In 2008, while in his 40’s, Ian Usher got divorced. Like millions of others before him, he searched for ways to cope with the divorce. Wanting a fresh start, Usher developed a plan that would lead him to places he had never thought of: He sold everything he owned on eBay.
In one week, Usher sold everything except for one set of clothes, a wallet, and his passport. In the run-up to the auction, however, a new plan began to emerge. He set a goal of 100 challenges to accomplish in 100 weeks.
Today, Usher’s two-year journey is over. He managed to complete 93 of the 100 challenges (such as sky diving, climbing the Eiffel Tower, and seeing Mount Everest), has written a book about the adventure, and is under contract to Walt Disney Pictures for a possible movie.
Usher’s method of coping with divorce is unusual; however, the trauma he experienced in his divorce is not. “Getting through” or “dealing with” the aftermath of a divorce is often a long, complicated process. Author and licensed social worker Susan Pease Gadoua, writing a blog for Psychology Today magazine, notes that recovery from a divorce depends on many factors, including “how long you were together, how good the relationship was and how committed you were to your spouse, whether the divorce was a surprise, [and] whether you have children.”
Divorce Rates and the Economy
In the United States, although the accepted statistic is that approximately 50 percent of marriages end in divorce, accurate divorce numbers are hard to come by. According to Divorce.com, “the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics has not collected any divorce data since 1996. Since then, most divorce statistics have been based on different data collection systems like surveys, and those methods can vary widely from state to state.”
A new survey by the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia reported that the current economic recession “has both stressed and strengthened American marriages.” While around 29 percent of couples reported that the recession has deepened their commitment to marriage, 38 percent of couples who had been contemplating divorce decided to postpone it or put it aside.
Christians and Divorce
Christians are certainly not immune from divorce. Donald Hughes, author of The Divorce Reality, says, “In the churches, people have a superstitious view that Christianity will keep them from divorce, but they are subject to the same problems as everyone else, and they include a lack of relationship skills. . . . Just being born again is not a rabbit’s foot.”
According to a 2008 Barna survey and report, mainline Protestants have a divorce rate of 25 percent; non-denominational Christians, 34 percent; Baptists, 29 percent; Mormons, 24 percent; and Catholics and Lutherans, 21 percent each. George Barna, president of the Barna Research Group, commented on the survey, saying, “When [born-again Christians] experience a divorce many of them feel their community of faith provides rejection rather than support and healing. But the research also raises questions regarding the effectiveness of how churches minister to families. The ultimate responsibility for a marriage belongs to the husband and wife, but the high incidence of divorce within the Christian community challenges the idea that churches provide truly practical and life-changing support for marriages.”
However, David Popenoe, co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, questioned the Barna report. He believes that Christians follow biblical models of the family, making a bond that “the secular world doesn’t have. . . . It just stands to reason that the bond of religion is protective of marriage, and I believe it is.”
Clergy are not immune from divorce either. I, myself, am a clergy person who has been divorced. My first marriage ended after 16 years, when it became clear that my relationship with my wife could not be saved. Facing the thought of divorce, I was distraught. I did everything I could to keep the marriage alive and only considered divorce as a last resort. I sought out the advice and counsel of a trusted clergy friend, mainly because I was torn by the idea of disobeying my wedding vows. When, in the course of a conversation, my friend said, “What vow troubles you the most?” I replied, “I promised ‘til death do us part.’ ” He replied, “What happens when the relationship dies?” Only then was I able to come to grips with the reality of what I needed to do.
Divorce Recovery and the Church
Susan Pease Gadoua has good news for people going through divorce: There are ways to make the process easier. Among them, she writes, are asking for help and letting help in; talking about grief with others; getting as much information as possible; and allowing feelings to come to the surface. “With any loss of a marriage comes grief,” she writes. To get through it, she advises that people be gentle with themselves, allow all the emotions surrounding the divorce to be felt, get adequate support, and keep a journal to track progress.
Many programs and ministries exist to help people recover from divorce. At Lovers Lane United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas, a recovery group has been meeting there for the past 29 years. Called Starting Over, the weekly meeting is designed to encourage participants to experience emotional personal growth; learn the grief process and how to deal with loneliness, anger, and depression; and begin to move on to experience new relationships. “I think it’s a great program that will allow me to get through my difficult time,” writes Felicia on the group’s website. “I will definitely recommend it to others.”
Many churches offer divorce recovery classes to help persons cope with the “rollercoaster feelings” associated with divorce. The aim is to bring inner healing and wholeness. The classes cover such issues as forgiveness, dealing with an ex-spouse and children, dating, biblical perspectives on divorce and remarriage, and building healthy relationships. Others offer in-depth divorce recovery workshops with trained facilitators, the workshops include sessions on finances and legal matters that also address such issues as denial, rejection, grief, self-worth, and hope. Most important is that these groups offer a caring, non-judgmental environment for those going through the pain of divorce.
Healing Through Faith
In April 1999, Lila Fraizer wrote an article about how divorce recovery should be. Her husband had announced to her on their 25th wedding anniversary that he wanted a divorce. At age 50, she started life over again. Fraizer began attending a nearby church. After worship, she set up an appointment with the pastor for counseling. “After meeting with her, I left that office feeling a load had been lifted from my shoulders,” she said.
Fraizer continued to attend the church because she felt the congregation cared. “I was always accepted, never ostracized. They showed me God’s unconditional love.” Fraizer further notes, “Divorce happens. Was it God’s will that I be divorced? I doubt it. But I do believe that God has helped me develop emotionally and spiritually, which may not have happened had I stayed in an unhappy marriage. And my church, in reaching out to me, has helped me find healing through faith.”
This article is part of FaithLink, a weekly downloadable discussion guide for classes and small groups. FaithLink motivates Christians to consider their personal views on important contemporary issues, and it also encourages them to act on their beliefs. The complete study guide accompanying this article can be purchased here.