Marriage, Divorce, and Community

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When I was in high school, one of our youth leaders stood up to teach youth group one night. As she began to talk, she started to cry and said that she had recently found out that her former youth pastor and his wife were getting a divorce; it had made it impossible for her to speak on the topic she had planned to speak on. The pain was evident, and though I felt for her, I didn’t understand why she was so upset. It wasn’t her own parents, after all, but the tears were streaming down her face, her words broken by sobs.

Now I understand. Now that I’ve seen friends, families I’ve babysat for, and families from church torn apart by divorce I understand why she wept. Now that I’ve seen the look in the children’s eyes as “normal” becomes totally different, I weep, too.  I’ve taught kids who talk about the fights they have witnessed and shrink as the school discusses what to do when “the wrong parent” comes to pick them up. I’ve seen divorce firsthand in my own family and in friends’ families. And it’s ugly.

It always sends a sharp pain into my gut when I hear about another family from church getting divorced. How? But she was so kind! He was so thoughtful! They were such a good team! It’s confusing and painful. It weakens my faith in marriage and rips apart groups of friends. It makes me wonder if we ever really know anyone. The marriage portraits suddenly seem like a facade–like they were just pretending.

This isn’t a condemnation of divorce. I understand that there are legitimate reasons for divorce. I believe in healing and redemption. I believe firmly in God’s grace for all of us. But I’ve come to realize that our marriages don’t just matter to us and our immediate families but also to the community.

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Recently I was talking with a friend. She’s been married just under two years. She admitted that sometimes she feels guilty staying at home and having a game night with her husband instead of hanging out with the high school girls she works with or with friends who want her time. But an investment in marriage is an investment in the community. It’s easy to see marriage as something self-sustaining–to feel selfish hanging out just the two of you when you could be out there doing so much good. But I’ve come to see that cultivating a thriving marriage directly benefits those we care about and teach and love; divorce doesn’t just hurt two people and their children, it really does send ripples of hurt into the community.

Three years ago, we chose our own bridesmaids and groomsmen carefully–those closest to us who had witnessed our relationship and who would help us remain faithful in keeping our vows. We wanted those who believed in us and would speak truth to us and challenge us if we started to stumble.

Marriage vows are taken in community. I’ll never forget the laughter as the groomsmen blew confetti as we kissed or the loud clapping as we walked out of the church as man and wife. I am so thankful for the support at my bridal shower and all the friends who blew up Facebook with excitement about our engagement. The joy of marriage takes place in community and the pain of divorce does, too. Divorce creates pain that is as over-the-top as the joy of the wedding day itself.

Marriage is about two people becoming one, but it’s also about a community that surrounds the couple–parents and siblings, friends and teachers, those younger and those older. And it matters deeply. Once we had a baby, it sobered me to realize that there was no easy out. Our marriage has to stand, and we will fight to make sure that it does (although right now it’s not much of a fight at all). But really, there never was an easy out. Our lives are intertwined deeply, not just with each other, but with a community. And there’s no easy, painless end because the roots are too deep and too connected. For that, I am humbled, challenged, and thankful. And the great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us and the innocent eyes watching us remind me that it’s worth the listening, the “I’m sorry,” the trips away, and the daily, messy, beautiful loving.

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