By Karen Swank
My parents are still married.
Once upon a time, this was not an unusual statement to make. These days, it’s becoming more and more an aberration.
My parents are still married (it must be 43 years now) despite the fact that they began with many strikes against them in the department of “Marriage Survival Likelihood.” They are still married despite chapter after chapter of life throwing them reasons to turn on one another and quit. They have chosen many times over to continue on, to love anyway, and, as time moves along, I am increasingly left in awe at the beauty of that choice.
My parents’ grandkids are children of divorce, all of them. My siblings and I have not managed what our parents did. I could write pages and pages of reasons why, but the real truth is that nothing on those pages would stand out as substantially different than the things my parents chose to fight their way through.
This is not a place I spend much time dwelling. It runs me off too easily into useless places. What is done is done and won’t be undone. We each did what we felt was the best we could do at the time, which is a hollow, empty comfort. God’s grace and mercy are immensely larger than our brokenness, which is the only real refuge in all of it.
I am coming up on ten years since my divorce. My kids are grown. Why then am I pondering divorce again? Why would I do that to myself?
Because these days I am getting a taste of what it’s like to be a child of divorce, and it’s making me consider many things deeply.
You see, the people of my church specifically are going through something very like a divorce. It’s been going on for awhile now. Sides have been chosen, arguments drawn out, and many people have done and are doing what they feel is the best they can do at this time.
I remember in the midst of my divorce as I worried and worried about how the kids would be affected, I was told that kids are resilient and I should just choose what I needed to do for me and all would be well in the end. I remember the shock and horror I felt later, reading someone else’s perspective: whatever the parents are going through amidst the divorce, the kids are going through the very same thing. There were so many times it was nearly more than I could do to get through a day. I put my kids through that?
I had told myself that they were somehow insulated from the worst parts of the pain. But I remember the two scenes that play over and over in my mind, even now, of when we told each of the kids separately that Mom and Dad were getting a divorce. Some memories fade, but for me, these don’t. I watch them over and over again unwillingly in my mind, my children being changed right before my eyes with the uttering of a few sentences. On the projection screen of my memory, I look again into the depth of their eyes and see a pain I cannot fathom; my parents never did this to me. I see again the set of their shoulders and I feel again how very thick the emotion was, how it filled the room almost to suffocation, and I cannot believe I did this.
These days I begin to fathom just the smallest bit of what it must have been like to look through those eyes and hear that terrible news. In my church, there are people I like, love, respect and admire on both sides of the argument, making some choices that I understand and some that I find absolutely appalling. I hear their complaints and I find it easier to understand than to agree, though at this point all of it just hurts so much. I have no control, no power to make them all play nicely together. Misunderstandings, misinterpretations, hurt feelings and wounded pride abound, and much is done that cannot be undone. Many hope for healing. Some hold out for victory for “their side.”
The truth, I sadly conclude, is that for some, a line has been crossed that won’t be broached again. For them, healing will not happen within the context of all of us together once again. Victory for one side or the other? I think not. In divorce, everyone gets hurt. Not just the parties who go their separate ways, but also unnumbered bystanders within proximity of the pain.
A church is a family. I want to keep my family, all of them. But in this, I don’t get a choice. Some will stay. Some will go. Many will think they did the right thing. I wonder what God will say about that when we all stand before Him, one at a time, without available excuses or scapegoats.
As for me, I’ll stay, because I don’t hear Him saying otherwise. I stand bedraggled, struggling not to be embittered, begging Him to heal my bad attitude as there is no bandwagon I’m willing to jump on at this point.
Kids are resilient. That much is true, though presuming upon that lightly is a crime against childhood of a very high order, in my opinion. My kids have come a long way since those awful conversations, and God in His mercy has brought much beauty from the ashes of my divorce. While I am not as blameless in my church’s problems as my kids were in my divorce, I have a goal at this point: to be as graceful, as forgiving, as patient as my kids were when it was them watching helplessly from the sidelines.
I don’t know what is right in the face of all the ugliness. I could well be handling every single part of this thing wrong. Once more, I find myself doing the best I know how to do, and trusting God’s grace and mercy to cover my shortcomings.
In the meantime, I pray for the world around us, that desperately needs Christ and probably sees no sign of Him in this particular chapter of my church.
Jesus wept indeed.
Karen is from Aledo, IL. She went to Monmouth College and studied Latin and English. She is a biological mom of two children and surrogate mom/friend/advocate for a whole host of children. She would like to meet every wounded soul that I’ve she’s ever known… as a child, before the “damage was done” so she could tell them how much they are loved.