or any other professional or person without also using your own prayerful discernment about what the Bible says and what is the best course of action for you to take.

Thankfully in today’s culture, women do have more legal rights and laws are in place (at least in our country) to protect those rights.  One of the purposes of our laws and government is to protect us from those who would harm us unjustly. (Romans 13:1-5).

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Leslie Vernick is a popular speaker, author, and licensed clinical social worker and relationship coach.

She is the author of seven books, including the best selling, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship and her most recent The Emotionally Destructive Marriage.

Leslie has been a featured guest on Focus on the Family Radio, Family Life Today with Dennis Rainey, Moody Mid-Day Connection and writes a regular column for WHOA Women’s Magazine. Internationally, she’s spoken in Canada, Romania, Russia, Hungary, the Philippines, British Virgin Islands and Iraq.

In 2013, she received the American Association of Christian Counselors Caregiver of the Year Award.

Dealing with a Difficult Ex-Spouse: 10 Tips to Help You Cope

SOURCE:  Ron Deal, LMFT, LPC

Wouldn’t it be nice if adults could remember that parenting is not about them, and that it is about the children?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the pain of the broken personal relationships of the past could be kept separate from the practical parental concerns of the present.  Wouldn’t it be nice…

Yes, it would.  But sometimes people aren’t nice.

Dealing with a difficult ex-spouse can be very discouraging and defeating.  Yet, we are called to continue trying to pursue good, to “turn the other cheek”, and “walk the extra mile.”  Hopefully, the following tips can aid you in your efforts to cope—because it’s all about the children.

 

1.      Be sure to notice your own part of the ongoing conflict.  Christian ex-spouses, for example, often feel justified in their anger toward their irresponsible ex-spouse.  It’s easy, then, to also feel justified in your efforts to change them in whatever ways you feel are morally or practically necessary.  Unfortunately, this sense of “rightness” often blinds good-hearted Christians from seeing just how their own behavior contributes to the ongoing cycle of conflict.  Any time you try to change a difficult ex-spouse—even if for understandable moral reasons—you inadvertently invite hostility or a lack of cooperation in return.  Learn to let go of what you can’t change so you don’t unknowingly keep the between home power struggles alive.

2.      Stepparents should communicate a “non-threatening posture” to the same-gender ex-spouse.  An ex-wife, for example, may continue negativity because she is threatened by the presence of the new stepmother.  It is helpful if the stepmother will communicate the following either by phone or email: “I just want you to know that I value your role with your children and I will never try to replace you.  You are their mother and I’m not.  I will support your decisions with the children, have them to your house on time, and never talk badly about you to the children.  You have my word on that.”  This helps to alleviate the need of the biological mother to bad-mouth the stepparent or the new marriage in order to keep her children’s loyalties.

3.      Keep your “business meetings” impersonal to avoid excessive conflict.  Face-to-face interaction has the most potential for conflict.  Use the phone when possible or even talk to their answering machine if personal communication erupts into arguments.  Use email or faxes when possible.  Keep children from being exposed to negative interaction when it’s within your power.

4.      Use a script to help you through negotiations.  This strategy has helped thousands of parents.  Before making a phone call, take the time to write out your thoughts including what you’ll say and not say.  Also, anticipate what the other might say that will hurt or anger you.  Stick to the business at hand and don’t get hooked into old arguments that won’t be solved with another fight.  (For more on how to do this, see the “Be Prepared by Borrowing a Script and Sticking to It” section of the free Common Steps for Co-Parents e-booklet.)

5.      Whenever possible, agree with some aspect of what you ex-spouse is suggesting.  This good business principle applies in parenting as well.  Even if you disagree with the main point, find some common ground.

6.      Manage conversations by staying on matters of parenting.  It is common for the conversations of “angry associate” co-parents to gravitate back toward negative personal matters of the past.  Actively work to keep conversations focused on the children.  If the conversation digresses to “old marital junk,” say something like, “I’d rather we discuss the schedule for this weekend.  Where would you like to meet?”   If the other continues to shift the conversation back to hurtful matters assertively say, “I’m sorry.  I’m not interested in discussing us again.  Let’s try this again later when we can focus on the weekend schedule.”  Then, politely hang up the phone or walk away.  Come back later and try again to stay on the parenting subject at hand.

7.      When children have confusing or angry feelings toward your ex, don’t capitalize on their hurt and berate the other parent.  Listen and help them explore their hurt feelings.  If you can’t make positive statements about the other parent, strive for neutral ones.  Let God’s statutes offer any necessary indictments on a parent’s behavior.

8.      Remember that for children, choosing sides stinks!   Children don’t want to compare their parents or choose one over the other.  They simply want your permission to love each of you.  This is especially important when the two of you can’t get along.

9.      Wrestle with forgiveness.  Hurt feelings from the past are the number one reason your ex—and you—overreact with one another.  Do your part by striving to forgive them for the offenses of the past (and present).  This will help you manage your emotions when dealing with them in the present.

10. Work hard to respect the other parent and his or her household.  For your kid’s sake, find ways of being respectable even if you honestly can’t respect your ex-spouses lifestyle or choices.  Do not personally criticize them, but don’t make excuses for their behavior either.

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Ron L. Deal is the author The Smart Stepfamily: Seven Steps to a Healthy Family and President of www.SmartStepfamilies.com.  He is a licensed marriage and family therapist and licensed professional counselor who specializes in stepfamily education and therapy.  He presents conferences around the country and equips churches to minister to stepfamilies.

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