Responses to Separation
By Joy Rushing
“It’s really the end,” Kelly confided as we ate lunch. “Sam and I can’t work things out.”
As I listened to my sweet friend share her struggles, I silently prayed, “God, what can I do? How can I help her?” Kelly had separated from her husband, and she was serious about divorce.
My heart went out to her. I know what separation means. I had lived through a long season of marriage separation myself, and I wanted to support her in a way that honored God and honestly helped lift her burden.
My experience with Kelly may echo your own heart toward a friend who is facing divorce. We know our friend is hurting, but we may not know what to say or how to reach out to her. Yet in this difficult time, there are several positive ways to respond.
Respond with prayer. Committing to pray for her every day of this separation is the most important thing you can do. God’s Word tells us in Jas. 5:16 that effective prayer makes tremendous power available. When she is discouraged, fearful, and confused, you can stand in the gap for her through prayer. You may not be able to change her circumstances, but your prayers can break down spiritual strongholds in her marriage. You can sow seeds of prayer that have the power to shape and redirect your friend’s course.
Respond with hope. When God is involved, even the most desperate situations can be transformed. The Bible tells us in Lk. 1:37 that “nothing is impossible with God.” That includes this separation. Hope isn’t denial. Having hope in what the Lord can do isn’t setting her up for more disappointment; it’s demonstrating faith in God’s power. As a committed friend, you can have the courage and faith to pray for God’s will to be done in her marriage. Don’t hesitate to speak hope into her life and remind her that God is able to restore His people no matter what the situation.
Respond with encouragement. Separation hurts both the spouse who is surprised by it, and the one who initiated the break. Your friend may try to hide or dismiss her pain, but it’s there. Even though you might see every reason for her to walk away, she has emotional and spiritual bonds with her husband which are causing her heart to blister, bleed, and break. Offering words of encouragement, sending a card, or posting an uplifting Bible verse for her to read will minister to her grief. Separations can linger on a long time and your faithful outreach, even months after the initial break occurs, can refresh your friend’s lonely, hurting heart.
Respond with grace. When a friend separates, we want to know what happened and we naturally start to assign blame. Is our friend the victim or the culprit? While we don’t turn a blind eye to blatant sin, there are usually many things that have contributed to the breakdown of a marriage. Since we are only hearing part of the story anyway, judgment is best left to the Lord. She’s probably already been met with sneers and disdain from those who suggest that “good” Christians don’t separate. She doesn’t need condemnation or affirmation of her innocence; she needs someone to support her by modeling the love and forgiveness of Christ.
Respond with love. Marriage separation creates an instant identity crisis in a woman’s life. She knows she’s not single, but she isn’t living married life the same way anymore either. It can be very uncomfortable to be the only separated woman in a roomful of happy couples. Your friend may suddenly feel out of place with her married girlfriends. Give her freedom to form friendships with other separated or divorced women while you continue to offer ways for her to connect with you. Continue to invite her to social events even if you are met with repeated rejection.
Respond with sensitivity. If you have social or relational connections to both the wife and husband of a separated marriage, your support can become a complicated matter. Even the desire not to choose sides can be interpreted as betrayal by one or both spouses. Yes, a part of her understands why you will maintain your friendship with him, but that doesn’t mean she is happy about it. If you are going to interact with both people, let your girlfriend know when you will have contact with her husband. It will spare her unnecessary pain if she knows upfront what’s happening and doesn’t hear about it later. You can support her by staying out of all the festering gossip and by refusing to let anyone slander her in your presence.
Respond with resources. When a husband moves out, the wife is usually left balancing a checkbook with limited funds. The loss of one income and additional expenses of establishing a second household can create financial stress even for affluent families. Your friend may need to work outside the home now or sell possessions to make ends meet. This is an opportunity for you to demonstrate Christ-like generosity. You may be able to offer financial help, but resources can be shared in many ways—you don’t necessarily need to write a check. Perhaps watching her child after school or bringing dinner over one night are ways you can support her during this time.
No one expects her marriage to come to this point, but, sadly, some of the strong, beautiful Christian women you know will find themselves here. Your continued prayer and loving support of someone who is walking through marriage separation matters more than you may realize. If you are willing to reach out to a friend during this difficult season, your relationship can make a difference in her life.
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