The Scarlet Letter
Dena Johnson MartinDena Johnson is a former single mom to three amazing kids: Blake, Cole, and Cassie and wife to her high school friend, Roy. She strives to follow Christ each day and to lead her children to do the same. She delights in taking the every day experiences of life and turning them into biblical lessons for her children. Dena's daily prayer is simple: Lord, my life is yours. Live through me. Love through me. Parent through me. Let me decrease that you might increase. Dena is the founder of Dena Johnson Ministries, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people find beauty through the brokenness of this life. Her heart's desire is to use her own pain to point others to the power of God who redeems every hurt, every pain. You can contact Dena at Dena@denajohnson.com. You can also find her blog at Dena Johnson Ministries.
- 2015 Aug 05
My name is Dena, and I am divorced.
There. I said it.
I have worn the scarlet letter “D” around my neck for four years now. It was not a word that I ever wanted—or expected—to define who I am. As a matter of fact, it’s the last title I ever expected to be associated with my name. I prayed hard about whom to marry, and I know without a doubt that I followed God’s will for my life.
But, here I am.
My marriage of 16 years crumbled as a result of infidelity. I found myself a single mom of three young children. My ministry of pastor’s wife was stripped away. My identity of wife and minister vanished into my past. I became defined by the scarlet letter “D” hung around my neck.
Even though I could easily argue that I had biblical grounds for divorce (Matthew 5:32), I still felt dirty and sinful. Even though all of my godly advisors were telling me it was time to walk away from the marriage, I couldn’t hear God’s voice condoning it (God hates divorce—see Malachi 2:16). Even though I knew the children were suffering in the environment, I couldn’t see how I could walk away from a commitment I made to God—and man.
But, I did.
As I struggled to find my identity—to find healing and restoration—I went to church. There, I heard the pastor make a comment about “divorced people.” The sin and guilt were piled higher. I tried to dig my way out of the humiliation heaped upon me. Just as I began to get my head above the rubble, someone reminded me that divorce is a sin, that it disqualified me from ministry, that I must repent. Again, I began to sink in the mire. Over and over, the cycle continued. I would begin to dig out of the horror and humiliation only to have well-meaning Christians pile on the accusations.
Dealing with guilt and shame is something that we must all do. We all have sinned (Romans 3:23), and we all deserve death (Romans 6:23). We all suffer with a certain amount of guilt and shame for our past. But God loves us so much that He showed His love toward us even while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). We didn’t have to clean up our lives to earn His approval; He gave it to us in spite of ourselves.
I have been divorced for nearly six years now, and I still have occasional bouts of guilt. However, I have learned some valuable lessons over the years. Perhaps they will help you deal with your own guilt.
We must remember that guilt and shame are not from God; Satan—the accuser of the believers—is the source.
One day the members of the heavenly court came to present themselves before the LORD, and the Accuser, Satan, came with them. Job 1:6
Satan wants us to suffer in guilt and shame, to be so paralyzed by our past mistakes and regrets that we can’t move forward. He comes to steal, kill, and destroy the abundant life God came to give us (John 10:10). God’s purpose is to give us an abundant, rich, and satisfying life. We cannot enjoy that life if we allow ourselves to wallow in guilt and shame, if we listen to the accuser whispering lies in our ears. When the Holy Spirit comes to convict you, His goal is to encourage you to change your ways—to repent of your sin and walk in obedience to God. When you repent, God remembers your sins no more—but Satan WILL continue to accuse you.
To combat Satan’s lies, we must come to know the truth.
Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)
What is the truth? According to John 14:6, Jesus is the truth! As I grow closer to Christ in my daily walk by choosing to abide with Him, by allowing my mind to be bathed in His word, by walking in obedience to Him, I find that He sets me free from the burden of shame and guilt. What does the Truth say about me? He says that I am precious, redeemed, the apple of his eye, his chosen people, his treasured possession. He says that I am forgiven and free!
As I seek to walk in obedience, God calls me to release my past and look to Him to redeem it for His glory.
But the Lord will redeem those who serve him. No one who takes refuge in him will be condemned. (Psalm 34:22)
My past happened. I can’t change what has happened to me. I can’t go back and make things different. We all have a past, and we all have sin (Romans 3:23). But, God remembers my sin no more! He has taken it and thrown it as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). When God looks at me, He doesn’t see my sin. He sees the righteousness of Christ. He sees a child washed by the blood of the Lamb, whole and purified. If He forgives my sin, I must forgive myself.
So many scriptures point to renewal, redemption, restoration. God delights in taking our failures, our losses, our hurts and pains and leveraging them for His glory. Think about Joseph, cast away in prison and slavery for years only to become the one God used to save the entire land. David committed horrible sins of adultery and murder, and yet he was known as a man after God’s own heart. Saul persecuted Christians before meeting Christ on the road to Damascus. His life was changed in an instant. However, his reputation was so bad that he had to change his name to escape the guilt of his past. There is no past so bad, no sin so horrible that God cannot leverage it for His glory.
I must realize that there are people who will continue to condemn me for my past, but I must choose to listen to God.
Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us. Romans 8:33-34
Unfortunately, I still meet people who believe it is their duty to point out my failures and mistakes. But, I live for an audience of One. I live for the approval of God, not man. I am secure in my standing with Christ, and I choose to walk with my head held high. I walk away and ask God to make my righteousness shine like the dawn and the justice of my cause like the noonday sun (Psalm 37:6). I ask Him to be my defender, my protector. I ask Him to cover me from the accusing words of others.
The past happened to me, but I can choose the impact it has on my future. I can choose to be shackled, held back, locked in a cell of shame and guilt. Or, I can ask God to redeem my past and use it for His glory, use it to encourage others. I can choose to learn from my past so that I have a brighter future.
What have I chosen to do with my past? I have chosen to embrace it! God has given me a new compassion for people, a new opportunity to minister for Him. God has given me a story that allows me to relate to people I never could before. God has given me a deeper, stronger, sweeter faith through the trials of this life (Romans 5:3-5). God has given me the opportunity to comfort others with the comfort I have received from Him (2 Corinthians 1:4). I actually like “divorced” Dena much better than I liked “perfect” Dena!
My scarlet letter is “D,” but perhaps you have a different letter hanging around your neck. Maybe it’s an “A” for adultery or addiction. Maybe it’s a “P” for pornography. Maybe it’s an “I” for insecurity. Maybe it’s a “J” for judgmental or a “G” for greedy. Regardless of the sin, regardless of the shame or guilt, God is the answer.
But [I] am not like that, for [I] am a chosen people. [I] am a royal priest, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, [I] can show others the goodness of God, for he called [me] out of the darkness into his wonderful light. 1 Peter 2:9
I am divorced, but I no longer bear the scarlet letter “D” around my neck. Instead, I choose to see myself as whole, healthy, forgiven, healed. I choose to wear the title of “Princess” because I am a daughter of the King of Kings!