Saturday, June 10, 2006

Children of Divorce: Spiritually Stuck "Between Two Worlds"

Fortunately for me, my parents didn't divorce. They came from a generation whose response when asked if they ever considered divorce was, "Murder, yes! Divorce, never!" All that changed in the U.S. in 1969, when California began to grant "no fault" divorces. Soon the rest of the nation followed. Since then, a plethora of books about guiltless divorce that have come onto the market all advocating the "Good Divorce" and the merits of divorce for children in high conflict homes. But now a whole generation of children of divorce are speaking out about the negative long term impact that divorce has had upon them.

Elizabeth Marquardt, a child of divorce herself, has written a powerful new book about the inner lives of children of divorce, entitled "Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce." What distinguishes this book from the many other books on divorce is that it addresses what goes on inside in the soul of an adult child who has experienced divorce rather than focusing upon the more obvious and external things a child contends with after divorce. To gather her research she interviewed adults from "intact" homes and those from divorced homes who appeared to be happy, well-adjusted people on the surface .

In her chapter about the spiritual struggles of children of divorce, Marquadt writes, "We long for spirituality as much as our peers from intact families do, but loss, suffering, lack of trust in and anger at our parents, even anger at God are more defining qualities of our spiritual journeys."

Just as a child of divorce grows up caught between two worlds, the world of his mom and the world of his dad, this child also tends to grow up caught between the world of faith and of unbelief. His or her trust in stability has forever been shattered and he or she finds it extremely difficult to trust in a loving, dependable heavenly Father.

Marquadt observes about an interviewee, "Will's relationship with God today is distant and wary, much like that with his father. He doesn't want to reject either of them completely, but neither does he trust them."

My initial response was: Okay, life is hard. So what? Don't we need to get over it and not use whatever difficult childhood we may have had as an excuse to not follow Christ? This may be true to some extent. But as I read I wondered how Jesus would want us to interpret the findings from this book?

First of all, all we need to do is to look around us at our extended family. Chances are that the scourge of divorce or fatherlessness caused by either death, abuse or abandonment has struck a sibling, nephew or niece. I believe Jesus would want you and me to make a difference in rebuilding a positive picture of a father's love to the ones who have had that picture shattered for one reason or another. It will take some proactivity on our part, but it will be well worth it!

Secondly, notice how many around us have been impacted by divorce in their childhoods, and if we have divorced this will include our own children! We need to realize that a child of divorce is especially attuned to phoniness and hypocrisy. She or he will tend to be cynical as their hopes have been dashed numerous times. Their attitude may be: "Faith, faith in what? I believed my parents were going to be there. Now what do I have to believe in?" Be real. Listen closely. (Especially if this is your child who needs to talk!) Any child of divorce has been talked at their entire life. Few have had anyone genuinely listen to them..

And finally, as we journey in our marriage relationship, if we are tempted to step off the narrow path of marital fidelity, we need to think again. A marriage is not just about one person's feelings. If we have been blessed with children, those children will be impacted in a deep and lasting way if we take a jaunt on the broad road of divorce. The most serious impact will be upon their souls, in their inability to trust in the trustworthiness of a loving, heavenly Father. We can unintentionally leave them stuck "between two worlds," where they long to step out and trust in God, but have a paralyzing fear of trusting and being disappointed again.


Anonymous said...

I am not sure about this one Jamie. Clearly people move to divorce to easily yet in some cases its the best of a bad situation. I will think about this more....

johnnyb said...

Thank you for tackling this deep and sensitive subject that plagues 50% of our community. The Bible talks about "sins of the father to the third and fourth generation". My biological father was divorced when he first met my mother. He then divorced her when I was eighteen months old. My mom remarried when I was four and a half and I only met my biological father once since then (he passed away in 1995). He went on to marry 4 more times.

I married in 1980 and divorced my first wife (because of her infidelity) when my daughter was eighteen months old! I married again in 1987 and she divorced me (ironically for the same reason... her infidelity) when my son was four and one half. Get the picture?While I have a good relationship with my son (now eighteen), his life has been charred living and being raised by a step father. My daughter (now twenty three) is in the Marines and has not spoken to me in the last five years.

My current wife was divorced but then single for seventeen years before she met me. She became born again during that time. I too got saved after my second divorce and have now entered and understood covenant marriage. We are currently counseling her oldest daughter as she now wants a divorce!

I've seen the results and know what being a long distant father is like. We need to understand what covenant marriage really means and how our children can be affected by our selfishness because our "pride" was violated. "What God has joined together let no man separate"!