(This article will soon be posted at www.ladiesministries.org – HOPE section – to help people who are going through divorce or surviving divorce. I write for this site on a monthly basis. I also provide nationwide confidential God-based counseling by phone/Skype (636) 448-0121).
Can the church help in divorce recovery? The resounding answer is, “Yes!” But the church must learn how to be involved in a healthy way to encourage, support, and educate. (The church must also become educated in how to help prevent divorce – I cover that in my book on “God’s Design for Marriage” – available at www.carolclemans.org).
Every person in a divorced family is deeply emotionally wounded. Each person needs qualified counseling. The dynamics of the divorce family can vary. One parent can have full, partial, or equal custody of the children. Just this fact alone means that the children involved have to deal with living part time in two households.
Living in two households creates problems, because most divorced parents do not agree on each other’s lifestyle, especially if one parent has left the church and the other parent chooses to remain living for God. This can create great discord because the children become confused in all areas of their lives when they are ‘pulled’ back and forth between their parents. Many divorced spouses continue anger, control, and verbal abuse toward the other spouse and use the children as their ‘mouthpiece’ to tell the other parent what they think. This can be ongoing for years.
I counsel children of separation and divorce. They tell me they feel they cannot be totally honest with either parent because of the fear of being ridiculed, rejected, etc. The church must encourage the divorced parent to be open to listen to the feelings of their children without judgment. A feeling is a just a feeling. We should not be responding, “You shouldn’t feel that way.”
In healthy families, everyone at any age should be allowed to share their feelings respectfully. As a parent, we do not have to agree with our child’s feelings, but the unspoken message we are giving to our child when we listen to them is that they are loved with a deep unconditional love. This unconditional love will impact their entire life. God is our heavenly parent and He loves us unconditionally that is not based on our performance. The parent must teach this by example. The divorced parent must rise above their own personal hurt and listen to their child.
I have counseled adults who were the product of a divorced family and they still have deep emotional pain that lingers in their heart from their family’s divorce. Not many in the church know how to deal with this if they are not educated or have not had the same experience. This can cause a distorted Father God-concept in the heart of a child even in to their adult life. I have an article posted on my website: www.carolclemans.org – “The Causes for Distorted God-Concepts.”
The child of a divorce must have on-going emotional support from family or friends that are strong spiritually and can be a spiritual role model to them. Divorce creates feelings in the child of insecurity, anger, hatred, self-guilt, feeling responsible, taking the blame, being unloved, wanting to destroy self, etc. When a parent walks away, even if abuse was involved, the remaining child or children feel rejected. It’s a love/hate emotion. If a parent can desert a family, how can a child learn to trust God to be faithful whom they have not seen?
The custodial parent needs educated counseling in processing their emotions regarding the divorce. The same feelings can be in their heart – rejection, anger, distrust and feeling unloved. In this extreme pain, they are supposed to be the support to their children, yet they could be fighting depression and a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness. There are usually major financial issues. Maybe a major housing move must happen. All of this is traumatic for the victims of divorce.
Divorced spouses male/female tell me in counseling that they feel very lonely. Some people in church shy away from the divorced person for fear that person may try and attract their spouse. The divorced parent may feel very inadequate to face the issues of life. If it’s a stay-at-home mom who is now forced to go to the workforce, trying to learn how to pay the bills, or a career mom who must now be both the father and mother, or a dad who has no clue how to deal with his daughter’s emotional needs as she is growing; the same can be said for a son who does not have a father in the home. These issues create extreme stress for the custodial parent. A church that is ill equipped to help the divorced person may add further confusion and a rejection feeling to the divorced parent and children.
How can a church provide divorce care?
- Provide education for the church on how to be divorce care helpers.
- For every divorced family, train one or preferably two strong stable families to be a support system in child care, to be included in family type functions, offer help for household or car repairs, birthday and holiday celebrations, a healthy father to reach out to the divorced boy, a healthy mother to reach out to the divorced daughter.
- Ask the custodial parent what they specifically need. You don’t ‘get over’ divorce. You must learn to live with a divorce.
- The custodial parent needs help through qualified counseling in how to deal with their emotions so they can be strong for their emotionally wounded children.
- The Bible says God sets the solitary among families. Use this for the example of including divorced families in church functions for intact families. Don’t allow the divorced family to feel set apart.
- Even in altar calls at the end of the service for example – please do not say, “Husbands, bring your wife and children to the front for prayer.” Rather, considering the divorced families and other single people – say, “Every head of household bring your family to the altar to pray together as a church family.” All churches have singles, divorced, widows/ers – they all will feel excluded if we just address one segment of our church population.
- Remember, being divorced does not change who that person is or their value in the sight of God. The church must be a ‘healing hospital’ to the hurting. The divorced parent and children may feel rejected, but God has not rejected them.
- Go to the divorced families and ask them, “How can the church be supportive to you?” Get their individual input. You will receive differing responses.
Another emotional issue is grief from divorce. There is a major grief of broken dreams of a marriage and family and growing old together with the spouse you married and promised to love for life. This sorrow has to be processed for all involved. People have said to me in counseling, “I wonder how my life would be different now if my family had not gone through a divorce?” That’s a life long question. The divorced person/child must be helped in processing their painful emotions.
If you are reading this article and you are divorced, print this article out and share it with your pastor. Ask the pastor to read this article and set up an appointment to talk and discuss how this ministry could be implemented in your church. Share this with other divorced parents in the church.
Just because your spouse divorced you does not mean that God has divorced you. This is where the church family as a whole needs to be taught to be sensitive to others. God’s desire is for all the people in the body of Christ to recognize their value and worth comes from Him alone as their Creator and now He is their Savior. No matter what our relationship status is, we all are special treasures in God’s sight. God’s love is unconditional and it is not based on a position or our performance. We are all the children of God!
I suggest you to go www.christianbook.com and do research on books for divorce recovery/care. Preview the book and choose what speaks to your particular situation. There are also divorce recovery programs that churches can order and make it specific to suit the truth that we know.
© Carol Clemans – January 2014
Carol Cemans is a Certified Pastoral Counselor who provides confidential phone/Skype counseling nationwide – (636) 448-0121. Carol is an anointed teacher of the Word of God for spiritual, emotional and relational growth for churches and conferences. Go to: www.carolclemans.org – teaching products, marriage book, articles. Carol and husband (ordained minister) attend Parkway with Bishop Jerry Dillon in Madison, MS.