Divorce and the Church

Divorce and the Church

I was 28 when I filed for divorce.  It was such a surreal experience.  We notarized some papers, filed them with an office, and a few months later spent five minutes in front of a judge. 

“Raise your right hand and solemnly swear that your marriage is irreparably broken.”  

Those weren’t really his words, but that was the understanding.   And, just like that, years and years of love, trust, anger, beauty, pain, and relationship ended. 

It was heartbreaking.  At times, I was reduced to a deep, animal-like weeping and gnashing of teeth; and, at other times, severing the relationship felt like the first step toward genuine authenticity and wholeness either of us had taken in years.  

It was all very complicated and confusing.  For example, a couple of months before we filled the divorce papers, we renewed our wedding vows.  It was our last ditch effort to go “all in” on this relationship we had tried to make work for so long.  This broken puzzle of a marriage whose pieces - our pieces - weren’t fitting together anymore because, through the pain of letting go, we were becoming something new and beautiful and whole. 

We just didn’t know it yet.

Shortly after renewing our vows, we knew the end was near.  We had a few bizarrely peaceful conversations and then we held on for dear life as we began to acknowledge the long goodbye that had already been happening for so many years prior.  We talked and cried; cried and talked; and, one morning, we took off our wedding rings, stepped tentatively onto the soft, resurrection ground of new life, and I took the deepest breath I had taken in a very long time.

Here’s what my divorce taught me: the death of a marriage can sometimes be the beginning of new life and yet church people - people of the resurrection - suck when it comes to talking about it.  Divorce is still the whispered about, dirty little secret that no one really knows how to acknowledge.  For years I’ve lived under a shroud of shame, unsure of whether I should speak about it out loud or not!

Well, church: I’m coming out of the divorce closet! 

I’m pulling back the shroud of shame and, hand-in-hand with Jesus, I’m stepping into the holiness of light.  

I’ve been divorced and re-married and, as sure as I'm standing here, I am no less faithful, no less of a disciple, no less of a Christian than I was 11 years ago when I said “I do” to the person I loved.

Jesus died and rose again that we might have new life and have it more abundantly.  Jesus did not die that we might stay in relationships where our souls are dying and neither person can live fully into the human being that God created us to be.

Now that I'm both divorced and a minister, I feel uniquely qualified to say this to church folks and to all my clergy colleagues: 1) start talking about and preaching on divorce, and 2) offer folks going through separation and divorce some kind of holy ritual, a "Liturgy of Divorce" perhaps, that we can do together to help lessen the hurt and shame.

Here's some language you might consider:

Dearly beloved, we gathered her today, in the presence of a loving God, to witness and to bless the separation of this couple.  The courts have acknowledged their divorce and we, this day, gather together to support them as they give their blessing to one another as each seeks a new life. 

In creation, God made the cycle of life to be birth, life, and death; and God has given us the hope of new life through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Savior. The Church recognizes that relationships follow this pattern. While the couple have promised in good faith to love until parted by death, in some marriages love comes to an end sooner.  

God calls us to right relationships based on love, compassion, mutuality, and justice. Whenever any of these elements is absent from a marital relationship, then that partnership no longer reflects the intentionality of God. 

The Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that we are forgiven our sins and our failures, we are raised from the dead and restored to a new life. The death of love, like the death of the grave, has no power to rob us of the life that is intended for the people of God. 

Thus we gather this day to support and bless N. and N. as they confess their brokenness, forgive each other for their transgressions, receive God’s blessing, celebrate the new growth that has occurred in each of them, and make commitments for a new life. 

Church folks, you are invited to take it from here!  Write your own "Declaration of Intent," ask for forgiveness, undo the vows, sing "Amazing Grace" at the top of your lungs, share a loaf of bread and a cup of wine - do whatever it takes to pull life out of death and, all the while, may God be praised and glorified throughout your days!

Peace and love,

Rev. Heidi Carrington Heath