How can Christians deal with divorce?
The end of a marriage is a painful, volatile experience. But as Ben McEachen discovers, a supportive course called DivorceCare has helped one Christian woman to heal — and to grow deeper in her relationship with Jesus.
“You just know that this is not what you do. You just don’t go there.” Leanne Allchin vividly remembers how she felt when, after 27 years of marriage, her husband separated from her. A practicing Christian who believes “marriage is forever”, Leanne strongly felt that divorce “is not what you do”. Yet here was her husband walking away from her — and the Christian faith he had progressively drifted from during their marriage.
“I saw a psychologist early in the piece and she said, ‘Oh, just get divorced and move on.’ It was such a throwaway line; she didn’t really understand the depths of what marriage meant to me. It’s a core part of who I am. That was excruciating and one of the deepest pains I felt.”
Leanne didn’t take the psychologist’s advice. She didn’t want to be so flippant about her marriage. But, sadly, it still ended in divorce. “I’ve had to reprogram my mind and heart — all of me — to say, ‘This does happen,’” shares Leanne, who has started helping others in similar situations, through interactive course DivorceCare.
Divorce is a moral minefield for Christians. Leanne’s psychologist represents a view held by plenty of Australians, but should followers of Jesus just dump their vows and “move on”? There’s no easy answers with separation and divorce, thanks to the variety of factors involved with each individual marriage and where it’s at. But as Leanne maintains, getting married isn’t about getting divorced. It’s about being married and staying married. Right?
The rates of marriage and divorce in Australia have slowed in recent years, but one in three marriages still ends in divorce. In case you need proof that Christians are not immune, just think about those you know or have heard about. Or, maybe, divorce hits closer to home. Maybe, like me, your marriage broke down and was ultimately destroyed.
Like Leanne, I’m just one example of a Christian who has found themselves on the moral minefield of divorce.
During two years of separation and one year of divorce from her husband, Leanne was intentional about seeking support from family, friends, trained professionals and her church. A member at Ramsgate Uniting Church at the time, Leanne highlights how Ramsgate helped her reach out more powerfully for God during an intense, heartbreaking season.
“The whole thing was about just being quiet before God,” remembers Leanne about specific sessions which made a huge difference to her at Ramsgate. “Meditating on the word of God and allowing him to speak to you through it.”
But Leanne wasn’t instantly healed of the devastation that divorce brings. “The pain was still there, in spite of what I would consider a lot of hard work put into trying to sort through what was going on in my life.” So when a colleague suggested Leanne enquire about a DivorceCare course in Sydney’s Inner West, she did — even though she had never heard of the Bible-based course that aims to support separated or divorced people. Leanne felt her progress at Ramsgate Church had brought her to the point of being more open and responsive to what God might bring, through the DivorceCare course.
DivorceCare was created by an American couple and is divided into individual sessions. Each session focuses on one topic relevant to separation and divorce (from anger and loneliness, to forgiveness and finances). Group members watch a video that provides advice and insights from experts and everyday people. After the video, group members spend time talking about whatever they feel comfortable sharing and discussing.
Sharing the pain and healing
Leanne swiftly felt her DivorceCare group and the information it covered was “so specific for the pain, and helping me understand what’s been going on”.
“The way I think to describe is like when you are to have a baby. People talk about how you are going to be a mother but, until you have had the baby, you have no idea what it’s like,” explains Leanne. “But once you’ve had the baby, it’s a different world. And then you meet other people who have had a baby and it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, you understand how this is.’”
Leanne’s experience with DivorceCare was so beneficial, she has been recommending it to any other person in a similar situation. Plus, she began facilitating a course at Camden Uniting Church last October.
Leanne has met all kinds of people through DivorceCare, and has appreciated hearing male and female perspectives on separation and divorce. Whether a person had been recently separated or divorced for a decade, Leanne has seen healing and recovery happen to hurting, angry and confused people.
Despite what the name might suggest, DivorceCare doesn’t promote divorce. Far from it; one of its sessions is entirely about reconciliation. One of the things DivorceCare upholds clearly is marriage, as it strives to support people whose marriage may never be saved. Also clearly upheld by DivorceCare is its Christian framework. But Leanne says that whether someone has given their life to Jesus, or they haven’t, DivorceCare’s mix of material has plenty to offer anyone damaged by the separation/divorce process.
“The content is so strong and solid. It talks about, in very real terms, the anguish and pain and all of the things you are going through. It talks about very practical applications on how to walk through those times. It then uses the Bible’s teachings as part of how you can heal, by understanding who God is and who you are.”
A key difference
Leanne still finds it amazing that, through separation and divorce, she came to a fuller understanding of who God is and who she is — in relation to Him and Jesus. “The transformation for me has been very significant,” says Leanne. “It’s not that I wasn’t a Christian before; it’s just that I am now totally reliant upon God.” Such a dependence indicates the key difference Leanne has discovered, when it comes to how deep someone’s healing can go.
“I believe you can heal from divorce well but to heal the whole of you — spirit, soul and body; a holistic healing — I don’t think you can get that without having a relationship with Christ,” Leanne explains. “I mean, gosh, we talk about Christ being the living water. He’s like that — you can just go and drink and drink and drink. If you get a bit wobbly, you just know where the fountain is. You just know where to go and you just return to Christ — to his word, to his truth — and just sit with him. Allow that peace to come back upon you.”