“When you see me, I’m still breathing
Though a million things have died inside of me
But there’s no healing without grieving
No wonder why it’s hard to rest in peace”
Divorce is painful. It is emotionally more wrenching than the death of a spouse. It leaves with a kind of suffering — the kind that overwhelms one’s ability to cope. A wounds that cripple. The sense of failure and guilt and fear torture the soul. Like the psalmist, night after night a spouse falls asleep with tears. Work performance is hindered. A sense of devastated future can be all consuming. A wound that buries itself deep in our consciousness. A tragedy too heavy for us.
Divorce “attacks the self, because the self is formed within the belonging and meaning provided by the family. When it is destroyed, the threat of lost place and lost purpose becomes a reality. Without place or purpose, one becomes a lost self” (Andrew Root, Children of Divorce, 21). More than losing myself, though, I lost the ability to relate to my heavenly Father. I certainly didn’t think that God had anything to say, or even cared, about the mangled, overturned life. I felt like an orphan. I’m sometimes still tempted to think that way today. But he does. He speaks. And he cares.
I was mid-way through my forties when I faced the reality of divorce. Your midlife was supposed to be significant; marked by purpose and direction, making a career, achieving milestones—not spent navigating a divorce. But it was during this time I discovered and experienced God’s love in a way I did not expect and cannot fully articulate.
The Bible creates space for us to feel and process our pain, if we will do it with faith, believing the promises of God even when they feel too distant or unreliable. One of the truths of the Bible that I embrace with trembling joy is the truth of God’s supremacy in all things. He is making all things right!
But you are God, ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abundant in kindness, and did not forsake them. (Nehemiah 9:17)
Divorce and the torn down walls of Jerusalem
Do you see the similarity? God designed marraige to display the glory and grace of God by picturing the unbreakable relationship between Christ and his church. Similarly, Jerusalem, the city meant to declare God’s name. A symbol of the city of God, God’s dwelling place and the center of life for the world. In an individual life, then, the rebuilding of the walls would be a picture of re-establishing the strength of that life.
O great and awesome God, you who keep your covenant and mercy with those who love you and observe your commandments, please let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, that you may hear the prayer of your servant which I pray before you now, day and night, for the children of Israel, and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against you. (Nehemiah 1:5–6)
Nehemiah wept and was so grieved over their sin and the physical representation of that sin — Jerusalem’s rubble — that he travels to Jerusalem to see it for himself. There, standing above the city, taking in its remains, he weeps.
And God responds.
God responds to an entire wayward nation because of this singularly repentant man. He loves a broken and contrite heart. Through Nehemiah’s leadership, God restores a whole people to himself, as well as the beloved city’s fortification.
There is another man weeping over Jerusalem, some 500 years after Nehemiah’s time. He longs to transform their spiritual rubble into complete life restoration because this is his way, the way of Jesus. If they would just let him.
Perhaps today you are weeping too over the rubble of sin or failure or things out of your control. Perhaps you are reflecting on the rubble left from long-ago decisions, rubble that you are trying desperately to hide, run away from, or move past once-and-for-all.
Jesus stands over that rubble, weeping with compassion for you. But more so, he calls for you, his spiritual Jerusalem, to come to him:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem….how often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. (Matthew 23:37)
We don’t often believe God when he says he forgives. We don’t often believe he can love us enough to fully restore us to our Garden of Eden glory. But whether we believe it or not, the substance of God’s love is mercy and grace. He is mercy and grace. He does mercy and grace. He gives mercy and grace. He doesn’t just forgive (mercy). He blesses and bestows favor (grace), enough so that a life completely broken down can be fully rebuilt. It is his response to all repentant, softened hearts.
From rubble to restoration. This is the way of God
Remember That Your Past Doesn’t Define You
And finally take heart. If you have been through a season of brokenness and divorce, it does not define you. What remains is a chapter in your journey, but not the position from which you do life. God’s love is truly known and experienced when we trade in what is broken, have the slate wiped clean and step into restoration.