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.