Over at Christianity Today, Andrew Root pens a powerful essay on the ontological (as opposed to psychological or economic) effects of divorce on children, and the role the Church can play in ameliorating those effects. Here are the concluding paragraphs:
There is no easy answer, no magic pill to take to secure one’s shaken being after the divorce of your parents. Even now, 14 years after my parents’ divorce, I have significant moments of feeling raw, of wishing during the holidays that my mom and dad were together, that I didn’t have to explain to my children why they aren’t.
If divorce has this profound an impact on children’s spiritual groundedness, the church needs to think more deeply about how it supports those in marriages, helping young people wisely choose spouses and foster mutual love and partnership between them, so that divorce is unlikely to happen.
This won’t primarily happen through a packaged program offering practical information. Rather, what we need to support those in marriages, and in turn care for children of divorce—whether they’re 6 or 56 years old—is for the church to be a community of being that shares in the being of each other by sharing in the being of Christ.
According to Paul, the church is a body that shares in the communal union of the Father and Son through the union of its members. Sharing in each other’s being in this way makes the church a new family. It is not a new family that can deny or ignore our individual experiences of suffering and pain, like the divorce of our parents, but a community that suffers with and for us. In so doing, the church community confesses that God has taken us into a new union that is stronger than all death and brokenness, a union that connects our being with God’s own through the Holy Spirit.
We can be the kind of community that children of divorce need only if we are brave enough to face into the topic. It is amazing how few places there are for young people to talk about their experience of divorce, and how scared churches often are to give a space for young people to speak of the ontological binds that this experience puts them through.
This, then, is what churches need to do for children of divorce, something that is really not doing at all, but being: being together. The youth group, the children’s ministry, and the worshiping community on Sunday mornings all can be the community where children of divorce find ontological security, because the church, as theologian Edward James Loder once said, “knows of love greater than a mother’s or father’s.”
All of this begins with seeing the reality of children of divorce and empathetically acknowledging the complexity and difficulty of the situation in which they find themselves.
When my wife’s mother remarried, one of the 150 guests at the wedding approached my wife’s sisters and said, “I am very happy for your mom. But I know this day is really hard for you, and I am so sorry for what you must be going through today.” Ten years later, the siblings still talk about the profound importance of having just one person see them. The church can be the community that sees children of divorce, acknowledges their reality, and embraces them in the fullness of their experience.