Why I Recommend Books on Marriage and Sexuality…to Divorced People

It took just one semester serving as a facilitator of DivorceCare at The Crossing for me to realize how incredibly far I had fallen short of God’s plan for marriage. Sadly, it took an entire year after that to openly confess it. Currently, my wife and I are in our third round of facilitating this Wednesday-night seminar.

I find it ironic that as Shelly and I began leading this class, I thought I was going to use the sins in my past to help others going through the same pain. Certainly, that is true. But after three go-arounds, I continue to find myself more deeply convicted by the material we are presenting, and I wonder…is God trying to tell me something?

Well, yes, of course He is; I am confident that absolutely nothing He does in my life is without purpose (Romans 8:28). My best guess is that in His great and unfathomable mercy, God is very clearly – and very patiently – demonstrating to me what a complete train wreck my life without Christ has been, and how many people I have thoughtlessly wounded along the way.

Over Labor Day weekend 2009, I took a two-day class on Gospel-Centered Sexuality led by Rev. Scotty Smith of Christ Community Church in Franklin, Tenn. Recently, I took another weekend class (Jan. 22-23) on Gospel-Centered Marriage taught by Bryan and Kathy Chapell; Bryan Chapell serves as president of Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis.

The class on Gospel-Centered Sexuality taught me much – I’m very glad that I took it – and yet I couldn’t help but realize that, writ large on a canvas, God was using this class to point to what a complete mess I made of my own life as a teenager and in the years after college – right up to the time of my first marriage in 1990. Subsequent to Scotty’s class, the Gospel-Centered Marriage seminar helpfully hammered home how ignorant and dishonoring of God I had been for the six-years-and-change that my first marriage lasted. In short, I now realize with great clarity that I have far more to atone for than I can possibly set right in 10 lifetimes…and how desperately I need my Savior.

So, to put it plainly…several books, lectures and discussions have really helped bring me to a place where I now look back on the ashes of my former life without Christ and have a deep, deep regret for the mistakes I made, my bull-headed attitude that damaged so many lives, and my complete lack of remorse (until recently) for the emotional scars that I inflicted on others. It’s kind of odd to say that this heightened level of pain is something I now want to share with others, but that’s exactly what I think God has for me right now: “Yes, share the pain…as a way of pointing to the Cure.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-6)

Having gone through divorce back in 1997, I totally understand why anyone going through it right now is relentlessly focused on the wounds that are being inflicted upon him or her by their spouse. As hundreds of flaming arrows are being launched from the fortified city of separation and divorce, it’s only human nature to focus on the wrongs being done to us…rather than on our own faults and failings that might have contributed to the demise of the marriage.

It may sound cruel to ask someone going through the most painful emotional turmoil of their lives to read books on what a Christ-exalting marriage should look like. (Sort of like handing someone an owner’s manual for that beautiful Mercedes that now sits consumed in flames in the driveway.) I completely understand the natural reluctance to learn more about marriage while watching one’s own marriage go up in smoke.

So why on earth would I suggest that someone read books on marriage while going through divorce? For what it’s worth, here are some thoughts to consider.

1. No one – other than God – can predict the future. The fact is that, every now and then, people do change. God does bring sinners to repentance. People change their minds when we don’t expect them to. Hard-hearted sinners are brought to their knees, against all odds and all predictions. Not knowing what the future holds is a great reason to stop trying to predict it, and (this is important) God can do anything He wants, both with you and with your ex. “I’m never getting remarried.” You might. “He’ll never come back to me.” You don’t know that. And if God should choose to change hearts before the end of your marriage, how beneficial to know His ultimate plan for marriage as a place to “start anew?”

2. Our own story, coupled with a desire for God’s truth, can be a real blessing to others. It’s natural to shrink back and tend to our own self-interests when we are living under siege, but in doing so we tend to forget that many other people could be helped if we would try to honor God in the way we deal with our spouse – or ex – as we are being shredded with financial problems, legal concerns, abandonment, and so on. Sure, it’s easy to be magnanimous and Christ-like when everything is going our way, but more people are actually helped by learning from us as we suffer through our own trials and tribulations. Choosing to pursue a Christ-like way of responding to your soon-to-be-ex-spouse in the midst of a divorce is not an easy decision to arrive at, but I can’t think of a better way to model Christ, either (Matthew 5:43-48). Put another way, you may wait the rest of your life – in vain – for a better opportunity to display, in ways the world cannot easily explain away, the love and forgiveness offered to all of us in Jesus Christ.

3. Repentance is a painful – and wonderful – gift from God. As I mentioned above, many people going through divorce are single-mindedly focused on the hurts and injustices they have suffered at the hands of their spouse (or ex). Almost no one starts off his or her answer to “What went wrong?” with a list of his or her own sins and failings as a husband or wife. No, the vast majority will instead begin a committed-to-memory recitation of every single wound that has been inflicted upon them by the other person…and then often grope to come up with things they may have done wrong during the course of their marriage. It is in that context that a loving, prayerful Christian (or Christian author, perhaps?) can help to peel away years, even decades, of personal blindness.

4. Got kids? Now you need to invest twice as much effort. Not one of the people I have met in the last year or so wishes for the pain of divorce to be visited on any of their kids, and yet those very same kids are – willfully or not – going to learn most of what they know about marriage by watching and listening to us…even though they know we’ve failed! If we don’t make an honest attempt to look at the “true road map” that Christ gives us for God-honoring marriage (Ephesians 5:22-33) and discover where exactly we went wrong ourselves, we greatly increase the odds – already daunting – that our children will have their hearts scraped against the jagged rocks of separation and divorce, too.

Believe me, I am not unsympathetic to the very real pain and “self-preservation at all costs” mentality that seizes the heart of a person as the one they love tragically morphs into their greatest enemy, an adversary made even more powerful by their possession of intimate knowledge of one’s own foibles and weaknesses, confessed in confidence under the protection of a marriage covenant, now shattered. I very much doubt that I would have appreciated anyone handing me a book on Christian marriage circa Jan. 1997, but I sure wish someone had at least tried!

So with that, here are some excellent books that have served to effectively tear me and/or my wife to pieces in the past year or so, and I mean that in a good, “long-overdue” way. These books have served to greatly strengthen the biblical foundation of our own marriage and yet, at the same time, convicted us deeply of sins against our former spouses. We recommend them to anyone going through the end of a marriage, assuming that they are open to the idea that not every problem was their spouse’s fault, and if they truly want to understand God’s plan for their sexuality and marriage covenant. (Note: As great as these books are, they are all secondary to a daily Bible reading plan!)

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