Posted by: minnow | June 7, 2012

Messy Is Real

Divorce.  It’s an ugly word.  Most people speak it in whispers or with venom dripping from their lips.  Divorce equals failure in our society, an even bigger failure if you’re part of a spiritual community that sees divorce as sin, or worse a divorced person as a threat to the married ones.  The word is often surrounded by  questions, gossip, and pity.  Was it an affair?  You know, I heard she had a drinking problem.  Those poor children.  Even when spousal abuse is involved the victim is generally portrayed as having something to do with the cause.

A blogger I’ve followed for the past four years wrote a very courageous piece here. It’s gritty and personal which is what makes it courageous even though I suspect many who read it had/will have other things to say.  That’s the risk people take when they chose to be honest and real, to quit pretending their walks with Christ have happily-ever-after beginnings, middles, and endings.  In my ever-so-humble opinion, courage like hers is what the Church is supposed to look like.

Real is messy.  Real is not knowing what to say but sitting down with someone anyway and letting your awkward silence mingle with their pain instead of taking the high road by finding something else to do or somewhere else to be or some triviality to talk about with someone else in the room.  Real doesn’t go looking for trouble any more than it avoids problems.  But, when they come real links arms with the battered and weathers the storm together.

I was recently told about a message preached at a local congregation about being a “low drama” church.  My heart sank when I heard those words.  While I want to give the speaker the benefit of the doubt and believe the message was intended to be about how to avoid gossip or how there’s no problem too big for Jesus so there’s no need for drama, what was intended and what was heard by any hurting person in those pews was probably not the same thing.  Someone whose life feels full of drama, who doesn’t know how to stop the drama, hears those words and knows (whether the speaker intends it or not) that they are to keep silent.  “Don’t share your drama with us,” is the subtext of such messages.  “We don’t want to hear it and we don’t know how to fix it.  We want to be a friendly church so put a smile on your face but keep the rest to yourself.”

I hate to break it to you Church but Jesus is NOT the answer when His hands and feet refuse to act.  A local congregation on a fairly busy road I pass by a lot has one of those signs out front on which they post those clever little messages in an attempt to make  passers-by think about their spiritual life.  Their latest message about makes me puke: Want real change? Try Jesus.  Yes, I believe Jesus changes lives but not by making Him into some kind of commercial in an attempt to slam liberal politics and minimize people’s struggles.  Shame on that fellowship and shame on any of the rest of us who think a few catchy phrases or profound Bible verses tapes on someone’s mirror or plastered on a billboard will clean out the crap in another person’s life.

My husband recently confessed to a men’s prayer group that our marriage is in process of ending.  At least three other men in that group knew where he was standing because they were either in the middle of, or recovering from the pain of divorce themselves.  Their response was to hang their heads in shameful defeat; another person joined the ranks of the defeated Christ followers.  THEY MISSED IT!!  Or maybe they didn’t.  Maybe their collective pain was just too overwhelming to say anything.  Maybe just sitting there was enough, was all they had.  Maybe the Church as a whole needs to take lessons.

When the Church keeps on delivering messages of defeat the people remain defeated.  “You should be ashamed.”  “You sinner!”  “You’re unfit for leadership.”  “You aren’t the right gender.”  “You love the wrong people.”  “Have more faith.”  “Pray harder.”  “You’re not good enough and we should know because we’re good enough.”  I know those actual words are rarely spoken, at least not in the open.  But the message is delivered all the same.

Actions speak louder than words.  And the actions of organized/institutionalized/ building-based Christianity in America speak loud and clear: “Clean up your life (or keep the mess well hidden), be the correct gender or have the correct sexual orientation, then maybe we’ll give you a place at the table and encourage you to bring your friends along.  But, you’ll need to make sure they clean up well, aren’t too different from us, and don’t ask too many questions.”  Sadly, most Christian congregations want to fill their pews with people just. like. themselves. following Jesus is optional.  At least that’s the message our actions preach.


  1. Divorce is an ugly word. It forever changes the lives of the children who live through the decisions the parents make. It changes the life of the adults as well.

    My friends who have been there on the adult side have had it tough, too.

    No easy answers, that’s for sure.

    But it made me want to work harder in my life because of living through the wreckage from the inside with no choices to make, only to accept those made by the adults in my life.

    29 years this month my husband & I have made it. I hope to make it to at least 50 as my grandparents and step-grandparents did.

    Perhaps instead of condemning those who are divorcing we could point out more the ones who made it. Celebrate the victories. See how they did it and try to help strengthen marriages and people before they get to that point.

    I hope you are able to heal in spite of those who make it difficult for you. There is always healing to be done – no matter what choices are made by or for you.

  2. I’ve been thinking about your comment. Celebrating good marriages is definitely a good thing for the people who are impacted to do. But not all marriages that stay together are good. Poor marriages impact the children affected by them perhaps as profoundly as divorce impacts the children affected by it. Obviously we can’t exactly measure that to know for sure.
    I was not condemning people who are divorced or in process of divorcing. My own marriage is ending after 27 years so I suspect there is really no magic number after which a couple is home free. I hope my children will be better off for the decision I have made. I hope that my decision to become healthy will help them to be healthier and give them an example of the kinds of tools and self evaluation they will need in order to have healthy relationships of their own. I hope my husband will choose to get healthy but that is not a decision I can make for him.
    Broken marriages are painful. Facing one’s failure is difficult and never fun. If I have expressed condemnation in this post it is aimed toward the Christian Church in American because I think it has failed to show compassion and concern toward those who are experiencing (or have experienced) the brokenness of divorce.

  3. […] process of emerging from the cult like Christianity I experienced in other posts so I won’t rehash that now.  (Follow the links if you’re interested). I titled this Part 2 of In This Season […]

  4. […] shared my story of emerging from religious oppression here, here, here, and here, and in numerous other posts.  The short version goes something like this:  After […]

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