Healing after Divorce
By Elisabeth K. Corcoran
I’ve lived on both sides of the fence: I was a women’s ministry director for ten years and now I’ve been a hurting congregation member for about three, reeling from the effects of a divorce after an almost nineteen-year marriage. And I know how to do both of these roles pretty well.
But back when I was on staff at my previous church, I did not reach out to hurting women very well, most specifically those who found themselves divorced. I think I was scared of them. I was scared that divorce was contagious, that it would rub off on me somehow. I was scared to hear their story and then hear my story in their story and what that would mean. I was scared I wouldn’t know what to do with them. I was scared I’d give them bad advice and then send them on their way. I was scared I would judge them.
But now that I’ve been divorced, I can tell you exactly what divorced women want and need from their church leadership. So here are five ways you can reach out to them during this really difficult time in their lives.
1. Listen. During the past few years, what I have needed almost more than anything is someone to listen to me as I process all that’s gone on, in my failing marriage, my reconciliation attempt, my difficult separation, and my really hard divorce. Ask your hurting sister out for coffee, and then let her talk.
2. Don’t judge. This will take a lot of grace, because most of us have preconceived ideas of why it’s okay and not okay to get divorced, and what steps people should take to make their lives work better. But I’m finding that there aren’t three easy steps to anything, let alone marriage or life. So as you listen, do so with an open mind and an open heart, handing over the judge’s gavel to God where it belongs.
3. Feed her. Either bring her a meal, take her out, or invite her to have dinner with your family. Getting a divorce is a hugely stressful time, and she might not be taking the best care of her health. Offering her a meal will show her that you care for the whole of her.
4. Offer to watch her kids. Odds are, if she’s a mother, she is with the kids on her own much more than she was pre-divorce. And odds are, she’s not getting time to herself, to think, or just do something fun. Watching her children for even a couple hours will give her a much-needed break.
5. Ministry decisions. This one will be tough, but I highly recommend that you let her decide if what she needs is rest and a break from serving at church or if what she needs is to keep right on doing what she’s been doing to stay busy. I stepped down from some things, and I was asked to step down from others. Though I understood to an extent where leadership was coming from, it didn’t take the sting out of it. Being benched at such a painful time can add to the guilt and shame. Remember that she’s not out of the game. It’s crucial that she still feel vital during this time.
Divorced women need to know from their church leaders that they are loved, accepted, valued, and will be taken care of. You can lead the way in showing your church how to best serve these hurting and healing women.
Whether separated, newly divorced, or considering divorce, women can find hope and comfort in Elisabeth's own story: Unraveling: Hanging Onto Faith Through the End of a Christian Marriage.