In This Season of Weddings, Remember the Divorced

My son and I are so happy for my beloved niece on her glorious wedding day.

Ah, Spring ~ the season that inevitably, and rightly, hails a punishing schedule of weddings. The season of wedding bells begins with the earth’s pivot at the vernal equinox and does not relent until we turn the clocks back in the fall. It is a glorious explosion of happiness.  I feel grateful to see so many young people I love and admire sally forth withal in nuptial optimism.

Even so, let us remember the divorced people. Weddings are bruising for them, especially in the context of the Christian community.

I do not presume to speak for all who have been divorced; I can speak only for myself and maybe others whose marriages failed but who (try to) keep heads up amid the glorious and crushing fervency of the “Christian wedding.”

I attended a wedding recently of a beloved niece (I wouldn’t have missed it for the world!) and felt such great joy seeing this dear little one I have cherished since her infancy assume the place of the virginal bride! My joy greatly exceeded the personal pain I inevitably confront when I hear the recitation of the vows. Yet — a prayer was spoken in the context of this event. In this prayer this young couple was rightly prayed for. (We all need prayer, especially, married Christians!) My head bowed, my heart arose in solemn affirmation of these most holy prayers. The prayer continued: “and we pray for all the marriages represented in this room” — at which point my heart sank, quite involuntarily. The prayers that went forth that night included prayers for my niece and her new husband and prayers for the good Christians in attendance whose marriages (at least at that point) had survived. Mine hadn’t. In the praying for “the marriages,” there was no prayer for me. My marriage failed. I was no longer married. No prayers were spoken that blessed night for the marriages that didn’t work out.

A note to praying people: No one (at least in my purview) who gets married and speaks the most holy vows thinks their marriage will end in divorce. And if it does, we beseech you, please understand it didn’t happen lightly, capriciously or without life-altering trauma. We need your prayers, especially at weddings.

The world for the divorced person generally, and the divorced Christian especially, is a confrontational place: Everywhere we go, including during the long days and empty nights when we are alone and at home, we see families. When we visit Facebook we see families: husbands whose pictures includes their wives. We see someone named “Ed” who changed his status to “married” [heart]. There are friends on Facebook whose picture includes “all the family.”

When I attend events where speakers speak, they almost universally make mention of their families.  As a divorced woman (who has not remarried), hearing speakers speak in this way causes me to remember: I had a family once. My family was made during the 24 years of marriage I shared with my ex-husband. We had three sons and a dog and a house with a patio and we had cookouts. He was (and is) a pastor so we made many friends. People gravitated to us.

After the divorce, many of these friendships disappeared. After that, the picture of a family made my throat swell. Now when I visit families who invite me for a meal, I am the one who makes the placemat fit awkwardly on to an otherwise symmetrically laid out table. It is easier to stay home. When I am home the placemat is still an uneven number (one). It easier not to eat.

I have asked myself many times if the break-up of my marriage was worth the price I have paid. I know many friends who are in bad marriages and who have opted to stick it out at any cost. I don’t understand that, but they have their reasons. I “opted” to make an issue out of the problems in my marriage. Things were going badly in unpleasant ways and no one was going to enter the situation and make it go right. I (being the female) was in a weaker position and told myself, If you are going to be saved, only you can save yourself. It went badly. I saved myself. But in so doing, I killed myself. I am the odd placemat now.

My ex-husband is happier. His second wife is wealthy and he now has plenty of money to travel the world and to buy our sons extravagant vacations. It has been a pleasant arrangement.

I try to live by my writing, which means, I live week by week. I daily check the balance in my account.  (No, he does not give me any spousal support.) I’ve gotten good at calculations.

There are so many happy families in this world. At the same time I imagine that even in the happy ones, there exists a level a unspoken desperation.

I truly and honestly celebrate the hopefulness embodied by so many young people in this season of weddings. Those of us whose marriages failed truly rejoice with you and wish you the best. Only please, remember to pray for us too.  There is a world of refugees of lost marriages out there and, during this season of weddings, we need your prayers.

Being an evangelical Christian who was married for 24 years to an evangelical pastor, I will be addressing this issue of “Christian divorce” in upcoming posts.

About Wendy Murray

Wendy Murray is a veteran and award-winning journalist. She served as associate editor and Senior Writer at Christianity Today magazine and has written extensively for other publications such as Books & Culture and The Christian Century. She has written 11 books.

  • Susanna

    Wendy, thank you for this post. My parents are currently going through a painful divorce and it doesn’t seem like enough has been written on the topic. Ill be looking for your next piece.

    • Wendy Murray

      I’m sorry to hear about your parents’ (and your) pain, Susanna. God’s peace to you.

  • mike helbert

    God’s blessings, Wendy. You will have prayers offered for you. I can’t imagine what you’ve had to deal with. Although, I’ve been talking with more and more people like you who find it necessary to make changes. Having lived in Evangelical churches most of my life, I saw how the ‘ideal’ of marriage is almost an idol. I’m one of those you mentioned who is opting to stay married. I have my reasons. To do so, however, I have had to reflect and pray, then reflect and pray s’more. I’ve had to pretty much chuck that ‘ideal’ and re-imagine marriage. I appreciate you and your courage. Thank you for sharing your heart. You’re ok!

    • Wendy Murray

      Thanks for assuring me I’m ok, Mike!
      And thanks for reading.
      Blessings to you,

  • Shirley

    Dear Wendy,
    As one whose entire ministry is based on building good marriages, I thank you for your honesty in sharing your heart. Your article is so compelling, filled with good wishes and prayers for those beginning marriages, but also the deep pain and loss of divorce. Thank you for reminding us to pray for the divorced. Your example of the odd place-mat gives a remarkable word picture of loneliness and isolation, not feeling one fits. We have made it a practice to pray for widows/ers, but thank you for your call to pray for the divorced. Wendy, you are a special woman of faith and prayer, you have enriched my life. Praying for you today.

    • Wendy Murray

      Bless you my dear, beloved friend, Shirley. I miss you and think of you often.

  • Nancy (Huff) Cordial

    Dear Wendy,
    Your words touched me because I can relate to what you’ve written. I was married 26 yrs. and chose to divorce almost 6 years ago, remarried 2 yrs. ago August to a very good man. We are two imperfect people no doubt and have been blessed with a second chance. Even being remarried though, I still feel the label of “divorced”. Maybe it’s just my own perception but as a believer in Christ should I have stayed no matter what? Then I have to think back and remember why and recall all the support I had from most everyone who knew us (many who are men and women of faith), my children and know that it’s ok. I remember who I was then and who I’ve become and how so many people saw my new countenance, strength and peace after moving out of a bad situation that left me without any self-value. Mostly importantly is to remember that God loves me as much now as He ever did. I need to learn from the past and then leave it there behind me just as God did, as far as the east is from the west. I know I’m not telling you anything new but there is a 2nd place mat at your table; He is always there with you! I will remember to pray for you. Blessings Wendy

    • Wendy Murray

      Thank you, Nancy. I’m so glad you have found a way to recreate your life. Thanks for staying in touch.

  • Geoff

    Wow. Thank you for your boldness and honesty. I am sure you are a key part of a perfect plan. Nothing is wasted. But I identify with the sadness you restrain-edly explain. All good wishes today. Take care.

    • Wendy Murray

      Thank you, Geoff –
      I appreciate your encouragement.
      All blessings to you,

  • Laurel

    Very, very good article, with reminders of important things we very often either forget or overlook. You say,
    “Being an evangelical Christian who was married for 24 years to an evangelical pastor, I will be addressing this issue of “Christian divorce” in upcoming posts.”
    Have you considered writing a book about it? Also, having been a pastor’s wife also, and knowing all the experiences pastor’s wives go through, will you please talk about that? Pastor’s wives are the most reserved women I know – and for very good reasons. I wish someone would write an HONEST book about that.

    • Wendy Murray

      Hi Laurel,
      Maybe this will be my next book — we’ll see.
      Thanks for your words of encouragement.

  • Helen Lee

    Ah, Wendy. Reading this makes my heart ache for you, but yet I am glad you are sharing your story, willing to expose your trials and sufferings so that we might all learn from you and also be reminded to keep you and other divorced friends in our thoughts and prayers. By the way, if you are ever visiting Chicagoland, please come and eat with us. You will make our table a nice, symmetrical, even number. =) Miss you, friend.

    • Wendy Murray

      Thank you, Helen –
      I would love to be the one to fill out your dinner table.
      Miss you, too.

  • Darlene Hansen

    Dear Wendy, What a deep and powerful expression of the inner tension there is between giving
    love and blessing to the young in their new marriages, but grieving over the losses of our own lives
    where there is pain when the marriage is broken and can no longer survive. Your article enlarges my
    heart toward you and MANY others who are now sitting alone with one place mat. Although, my marriage, now 45 years is strong and intact, we have experienced the grief of a son and beautiful daughter-in-love who are now divorced 4 years. The rippling affects of that remain deep in our family and I grieve over the loss of what our family was when I see the family photos of others who are together. So not only shall I pray more for the grieving divorced but for the children of the divorced for their hearts to heal. May you feel the deep presence of Christ your bridegroom within you, beside you and all around you! Love, Darlene

    • Wendy Murray

      Dear Darlene,
      Thank you for your kind words, and bless you. I’m so sorry to hear about the events in your family. So many broken hearts and broken lives need the balm of healing trust (that, in the end, all will be well) that only God can give.
      So nice to hear from you.
      Much love to all,

  • Sam

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and doing so in such a skillful manner, Wendy. I’m sure I’m not alone in gaining a new understanding of the position you(and others) hail from.

    Best wishes,

  • Margaret Mills

    Wendy, I don’t believe I’ve read your blog before, but wanted to say your words resonated deeply. I was married 25 years before getting a divorce. The odd numbered placemat is a powerful image. Your words about saving yourself, but in so doing killing yourself startled me – exactly! That’s exactly it! Thanks for putting it in words. I’ve been divorced 18 years (not remarried), so there has been some evolution in my feelings. I now know for sure it was the right and necessary thing to do; and also that is was far sadder and more tragic than I knew, even at the time. Best wishes in your further writing on this subject. It is much needed.

  • Rebecca Trotter

    Two summers ago my husband and I split with the intention of divorcing. Through some odd circumstances, we did re-unite the following spring, although I’m still not confident we’re going to make it. But going through the destruction of my marriage was the worst experience of my life. I felt like my soul had been torn in two. I have great respect for people who have survived divorce. And I do find that I’m much more mindful of those who have experienced it. God bless!

  • Stefan Stackhouse

    It is difficult to know how to strike the right balance. On the one hand, we want to be compassionate toward those like yourself who have gone through the pain of divorce. We want you to experience healing and God’s best for the remainder of your life. On the other hand, we also want to spare couples that are still married the pain that you have experienced. We want to encourage and uphold their marriages so that they will stay married. Both divorced and married people in our churches need to understand that these are both priorities. Imperfect as our efforts might be, we’ve got to try for both of these at the same time.

    I will say one thing more: people seem to have either forgotten entirely or just written off separation as an option. I can understand that some couple just can’t continue living together, at least at the moment, and need to get away from each other. This is especially true if there is even the slightest bit of abuse. I think that some Christians, in their opposition to divorce and their desire to uphold marriage, tend to be too negative toward the idea of separation and toward those who are going through it. Separation should be a safe harbor, a good place to which couples in trouble can and should initially retreat. I also think that some people are just way to quick to resort to divorce. It seems to me that we Christians should be all about God’s grace and forgiveness and healing and reconciliation, not just between us and God but also between each other. That should especially apply to a couple that are married. It seems to me that more couples really should be giving separation a try, and a longer try, before divorce than is generally the case these days.