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William D. Bontrager, J.D.

1710 C.R. 121, Hesperus, CO. 81326

970-259-3384

wdb@frontier.net

TO PEOPLE IN MARITAL DISTRESS

People ask me the question: "My spouse wants a divorce. I am a Christian. What do I do?"

What I offer comes from 10 years of law practice during which I helped people divorce; 5 years as judge where I granted divorces; and, since 1982, serving as a minister of reconciliation, working not in the law but through the Church.

To begin, recall three Scriptures:

Rom. 8:1: "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Regardless of your fault in the breakup of the marriage, you do not need to feel condemned. You will, however, be brought under conviction by the Holy Spirit to confess your faults (Jas. 5:16) and act today so in repentance. [See Confession and Forgiveness -- Keys to Reconciliation]

Rom. 8:28: "We know that God causes all things (including our failures of the past) to work together for His glory from those who show their love for God be walking according to His purposes." God wins as we obey!

Rom. 8:38-39: "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." No matter what happens in your marriage -- divorce or reconciliation -- the love of God remains.

Now, let's begin at the beginning. God hates divorce (Mal. 2:16). Your spouse is made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27) and has knowledge of God (Rom. 1:18-20), whether or not they profess Christ. God has written His truths on their hearts (Deut. 30:11-14). Thus, the Holy Spirit is working on your spouse to bring your spouse to repentance and restoration with kindness, forbearance, and patience (Rom. 2:4).

The Holy Spirit has more power than you! You, and those who help you, must give Him room to work. You need to develop the same attributes in dealing with your spouse as the Holy Spirit has -- meekness, kindness, patience, and forbearance. What you and others do or do not do relative to your spouse must be under the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Next, Gen. 2:23-24 says: "and they shall become one flesh." You and your spouse are so closely integrated that any positive change in you must work upon your spouse. As we know, God has a perfect "you" in mind, and as you become more of His perfect "you", you will be changing. That will change your spouse -- at least in so far as how they look at you and deal with you. Therefore, your prime mission is to engage in a program of becoming more of what God wants you to be.

Several things will help.

(1) Regular church attendance. Enter each service seeking God, asking that He speak to you through the message.

(2) Small group Bible study where all can share what God writes on their hearts during their studies.

(3) Set your own prayer, study and meditation time, and stick to it!

(4) Submit your actions, relative to your spouse, to Spiritual oversight. Get 2 or 3 persons around you whom you see as spiritually mature, and meet with them, regularly, for guidance. Once you have selected them, and they have agreed to assist, don't go talking to others about your troubles, for you will quickly start looking for someone to confirm your ideas rather than to speak God's Word. If you seek professional counsel -- legal or otherwise -- take your advisors with you. And, seek the advice of your advisors only when all are together (Pro. 11:14; Jas. 5:14) so that they may come into and display unity by the Holy Spirit to you. Let them review letters you may want to send to your spouse. Have them there when you meet with your spouse. They are there to be a check against your actions and attitudes, not those of your spouse -- to keep you in line and focused upon the Lord. However, none of this obviates the necessity for you to cross-check all advice against the Word. [See Confusion in Counseling]

(5) Develop an intercessory prayer group from your Bible study and advisors. Have them pray for you, your spouse and reconciliation. If your spouse is a believer, then the Holy Spirit Who is within you is the same Holy Spirit Who is within your spouse. As you grow closer to the Spirit, your Spirit and the Spirit of your spouse will communicate, helping to bring your spouse to reconciliation.

Now, ask yourself the following: "Who am I; Where am I; What am I to be in relation to the world; What am I to do when confronted by the world?"

(1) You are a dead person having accepted Christ (Col. 3:3).

(2) You live in Christ at the right hand of God right now (Eph. 2:6). Kind of hard to be hurt sitting there, isn't it? Yes, you can lose all you have, be thrown into prison, killed or even divorced -- but not hurt. Nor can you be rejected, for you are accepted by God. I faced losing my job as Judge, and my license to practice law, and was in agony as I contemplated an unknown future. When I took within me the certainty of these truths, I found peace. That peace changed how I lived; it increased my faith and submission to the Lordship of Christ.

(3) You are alive to allow Him to control your hollow vessel, and use it for His works which He prepared beforehand (II Cor. 4:7; Eph. 2:10).

(4) You are to choose this day whom you will serve in radical obedience to the Word of God even though friends call you insane (Jos. 24:15-16).

With the help of your advisors, ask yourself the following questions:

Is my pride or selfishness involved? Gal. 2:20; Col. 3:3-5; Phil. 2:3; Rom. 12:3,16; Prov. 28:25; Hab. 2:4.

Are my affections on earthly things? Col. 3:1-2; Phil. 4:8; I Jn. 2:15-17; I Chron. 29:12; Hag. 2:8; Matt. 6:19.

How am I showing meekness towards my spouse? Matt. 5:5, 38-40; Lk. 6:29; Gal. 5:22; Jas. 1:21; I Pet. 3:4,15

Am I condemning my spouse? Matt. 7:1-5; Lk. 6:37; Rom. 14:1-12; Eph. 5:25-33: I Pet. 3:7.

Am I depending upon myself or God to defend me, provide for me, and bring "justice"? Job 38-42; Prov. 3:5-7, 29:26; Matt. 14:28-31; Ps. 37, 46:1-2, 118:9; Isa. 26:3, 31:1, 40:25-31; Jer. 17:5; Lk. 18:9-14; I Cor. 10:12; Phil. 4:13; Matt. 6:25-34.

Am I acting out of bitterness or anger towards my spouse? Jas. 1:19-20; Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:19; Heb. 12:14-15.

Am I doing to my spouse as I would like done to me? Lk. 6:31.

Am I willing to forgive my spouse and forget their sins and become in love with them again? Matt. 6:14-15.

Am I being impatient with God? Gal. 5:22; Heb. 6:12, 10:36; Jas. 1:3; II Pet. 1:6, 3:8-9; Lam. 3:24-27.

What actions, attitudes, sins, etc. of mine have contributed to the breakdown of the marriage? Have I confessed them to God and to my spouse?

Now, let's talk about the law for a bit. You think that the law is simple, absolute, black and white. You believe that justice is done in the courts and that you can get your rights vindicated, your property restored, your needs met by going to law. You are wrong.

Paul said; "How dare you go to law before the unrighteous." (I Cor. 6:1) What will happen in your divorce case -- what you or your spouse will receive in property, which spouse must support the other, how much the support will be, who will receive the children versus who gets to visit them and how often, who will have to pay what debts -- all of these matters are subject to the facts of your case, how good or bad the attorneys are, whether all the evidence is gathered (and if gathered admitted at trial) -- and the side of the bed the judge gets up on the morning that he decides your case. Believe me, I am speaking truth -- no attorney can guarantee you anything. If you think the attorney can guarantee you anything, merely ask the guarantee to be put in writing, that they pledge their money to make up for any losses, and have them sign the guarantee -- they won't!

Also, the law and the legal system are unrighteous because the Bible says that only God is justice, only God is righteous, and in no other is justice to be found -- Pro. 29:26. This doesn't mean that our legal system is bad, merely that it is unrighteous.

Finally, when you go to law, you are entering into war against your adversary -- each of you have hired a gunfighter and the court room is the O'K Corral. In fact as the two are one, you are warring with yourself!

By going to law, you wrong others (I Cor. 6:8). When you go to law, you turn your back upon a God Who chose to die when you wronged Him, so that your relationship with Him might have a chance at healing. Rather, you take your own revenge (Rom. 12:18-21).

And He made you in His image! Are you willing to die to yourself, in the chance that your relationship with your spouse might be healed?

In fact, you "grieve the Holy Spirit Who sealed you for the day of redemption" as you "bite and devour one another." (Eph. 4:30; Gal. 5:15)

The results of litigation are often bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander and malice (Eph. 4:31) -- at your spouse, judge, attorney, legal system, laws, self, and God -- and you will find it impossible to be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving as Christ (Eph. 4:32).

In short, you will suffer defeat (I Cor. 6:7) and be consumed (Gal. 5:15).

You ask; "What about my rights?" Your only right, having accepted Christ's gracious gift, is to turn your life over to Him, letting Him live through you to carry on His ministry of reconciling the world to Himself (II Cor. 5:17-20).

You ask: "What about the property?" Ah, yes, those treasures that we lay up on earth (Matt. 6:19-21).

You say: "If I do nothing, my spouse will take all the property, leave me with all the debts, and I will be penniless and on the streets with nothing but the clothes upon my back." And Christ pointed to the birds of the air and the lilies of the fields and said: "Do not be anxious -- for your Heavenly Father knows that you need these things, but seek first His kingdom (prayer, Bible study, fellowship) and His righteousness (radical obedience to His Word) and all these things will be added unto you." (Matt. 6:25-33)

You ask: "What about this problem of tomorrow?" "Therefore, do not be anxious for tomorrow, for tomorrow will care for itself; each day has enough trouble for its own" (Matt. 6:34) and, besides, you may die tonight and then what did all your worry gain you except loss of peace and loss of service to Him for a time?

You ask: "What about the children?" If you fear physical or sexual abuse, and have attempted Matt. 18:15-17, then go to the criminal authorities (Rom. 13:1-7). Let them be the combatant, not you. You commit to abide by their decision. [See Dealing With Spousal Abuse]

Instead of fighting, say this to your spouse: "Dear, I love you and want to be your spouse. But, I can't force you to stay married. Please forgive me for (here give 2 or 3 specific things which you know you have done wrong). I know that if you are to come back, and our marriage is to work, I must become more the person God desires me to be. I am committed to doing that, and have started the following steps (here tell what you have begun and the names of your counselors). I will go with you to any counseling you choose (I find many Christians unwilling to say this. They think it will be a secular therapist. Remember, God once caused a donkey to speak truth!). I want you to know that all we have has no value to me; only you have value. I will not contest with you over any of it; you may take what you want; I will accept whatever you decide to leave me." Keep it simple, honest, Spirit and heart-felt and led.

Now you are ready to move towards reconciliation. The next paragraphs are also how you would approach an alcoholic or abusive spouse. It is: Confrontation In Love For Restoration. However, you will note that you are not the confrontor. The Holy Spirit, working through others, is the prime confrontor.

First, if you have earlier left your spouse's church (thereby rejecting their god as well as their "self" in their eye) go back at once -- don't let fear for what people will say or think, get in the way.

Second, stop and consider who are the people your spouse respects and thus may listen to. Ask (don't try to demand) them to call on your spouse and entreat with your spouse to not run further away. Suggest that these persons go physically (no phone or letter) for Christ is the Great Peacemaker and lives within them and needs to be seen by your spouse. Suggest that they go seeking a lost sheep whom God wants ministered to (Matt. 18:12-14). Suggest that they go feeling themselves as greater sinners, forgiven their 10,000 talents, than is your spouse (Matt. 18:21-35). Suggest they go unannounced so there is no avoidance. Finally, don't check up on them! Let the Holy Spirit move them as He desires. People to consider asking are boss, parents, siblings, neighbor, golf buddy, etc. If your spouse is in the midst of sin -- alcohol, adultery, etc. -- try to find one who, with Christ's help and grace, has conquered a similar sin. Don't talk of the faults of your spouse. You may speak to others of your faults, your desire for reconciliation, your love for your spouse, etc. But don't talk about your spouse.

Third, if there is no success, ask your pastor if he would go to your spouse with the same attitude and in the same manner as the others. Tell your pastor who your advisors are, and authorize him to speak with them and they with him. Tell him who have already gone to your spouse.

Fourth, watch out for little things which your spouse can take as rejections. For example, your spouse has left the house, taking their things. Wanting something else, they return, open their side of the closet and find your clothes -- you just kicked them in the teeth; you just said that your need for closet space was greater than your need for them.

Maybe this is a good place to interject something: why would you want this person back? Look at all the trouble they have been; you'll only get hurt again when they backslide; look at their great sins; you don't love them anymore. Go to a widow or widower, ask them what they would give to have their spouse back, and then ask them for the problems of the marriage and faults of the spouse. See what they say. Read Lk. 15:11-32. Yes, you may get hurt, but how many times have you hurt God after He gave you eternal life -- and He gave you that life knowing that you would hurt Him again, whereas you merely think your spouse will hurt you again. Yes, your spouse committed great sins, but you would be leprous before God but for the cloak of Jesus Christ, Whom He sent to die for you. Why should you want him back? Why did God want Adam or you back? God chose to love you -- you can choose to love your spouse. God asks you to see the pain within your spouse, not your own pain; He asks you to see the needs of your spouse, not your own needs.

If you feel you must defend the suit, then, when you meet with your attorney, or go into court, take your advisors with you. Let them place the attorney under their authority (he is your hireling). Don't let the attorney write a letter or do a thing without seeking their counsel, lest the attorney act in a manner that God would not allow you to act. Do not be "offensive" in defending. Keep the ball in your spouse's court at all times -- that gives the Holy Spirit more freedom to work on your spouse. Any chance that you give your spouse to be angry at you allows your spouse to avoid seeing that their real pain comes from their separation from God (Acts 26:14), not from you.

So, you surrender, let go, lay down all rights and property, and your spouse takes all there is and leaves you with the bills. What now? When the last food is gone, and they come for the car or house, go to the sanctuary, stand in the middle of the sermon, and speak of your need (Mk. 10:46-52). Maybe the people will meet the need; maybe not. But Bartimaeus' need was met -- by Christ. He asks that we place our trust in Him, knowing that He will, in His time and His way, make all things work together for His glory (Rom. 8:28).