No trauma that a human being can suffer is any worse than being rejected by one’s spouse. Being the deepest union that two human beings can enter into, marriage, when it goes awry, has the ability to strike deeper into the human psyche than any other trauma. If marriage is the highest human joy, then divorce is the worst human hurt. These two truths are inseparable.
So how do you help those who are suffering the pain of divorce?
(1) First and foremost, pray for them. I have never been fond of the expression, “Well, all we can do now is pray.” Prayer happens to be the first and most powerful thing we can do (James 5:16). So if you know someone who is suffering the horror of divorce, bring the name of that person before the Lord very honestly and very often.
(2) Do what you can to bring them to repentance, to whatever extent repentance is needed. You will rarely talk to a divorced person who doesn’t see himself or herself as the “innocent party” — but that may or may not be the case. When a marriage disintegrates, there is usually sin that needs to be repented of by everybody involved, and dealing with that sin should be the top priority. Certainly, if either party has entered into an unscriptural marriage following their divorce, then extricating themselves from that relationship should be their main concern. Whatever may have gone wrong, and whatever pain may have to be suffered in this life, going to heaven is our main objective. In this world, mistakes are going to be made, but there is one thing we can always do: we can do what is right about the wrongs that we have done. So if there is some divorced person that you care about, and heaven would not be their home if they died today, don’t console them by saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14). Do whatever you can to bring them to repentance. If your friend misses heaven, nothing else will have mattered.
(3) Help them juggle the physical demands of life. Divorce incapacitates a person. Even the simplest daily chores become mountains to be climbed. Especially if there are children to be cared for while a person tries to hold down a full-time job, the daily demands of life can be unmanageable. So look for opportunities to lend a helping hand. Don’t just advise and criticize; help them bear the burden (Galatians 6:2).
(4) Encourage them. To “encourage” means to impart “courage,” and I can hardly think of a thing that divorced people need any more than that. They need the resolve and the determination to do what is right, and to keep on doing it for the rest of their lives. So do whatever you can to strengthen their backbone, helping them to understand that the Lord never requires us to do anything that He won’t make it possible to do (Philippians 4:13). But “encourage” also means to impart things like faith and hope. So help them learn to do what is right and then trust the Lord enough to put the outcome in His hands. Help them to see that “though the wrong oft seems so strong, God is the Ruler yet” (Maltbie D. Babcock).
(5) Love them. When your spouse, the person who knew you more fully than any other human being, rejects you, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that you are worthless. You live the rest of your life with the suspicion that no one who really knew you would want to continue dealing with you, including the Lord. So what divorced people need is to be loved. They need those who will be agents of the Lord’s love in their lives. It may need to be tough love, depending on the divorced person’s need for repentance, but in all circumstances, it needs to be love. One of the hardest things in the world, of course, is to learn what real love is and how to show it in all the different situations that we face. If we could ever get that right, everything else would fall nicely into place (Matthew 22:37–40; Romans 13:8–10). So there is a sense in which every situation simply asks us: What are the demands of love here? If I really loved God with all my heart and my neighbor as myself, what would I do?
The divorced, like all the rest of us, are among, or have been among, the “perishing.” And how do we help the perishing? Well, I think Fanny J. Crosby said it best in her great hymn:
Down in the human heart, crushed by the tempter, feelings lie buried that grace can restore:
Touched by a loving heart, wakened by kindness, chords that were broken will vibrate once more.
So RESCUE the perishing, CARE for the dying;
Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.