In today’s podcast, we walk you through the stander and the prodigal’s point of view when divorce becomes a reality and speak about what it’s like to get served divorce papers. Check out Ep. 2 from Purposed Marriage!
Tommy and I are excited to introduce a new feature to you all that we are calling Conversations. Over the past year, we found ourselves discussing everyday life as well as ministry opportunities while sitting on our front porch sipping coffee. These personal conversations led us to the decision to record our discussions in order to give you a deeper understanding of topics from both the “stander” as well as the “prodigal’s” point of view. We also believe these talks will bring the authenticity we desire for Purposed Marriage since they are unscripted and won’t be edited or need to be rewritten like some of our blog posts. We hope you are encouraged by this new media outlet and we look forward to producing more in the near future. You can find us on iTunes, TuneIn Radio, or directly through Soundcloud.
I’ve recently had conversations on a subject I wish I never had to address. Domestic violence makes my heart cringe because of the profound pain and severe damage it ensues. It’s terribly heartbreaking and difficult to discuss, but it can also be challenging because of the fear, stigma and misinformation that surrounds it.
There tends to be a prevailing notion that this is a male issue. However, domestic violence does not discriminate and is carried out by both males and females and plagues many families today. Studies have shown that in our home state of Tennessee, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some form of physical violence by their partner.1 These numbers are alarming and even more so when we consider the numerous cases that go unreported every year. Although many of us may shy away from this sensitive subject, we need to address it with great care from a biblical perspective.
Perhaps part of the problem is an unawareness and a confusion of how to handle this issue. When engaged in discussion regarding domestic violence, I often hear the same two disconcerting narratives. One is the belief the abused must remain in the home, pray harder and trust God will take care of them. The other is to never return home because the abuser will always be an abuser.
Sending someone into harm’s way and advising them to “pray harder and trust God to take care them” is reckless and unwise counsel. Although there is an element of truth, we need to trust the sovereign care of the Lord, it ignores other biblical commands such as Psalms 82:4 and Proverbs 24:11. “Rescue the weak and needy, deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” “Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.” As Christians, we have a responsibility to rescue our brothers and sisters especially when they are vulnerable and weary in spirit.
While we should be diligent in not placing someone in an unsafe situation, we should also be interested in their pursuit of reconciliation in their relationship (2 Cor. 13:11). Scripture proves time and time again the Holy Spirit is fully capable of changing hearts and lives no matter how detestable the sins of someone’s past. There is ample evidence in the life of Saul who later became the Apostle Paul. God also changed the hearts of Moses, Rahab, and Zacchaeus as well as a multitude of others. We should never limit the transforming power of the Holy Spirit by believing some people are incapable of change.
If there are indicators of godly sorrow: earnestness, vindication, indignation, fear, longing, zeal, avenging of wrong, innocence in the matter (2 Cor. 7:11), that’s a good sign to carefully move towards restoration. A heartfelt conviction and a deep sadness as a result of the sins that were committed demonstrates a repentant heart.
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.
2 Corinthians 7:10
On the other hand, if someone has been violent and remains unrepentant, we need to recognize this as a serious problem. When a violator shows no remorse, often times there needs to be a season of separation. This will allow the abuser to work on restoring their relationship with God as well as establish trust with the person they abused. At any time, if there is a sense of danger, or we become aware of someone in danger, we need to involve law enforcement. When violence occurs, not only is it a sin against God and the abused, it is also a crime against the state and needs to be dealt with by the proper authorities.
Dear friend, if you are suffering the painful effects of domestic violence or know someone who is, please do not be afraid to speak up and ask for help. Abuse is abhorrent in the eyes of God because it opposes the very nature of His character. His plan for relationships, particularly those among family, is meant to be a beautiful depiction of God’s love for us. Our desire should mimic the Lord’s desire which is for those involved in domestic abuse to seek healing and full restoration by both the abuser and the abused.
1. National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “Domestic Violence in Tennessee.” NCADV.org. https://www.speakcdn.com/assets/2497/tennessee.pdf (accessed August 24, 2018).
Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 1 Peter 3:9
Roughly one and a half years into my marriage stand, the Lord was still calling me to reach out with kindness and love to Amy. I had grown used to not seeing any positive signs of restoration resulting from my obedience, but understood reciprocal gestures should never be expected when acting from an authentic and loving spirit. Getting to the point where there was an acceptance of this was a journey in and of itself. Many painful roads had to be travelled and there was no assurance of our situation getting any easier.
In my conversations with Amy now, we often reflect back on the days when we both lived in darkness and dwelled in the “valley”. The dialog has been both meaningful and enlightening as it has afforded me keen insights into the mind and thinking of a prodigal determined to follow the path of destruction. In those days, I would seriously wonder whether anything I was saying or doing was having an impact on Amy. I would write questions down in my journal and frequently brought them before the Lord when engaged in prayer. While the answers I was seeking continually alluded me, there was a clear directive that wasn’t. This admonition called for continued obedience and perseverance regardless of how emotionally painful my efforts would become.
One such occasion stands out. I recall it now because since then, Amy has shared how impactful it was, although at the time it didn’t seem that way to me. Our first born son Micah was getting ready to turn 8 and Amy had planned a birthday for him at a local restaurant. She had invited her parents and a couple friends. I became aware of the upcoming event and learned where and when it would be. I explained how I wanted to be there but because of my job schedule at the time, it would have been impossible to attend. I found out later it was intentionally planned that way so Amy could make it appear as though I was welcome to come, even though I wasn’t. This gave the illusion of good intentions but the reality was the complete opposite.
As the days drew near, I grew increasingly upset that I wouldn’t be able to partake in the celebration. It was very discouraging because there seemed little I could do. Amy and I had been divorced and I had no legal right to be with my family on this day as far as the courts were concerned. When I took this dilemma to the Lord, I received a very clear impression to do something sacrificial. I was to pay for the celebration and not concern myself over not being present. I remember the urging being plain as day. This is was I was to do, and no questions asked. So I did. Yes, it hurt and it seemed very unfair from my perspective, but what I didn’t realize at the time was that this act was essentially a seed that would one day bare fruit.
In our conversations since then, Amy has shared how she and her parents were really taken back by this act of humility. It served to further reinforce my genuine commitment to servant leadership and sacrifice. Amy understood that it was only a heart that had been changed by the Lord that would voluntarily offer to do what had been done without the expectation of anything in return. I give the credit all to Christ for empowering and strengthening me to complete that specific task. It wasn’t easy at the time, but it was a lesson in obedience, with an end result that aided in the restoration process.
You may be in a situation that seems hopeless. You may find yourself in the same predicament I did years ago; helpless and powerless to affect any positive change in your relationship with your spouse. If so, I want to encourage you to find ways to demonstrate sacrificial love even if it’s difficult. Christ extended unconditional love to us while we were dead in sins. Even while we were rebelling and running away from His will, there He was extending grace and mercy to undeserving sinners. Your prodigal spouse, no matter how wrong their actions have been and perhaps continue to be, needs the same Christ-like love demonstrated for the sake of their eternal destiny. May the Lord equip and sustain you as you follow this path of obedience.
When defending my decision to divorce, one of the phrases I used often was, “The Bible is full of areas of grey.” It’s also a phrase I’ve heard others use since starting our marriage ministry. For me, it was a tactic to divert the attention away from myself and onto Tommy. I ascribed greyness in my pursuit of divorce, at the same time condemning Tommy for his past failures and defining them as black and white.
It was also a convenient way to shut down the conversation before it ever began, so I wouldn’t have to face the fact that I hadn’t done everything possible to make my marriage work. During our pause, I refused to attend Biblical couples counseling, neglected to talk with any pastors or church staff members, nor was I willing to allow God to help me forgive Tommy, although he was desperately seeking my forgiveness. I’ve found the majority of people that bring up areas of grey are those looking for loopholes in Scripture. Those wanting to justify their sin or provide a less guilty conscience for themselves tout the Bible as being foggy.
Reality was Tommy had been humbly broken before the Lord, submitting to the Holy Spirit and changed from the inside out. Although I saw clear evidence of God leading his life in the direction of holiness, I felt it was my right to condemn his sinful actions from the past. But, I had forgotten Romans 8:1: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus.” Instead of trying to guilt and shame my husband for his past behavior, I should have been seeking God and asking for His help to bring about reconciliation in my marriage.
Although I claimed to have forgiven Tommy, it was clear I had not by continually condemning him and bringing up his past transgressions . Forgiveness in my eyes meant saying a string of words (I forgive you), then proceeding with divorce. It looked like having a stranger knock on his apartment door unexpectedly to hand him a manila envelope followed by one simple phrase, “you have been served.” It was my push for divorce that left Tommy desperately heartbroken and confused at his front door that day trying to figure out how he could walk back inside and pretend like everything was okay in front of our boys.
Is that what forgiveness looks like to you? Is that the representation of Christ’s forgiveness in Scripture? True forgiveness was Jesus taking the sin of the world upon His shoulders, being beaten, bloody and bruised while hanging on the cross with a spear-pierced side and nail-pierced hands and feet. Forgiveness was Jesus crying out to the father in Heaven, “forgive them for they know not what they do,” as the soldiers cast lots to divide His garments at the foot of the cross. Forgiveness was Christ looking over to the thief hanging beside Him just before He took his last breath, assuring him, “today you shall be with me in paradise.” It’s about giving a second, a third and a fourth chance. It’s not seven times, but seventy times seven repeatedly forgiving the sinner that has sincerely asked for forgiveness.
How could I reconcile a decision that honors God when He makes it very clear that he hates divorce? I couldn’t because the Bible is in fact very black and white. It is true, the Bible doesn’t address every specific issue we may face in life. However, it does provide principles we should live our lives by to govern our thoughts and actions. When we examine our choices through the prism of God’s Word, we’ll find zero shades of grey.
There are a number of questions we can ask ourselves that will help bring clarity to our decision making. Will this help me grow spiritually? Is this harmful to me or to others? Will this decision cause my brothers or sisters to stumble? Of all the questions, I think the most important to ask is, will this decision bring glory and honor to God. We were created uniquely in the likeness of God to bring glory to Himself.
Therefore, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
1 Corinthians 10:31
Are you pleasing God and striving for holiness or are you lost in areas of grey, excusing your behavior and rebelling against our Heavenly Father?
After Tommy and I separated, I was desperately in need of guidance so I reached out to a Christian counselor. At the time, I was not aware there was a difference between Christian and Biblical Counselors. I met with both during our separation and upon the introduction to my Biblical counselor, I disparaged his credentials. I thought all counselors required a degree in psychology to fully understand a counselee and help lead them to healing. To my surprise, the Biblical counselor did not have a degree in psychology, sociology, or any other field pertaining to relational behavior, so my Biblical counseling was short-lived after having completed only one session. I felt my time seeing a Christian counselor, who had the educational status and psychology degrees set by society and myself as the acceptable standard, would be more beneficial.
I failed to realize when I was seeking counsel, that services labeled Christian didn’t necessarily mean Biblical. Unlike Biblical counselors, Christian counselors do not believe the Bible is a sufficient tool for counseling but must include secular disciplines – psychology, sociology, anthropology, biology – in conjunction with the Bible in order to be effective. While God was referenced from time to time during my Christian counseling sessions, the advice I received was not grounded in the principles of God’s Word. It was rooted in self-help application based on psychology, placing the focus on oneself. Contrarily, Biblical counseling admonishes the need for self-love and directs counselees to die to self in order to allow Christ to change hearts and minds from the inside out. This would have been greatly beneficial since I was focused on my own needs, which included the desire to divorce my husband.
I was desperately searching for wise counsel, but unfortunately I was seeking guidance from methods that offered no solutions. The problem with a secular approach is the advice or practices change in line with human perspectives and emotions. Psychology at its very core is the study of the brain and the mental process – things like perceptions, thoughts, feelings and beliefs. While Biblical counselors believe secular disciplines such as psychology, sociology and the like can make observations that are insightful, and can be helpful in a variety of secondary ways, they believe the Bible to be given the highest priority in matters of faith and life (2 Timothy 3:15-17).
Biblical counseling wouldn’t prescribe solutions that are contradictory to God’s Word. Advice isn’t based on a feeling, but rather on gospel instruction and the charge for obedience. We are all capable of behavioral changes, but if we don’t get to the root of the problem, the heart, we will revert back to our instinctive sinful nature. By following Biblical principles, and renewing our hearts and minds to that of Christ, we can obtain real change. Nothing is more powerful or helps us to be better equipped when addressing life’s greatest problems.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12
Now that I am in the process of becoming a Biblical counselor and I see the requirements and dedication involved with becoming certified, I have a renewed respect for the counselor I once dismissed as unqualified. It takes a great deal of Bible knowledge and education in theology to obtain your certification, which is no small feat to scoff at. If you are in need of counseling, I highly recommend the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. Please take time to search for counselors in your area. If you are a Knoxville local, you may find my name on the list, Lord willing, by the end of the year once I complete my certification.
For more information on Biblical Counseling, please visit the ACBC website.