It saddens me that only lately did I discover the amount of ostracization and hurt many of my divorcee friends had gone through. And sadly, many of them experienced such hurt at the hands of the church.
We do agree that God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16) and that no one wins in a divorce. Family, friends, and the divorcees themselves experience immense hurt. Although we as a church may be tempted to tell someone that they shouldn't have gotten divorced, that's certainly not the words or comfort they need to hear in the aftermath. Having discussed this with many divorcees—and having come from a family of divorce myself—here are ways the church can comfort them instead, and show Christ's love to them in a much better way.
Don't Avoid Them
This may seem like an obvious one, but many of my divorcee friends said that friends deserted them in the church the moment they discovered about the divorce. They wouldn't make eye contact, would leave the room as quickly as possible.
We have to think about how Jesus approached the woman at the well, a woman who had been divorced several times and lived with a man who wasn't her husband (John 4). Jesus sees her humanity and doesn't shame her. Instead, he gives her hope.
Even if you don't know the right words to say, don't avoid them.
Find Ways to Make Them Laugh
It doesn't matter who initiated the divorce, both parties will experience a great deal of sorrow and hurt in the aftermath. We all know what happens to a friend when they experience a bad breakup. Now compound that in a marriage. Whether someone has been with their spouse for one year or 50, they've developed a closer connection to this person than anyone else in their lives. And now that the connection has severed, that creates a horrendous amount of pain.
So find ways to cheer them up. Send funny memes, tell jokes, reminisce upon funny memories.
Jesus does have strong stances on divorce (Matthew 19), but he does provide instances in which a divorce is acceptable. Whether the divorcee has followed a biblical path to divorce or has not, we can't assume. We don't know their situation fully. Perhaps they've escaped an abusive relationship. Perhaps their partner committed adultery and they feel a lot of shame in sharing that information.
Instead of assuming they did something wrong in the situation, hug them and comfort them.
Avoid Cliché Statements
Many Christians will feel tempted to say one of the following.
"I know it hurts now, but God is doing something wonderful down the road for you. So just hold on."
"I'm sure some good will come out of all of this."
"At least you have kids. Focus on the blessings you currently do have in your life."
"Who knows? Maybe you two will remarry once you've worked things out."
Most often these phrases not only ignore the hurt the person experiences, but it could exacerbate them. If you don't know what to say, be a doer instead of a sayer. Buy them groceries, get them food, get coffee with them, spend time with them. Speaking of...
Invite Them Over
Make them feel included. Many divorcees often feel like a third wheel if they even get invited to something. Sadly, many treat divorce like a disease and will avoid the divorcee for fear of "catching it."
Treat this like you would a grieving friend. They need you now more than ever, so make sure to show up and be there for them. And make sure they don't feel forgotten or abandoned.
Don't Say 'I Know How You Feel'
Even if you've experienced divorce, not every divorce looks the same. You can explain that you've gone through something similar, but that won't help the situation. I often compare it to something like this:
I have depression. Clinical depression. The crippling kind of depression that makes it hard to get out of bed many mornings. I have different symptoms and different coping mechanisms. If a friend tells me, "I know how you feel," I will know deep down that they don't. Because depression manifests itself in different ways.
In the same way, divorce manifests itself in different ways and no one divorce is alike.
Be Their Friend
I know a divorced friend who received so much ostracization from the church that she only had one friend stand up for her. It was hard for her to keep going back to that congregation when she'd get the stink eye constantly and felt very unwelcomed.
We have to remember that we all sin and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Divorce is more public, but I'm sure if we all had our shortcomings publicized to the entire congregation, we'd have a lot more compassion. So reach out. Befriend them. Love on them. They probably already know how your church feels about divorce, so we don't have to fill the roles of law and judge. We need to, instead, be more like Jesus and how he dealt with the broken and hurting.
Why Does This Matter?
The church doesn't often know what to do with those outside of the 20-30s couples who have biological kids. Seriously, they legit don't know what to do with people who fall outside of the nuclear family model.
God created the family model, yes, but we live in a broken world and a broken church full of people who err. We need to make allowances for this and to stop ostracizing those who fall outside of the nuclear family model through our sermon series, through our small groups, and through our church activities.
The early church was made up of people who don't fit the church mold now: single people, the elderly, women leaders, etc. We need to go back to our roots and remember that Christ has called us to love, to comfort the hurting (2 Corinthians 1:3), and to remember that all of us have sinned and fallen short.
Related Resource: Listen to our FREE podcast, Reframed: The Power of Perspective. In each episode, Carley provides practical techniques for identifying and reframing negative thinking patterns. Listen to an episode below, and check out all of our episodes on LifeAudio.com.
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Hope Bolinger is an editor at Salem, a multi-published novelist, and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 1,200 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her modern-day Daniel trilogy is out with IlluminateYA. She is also the co-author of the Dear Hero duology, which was published by INtense Publications. And her inspirational adult romance Picture Imperfect releases in November of 2021. Find out more about her at her website.