I was going to write a post about another topic, but after reading Julie’s post from yesterday, I feel moved to talk about why women tend to stay in abusive and painful situations, and why God does not expect this of us. I hope our regular readers don’t feel that this is becoming a site exclusively about divorce, because it isn’t. It’s just that I believe God is leading us to explore topics that have been largely “off limits” in the Christian world.
When my husband and I separated for a year, it was the culmination of at least three years of a downward spiral in our marriage. In my estimation, I had done everything I could to get our marriage back on track. I knew something was amiss particularly because my husband was “missing in action” a lot of the time. He had already told me he didn’t love me anymore, and thought we should separate. I had held on, trying to talk him into staying, but he began checking out other places to live. This went on for the better part of a year until finally that December, I told him I couldn’t live that way anymore and he needed to be out by the end of January. At this point we’d been married about 23 years.
We separated for a year, and I couldn’t believe how wonderful my freedom felt. Suddenly it seemed like the clouds parted and the sun shone through. I felt new energy and happiness. I remember one day my neighbor caught me outside, and told me how great I looked; how uplifted my countenance was and how light my step. I hadn’t realized how downtrodden I must have been, and how it had been apparent to everyone else.
During that year of separation, my husband and I saw each other frequently due to exchanging the kids, but didn’t talk about our future. As we neared the end of the year, and we had no plans on where to go from there, I initiated a discussion about what we planned to do. He stated that he wanted to come home to “his house” but I told him that we needed to have some tools to help strengthen our marriage before embarking on another try. During this time, the thought of him coming back home gave me a feeling of uneasiness, but I stalwartly brushed it away, believing that God would have me do the “right” thing and try to work on the marriage.
For six weeks, we met with another couple from the marriage ministry at our church going through a study called “Love and Respect.” It’s a wonderful study about how women desire to be loved, and men desire to be respected. Throughout the time spent with this couple, however, I sensed that my husband was only going through the motions, but his heart wasn’t in it. And as the time for him to move home neared, I brushed away the feelings of discomfort, and subtle fear, believing that as a Christian, if my husband wanted to move home, I should welcome him. Somewhere deep in the pit of my stomach I knew his motivation was actually just to be back home with his children and “his house.” I was simply a part of the “package” which he would have to put up with.
During the six months after he moved home, it became apparent that nothing had changed, and in fact, the chasm between us got wider. Finally, I hit the wall. There was nowhere to turn but out. I told him I wanted a divorce, and due to circumstances, I couldn’t move out with the kids for a couple of months. As we went through those very uncomfortable few months, and I questioned my decision many times, I heard a voice within me, time and time again, that said, “keep going,” “push through.”
Many would not believe that this was the Holy Spirit, but I know wholeheartedly that it was. And I knew that because I heard His voice saying these things to me, that our marriage covenant had been broken, and I was free to go.
We are not meant to be captives. I am utterly convinced of that. Jesus came to set the captives free, but many of us feel that we need to remain and pray over our husbands and hope that they will repent and turn around. We feel it’s our duty to convict and convert our husbands. This is absolutely not true. And this is perpetuated by well-meaning, happily-married Christian women.
Not long after I decided to get a divorce, I ran into a friend at church, and she asked me how I was. I told her I was getting a divorce, and she gave me a lecture on how I could be an instrument of his salvation, and how I should stay with him. I stared at her, amazed at her insensitivity and lack of Biblical understanding. First, she was married to an amazing, caring, loving man, a pillar of the church, and had no comprehension of what it was like to be rejected and humiliated by her husband. Secondly, although she was someone who read the Word regularly, she forgot that it is the Holy Spirit who convicts the world concerning sin, and who “will guide you into all the truth.” (John 16:8-15) It is not my job to bring my husband to salvation, to convict him, or to guide him to the truth.
I realize this is a very sensitive issue in the church, especially among Christian women. But the fact is, no one knows what goes on behind closed doors except the husband, the wife, and God. We cannot, as outsiders, make a judgment call on someone else and their marriage or their divorce, because we have absolutely no idea what has occurred, the emotional pain and damage involved, the potential verbal or physical abuse, and the tears wept. This is why we cannot make judgment calls, because only God has been with us every step of the way.
Our God is a God of compassion. Remember the story in Matthew 12 about how Jesus and His disciples went through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and they began to pick the heads of grain and eat? The Pharisees were quick to tell Jesus that He and His disciples were doing what was not lawful. But Jesus reminded them of how David and his companions entered the house of God and ate consecrated bread which was not lawful for them to eat. Then Jesus said, “But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.”
God does not expect us to make ourselves a sacrifice to our unrepentant, unkind, unfaithful or abusive husbands. Our lives should be a sacrifice to Him and Him alone. He desires to to give us His compassion, and for others to extend it as well.
Remember, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)