Friday, January 16, 2009

The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce

About two years ago I read a book called “The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce.” The subtitle is “The 25 Year Landmark Study.” This book shares the results of the most comprehensive study on divorce ever conducted. They have been able to track the effects of divorce over a 25-year period, which allows us to see how the children of divorce are affected as adults. This is a not a Christian book, but the findings would support much of what the Bible says about divorce.

Before I share with you the results of this book, let me say very clearly that my intention is not to shame anyone who has been through or is going through a divorce. Life can be very painful. Marriage can become so difficult that one feels the only way out is a divorce. Forgiveness and healing is available to anyone who cries out to the Lord. I am so glad we serve a God who is willing to forgive sin and heal the human heart. “He heals the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18).

At the same time, God says He hates divorce (Malachi 2:16) and one of the main reasons is because He is “seeking Godly offspring” (Malachi 2:15). When we see how divorce affects the children, we can understand why His seeking Godly offspring is one of the main reasons God hates divorce.

My reason for sharing these findings is to enlighten us all concerning the many negative effects of divorce. It is so important that we count the cost before ever considering divorce. Perhaps this blog will help to save a marriage headed for divorce. Perhaps this blog is for you – to cause you to reconsider divorce. Perhaps this blog will help you in ministering to someone you know who is considering a divorce.

The bottom line is this: divorce brings many hardships on all involved, especially the children. Marriage is worth fighting for. Marriage is worth whatever it takes to stay together. Marriage is for the glory of God. Marriage is designed to be an earthly picture of Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:21-33).

I also hope that teenagers and singles will read this blog. Let this study of divorce cause you to be so prayerful and careful about marriage. Be sure you know it is God’s will for you to marry. Be sure you marry the person God wants you to marry. Take it slowly and carefully. I alwayts tell my kids, "You can never go wrong waiting, but you can go wrong rushing." Get the counsel of many Godly people before you even think about marrying someone.

Here are some of the major findings from this book. This 25 year study revealed that divorce often brings about:
1. Decline in the health of the couple.
2. Decrease in the financial stability of all involved.
3. Emotional pain and scars that may never go away.
4. Loss of respect from community, children, and family.
5. Children suffering in the following ways:
a. Tendency toward unhealthy relationships.
b. More prone to pre-marital sex, drug and alcohol use.
c. Tendency to run from conflict in their own life.
d. An unhealthy and excessive fear of marriage.
e. Anger at life, God, and their parents.
f. Faith in God shaken.
f. Increase in loneliness, fear, anxiety, and depression.
i. Loosing significant parts of their childhood because they are forced to grow up too quickly due to the increase in emotional stress and responsibility. One woman named Karen said, “The day my parents divorced is the day my childhood ended” (p. 296).

The authors of the book said their most surprising discover was this: the greatest manifestation of negative impact on the children of divorce does not come until those children are in their adulthood. We often think the greatest negative effect will come when they are children, and that it will get better when they become adults. However, the studies are showing that this is not the case. Here is a quote from the book: “The major contribution of this book has been to recognize, for the first time, that when children of divorce become adults, they are badly frightened that their relationships will fail, just like the most important relationship in their parents’ lives failed. They mature with a keen sense that their growing-up experiences did not prepare them for love, commitment, trust, marriage, or even for the nitty-gritty of handling and resolving conflict” (p. xiii).

So many people often say, “The kids will be better off if we divorce, because at least they don’t have to be in the middle of our fighting/unhappy marriage.” This book says this is not true. This study revealed that children in homes where the marriage is not very good, but where the parents stay together, are better off than those whose parents divorce, because by their parents staying together the kids learn that marriage can be hard but you stick it out.

Finally, the book shows that second marriages are even more likely to fail than first. “First marriages stand a 45% chance of breaking up and second marriages have a 60% chance of ending in divorce” (p. 295). I guess we are not learning from our mistakes.

Of course there are exceptions to all of the above. May we be the exceptions.

May God do such a work in our lives that our marriages would be a clear picture of Jesus and His bride, the church (see Ephesians 5:21-33).
Let me conclude by reminding us of some very important truths: God is able and willing to work a miracle in the most difficult of situations ... if we will yield to His will and cry out to Him; seeking the help of others is not a sign of weakness but rather a sign of wisdom; and the blood of Jesus can forgive and cleanse of all unrighteousness. Call upon the Lord while He may be found!

Like a Weaned Child

“A song of ascents - Of David. My heart is not proud, O LORD, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, put your hope in the LORD both now and forevermore.” Psalm 131

Recently I have been greatly ministered to by the Lord in Psalm 131. The central message of this Psalm is that we can rest in God’s care and love and sovereignty, even when we don’t have the answers to the complex issues of life. Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892), considered by many the “Prince of Preachers,” said that if the Psalms were a gem Psalm 131 would be a pearl.

In my ministry I constantly find people struggling with the “why” questions of life: “Why did my relative die in the car accident? Why did I get cancer? Why was my friend not healed? Why did this tragedy occur? Why do bad things happen to good people?” Perhaps you have some “why” questions. I know I do, especially at this period of my life. Perhaps your “why” questions are creating distance between you and God. If so, this is not what God would want. Psalm 131 provides some help!

This is a “song of ascents,” meaning that it was one of 15 psalms (Psalms 120-134) used as the people of God would go up to Jerusalem and “ascend” to the Temple. There is some historical data indicating the people of God would actually chant these psalms as they made their way to the Temple for worship. I think it is safe to say that for us this psalm gives us insight in how we might “ascend” to greater heights with God.

Ascending to greater heights is not easy. It will involve some barriers and hardships. Climbing a mountain is not easy. I have hiked with my father on the Appalachian Trail and know from experience that the climb is hard, but the view from the top is worth it. This is true in our relationship with God.

In climbing with God, we have to get past the questions that we may never have answers to. God tells us that we will encounter difficulty (John 16:33). God tells us that our lives will be filled with all kinds of trials (1 Peter 1). Jesus said that good things happen to good and bad people, and that bad things happen to good and bad people (Matthew 5:44). God’s Word assures us that all things can work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). However, this still does not fully answer the “why” questions that we ask.

We need to get to the point where we stop asking “why” and simply trust God’s character and goodness. When I have wrestled with God over unanswered questions, sometimes God has said to me, “David, you need to file that question in the 29:29 file.” The 29:29 file is based on Deuteronomy 29:29. It says, “The secret things belong to the Lord but the things revealed belong to man.” Some things God keeps secret from us, while other things He reveals to us. We must learn to be content with those things that He chooses not to reveal to us. In Psalm 131 David says, “I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me” (v. 1). He is choosing here to be OK with not knowing all the answers. He is letting God carry the answers to the questions. He realizes that he is not God and therefore has limitations. This is called humility.

The next step in the journey is the key. In v. 2 David puts his total trust in the Lord. He says, “But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me” (v. 2). Two times he mentions a weaned child. Why this reference to a weaned child? Because a weaned child does not come to its mom for milk. It has been weaned. Instead, it comes simply for strength, love, and comfort. The child is totally content to simply be in the presence of the mother.

Our soul will be quieted and still when we learn to come to God, not so much to get answers, but rather to just be in His presence and transformed into His image. This is what it means to “seek His face” and not His hands. We must seek Him for who He is and not so much to get something from Him. Someone once said that the highest level of faith is when we trust God when there is no apparent reason to do so, except that He is God. In other words, we trust Him just because of who He is, even if things do not go like we want them to. This seems to be why this short psalm ends with: “Put your hope in the Lord” (Psalm 131:3)!

Are you putting your hope in the Lord? Are you content to simply be in the presence of the Lord? What is that you need to bring to the foot of the cross? What do you need to file in the 29:29 file?

It is OK to ask questions and wrestle with God over things, as long as at the end of the day you crawl up in God’s lap and just be still and quiet in His presence. I encourage you to meditate on these 3 verses and see what additional insights God gives you. Let us be as a weaned child with God!