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!
As a biblical counselor, I consider it a great honor to serve and walk alongside individuals that are struggling to find their footing. It wasn’t long ago that I myself was striving. I had lost sight of the cross and was lured in by the enemy who planted doubt and confusion in my mind specifically related to events from my past. (Remind you of Genesis 3 by chance?) I had allowed Satan a foothold into my life and he cleverly twisted my thoughts and skewed my view on reality.
I eventually gave in to the enemy’s temptation and started running in the opposite direction from the Lord and from my husband. I had communicated to Tommy that I had forgiven him, however, I neglected to connect the dots between forgiveness, repentance and reconciliation. Instead of accepting his sincere apology and addressing our marital issues, I paved the road to divorce with bitterness in my heart and wrath on my lips. My words were damaging and were intended to bring about vengeance. Reminding Tommy of his past failures was motivated by my desire to elicit sympathy for myself and inflict pain on him. I felt completely justified in my actions because my heart had grown hardened towards him and I felt he deserved harsh punishment for the way he had treated me over the past 10 years.
As I reflect back, I’m so thankful Tommy was receiving sound biblical advice. Several godly men directed him to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit and disregard mine. He was not bound by my words because the soft whispers of the Spirit drowned out all the accusations I hurled at him. With time, I realized my words were no longer effecting Tommy or his stand for our marriage. I could have attempted to use other weapons in my arsenal, but thankfully God’s plan and pursuit of my heart came to fruition and the veil was lifted from my eyes. With clear vision, there was nothing left to do but turn to the Lord and address my past biblically.
But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:16-18
Did you hear that dear friends? Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is FREEDOM! Aren’t those sweet words that we need to hear and be reminded of time and time again? We are not hopeless victims that can never recover from our past. We have the power of the Holy Spirit working in us to set us free and break the chains. Behind our bondage and every bad habit or behavior is a lie. When we speak falsehoods to ourselves and play untrue thoughts frequently, we convince ourselves that they are true. Commit your mind to the Lord so the lies can be eradicated and the Spirit can do a powerful work in your life. Christ made a way for us to find freedom from our past, in Him and through Him by His death on the cross.
Everyone has an opinion these days, nowhere is this more evident than on social media. It doesn’t take long for a heated debate to flare up in the comments section. But, what good does it do to argue with strangers online? Often it is more about shaming or proving a point than it is about showing concern or understanding those with opposing views. The fact is that we won’t win people over by arguing with them.
This same lesson can be applied to our prodigal spouses. We can’t persuade them to see the folly of their ways by pointing out all of their “obvious” missteps. If our loved ones constantly hear us shaming them, they will withdraw and push us further away. Any progress on the path to restoration may be delayed simply because we have not learned to fully trust God during the standing process.
It isn’t our place to shame our prodigal for their bad behavior no matter how tempting it may be. Only the Holy Spirit can bring about conviction to the heart of our beloveds. This truth should be a blessing as it relieves us from this burden. That’s not to say as though we can’t do anything to influence or change our spouses’ direction. There are ways our words and actions can play a role in fostering conviction, but it must be done in obedience to God’s prompting and with great humility and love.
During our pause, Tommy realized early on that he couldn’t guilt me into repentance. (Furthermore, his efforts would have been counterproductive given my heart condition.) Instead, he used God’s Word as his guide and modeled his actions after the father in the parable of the the lost son (Luke 15:11-32). In this example in scripture, the father does not send his servants to track down the prodigal son. Nor does he question or lecture him; but rather, he patiently waits and eagerly watches for his son’s return. Although I know Tommy was frustrated by my selfish and rebellious behavior, it was the loving way he demonstrated grace and mercy that captured my attention. Our journey to reconciliation was arduous at times, but it was only accomplished through patience, humility, sacrifice and forgiveness.
May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you. Psalms 25:21
Dear friend, if you have found yourself in a place where you are constantly confronting your prodigal, remind yourself that shaming won’t bring about the transformational change you desire to see in your spouse. It can be difficult accepting the fact that all you can do is pray for your loved one and wait on God’s perfect timing, but if the Father has called you to stand for your marriage, those should be your priorities. We often resort to shaming when we neglect the truth that it is God alone that has the power to realign hearts and heal relationships.
For the Lord Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back? Isaiah 14:27
While the Lord has appointed rulers, judges and political administrations to govern over the affairs of men, there is a limit to their authority. Decrees, verdicts and judgments handed out by those in power carry with them an aura of finality and settledness. Indeed, when the words of a judge are spoken, the trajectory a person’s life path is forever altered. That is, unless a higher authority intervenes.
The more we read Scripture and better equipped we become to understand the power and sovereignty of the Father, the greater perspective we have on events that happen here on this earth and in our own lives. As a stander for my marriage, even when the divorce decree was handed down that “dissolved” my marriage, my conviction to live faithfully to the covenant bride the Lord joined me together with, remained steadfast and unwavering. It wasn’t a matter of not recognizing the authority of the judge who issued the decree. Rather, it was the knowledge of a “higher” authority that kept me on the straight and narrow and obedient to the vows and covenant that was made over ten years earlier. I give thanks to God for equipping me, through His grace, to press on and stay the course. It was not easy.
Recently, I had a phone conversation with a stander living in another part of the state. Prior to this specific talk, I had sensed a weariness and sadness in his spirit as the court date for his divorce drew near. By this time, there was literally nothing my friend could have done to delay the proceedings or to persuade his prodigal wife to abandon her plans. Despite this, my friend continued to pray and believe in faith that the Lord was working.
As the days continued, the weekend before the trial had arrived. My friend decided to go through his mail and catchup on matters that needed attention. Low and behold, in that stack of letters was a notification informing him the court date had to be moved due to an “emergency case” his wife’s attorney couldn’t avoid. As a result, he would not be divorced on the day the judge had declared. This dramatic change of events resulted in a marriage that remains intact and will so for the remainder of this year. Praise God! But what is so encouraging about this news was the fact that the judge had denied my friend’s request to delay the proceedings and was adamant the trial would occur on a specific date. In other words, “Your marriage will end on this date, and there is nothing you can do about it!” But God intervened! It didn’t matter this particular judge said the divorce would happen on a certain date. A more powerful judge decided it wouldn’t!
All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’ Daniel 4:35
While the above example is a great encouragement to standers and those praying for restoration, we must be careful to recognize that it is the power of God which thwarts the intentions of man and that we are held to account for our submission to authority while in this world. Consider the Old Testament story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace. They were sentenced to a horrific death by King Nebuchadnezzar, yet despite this, these faithful servants of the Lord did not resist what was coming. If their circumstances were to change, it could only be done as a result of God’s supreme power and divine intervention. And indeed it was. God protected and saved the three Hebrew men resulting in glory being brought to Himself. God willed his faithful followers be subject to the demands of the wicked Babylonian king and in so doing, accomplished his ultimate purposes.
Our takeaway from this story is the challenge to remain faithful to God, while at the same time staying obedient to human authorities. We cannot prevent our prodigals from pursuing the path that ultimately leads to destruction. We can put up roadblocks and resist things we know to be sinful. Legally speaking, I did everything in my power to delay our divorce and postpone the inevitable. I understood though, that even if the divorce went through, God still was in control and Amy’s heart could be changed. As that dreadful day came and went, it became crystal clear that it was going to be the power of God alone and His authority that would overrule and restore a marriage an earthly judge had dissolved. And that’s exactly what happened in God’s perfect timing.
Dear friends, this time of year is very challenging for standers. It’s especially hard to remain positive and cheerful in the face of a troubled marriage headed down the wrong path. But be encouraged! If this season is a reminder of anything, it is that God is a big believer in restoration and reconciliation. In fact, the gift of His Son is exactly that; the ultimate sacrifice which reconciled a sinful people to a holy God.
May the Lord bless and encourage you this Christmas season!
It was exactly two years ago that my and Tommy’s journey took a turn in the complete opposite direction in which it was headed. We were divorced, living in separate houses and sharing custody of our boys when a God-sized event woke me up to the reality of our situation. My mom, with whom I was very close, passed away unexpectedly. Just as unexpectedly, someone I viewed as an enemy became an unlikely hero. Losing a loved one can alter your perspective on life dramatically and God used my mom’s passing to show me what truly mattered in life: the value of love, commitment, and my covenant to God as well as to my husband.
For the first time since our separation, I wasn’t hostile towards Tommy, but rather I was accepting of his love. The walls around my heart began to crumble. It’s not that he was doing anything differently or loving me more than he had in the past, it was my perspective of his actions that had changed. I allowed him to take care of me and comfort me like no other human could. Only Tommy understood the hurt and pain the boys and I were enduring because he was there, bearing the burden with us. We all lost someone special in our lives that day, including my covenant husband.
I never saw the death of my beloved mother coming and I certainly hadn’t planned for what life would be like without her. But, God knew and had prepared my heart before it ever happened. He had also prepared Tommy’s heart by teaching him to patiently wait on the Lord. Tommy became a hero not because he possessed super powers or wore a cape, but because he had continually been obedient and listened to God’s prompting. He stood in the gap for nearly two years prior to this event waiting and looking to Heaven for the appointed time God had set aside for him. When that time came, Tommy stood up and stepped in to love me in a mighty way.
I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one.
I’m so thankful when God looked for someone to stand in the gap for me, He saw Tommy. He interceded on my behalf and held me up so the enemy could not gain an advantage over me. Even in the difficult times, Tommy loved enough for both of us and believed God would work a miracle in our broken marriage. God used an unexpected event in my life to capture my attention and to lead me to repentance. He also used the death of my mother to restore me to Himself as well as restore me to the love of my life.
Dear friend, if you are standing in the gap for your loved one, I want to encourage you to continue your stand. You may be the only one fighting on your loved one’s behalf. Perhaps your God-sized event is just around the corner.
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?