Tag Archives: Divorce

The Mess of Relationships

Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches.
1 Corinthians 7:17 (NIV)

My friend Matthew is a marriage and family therapist here in our small Iowa town. This is a great little community founded in 1847 by a Dutch pastor and his devout group of Jesus’ followers. After 170 years our community retains a strong culture of Christian values, and I would daresay that a majority of our town’s citizens would claim to be believers. Nevertheless, I’ve noticed over the years that my friend Matthew never ceases to be booked solid with clients. My quiet observation is that even among those who sincerely seek to follow Jesus, relationships are a never-ending challenge.

Today’s chapter reads like a modified bullet list from Dear Abby as Paul advises those who are married, those who are single wishing to be married, those who are widowed, those who are separated from their spouses, and those who are married to unbelievers. He weaves in and out of stating what he knows from Jewish laws and tradition, and what he believes in his own opinion as the first century believers struggle to determine what it means to live as a follower of Jesus in a rapidly developing faith tradition. Based on what he has already established earlier in his letter, Paul is addressing a fledgling group of Jesus’ followers from diverse cultural traditions living in what is primarily a pagan Greek town in the first century Roman Empire. Most of what the Corinthian believers knew of Jesus’ words and teaching was transmitted orally by the Apostles. It is likely that none of the Gospels had even been written when Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthians.

I’m an amateur student of history, I’ve come to accept that every generation of believers in every culture have struggled with all of these relational and marital issues. Courtship, sex before marriage, marriage, sex within marriage, infidelity, separation, divorce, widowhood, sex outside of marriage and remarriage have always been challenging issues. They have always spurred intense debate and emotional turmoil for individuals, families, churches, communities, and nations. I believe they always will this side of eternity.

As I read through today’s chapter and couldn’t help thinking of real people I know in very real and very unique life situations. It spurs questions of “Yeah, but what about….” God’s Message through Paul provides a general  guide for believers, but it certainly isn’t  exhaustive and it doesn’t come close to addressing countless specific situations. Being a divorced and remarried follower of Jesus, I have grappled with my very own relational struggles and failures. I have received (both solicited and unsolicited) diverse opinions from other sincere believers ranging from grace and forgiveness to judgment and condemnation. [sigh] Life gets messy on this earthly journey.

This morning I find myself grappling with my own past. I have continuously journeyed through and studied the Bible for almost 40 years. I have sought to increasingly live as a sincere believer of Jesus, though I regularly fall short. The failure of my first marriage and all the personal shortcomings that led to it are right up there at the top of my failure list.  Yet, there are a few things Holy Spirit continually whispers to my soul when my shame rolls in like the tide:

  • First, nowhere in God’s Message does the failure of a marriage exclude a person from God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness.
  • Second, God has a long track record of redeeming and using broken people with personal failings for His good purposes.

The good news for my friend Matthew and his colleagues is that they will have job security as long as imperfect human beings date, get married, and seek to successfully live together in this fallen world.

Kingdom Economics 101: Paying it Forward

All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (MSG)

I’ve always loved the movie Pay it Forward. It’s a bittersweet story, but the reality of life is bittersweet. Along our life journeys we all slog through deep valleys and we all have our mountain top moments. The story of Pay it Forward is predicated on the notion of people simply going out of their way to perform a random act of kindness for others, asking only that the recipient of their kindness “Pay it forward.” The whole idea is beautifully void of organization, legalism, regulation, or institutional systemization. It is organic and relational and personal and spiritual.

One of the deepest valleys of my own life journey was the period of time that I was going through the end of my first marriage and subsequent divorce. I’ll never forget meeting with a wise counselor, who also has a prophetic gift. I remember meeting with him expecting condemnation and judgment, as I’d experienced a generous dose of both during that time. This wise counselor, however, extended grace and kindness I didn’t expect.

He acknowledged the difficulty of the situation and then said, “Some day, you are going to walk along the side of another who will find themselves walking this same path. You will help them, and give them comfort.” In other words, “You will take what wisdom and comfort you experienced while traversing this valley, and you will pay it forward.”

I have been able to pay it forward more than once. In the Kingdom of God, paying it forward is Kingdom Economics 101. It’s how God operates and it underlies all of Jesus’ teaching. He gave to me so that I might give to others. He laid down for me so that I might lay down my life for others. He comforts us so that we might pay it forward.

That’s exactly what Paul is getting at with the followers of Jesus in the ancient city of Corinth in this morning’s chapter:

He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.

This morning I’m thinking simply about how I might pay it forward today. I realized long ago, but need continuous reminders, that being focused on myself and my momentary difficulties blinds me to the many opportunities I have to show random acts of kindness, generosity, and forgiveness each day. I have to stop looking inward (at my I-phone, I-pad, I-mac, and I-everything) and looking around at others if I truly and consistently want to pay it forward.

The Messiness of Family

The Josephites—Manasseh and Ephraim—received their inheritance.
Joshua 16:4 (NRSV)

Family is messy.

We all have ideals of a nuclear family that remains in-tact and everyone gets along in peace and loving-harmony through the generations. The reality is that few of us are blessed to experience anything near idyllic. It is true that our society today has experienced more and more fracturing and blending of families. I have a divorce decree in the file cabinet next to my desk as a testament to that reality. That does not, however, mean that family was less messy in an age when social, religious and cultural constraint held families locked together in tenuous unions.

As I have dug into my family history I have discovered that the messiness that results from our human flaws and frailties is universal through the generations. Underneath the stoic glares in the black and white photographs of our forebears, our family histories are rife with illegitimate children, children born out-of-wedlock, couples who hurt one another body and soul, parents who marred their children emotionally and spiritually, and a host of other injuries we flawed human beings foist upon one another out of a diverse host of motivations. It used to be that these things were buried, covered over, ignored, and only hinted at in whispered conversations. Most of them are forgotten and lost with history. It doesn’t change the fact that family is messy.

Under the stoic, ancient legal text of today’s chapter we find a reminder of the messiness of family. The 12 tribes of Israel were sons born from four different mothers. Two of the mothers were sisters, and the other two mothers were their handmaidens. Talk about messy, blended family.  The ten elder sons of Jacob (a.k.a. Israel) hated their young half-brother, Joseph.  They were jealous of their father’s love and favoritism (Favoritism? More messiness!) for the baby of the family. So they threw him in the bottom of a well, sold him into slavery and then told their father that he was dead. Joseph ends up in Egypt where he rises from slavery into power and is used by God, many years later, to save his birth family from famine (and inspire a Broadway musical that would resurrect Donny Osmond’s career). Jacob adopts Joseph’s sons Manasseh and Ephraim, as his own. They are grafted into the family and given Joseph’s portion of the family inheritance.

Today’s chapter is the fulfillment of Joseph’s sons receiving their share of the family inheritance. Under the legal property description of todays chapter is a family history of deceit, polygamy, jealousy, sibling rivalry, favoritism, violence, and disregard for human life. It is also, however, a story that is ultimately about divine providence, purpose, reconciliation, forgiveness, and redemption.

Today I am reminded of the messiness of family and the misery we so often inflict on those to whom we are closest on this earth. I am equally reminded that God is a master story-teller who seeks to weave the broken threads of family together with His themes of purpose, reconciliation, forgiveness, and hope. For those willing to seek Him, there is redemption to be found in the messiest of families.

Choices and Ripple Effects

The Benjamites, however, did not drive out the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the Benjamites.
Judges 1:21 (NRSV)

Going through a divorce was not a pleasant experience. I continue to learn a number of deep life lessons, both tragic and redemptive, through the process. I have observed that divorce often gets considered and treated as an event and a label. I was divorced in 2005. I am divorced. Yet, the event is a climactic moment in a long story, and the label is merely an adjective which reveals nothing of the context.

Though I now look back on the divorce event from a waypoint further along life’s journey, I continue to observe the ripple effects of  that event in my life and the lives of my children. That’s life. Divorce is an easy example, but I have learned along life’s journey that we all make life choices which will produce generational ripple effects and consequences, both tragic and redemptive.

Tucked in today’s chapter is such an event. The tribe of Benjamin conquered the city of Jerusalem during the conquest of Canaan, and rather than driving out the Jebusite inhabitants they chose to co-habitate the city. That decision would have ripple effects throughout history which we continue to feel today.

Fast forward a couple hundred years or so and you find David making the city of Jerusalem the capital of Israel. David, who had spent years in the wilderness leading a band of multi-cultural renegades (including Jebusites), found in Jerusalem a politically and culturally diverse population stuck between the northern and southern factions of Israel. He had been uniquely prepared to lead and succeed from that position. Jerusalem, to this day, remains a global hotspot of racial, political and religious diversity.

Today I am thinking about ripple effects of life choices. We live in a fallen world in which seemingly innocuous choices made, even with the best of intentions, can lead to tragic events. I have also, however, found God to be the master of redemption, creating life-giving results from deathly circumstance. I cannot control the ripple effect of my choices, only the choices themselves. This day, and each day of my journey, my job is to continue to pursue peace, joy, and love – and to choose life.

chapter a day banner 2015Featured image by enjoiarts

Favoritism

If a man has two wives, and he loves one but not the other, and both bear him sons but the firstborn is the son of the wife he does not love, when he wills his property to his sons, he must not give the rights of the firstborn to the son of the wife he loves in preference to his actual firstborn, the son of the wife he does not love. He must acknowledge the son of his unloved wife as the firstborn by giving him a double share of all he has. That son is the first sign of his father’s strength. The right of the firstborn belongs to him.
Deuteronomy 21:15-17 (NIV)

This morning’s chapter was one of those chapters that require a bit of effort to embrace. Reading various laws concerning a middle-eastern culture thousands of years old doesn’t seem to have immediate relevance to this 21st century, midwestern, American life. And yet, when I step back and look at the underlying principles of the laws, there are definitely some take aways common to the human experience.

Take the verses I pasted above. A guy has two wives and a son with each of them. He loves one wife but not the other. The law said not to play favorites with the sons based on your feelings about their mothers. On the first reading I’m thinking “I don’t live in a polygamous culture. I can’t relate to that.”

Then I start thinking, not about polygamy but divorce and remarriage. I think about the simple act of favoritism within families. I think about children who’ve watched their divorced and remarried parent shower new step siblings with love and affection while they feel unwanted. I think about grandparents who do things for the grandchildren of one son but not for the grandchildren of the other. I  think about how messy parent and child relationships can get.

Yes. Yes, this is relevant to me.

Today, I’m thankful for two amazing daughters and the different, but no less priceless, relationships I have with each. I have tried very hard over the past two and a half decades to live out the idea that favoritism is not avoided by restricting relationship to the rigid borders of absolute relational equity. Rather, favoritism is avoided by choosing into unbridled, expressed love and support for the unique child of God each daughter is becoming communicated through the unique relationship and relational paradigms I have with each of them.

Rebuilding

Any of his people among you may go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem, and may their God be with them.
Ezra 1:3 (NIV)

The temple in Jerusalem lay in ruins. It had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar’s army just as had been prophesied by Jeremiah and others. Now, time has passed and the wind has changed. God’s people living in exile in Persia have been granted permission by Cyrus to return home and rebuild.

This morning, I’m thinking about the seasons of life. All of us will face times of rebuilding that may or may not be physical. Some suffer the loss of some natural tragedy, but more often than not our rebuilding is  the rebuilding of our lives after the loss of a loved one, rebuilding after a divorce, rebuilding after a significant move, a job change, or the rebuilding of life after our hopes and dreams shatter.

Whenever my life journey has brought me to a season of rebuilding, I have always, always felt overwhelmed by the task. It is the nature of the process. It stretches us, tests us, and generally requires an increased measure of faith. How apt that Cyrus’ decree to the Hebrew exiles included “May their God be with them.”

Facing a time of rebuilding life? May God be with you.

 

photo: FEMA

New Life Emerges Out of Death

celtic cross tatHe who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:5 (NIV)

A decade ago, this verse from Revelation was about to take on tremendous meaning for me. Upon hearing and digesting my story, I’ll never forget the word picture my therapist gave for my troubled, seventeen year marriage:

It seems to me that you and your wife have been standing over the casket of your dead marriage for many years, but neither of you have been willing to acknowledge its death.”

Ugh. Divorce was not a snap decision. It was not what I had intended. Yet, there I was standing at a place on life’s road I had never intended on ending up. It was painful. It was hard. It is never pleasant walking through valley of death’s shadow no matter what it is that has died.

In those days I learned to cling to hope that at the other end of the valley of the shadow of death lies the house of the Lord. God redeems broken things. Easter, after all, is about resurrection. New life emerges from that which is dead. Behold, God makes all things new. I even had the Rev 21:5 referenced in the crux of the Celtic cross tattooed on my back during that particular stretch of my journey (it was my first tat).

I am glad to look back across a decade. I have experienced much, learned much, grown much, and I see things with greater clarity than when I was in the chaos of those stressful moments. This Sunday, as Wendy, Taylor, Suzanna and I celebrate Easter together, I have a deeper and more profound understanding of resurrection. I have experienced a kind of death and resurrection which at once provides me evidence of Easter Sunday and foreshadowing of today’s chapter.

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