I’m at a party. People are enjoying drinks, chatting, and laughing. I find an old acquaintance and we strike up a conversation.
Then comes the inevitable question: “How’s your wife?”
I have to tell him we split up, then both of us stand there awkwardly until one of us quickly comes up with some small talk to ease the conversation into more comfortable territory.
It sucks being divorced.
It’s not just the mourning of a lost love or once-bright dreams that will never be. It’s not just the struggle with forgiveness or the loneliness. No, one of the worst things about being divorced is the stigma.
Even though people don’t know all the details of how your relationship ended, they almost always look at you with pity when you tell them you got divorced. And you stand there, mind cluttered with self-conscious thoughts: They must think something’s wrong with me. I’m a failure. I couldn’t make my relationship work.
Unfortunately, the Christian community often treats its divorced members the same way.
I sometimes teach for a Christian organization. Recently, a high-ranking board member of that organization told his colleagues that I shouldn’t be allowed to teach anymore because I’m divorced.
I understand that many Christians who feel this way are sincere, and they’re just trying to live according to their convictions. But too often, I’ve found that they’re not even interested in your story. They don’t ask for the gory details of how your marriage ended. They don’t even seek to know the current condition of your heart. They just decide that because you’re divorced, you’re morally unfit to serve God.
But then I think of the Samaritan woman Jesus met at the well (cf. John 4: 4-30). She’d been married five times and was living with a guy she hadn’t even bothered to marry at the time of her encounter with Christ. With a track record like that, her community surely saw her (and she saw herself) as a moral failure. She had suffered the condemning looks and harsh gossip that come from being in so many broken relationships.
But Jesus didn’t inquire about her past. He didn’t look at her moral condition and decide she was unqualified to serve Him. Instead, He engaged her in conversation. He revealed to her that He was the Messiah she had been waiting for.
Suddenly, the disciples showed up and were surprised to find Him speaking with her (just like many disciples today are surprised to find Him reaching out to people who appear to be moral failures). But they kept quiet.
Meanwhile, the woman went back to her town and told all her neighbors about her encounter with Jesus. And: “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony” (John 4:39). This was a woman who’d been divorced five times and was now living in sin with her current partner. Jesus chose her to spread His message.
Did her brokenness render her unfit to do His will? On the contrary, it was arguably because of her brokenness that she was especially fit to spread the message. She knew what it was like to be judged and written off, so she could appreciate it when someone finally accepted her.
So the next time I’m at a party and run into an old friend and they ask about my wife, I’ll tell them we split up. We’ll both feel awkward and stammer for the next right thing to say. I’ll wonder what they’re thinking of me…
But I’ll try to remind myself that they’re not the only person looking at me. Jesus is too. He’s looking at me like He looked at the Samaritan woman. And He’s telling me He’s the Messiah who knows my history but accepts me anyway.