I recently read an article about divorce in a theological journal in which the writer assumed that the great number of divorces prove that people do not understand what they are promising when they marry. The until-death-do-us-part bit. We aren’t promising to stay married as long as we like each other, love each other, have warm and cozy feelings about each other. We make binding promises for the rest of our life….until we are parted by death. In the interest of full disclosure I should state that I am divorced. Contrary to the supposition in that journal article, I knew full well what I was promising. I intended to keep my promise. Despite my understanding of what I promised, despite my intentions, the fact remains that I failed.
I think that if we believe in marriage, and want to support those who are married, we need to be the sorts of people who offer help when people are struggling in their marriages. Even if we are angry with the particular players. Even if we think that we know who is to blame and want to castigate the villain. How can we help by refusing to talk to one or both parties because we claim moral high ground and need a villain?
If we honestly want to help preserve marriage, should we write them off as moral failures or disappointments, or do we pray for them, encourage them and perhaps offer assistance to them? And if, despite all our prayers and offers to help, we find that they divorce, what then do we do? Do we thank God we are not like them? Do we claim the moral high ground because our marriages have lasted? Are we obligated to choose sides? Do we only offer prayers for the people we like and the ones we perceive to be the victims?
If you have read any of my other blog posts you may guess where I come out on this. I believe that we should pray for all who are facing trouble – whatever that trouble may be. Many people are their own worst enemies. . . they too need prayers. Many people, in the midst of a troublesome situation, can’t figure out ways to improve the situation. Hindsight is 20/20. If we can help by lending an ear, offering assistance, or just by letting them know that their trouble doesn’t mean that they are dust beneath our chariot wheels. . . we should do so.
If we can’t stand to look at them because we hate what they have done we can still, “try to feel about the enemy as we feel about ourselves–to wish that he were not bad, to hope that he may, in this world or another, be cured: in fact, to wish his good.” [Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis, copyright 1952. Parts of this were given as radio talks in 1942, 43, 44.]
If we are not an onlooker to divorce, but someone who has divorced, do we allow ourselves to be eaten up by hatred or resentment, by slights and hurts whose memories haunt us? I would say that there is both an answer and a cure for that. It is the same answer that was quoted in the last paragraph. If we pray for our ex spouse — on a regular basis — regardless of what they did or didn’t do — regardless of our feelings or the cold facts of the case. . . things will change. I believe that praying regularly for your ex spouse is the right thing to do, whether we think so or not. If we do that, it will change our hearts and perhaps our prayers will be heard for their good.
It is also the case that others, outside the couple in question, may be hurt by divorce: children, certainly; extended family, quite possibly; friends and neighbors, yes indeed. Marriage is a public act and a public witness. When divorces happen a whole raft of people may be hurt, feel let down, feel they have to choose sides. For those witnessing a couple divorcing I think that praying for the good of both parties in the divorce is a good thing to do. For the divorced couple, I would say that praying for others who may have been hurt by your divorce is worth doing, whether you know all their names or not. I remember when my father died a neighbor came to the door and said he and his wife were so sorry to hear of my father’s death because the affection and love of my parents toward each other was so evident that it proved to be helpful in their own marriage. These were people I had never met. My parents’ marriage had strengthened their marriage. Divorce can hurt all kinds of people. I find that it has been good in my life to pray for all those caught in the ripples of the failure of a marriage.