Is there a time to let a person mourn? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
For this series of posts, I am going to look at things Christians say to other Christians going through divorce that is well-meaning, but wrong. I plan to say why it is wrong to say it and what can be said instead. Again, none of this is to doubt that people mean well when they say these things, but they do more harm than good.
I still remember it well. I was ringing up some customers at my store and well, going through a divorce, I wasn’t in the best of moods. It wasn’t anger. It was sadness. At the end, the customers said to me, “You should smile more. God loves you.”
I remember being hurt even more by that statement.
Why would that be?
Why you shouldn’t say this:
None of this is to deny the truth that God loves us and yes, a divorced person needs to remember that, but there is a time and a place to say that. I can grant these people didn’t know what I was going through, but in reality, that’s part of the problem. Had they known and said the same thing, it would actually be worse.
I follow a simple kind of rule for this. Let’s suppose we have a Christian married couple who have struggled for years to have a child and are not having any luck. Naturally, they are quite depressed by their bad luck. Would you say the same thing to them?
The intent is to no doubt remind someone of a truth that is good, but the problem is that it ignores why the person is sad in the first place. It ignores why they’re grieving and goes straight to the result. It’s treating the disease without dealing with the root.
I have said before that if your theology contradicts Jesus, it’s wrong. Go and look at Jesus praying in the garden and saying His soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Does anyone think for a moment that He doubted that God loved Him?
When a person is going through a divorce, they are grieving. It is a kind of death. Just saying “God loves you” doesn’t remove that pain. When I had my back surgery as a teenager, I could be told “God loves you” all day long, but I had to take medicine for physical pain. Why think it’s different with mental and emotional pain?
I don’t want to give false motives to people, but could we sometimes say this because we are uncomfortable by the pain of others and want to say something to alleviate our own discomfort? Could it also be we think a life of joy means being happy all the time? There is a time and place for a Christian to be sad.
What to say instead:
In this case, maybe nothing. We get on Job’s friends rightly for what they said to Job, but they did something right. At the start of his suffering when they visited him, they just say with him for a week and said nothing. Sometimes, someone just needs you to be there with them. They don’t want to hear platitudes meant to make them feel good. Those are often insulting.
They just want a friend.
One of the best gifts I have had is a friend who has had me over for a game night or gone to a movie. Why do I play Final Fantasy XIV with friends? That for a moment allows me to be someone who is not a divorced person so much as an adventurer traveling with friends. The fellowship is the gift.
This is not to say there is no time for words or solutions to problems or answers to questions, but let wisdom tell you when is and isn’t the time. Just saying God loves you comes off as saying that the reason for your pain doesn’t matter. Move past it. It would be nice if it was that simple, but it isn’t.
Not only that, you can get the Gideon response. When Gideon was told the Lord was with him as a mighty warrior, he asked then why Israel was being defeated by these armies? We know it was because of the sin of the nation, but Gideon did ask a real question. Someone going through suffering can say “I know God loves me, but why am I going through this?” The Christian in response answering this can too often try to divine the will of God, which will only lead to pain.
Ultimately, instead of just telling them about the love of God, one of the best things you can do is be the love of God. For me, it’s been the support of friends on Facebook, donors to the ministry, people around me wanting to do fun things with me, etc. I understand that for some of you on Facebook and other places, words can be about the most that can be given, but many of those words have been kind and uplifting and just expressing sorrow for me and doing what Paul said to do, mourn with those who mourn.
I can tell you on my end, something has died. It is in a way the past, present, and future. The past has died in that I have to look and say “What was true and what was a lie?” The present has died in that I deal with the divorce constantly throughout the day and wish my station in life was different. The future has died in that what I had hoped to be will not come to pass and I wonder if I will ever find love again.
None of this is permanent. I realize I do not live in a hopeless situation. Plenty of people recover from divorce and plenty remarry and find love again. I am just saying that this is the way the situation looks for the time being. Those of you who have come alongside of me have acknowledged that knowingly or unknowingly.
In essence, just knowing people are there can be enough. Divorce can hit you with an emptiness because someone who was part of you, someone you were one flesh with, is gone suddenly and it is forcefully and by intention. That makes it different from death, unless the death is suicide. Friends tell you that you are not entirely alone. They are different from family also in that friends are people who have no blood obligation to love.
So my friends, I know that God loves me, but right now, what I have been grateful to have is not theology in words, but theology in actions. Don’t just tell me and others going through divorce that God loves us. Be God’s love for us.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)