13 May, 2006

Divorce: Helping a brother through that valley

Only a perfect sacrifice was allowed to be brought to the Lord. Praise the Lord that He came and stood in my place, because I could not even have made an acceptable offering of myself, much less serve Him in holiness. There are things about Kevin Knox that are broken, and those things will never be set right on this side of Jordan. I thank the Father, the Son and the Spirit that He has done everything necessary to save me, a cripple, and am amazed beyond measure - almost beyond belief - that He did it out of burning love and not just out of divine self-obligation.

The two biggest dreams of my life were to be married, and to work in the kingdom of God. The two biggest mistakes I ever made in my life were marrying the wrong woman and joining the wrong church. They both bore their deadly fruit starting on the same day in 1997. I made both of those mistakes because of unique faults deeply engrained in my character. At the time that I chose my wife and my church, I was thrilled because the things that led me to choose them were unique in me, and very "deep." In the naked light of hindsight, the fact that those deeply rooted things were character flaws is clear.

I am solely responsible for my divorce.

God forgive me, I am not ashamed of my conduct over the last nine years, as this thing began brewing and eventually fermented into the bitter cup that I am now drinking. There are still a few dregs left, and may the Lord grant me grace to drink them with an attitude that befits a man who both is redeemed by Christ, and who chose his poison.

--

In my first post, I tried to talk about marriages in general, and their ends. That will not be true here. One thing you learn in divorce is how unique everyone's story is. If you are reading this, and you have been through a divorce, please forgive me if I say something as fact that was absolutely not true in your case. Please correct me, too. I think the odds are good that I will talk about divorce again in my life, and I do not want to hurt its victims with loose phrases, so don't let me get away with them.

--

It was in year 10 of our 17 that my wife announced that she was following a new-age guru. Some day I might tell the story of what was going on while she made that announcement, but let's pretend it doesn't matter. I was floored. I confronted her, and forbade her to do this. I was the head of the house, and this was my responsibility to God and to her. Don't get me wrong. I was as kind and understanding as I could be, but I was firm. Right was right, and wrong was wrong, and this guru was wrong. I would not allow this thing in my home.

That was a mistake.

I exercised headship without leadership. Leadership understands that people do things for reasons, and tries to get to those reasons. Extract the root, and the fruit dies too. Misapplied headship can issue orders without understanding. It doesn't have to, but it often does. The things it says are factual, without being edifying.

She even obeyed me, but she bore the damage.

I tell about this day, because that was the day my confusion began. Before that day, I was riding the wave - I had it all. After that day, the wave was trying to throw me under its massive force. Before that day, I was surfing in the sun. After that day, I was trapped on a narrow surfboard, balancing for my life over a million tons of angry water driven by the force of the deep sea's struggle with a distant moon. Nothing had really changed, but suddenly it was all beyond me.

I am something of a coward. That day, I saw the grapes of bitter consequence being squeezed into the cup, and even that the cup was almost full. I knew evil was coming, but I did not know which evil it would be, how I could react, what I could prevent, what I could endure. And ignorance was not blissful.

Along the way to that day in 1997, my opinionated personality had brought a lot of fire down from the church onto my family. My wife was as opinionated as I, but she has vastly more social graces. She would have been fine, but the waves I stirred up kept washing over her. There were many times that she felt I left her hanging out there, unprotected and alone, amongst the wolves of the church. Her resentment toward me was growing.

Over the next two years, My wife and I made discoveries about our church that made it impossible for us to remain. The leader was dishonest, and the church was all about this leader. It took two more years for me to finally accept that this dream was shattered. Those two years took far too long for my wife. She had believed the church to be empty off and on all along, so my slowness to give up on it hurt her. In Jan 1999, we formally pulled out.

In March 1999 we also learned that the church had conspired to cover up a sin against our family that happened years earlier. Any reasonable person can see how deeply my wife was cut that I had brought her into a place that would hurt her so badly, for so long, and that I would still be so hesitant to leave.

[Brother, if you are reading this, and your wife is being hurt by a church, either fight or leave.]

Leaving that church castrated the loftiest dream and goal of my life. Truly, everything I had lived for since I was 17 (1981) was gone. Forever. I could see that everything I had lived for was a lie. It was not just that church that was a lie, but my very dreams were lies. It was the deep wrongness of my dreams that had drawn me to that church in the first place. I had thrown everything away to live a dream that was now exposed as a nightmare.

I was not a lot of fun to live with as I came to grips with these things.

I was officially in the valley, and I had neither map nor compass.

And my wife was done obeying my commands about new-age gurus. She knew that I had put her through 12 years of hell, and she needed something helpful and living. She was pleased to continue with me, and I was pleased to have her, but we were no longer yoked together. We could not be.

We continued in remarkable agreement on politics, child rearing, food, and the hundred other little things that make up daily life. We drifted on values, though. I remained puritanical, while she relaxed. She had conformed to my standards to a large degree over the years. That eroded.

She felt herself to be living with a man who had sacrificed her to a twisted little church, and who was bound up in a repressive morality. She also was living with a man who would not share her joys and excitement as she learned new things every day about what spirituality really was, and how life was meant to be lived.

Beyond all that, I had my fair share of the mortal flaws of any fallen man. She began to take each of them very personally. One day I cooked a gravy. I thought it was fine. Humans would consider it horrible, but I can be pretty flexible on foods. When I served it to her, she exploded. I had not cooked a bad gravy. I had cooked a bad gravy at her.

My point is that she had grievances that were only growing worse. Her discomfort in her own home was growing, and neither of us had any clue where to find relief. All the old truisms were true. We looked happy. Heck. A lot of the time, we were happy. We just weren't yoked together.

We were baffled. We did a lot of fun things together still, but this was the only meaningful thing left between us. We didn't talk about it often. There was not much to be said.

I thought about it every day, pretty much all day. I waited and I prayed. But I offered no leadership. I didn't know how. I got promoted to my first position of leadership just a few months before she left. I have learned things from that position that might have made me able to hold that marriage together, but at the time I was clueless.

Every day, for seven years, my subconscious was fully occupied with the shattering of those two dreams. And my thinking was wholly unprofitable. Nothing I thought contributed anything toward a solution. I imagine it is like being in prison with a sentence of unknown duration. Anything you do will die there in that prison with you. You are not even sure whether there will ever be a reason to draw breath again, but you keep breathing anyway. I kept thinking, hoping, and and praying.

I also have to say that I still enjoyed being married to her during these seven years. We laughed, enjoyed movies, enjoyed lots of little things, and enjoyed each other. The pain in our hearts began to leak out into our lives, but we both disciplined ourselves to keep the unpleasantness to a minimum. We were both very loving, even past the last day. It was easy to enjoy each other.

Many marriages don't die like this. I thank the Lord for this grace given to us. I don't know how I could have survived what many tender people have to survive as their marriage dies. May the Lord have mercy on those whose spouses are not so kind.

I never thought about divorce. It was simply not an option that crossed my mind. I would be released from my prison when one of us died, or when I turned away from the Lord, or when she turned toward Him. (One of those was not an option. :-)

Not thinking about divorce did not help in any way.

[Saint, if divorce might be in your future, think about it. Only a clear eye and a clear mind with wise counsel can hope to heal that which is broken.]

I knew she was thinking about leaving before she did. I brought it up one idyllic day we spent together, and she really did not know it was on her mind. She denied it. That's OK. We had both been denying for a long, long time. What else could she do?

A couple months later, there was a guy from work. She had lived honorably with me, and not violated our covenant, but now it was time for her to move on. She moved from my bed to his, and it was over. Upon my request, we jointly filed for dissolution.

I won't go into "how I took it." If a friend had called me every waking hour of every day to check up on me, and been there for every meal, and for the going to bed alone, and the waking up alone, I would still have gone through it alone. Everyone who goes through a divorce goes through it alone. That's the nature of the beast.

At the time, I was not in a church. I fear that this was a mercy. I don't know that I could have survived being ignored by the people of God. I think it was easier to go through it without hoping for help from a church. I am admittedly a little skittish about the body's gifts in the area of love.

My bosses at work were both blessings to me, and a couple friends from NorCal were there for me whenever I called. In all these nine years, the Lord has been faithful, and I trust that He always will be. Still, I find that it really is harder to believe that the Lord is faithful after seeing my wife walk away. Not because He could have stopped it and didn't, but because lovers leave. I have given Him plenty of reason to leave me, much more than I gave my wife.

[The worst thing you can tell a divorcing person is that the Lord rejects divorce. When He rejects divorce, he rejects them, and they cannot bear that burden right then. It is too much. The Lord hates divorce, but not as a sin - as a tragedy befalling His beloved child. Please, please don't ever turn the Lord against a saint in their mind by your words.]

If divorce comes, write off two years of your life. I was told this by a counselor, and she was right. It takes at least two years to find your feet again. Life becomes a roller coaster of desparate lows and subterranean lows. Their are fleeting moments of laughter, but there is too much confusion for there to be real joy.

[To all you who know how to quote, "the joy of the Lord is my strength", "This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice" and "whatsoever things are good, whatsoever things are pure, blah, blah, blah, think on these things," I quote you this:
Prov 25:20
Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on a wound, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.
I did not say this to your face, but I resented those words. They burned like fire. There were two people who endured enough with me to earn the right to encourage me like that, and they didn't have to. They stayed with me until I could see the joy for myself. May the Lord spare you from being given your medicine when your day comes.

Weep with those who weep.]

I have not mentioned the word "disdain" in all this. That is no accident.

Know that disdain was there. May the Lord forgive me that disdain which I poured upon her, and her that which she poured upon me. The Lord will judge which of us is victim, I cannot.

Yes, she left me for another man, so the good book says that I am scot-free. She might say that divorce was her release from 17 years of disdain from me. She might say that far from scot-free, I am the party who brought this all down on her head. I brought her into a marriage promising safety, and instead look what happened to her. May the Lord have mercy on us both. Any debt she owes me is close enough to cancelled by that which I owe her, and I have been forgiven vastly more by my Father than I could ever forgive her. I cannot justify myself. I can only run to the sacrifice of Christ, and wrap myself in the Lambskin.

As I wrote yesterday about "victims" and "perpetrators" I was overwhelmingly aware that only in the rarest case does one party in a divorce not consider himself or herself the victim. The best divorces have two victims in each other's eyes. My ex and I both consider the other to be a victim of this divorce as much as ourselves. It has helped. It has helped the children. (I am not going to talk about children and divorce here, but I can recommend a book.)

[This should be obvious, but I will say it. Don't try to help a victim of divorce by demonizing the partner. Present the facts, by all means, and let them comfort the victim, but insulting the ex does not help.]

I did not equivocate about victims and perpetrators yesterday, because I know that Christ does judge in these cases. Christ does know and believe that there was a perpetrator in our marriage, and a victim or two. He judges truly, and by His death and providence He offers mercy to us.

It is in His judgement that I will find my course laid out before me.

Do you know where I am going yet?

I'll give you a hint.

1 Cor 6
1 If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord's people? 2 Or do you not know that the Lord's people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!

Will I remarry?

If I were a member of a church that could judge angels and the world, I might know the answer to that question. I hope I would at least know whether a remarriage would be an offense before God. Am I free in my case to consider remarriage or not? The scripture says it is legal for some, and not for others.

If the church cannot judge in this matter with the mercy and wisdom of Christ on earth, it is not worthy of the name "church." A divorce is a dispute that we take before the ungodly for judgement, and try to keep out of the sanctuary as much as possible.

May the Lord spare every divorcing couple from a church that judges without mercy or without wisdom.

I will return to this matter in post #3.

You should give a divorcing/divorced saint the truth. Was that saint a victim? Pronounce blessing and freedom upon him or her. Was that saint a perpetrator? Confront him or her, and command him or her to make right reparations. Lift the cloud of doubt, and let the truth set the captive free.

There were some saints who did this for me. They did not know my wife, so it was hard for me to rest in their judgement, but it helped. I am not confident enough to publish their thoughts here, though.

In the end, the cup of consequences must be drained.

So how can you help a brother?

You cannot save a him from reliving every moment and every decision that brought him to divorce. You cannot save him from the awful loneliness that will be his lot. He earned it, and it is his to experience.
  • You can assure him that his emotions are understandable - appropriate if you will - by weeping with him (figuratively is fine :-).
  • You can assure him that His Lord loves Him the same today and tomorrow as He did the day He marked him off in Christ. God knew and paid for your brother's sins because He loved him, even though He knew that he would make these mistakes, and that this day would come. God still loves him, and always will. God does not retreat or abandon His children - ever. Not for anything. Not for divorce. Not even for failing to handle a divorce well. God doesn't just still love your brother, He is still "in love" with your brother, completely, and committedly.
  • You can tell your brother the truth, and what the truth means. He made mistakes, but nothing to deserve this. Or he has committed a grave injustice against a girl who did not deserve it, and he needs to make it right.
A few of these thoughts have lived in a vacuum, and this is the first time they are seeing the light of day. As such, I know they need refinement. I hope they are profitable to you anyway.

11 comments:

DugALug said...

Codepoke,

My prayers go out to you. Whether we see eye to eye on divorce or not, I can't imagine being in your spot. I am thankful that I am not, but it is not due to anything that I did, and I have quickly recognized that.

I noticed you used the phrase 'scott-free' in your post. There is not doubt that it takes two to tango. It is rare that there is a truly innocent party in divorce. We are all complicit on some level. Liberty is given from God, apart from a supernatural touch, I don't believe that we can ever be truly free. I pray that for you too.

I am sorry for your grief. I am also confident that God will continue to heal you. Thank you also for your heartfealt sincerety.

God Bless
-Doug

Phil said...

Codepoke,

Greeting in Christ from a fellow coder (Web apps development to be specific) who brought a divorce upon himself in 1998. Your citation in Proverbs is outstanding! How true! I, too, grew tired of those who dished out endless platitudes, with condemnation quick to follow if you dared not paint that stupid "Sunday Smile" on your face so as not to bring down the "encouraging and positive" atmosphere in today's vapid church. Then, they start blaming you with "Sheesh, I was just trying to cheer you up!" as if you had sinned against them instead of the other way around.

I do, however, want to comment on 1 Cor 6 and civil authorities. Some attempt to use this to mean that the court system is effectively off-limits for Christians under any circumstances. This is a wholesale denial of God's sovereign establishment of the government and court system (the establishment of courts of justice is one of the earliest moral commands). One cannot teach that we serve and worship the Lord who values justice and who establishes the courts, and then declare that those same courts are somehow off-limits to his followers. Rather, the clear context of 1 Cor. 6 is that Christians were suing each other for matters that could (and should) be settled by Church leadership in accordance with Biblical wisdom. To our peril (and bad doctrine and witness) do we read into 1 Cor. 6 that the courts no longer have jurisdiction over the lives of Christians. Rather, as Christians, we are neither outside nor above the law and courts, but are subject to is as our government. Thus were the courts do have jurisdiction, we are to honorably particiapte in the court system, not reject it. The exception to this is where the government demands or forces us to act or testify contrary to God. This leads me to my other concern.

I've been ashamedly open that I was not faithful to the sexual bounds of the marriage covenant. I confessed and sought reconciliation, but she was not interested and so filed for divorce. In California divorce can only be granted for one (unbiblical) reason: irreconcilable differences. She worked in the legal field and assured me that she could file no other way. Here's the problem: I had to sign a document that stated before God and man that I, too, saw reconciliation as impossible for me. Now if she were to divorce me for adultery (file in court as such) I would have signed it as accurate. My point is, going through a divorce in the civil court system was not shameful (1 Cor. 6 isn't relevant there) but agreeing to a divorce filing on unbiblical grounds added to my shame. I handled the marriage wrong, now I was forced to handle the divorce wrong also -- the courts gave me no choice, short of non-participation.

By the way, I was referred to your blog by a friend of mine, "MzEllen." She and I have long discussed the divorce issue. Some guys specialize in end-times theology, some in missions theology, some in matters of salvation theology... my pet theological issue is all-things-divorce. Many kudos to you for referencing the often unmentioned, unspoken, unpreached verses in Jeremiah 3. In my studies on divorce, I just read a recently-release 25 page elder's position statement on divorce and remarriage. Their so-called "exhaustive" list of scriptures on divorce conveniently left out the fact that God divorced his adulterous bride to marry another... of course, they had to do that to justify their position. I see this shameful oversight all the time when discussing this topic. Shortly after my divorce, I searched for information regarding divorce and remarriage. The range of "opinions" (I hate to use that word when describing our positions on God's Word) varies so much it's almost unbelievable. I've got about four years of research into this issue. I quite literally have a sub-collection of books in my library on this issue alone, and I've read dozens of denominational position papers, sermons, articles, debates, etc. Please feel free to let me know if you need any information or have any questions on the myriad issues and dynamics of this topic. I'd be happy to share what I've learned. You're doing pretty good already :-)

codepoke said...

Liberty is given from God, apart from a supernatural touch, I don't believe that we can ever be truly free. I pray that for you too.

Thank you, DugALug. Christ came to preach liberty to the captives, and I think most of us need to hear Him. Amen.

I hope that you know my "scot-free" reference was supposed to be too absurd to accept. (The term, BTW, refers to eluding the "scot", an old Scandinavian tax for maintenance of the city infrastructure. Nothing to do with Scots frugality. Today's bit of useless info to add to the old storehouse.) Whenever I call the scriptures, "the good book," you can be sure I am not being sincere.

codepoke said...

Phil,

Thank you for the supportive comments. I doubt that it comes across just how much doubt I feel about the things I am saying. That you have invested so much into this subject, and find things here to commend is encouraging. Thank you for sharing that with me.

I agree with you on 1 Cor 6. I purged about 3 paragraphs from that section, intending to put them into the next post. It probably sounds a little disjointed, and I obviously purged some important qualifiers. I will try to catch them when I get to the church and divorce.

I had to sign a document that stated before God and man that I, too, saw reconciliation as impossible for me.

I know how hard this was. We filed for dissolution, not divorce. In order to do that, I had to agree before a judge that the marriage was over, and could not be redeemed.

I had never stood before a judge before. It is an awful, awful feeling. The woman on that bench had incontestible power over my life. She sat in judgement over me. I cannot describe the feelings of substantive fear that her righteous judgement stirred in me.

To stand before The Judge without His perfect righteousness in which to hide would literally lead me to call the mountains to fall upon me, and hide me from Justice. It was horrible.

And I stood there, before this one empowered by man and God, and said that I wanted this marriage to end. I did not want the marriage to end. Even at that late point, I wanted there to be another answer, but there wasn't. Horrible. I took my only comfort in the fact that the marriage had been killed almost a year earlier when she left. I was filing to cause the law to respect the reality that I was living.

It was not until later that I came to see that release as provided by God.

You don't actually say whether you have found peace in Christ with the issue. It sure sounds like you have, and I praise the Lord for that.

I'll add kudos to MzEllen, too. Her Ezra quote was news to me. Your URL link goes to a "go away page" :-), or I would check out some of your wrestlings with her. I'm sure she is highly informed, and defends her position ably!

Phil said...

Thank you for the kind follow-up. Sorry about the "move along..." message on the home page. I wish I had more time to devote to my web page, but I'm pulling the usual 40-50 hrs a week at work plus another 20 or more for school... plus I don't have anyone to help around the house.

If you want to see me in the thick of things, see this thread on divorce and remarriage over at the thinklings.com: A Question For The Thinklings: Divorce & Remarriage That discussion went on for some time, covered many of the angles, and rebutted the usual half-defended drivel from the anti-mercy crowd. Yup, that's strongly stated, but rightly dividing the Word is not a call to either cowardice or neutrality. The "divorced" are one of the last groups remaining in the church for the leadership to beat up on. The reasons are simple: to defend to divorced people is spun as defending divorce itself.

The Biblical truth about divorce is such a well kept secret that many Christians attend Church for decades and never hear Jeremiah 3 or Isaiah 50 preached. The reason is as simple as it is heart-wrenching: It’s too dangerous to admit that the Lord of Israel (that's Jesus) is divorced. To admit that would demand the revision of thousand of Church position papers. To admit that would be to admit the unthinkable: that the sinless lamb of God, who takes away sin, has ascended to the right hand of the Father, the judge of the living and the dead, by whom all things are created, is also totally disqualified from church leadership in most so-called Churches. In short, the Jesus of the fundamentalist church isn’t faithful enough as a husband (he initiated the divorce, too!) to be a pastor. “Well, Phil, you see,” they say, “we have higher standards for leadership… blah blah blah.” Since the “standard” for all of us is Holy perfection, I’m not sure what “higher” standards (more perfect-than-God’s-perfection?) they’re referring to, but it isn’t in my Bible. They’re in for a surprise when, just as you faced the judge, they will also face the judge of souls and stand for their attitudes toward divorced people… divorced, that is, like the judge of their souls. Play out that conversation in your mind some time! :-)

Just think of how the entire Church-wide conversation about divorce would change if we understood that we pray, pleading mercy each day, for forgiveness from a divorced Savior.

Phil

Milly said...

Just think of how the entire Church-wide conversation about divorce would change if we understood that we pray, pleading mercy each day, for forgiveness from a divorced Savior.

Well said Phil.

I finished reading it all and well, I have to say this unless you have actually had your hand on the door knob you probably don't understand how you can divorce.

One of the men that I wait on is separated from his wife she left months ago, she has a mental illness and I can see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice the hope is being lost. I watch him with his son, he can’t be but about four. It is breaking his heart. I’m afraid that some day he’ll remove that gold ring and resign himself to divorce. I’ve been praying for him. God will help him do what’s best for that little boy, it may be without that mom.

I’ve put my sorrows behind me. Twelve years later and another child we are stronger than ever. That’s not a strong bond we know it because we’ve put our hand on the door knob. Those who haven’t don’t get that. Thank God for them.

Guy your experiences will help others, God will see to that.

Kansas Bob said...

Thanks for bearing your heart Kevin ... I appreciated reading your story.

My harsh view of divorce began to change in the late 70s when my good friend Kim's wife Linda ran out on him and his daughter ... his devastation changed me ... I could no longer hide behind my theology ... divorce had skin on it ... and I could not sit in judgment any longer.

I lost my first wife to death in 1994. I have come to understand that death and divorce are pretty similar ... both involve the awful pain of seperation ... in some sense death is easier because of it's finality ... in either case people (especially kids) are wounded. It is the job of Christ's body to help and care for these wounded ones ... a job which we don't so very well.

God seems to have equipped you Kevin to be such a minister in the body. I apreciate the journey that He has you on - you are desperately needed ... hurting people need you. May God bless you with open doors for ministry.

Wayne Leman said...

Codepoke, I appreciate the comments you have placed on our BBB blog. I decided to clink on your name link to see if you had a blog. Do you ever have a blog?! I was deeply moved by your honesty, transparency, and repentance. No sugarcoating. I appreciate you and how your sharing is helping others. (2 Cor. 1:4)

codepoke said...

Good stuff, Phil.

I should have recognized the name. I am "Kevin" on the Thinklings, and I enjoyed your comments very much in that thread.

Thanks for weighing in so powerfully!

codepoke said...

KB,

When I was first divorced, I envied the widowed. No longer.

I don't know how to say it, but having your heart still connected to the woman you love after she has passed must be a merciless experience. In divorce, I think it was easier to get my heart back.

Praise the Lord for His mercy to us all, and praise the Lord for Mrs. KB!

codepoke said...

It's kind of you to visit, Wayne!

You admittedly came during a pretty intense bit of writing over here. I can't say things are always quite this personal.

Thank you for your encouragement, and keep up the good work over at BBB! I enjoy it all.