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Intersection of Life and Faith

Divorce and Leaving My Church

  • Elisabeth Klein Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2014 1 Jan
  • COMMENTS
Divorce and Leaving My Church

My ex-husband and I began attending our church two weeks after our wedding. We looked nowhere else. We just knew that was it. And we ended up serving there and having our kids there and meeting our best friends there and I even went on staff there, twice, staying the entirety of our marriage.

When our church leadership released me to legally separate, my then-husband stopped attending. Walking out our reconciliation attempt, separation and divorce within the community of our church family was one of the most beautiful and one of the most painful experiences of my life.

When I went to my church leadership for help – for my final plea – around year sixteen, I knew that if no one stepped in, I was done. I don’t mean that I was done in that I was just going to get a divorce. I meant that I was done in that I was just going to resign myself to stay married, to stay in our bad marriage for the rest of my life. This was my absolute last chance, last hope, last begging for help.

And I am so grateful to say that I felt heard and understood. A team of eight godly people were assembled: a mentor couple, our campus pastor, an elder couple, a mediator, a counselor and my mentor, along with the entire elder board being briefed and weighing in over what turned out to be a fifteen-month reconciliation attempt.

And when I say reconciliation attempt, I don’t just mean my then-husband and I attempted to reconcile. I mean, that team of people came around us and did everything they could think to do to keep our wheels from coming off.

It was excruciating and humiliating and raw, and yet, I felt covered and surrounded and taken care of. I will never, ever forget the lengths these people went to in a valiant attempt to save our marriage. This was the beautiful part of having a church family. And I can say in all honesty that my personal church experience regarding my hard marriage, separation and divorce was 95% positive. It was a hundred times better than I ever expected. And it was so much better than other stories I’ve heard from other women who felt unheard and ostracized. This was not my experience: my experience was good and I am eternally grateful.

But then there was the five percent. A few incidents happened that hurt. People hurt people all the time. Christian people hurt people all the time. And sometimes, even, somehow, by the nudging of God, which I don’t fully understand, but I’m starting to accept. A few key things were decided and said to me that caused a shift in me.

And I started to notice that every time I pulled into the parking lot, post-separation, I felt sick to my stomach. And I began to realize that every time I was at church, I either cried during the service or as soon as I got in my car. And this went on for about six or nine months before I realized that it wasn’t normal. That I was literally distracted from worship by my sadness and self-consciousness of now divorcing. My entire marriage had played out within the walls of that place and for whatever reasons, I felt even more divorced when I was in my church than anywhere else, and I just couldn’t take it. It occurred to me that it wasn’t okay to feel that way. It occurred to me that perhaps God had another place for me.

You must understand something about me: I despise change. And I was already losing my marriage. And I had assumed that my church would be my church until the day I died. I couldn’t fathom being anywhere else. But I just couldn’t stand being that sad in my place of worship any longer. So I started to pray and think and journal and grieve and get wise counsel simply around this question: should I be somewhere else?

I very tentatively began looking around and God brought me to a place of grace and beauty, to a place that embraced me, to a place that has already allowed me to use my gifts, not waiting for years until they deem me healed.

My one sentence answer when someone asks me why I left my church after almost nineteen years is: I needed a fresh start. But I think, maybe, God knew I would never leave – even if I felt sad for the next five years – unless some not so great things happened to nudge me along. I think God wanted me somewhere else. I think sometimes old places can be just what you need, and sometimes old places can hold you back from getting the healing you desperately require. I left my church, really, because I think God wanted me to have a fresh start, so he could do a new thing in me.

Elisabeth Klein Corcoran is the author of Unraveling: Hanging Onto Faith Through the End of a Christian Marriage, speaks several times a month to women's groups, and is a member of Redbud Writers' Guild. During her time at Christ Community Church’s Blackberry Creek Campus in Aurora, Illinois she began and led their women's ministry for ten years prior to moving to the city’s Orchard Community Church. As an outreach of her desire to help others, she has traveled to Haiti and Sierra Leone, and led a team of women to Liberia with Samaritan's Purse doing AIDS work. She lives with her children in Illinois. Visit her online at elisabethcorcoran.com or on facebook. She is the moderator of two private Facebook groups: one for women in difficult Christian marriages, and one for Christian women who are separated or divorced. Email her at elisabethkcorcoran@gmail.com if interested in joining.

Publication date: January 10, 2014