Dawn Savidge shares her wisdom on keeping faith in Jesus buoyant when navigating a divorce
In 2021 there were 113,505 divorces granted in England and Wales. ONS estimated that 42% of marriages end in divorce and 45% of those involve children under the age of 16. The figures for divorce rates in church remain similar to the rest of society.
The church’s view on divorce is very much split depending upon what denomination you talk to and the circumstances surrounding the divorce. God’s intent for marriage was for two people to become one physically, emotionally, and spiritually. When something comes along to break that bond, they can no longer be one and the bonds of marriage have been broken. Most of the church agrees that in cases of adultery, addiction, abuse and abandonment, divorce should be allowed.
I have been married and divorced twice. Both times I married a Christian man, and both marriages were very violent and abusive. I attended two different churches during the times of my marriage and divorce and was treated very differently. The first time the church could not understand why I left my husband despite knowing that I and my children were in constant physical, emotional and financial danger because of abuse. We moved to a church where we were embraced, and God slowly healed our wounds. I was five months pregnant with our third child when my first husband left, and the boys were almost four and 19 months old. They are now 19, 17 and 15 years old and all still attend church, and all have their own strong personal faith. (For another story on this topic go here.)
Our journey may not be your journey
I should put a clause here and say that this is our journey. Every journey of divorce and separation is different. But we can all learn from each other. Jesus’s desire is for us to ‘have life and have it to the full’ (John 10:10). So, if you are in an abusive marriage, please get some help. No matter what people say, it is not God’s intent for you to stay in a marriage where you are being hurt (see my blog for more advice on this).
One of the questions that I get asked a lot by both married and divorced people is how come all your children still go to church? It has been said that during the cycle of faith development, it is normal for a teenager to find their own faith, and sometimes that means walking away from the church. Two of the best faith development theorists to read are Fowler and Westerhoff. I wanted to give my children something different: an opportunity to explore faith at home without the need to leave the church and go down paths of destruction that God had never intended them to be on.
Faith at home is everywhere. However, not much advice is directed towards solo parent families. So, these are my top tips for those solo parents out there who want to help their children (and you) keep their faith alive and grow during this season of loss.
1. Let go
My first one is for you personally. Life may not have turned out how you wanted it to be, but that does not mean that God does not love you anymore. One of my favourite life verses is ‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.’ (Romans 8:28). God can and will turn our mess into His message if we allow Him to. If you let this truth set into your heart and let go of any victim mentality that might be hanging around, it will not only benefit you, but it will benefit your children as well. So be kind to yourself. That includes making sure that you look after yourself. You cannot give out of an empty vessel. Look after your body, spirit, and mind. Fill yourself with The Word daily. When my first marriage ended, my eldest son told me that he was now the man of the house (at age four!). I told him that God was the head of the household, and He gave me strength and wisdom to help lead our little family. There is so much truth in this. Whether you are a man or a woman, you are now the spiritual head of your home, but if you lean into God and His word, He will give you strength and wisdom to lead well.
2. Find a church
There are no such things as a perfect church on this side of Heaven. We are human and therefore we all mess up. Church is like a hospital for the broken and wounded and therefore we are going to get people who look and think differently to us. I would suggest the main things to look for when looking for a church are:
a. Is it true to God’s word? Does the preacher open with one Bible verse and then puts the Bible away for the whole sermon? Or does the sermon help you understand how to practically apply God’s word to your everyday life?
b. Is it active in the community? James calls us to not only have faith but also to live out our faith through our deeds (James 2:14-26). How does the church include, involve, and reach out to those on the fringes of your community?
c. Does it feel like family and demonstrate an authentic relationship with its people? One of the things that I did as a solo parent, was ask my children to make a list of all those male figures that they respected and liked. It did not matter what age the men were. I then talked to the people on that list and got their phone numbers and put it beside the telephone. The men knew why they were on that list, and they really stepped up to the responsibility and privilege of being one of a small handful of men that my children felt that they could talk about anything. Of course, be sensible and make sure that you apply safeguarding principles to this kind of relationship. Many of the men on that original list are still in regular contact with my children and I know that they are prayed for by them to this day.
d. Are there other children there of similar age? Children need other peers who are walking a similar path. Your church does not need to have a children/youth ministry of hundreds, they just need to have a genuine love for children/youth. My own children much preferred to be in a smaller church with a handful of other children than a church where the number of children tipped into the hundreds.
3. Learn who God is to you
Teach your children about how much God loves them (and you). They might see a broken relationship between you and your ex-partner. Help them understand that how mum and dad now feel about each other, does not reflect on how God loves them.
4. Practise faith at home
This can be as simple as eating a meal at the table together as a family every day and talking about life. This will help so much as your children grow into teenagers. Conversations about what the Bible actually says, how to live a faith-filled life, how to honour God with our words, actions, and deeds, and other topics about sex, life and wise Christian decision-making will all flow easier if you have built up a good conversational basis beforehand. This starts at the dinner table.
5. Start new traditions
We have various times of the year when we pause and thank God for what He has done for us. One of those is Thanksgiving (we are of American heritage). When the children were little, we had a blessing jar where we would pop little notes in during the year of things that we were thankful for. Then during our Thanksgiving meal, we would read those notes out. When can you pause and reflect on what God has done for you?
6. Start a new generation
The New Testament tells us that generational curses are no longer under the new covenant (Galatians 3:13-14). However, there is such a thing as generational trauma. This is where we have not given ourselves time and space to allow God to heal us from past trauma such as divorce, and we plough on with life carrying that hurt with us. I have been through many hours of good Christian counselling. It is a place where you can really talk about your hurts and allow God to speak words of peace and healing over your life. Only then can you move on and parent a new generation.