Divorce and the Holidays
Written by Dusty Luthy
Thanksgiving and Christmas can often bring out the best in humanity.
Schools, churches and community organizations are flush with food drives and turkey giveaways for families in need. Red kettles are out and volunteers are ringing bells or performing musical shimmies to entice us to give. There are opportunities for Angel Trees, toy drives, Secret Santas and random acts of kindness galore.
Most of these holiday-focused charitable acts focus on anonymous families in financial distress.
But what about those in your own congregation who are in need of some unique brands of love?
Take a minute this Sunday morning or Wednesday night to look around at those who sit on your pews or teach in your Sunday schools. How many check the box that says “divorced” next to questions on their marital status?
Incidents of divorce hit churches just as hard as the overall population in the United States. Not only are the numbers of divorcees within your churches and communities present, but being a divorcee within a church setting carries its own weight of shame, guilt and fear. As a divorcee myself, one of my questions after announcing the separation with my husband was how my church was going to react to my new marital status.
Divorce carries a huge stigma within the church setting due to various scriptures, teachings and traditions on the subject. It’s easy and common for divorcees to feel like pariahs in their own congregations. But we know that Jesus practiced inclusion for all, and that God is the God of grace — no matter how you file your taxes. This holiday season, consider practicing grace and inclusion within your own congregation by affirming the presence of divorcees in your church.
How can you help? My church was incredible at ministering to me in very tangible ways in the year following my divorce. Not only is divorce incredibly challenging spiritually and emotionally, but it’s also extremely sobering financially. Consider some of these ideas to minister to those around you this season:
– Don’t say, “Let me know if I can help in any way.” Pride, or even shame, will often keep a divorcee (or anyone going through tragedy or crisis for that matter) from reaching out. Instead, ask, “How can I help you?” and follow up with action.
– Make sure a divorcee has a place to go during times when other families may be gathering. Invite him or her (and children if applicable) to family dinners, game nights, movies, etc. Chances are, a divorcee will say no, feeling they are an inconvenience. The vicious thought of, “My former spouse didn’t want me, so why would you?” circulates in their minds. Make the invitation sincere, and don’t give up if they say no the first time. Accept their offer to bring something to contribute for dinner.
-Send a card. Only don’t just send a card, but take time to personalize it with an encouraging note that affirms its recipient. You could also drop in some cash or a gift card, as well. Even $5 for a coffee or smoothie is a luxury some folks can’t afford.
– Ask when a good time might be to bring by a casserole or drop off a gift card for dinner. Self-care is often one of the last things a divorcee has time for. Making sure your fellow church members eat good meals is a necessity.
– Are kids involved? Offer to babysit. Give the mom or dad a Friday night off so he or she can have a night with friends or simply go grocery shopping alone. Divorced individuals who shoulder the brunt of custody agreements sometimes find socialization a struggle.
– In the absence of a male around, some women may need help hanging blinds or curtain rods in a new house. If you’re a master with a power drill, offer to stop by for some maintenance. In the absence of a female around, some men may not yet have the skills to adequately clean, do laundry, cook, or mend. Consider offering to fill a void that might otherwise have been filled.
– Invite him or her to participate fully in the life of the church. Many who are divorced do pull back from extra responsibilities outside of family and work following a separation for mental, physical and emotional reasons — and that can be a good thing. However, spiritually, a divorce can create feelings of doubt and unworthiness about qualifications for leadership and service. Never allow a change in marital status to impede someone’s desire to serve within your congregation.
Dusty is the youth director at New Hope Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Paducah, Ky. She is currently pursuing a Master of Divinity degree at Memphis Theological Seminary, and hopes to publish a book on healing from divorce soon.
Image by Jim Lukach used under Creative Commons Licence