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We are Image Bearers of Christ in Our Marriages and in Our Singlehood

Admin note: Kathi is taking a break from the normal Sunday post which she has graciously done for years now. Her work has kept her really busy and here at the blog, we roll with the flow. When the blog becomes work, we aren’t going to do it, and we aren’t going to feel guilty about it! Yay for healthy self-care! ~ja

So. . . last Sunday, I tweeted this:

A few nights ago, I was in a Zoom meeting with my small group from church, and I shared about the tweet and about the responses I received both publicly and privately. I had no clue it would be received so well. Divorce is such a nasty word for so many people in Christendom. It’s so negative. It says a marriage failed. For many people, it means both parties failed to live up to their end of the bargain in their vows, and quit too soon. That’s what I used to believe. It is what I was taught. And that might have contributed to why I stayed so long – because it wasn’t true for me. That D-word stigma. Yuck.

But the response to that tweet touched me. I took a screenshot of it and posted it in a private group for women who have or are currently in a destructive marriage. I wanted them to see that there are a lot of people who get it – – who would never want us to remain in a relationship where there is harm. I think it will be a while before most of the “church” gets it, but since I’ve been writing on abuse within the church, it seems the tide is slowly turning and if you look, you will find people who will accept, love, and respect people like me who have had to leave harmful marriages. That is encouraging to me.

So . . . you can be sure that I will continue to share my story, and I will attempt to speak unapologetically and unashamedly about my divorce, hoping that my story will help “just one” person make the move from living in harm, fear, and abuse, to being a thriving image bearer of Christ. I use the word attempt, yes, because I still have to talk down the negative divorce talk in my head from years and years of teaching that all divorce is wrong and evil.

As I shared about the response to the tweet with my small group, I also gave accolades to our pastors (they are not part of this small group) and shared how I had felt welcomed at the church as a single from the very first day I stepped foot there. The people in this church have never seen me with my ex and our children together as a family. They’ve only seen me by myself, or with my sons.

We’ve discussed how singles are often marginalized in churches here on the blog. I have felt none of that at my church. Early on after I started attending, I met with my pastors for coffee and told them about my impending divorce. I wrote about their response in a recent Facebook post:

How would they respond? Would they try to talk me out of it? I had no clue, but I needed to find out and risk, so I did. My pastors treated me with love and respect. They did not dig to find out if it was a “Biblical” divorce or not. I think they could tell that my decision was not made lightly or in haste. They asked how they could support me.

So, with that impending divorce news out of the way, I continued going to church and attended weekly small group meetings (pre-Covid, now we meet on Zoom) at someone’s home. One thing that struck me was that I was addressed as “Julie Anne,” and was respected as an image bearer of Christ. I was not treated as Julie Anne – the soon-to-be-divorced woman. I was not treated in any way inferior to anyone else, despite the fact that I was soon to be legally breaking my marriage vows. In other churches, we were looked up to with our (seemingly) intact family and many children in tow. Little did they know what was actually going on in our home. We were identified as that tall Smith family. But who were the individuals in the family? Did they count or matter? Now, looking back, I’m not so sure they did, sadly.

Another thing I noticed at my new church- – even husbands and wives were treated as individuals. Now, I get why people lump a couple together, and I suppose that can be good in some cases. But if that becomes the elevated norm, then we have inequality, with singles not measuring up to the image that married couples are somehow “better” than singles. The Bible speaks positively about singles – that singles can be single-minded in their ministry work without the responsibilities and time involved in a marital relationship. Yet, the church in general has often missed the boat on this, and left singles behind as excess baggage, and not up to par, etc.

In our small group Zoom meeting, I love that it was a married woman who acknowledged what I said about how our church treats people as individuals. She happens to be married, but her husband stays home. But she, too, picked up on this important piece: unless the church treats all individuals as image bearers of Christ, we will not be the Body of Christ as the church was intended to be.

So . . .

. . . to my single friends (whether by choice or not), if you are attending a church where you are not treated respectfully as an individual — and

. . . to my married friends, if, and your marriage is lauded over who you are individually in Christ, I submit to you that your church is not being the true church.

You, as an image bearer of Christ, are of incredible worth and value, and that is not dependent on your marital status. Period. I encourage you to be in a healthy place that acknowledges and lives out these truths.

14 thoughts on “We are Image Bearers of Christ in Our Marriages and in Our Singlehood”

  1. I am so glad you said that. I have 10 adult children who are still enmeshed with the not-yet-ex. This failure to see people as individuals is pernicious and is a common feature of home-educating families. I always struggled when writing letters as though from him and me – when I knew that it was ‘me’ writing it and we were not ‘of one mind’. The way my children treat me is as though I’m a component part in a structure – and having stepped out I have ruined the family. As though it was OK to treat that part as a nothing for so many years… And now it is OK to verbally abuse me for leaving – or, worse still, to totally ‘erase’ me from their minds…. I hope your message gets a wide hearing.
    The lie that the ‘head of the house’ was going to stand before the judgement seat helped women and children to feel less than 100%. The lie that a pastor has to have everyone signed up as a member because HE will stand before the judgement seat and give an account for all on the membership list (as Douglas Wilson said in his defense of Federal-vision talk) – makes all the members equally ‘less than’ the big man himself. Yet Scripture says we shall ALL stand before the judgement seat of Christ.

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  2. Yes, Tekel, you nailed it! What’s so sad is when our children learn this and perpetuate the harm as you have described. So, so sad! I hope that eventually they will see. I know my kids are sharing important clues that they are seeing things clearly. Give it some time and give yourself some grace. Are you part of my online FB group? If you’d like to join, please send me an email spiritualsb@gmail.com and I’ll tell you how you can join. Would love to support you!

    You just reminded me of something, whenever my ex would say something to our kids in a letter or online, he’d lump me in there with his words that I did not say. “We . . . blah blah.” He got to speak for me and remove my voice. That’s just gross.

    Thanks for your comment!

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  3. I’m not on Facebook – I get triggered when I think of all the dangerous people I know are there!

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  4. 14 yrs post divorce from a minister, I am so much healthier and thankful to be free. He had charisma and the abuse was not visible to most. But yesterday, I admitted to myself that I still carry a deep longing. (I would not be alive if I had stayed longer than our 34 yr marriage.)

    I long for my children to say, “ Mom, we are thankful you divorced”.
    I long for friends who were also parishioners, “I didn’t realize it at the time, but you are right to have divorced”.
    I long for my extended family to look me in the eyes and tell me they know I did the right thing.
    Silence can be so painful. Silence from a family steeped in fundamental Christianity. Silence from a sister with 2 ministers for sons, “God hates divorce”.
    Few ask, “what was going on in your home?”
    My siblings and my ministerial nephews have never asked, even tho at the start, I told my nieces and nephews that they can ask me anything about my relationship or divorce.
    It is a deep loneliness, a deep longing to be embraced in my divorcee status because I am the same person, as I was predivorce, only more alive and wiser.

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  5. As a recent widow, im surprised at how quickly people assume I’ll find a new man and get married. Even in Christian widow/widower groups it’s hard to have a conversation about staying single. The Bible verses supporting it are all explained away…..
    Perhaps its because Im relatively young (44).
    His death is relatively recent (4months) so there is no way I want to consider something new already. Its so strange how we talk about loving someone forever, but somehow supposed not take too long to get over it and “move on”.
    Im much more willing to consider a life devoted to God unhindered ( though my husband was an absolute blessing to me) than I am trying to consider finding a new man for fulfillment.

    I’ve been loved well. I found a love for a lifetime and had that desire filled. I really am ok (in this moment) if God calls me to singleness for the rest of my lifetime.

    But for some reason others aren’t ok with that for me..🤷

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  6. Btw i know widowhood is different than divorce. I hope I didn’t come off as insensitive to the pain you all have suffered in your marriages….
    I just relate (suddenly) to this idea that we’re somehow all supposed to and only be couples…..

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  7. That is so painful Celeste. I feel, too, that had I not left I would no longer be alive. I am tempted to ask some of my children ‘would you rather I had died?’. But God has thoughts and plans towards us – and He WILL give us the ‘desires of our hearts’. Oh to get to a ‘place’ where one can settle into the Truth that ‘our light and momentary afflictions are working for us a far more exceeding and eternal Wright if Glory’. God Bless you and show you His favour, today.

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  8. On the subject of image-bearers… I used to view people (as good ‘evangelicals’ do) as ‘sheep’ or ‘goats’. In my efforts to develop a coherent worldview I found, over the years, hundreds of insurmountable problems with that model. I scrapped it in favour of delighting in all humans as ‘image-bearers’. I believe in a God who has given to each person unique gifts and callings (even if they might be, right now, ‘dead’ to the truth of God. I want to treat individuals with respect and humanity because of that. This puts me at odds with many I know who ‘name the name of Christ’ – and are proud of it…

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  9. You’re fine, firstoftwelve…although I was speaking of singles as divorced, you as a widow deal with some of the same issues, too, and it’s good to hear your perspective. Thank you!

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  10. His death is relatively recent (4months)

    I can’t believe someone was already talking about remarriage that soon! It took me 6 months to go on a date after my last serious breakup…

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  11. Thank you FirstofTwelve. I am a widow too. 12 years. I have heard all the lines too. I have a good support system, and re-claimed 1 Corinthians 7; the verses that talk of the single life being more free to devote to God. Though I also realize there’s a temptation to get into a rut of selfishness. Still working on a balance.
    Yes, there are some who want me re-married yesterday. I am thankful that only a few people made comments in my first year of widowhood of “are you seeing anyone?” or “do you think you’ll be re-married one day?” Those who are more recent immigrants(I live in Canada) are more apt to push for it because singleness isn’t as acceptable in their cultures. Nor is childlessness, and we did not have children. I was 36 when he died, so some were hoping I could re-marry “before it’s too late”.
    I am open to re-marriage, and open to step-parenting, and recently pondered on, what grounds to consider with a divorced man? Reading here from divorcees has been helpful, and still learning more. But, yes, Julie Ann, the continuing reminder that, however God has placed me, both now and in the future, to be His image-bearer today. And should re-marriage come, to know how to continue to be that for me, and support a new husband in how to be that himself. Keep on sharing.

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  12. I remember the implied blame tossed at me from church members upon learning I was divorced…regardless of whether or not it was Biblical. It stings and silences.
    I also recall the stunningly different response from those outside the church who instantly extended empathy, compassion, understanding, and agreement.

    While I have read stories of women remarrying wonderful men after surviving (and healing from) abusive marriage – this is not my personal choice. I am quite content being single. While I probably need to develop a few more friendships (males included), I have no desire for an intimate relationship.

    In terms of starting over at a new church with their response to me as a divorced attendee – the response has been mixed. The first church tried (briefly) to see if there was anything to salvage or any hope of reconciliation (No). On the whole, they mostly had an open and accepting mind about my marital status, with limits. I stayed with them for three years.

    The next church I attended forced me into a women-only group that, I was told, was for “my kind” of women. When I asked the facilitator what she meant by that, she said it was for women who “don’t have a man to bring with them.” I found this incredibly short-sighted and didn’t stay at that church long after that.

    As you mentioned in your post – the church has a long way to go toward accepting singles of all types. Heaven forbid that I introduce myself as a single mother…then their wheels get spinning. However, the alternative introduction (as a divorced mother) is not much better!

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