I feel like Stuff Christian Culture Likes is the comedy version of my Immodesty Rail pieces. If you don’t know Stephanie Drury‘s work yet, check it out. Her best work may be her themed Twitter search-and-retweet moments.

So, along those lines: stuff Christian culture likes [to do]:

Demand inappropriate justification for deeply personal decisions.

Maybe this is also a Southern culture thing. But if the South is Christ-haunted, the culture there is certainly also very inbred with church culture.

For example: when a divorced Christian (or a Christian dating a divorced person) is asked by another Christian if the divorce occurred on “biblical grounds” (or a similar question). You think you’re supported by someone, you think your trauma (if you’re the divorcé[e]) or joy (if you’re dating one) is safe to share with this particular person, and then you get hit with the icy water of presumption and judgment. And in that moment between the asking and the telling, you know that your ability to be vulnerable with this person ever again is dependent upon your answer. You are on the defensive, and you have to prove to the other person that your choices are worth their respect, that your decisions are good enough for them to take you seriously–either just as a mature adult, or as a “true” Christian.

It’s kinda traumatizing, and it’s irrational. It’s the milder, more benevolent version of that same sort of thinking that leads people to ask a rape victim if s/he was asking for it.

And I don’t think Christians mean to be so hurtful and oblivious–the discourse of most American Christian culture is premised on the assumption that love looks like challenging each other to be our best selves (in some way or another), instead of loving each other as if we were our best selves. The burden of hope should be placed on the possibility of being one’s best self, not on the act of achieving that possibility. It’s basic Works vs. New Identity in Christ stuff.

When I first told people what had happened, what my ex had decided, someone close to me asked me “What’s your theology of divorce?” and I was just devastated. Compassion and care and offers of support and help should have been the first response I got from this individual, not a one-line request to justify my actions (or, really, my ex’s actions). 

Similarly, demanding to know if there were “biblical grounds” for a divorce is like asking if a rape was legitimate. You don’t do it.

The concept of “biblical grounds” itself is flawed in the same ways that the idea of “biblical manhood and womanhood” is flawed–cultural norms are interlaced with the textual directives and you cannot draw a simple, direct parallel across the ages and say that the Bible’s most direct standards for grounds for divorce are culturally appropriate today. There is definitely ethical overlap, but the framework must be contextualized for the sake of interpretational integrity.

Beyond that, the thing that most people who haven’t personally experience a divorce (and even some who have) overlook is this: it’s more common for people to take the decision to go through with a divorce much, much more seriously than they do the decision to get married. They just don’t jump into it in a rush, eyes blinded by emotion. Some do, naturally, but it’s legally much easier to get married than to get divorced, and there’s a usually whole lot less incentive to change the status quo by ending a marriage. It’s hard to untangle two lives, it’s hard to go through the legal process and emerge intact, and it’s socially much, much harder to tell your friends and family that you’re divorcing than it is to tell them you’re getting hitched.

Black and white assumptions never help anyone. Compassion is an act of the imagination, at its root, and so before you go and ask if a marriage ended on “biblical grounds” or “who was at fault?” take a moment and put yourself in their shoes, and imagine what it must be like to be in that place.

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

[for some good voices on divorce and healing, check out: Natalie Trust, Letters From Scarlet, and A Christian Girl’s Guide to Divorce]


Divorce is hard. This year has been hard. The hardest part isn’t the logistics, the moving, the financial untangling, the stress, the aching, or the loneliness. It’s the fact that I still disassociate my self from the fact that divorce is now part of my story. It wasn’t supposed to go this way. I followed the rules. I did what I was taught was “right” and practiced integrity in how I lived and loved. I loved him and sacrificed unquestioningly for him, and it still ended with him telling me “I don’t miss you. I’m happier than I’ve ever been without you here. I want a divorce.”

The shock of that statement, coming about three weeks after I moved out to acquiesce with his sustained requests for a separation (and to keep me from being left alone in a tiny basement apartment I hated), and just days before our second anniversary, was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to learn to accept.

This is my new reality, not that, that happy marriage teamwork and cuddles and inside jokes and serious talks and road trips and dinners and coffee and naps and home. Everything I had known was true, but also wasn’t. Everything had been real, but everything had been a lie. And now it was gone.

In the following weeks I fell into grief and a loneliness of a peculiar sort that I think maybe even widows/widowers can’t know–not just “this love/r is gone,” but “this love/r is gone and is not what/who I thought he was and now despises me.” I’d run into habits of the heart that left me reeling with the shock and despair of my new reality–I couldn’t go to him with ideas, weariness, excitement, inside jokes, whatever, and I’d have to accept once again that the man I’d loved was [functionally] no more.

Halfway through the subsequent depression, my counselor opened our session really excited. “Hannah, Hannah, I have another client with the SAME sort of story and she recommended this book and OH you have to read it. It’s called Runaway Husbands.”

Dutiful me bought it and started to read it, and found it incredibly hard to read. Everything* was my story. Everything was familiar. I couldn’t forget reality and I had to face it. And that was so good for me. And so hard.

Maybe the most healing thing for human suffering is to know that your experience is not isolated. That you are not alone. That someone else has walked this road before you and hears your pain. Runaway Husbands played that role for me, and I’m sure for countless others, and it made me feel a little more sane and a little more sure that I was going to make it to the other side of this grief in one piece, with my sanity, and with some joie de vivre left over.

Runaway Husbands is not an explicitly Christian book, and it doesn’t give you “five steps to wholeness after your husband bails on your marriage,” either. It doesn’t try to fix you or your situation, but rather provides story after story that shows you that your experience is common, your reaction is normal, and give examples of what others experienced and felt as they dealt with similar situations.

While this book is written by a woman, for women, and frames the discussion in terms that are stereotypically feminine, I think that this book would be a great resource for anyone who’s had their spouse abruptly leave the marriage and become seemingly cold toward their spouse’s shock and grief. This book teaches you to unclutch the shards of the relationship and accept that answers are cheap and unsatisfactory, and that recovery will be slow (but it will happen).

I’d love to hear from any others who’ve been through similar things–what books helped you? What other resources did you appreciate? What was cathartic? What was healing?

And, if you’re in a similar situation, but too newly into this experience to comment and haven’t yet accepted reality for what it is, message me and I’d love to mail you a copy.

***

*Editorial comment: “everything” is, of course, not literally accurate in every sense. The overall analysis, despite a few details that didn’t match because of courtship culture or personalities, was spot on.


I don’t know where to start.

A few weeks ago, I was at dinner with a friend in DC, and tried to make a list of all the crazy things that have happened since …I guess since I last posted. It’s been dizzying, and not all good. I feel like I want to go hide somewhere without people for three days just to try to make sense of it all, to write and think and breathe.

I haven’t been writing much, here. Telling stories for others instead of myself is a safe way to hide. I don’t really want to write much about my life here–I don’t want “messy life processing post-divorce” to define me. Here. At all.

But in another light, that stuff, the depression and awkward gestures toward healing, the gangly relational in-between as I grow into myself and my new life all over again, that is all part of my story. And to not write about it, for me, is a little bit of denial. I want to keep it all tightly private and hide it from all but a few close, safe friends, and then let you see the butterfly rebirth later. But that due date keeps getting pushed back and it’s a process that’s out of my hands and just so painfully slow and natural and un-time-able.

So maybe, maybe, I’ll try to straddle the divide and stay safe but let you see me a bit more. After all, I can’t be the only one whose post-courtship-ideals life fell apart. I can’t be the only one whose parents initially edged close to “I told you so,” and didn’t seem to understand that their involvement couldn’t have prevented things from going badly [but may even have made things worse with their attempts at “accountability”]. I can’t be the only CP/QF daughter whose marriage fell apart for reasons unrelated to courtship or parents, but possibly tied to the hurry and seriousness parents and courtship pressure forced on a nascent relationship. We’ll see if I can or will write about these things. I’m not sure yet.

I feel lonely a lot. I think that’s okay, though it’s hard. I keep wanting to react to it by creating busyness or change, by looking at job listings in California and New York, by committing to a flurry of projects. That’s not healthy, and this week I’ve done what I keep finding myself having to do with every element of this transition: go out alone and sit with it. Breathe into the stretch as it burns in the deep tissue of my soul. Feel not just the edges of the pain, but press into it and find the center.

Right now I’m living with good people who took me in and gave me a room. I saved up–finally got myself a car (despite no credit history!), working on getting an apartment, found a roommate, making plans. Things are coming together, I keep saying.

But even with things coming together, I’m going to be in transition for a while, I think. Filing for divorce in the DC area is really complicated, since there’s not a no-fault option in MD or DC. Being the organized one doesn’t really make my life easier, either. I’m really ready for that to be done and over, but I’m also stuck with the social stigma of “not-yet-legally-divorced” if I want to date casually or meet new people. I’m not quite a social pariah, but it’s uncomfortable.

Trying to keep some things stable, I’ve been gardening a lot. My host family has been so kind to let me use a couple of their garden beds, and I’ve got lettuce, cilantro, carrots, broccoli, peppers, garlic, squash, zucchini, mint, sunflowers, cosmos, poppies, alyssum, and bachelors buttons. I’ve recreated happy memories with these selections, pulling pieces of California, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, and buried them in the ground and watched them sprout, weeded and watered and thinned and harvested. It’s so healing.

I just finished the last day of Sunday school class, which I’ve been teaching weekly since last fall. This too has been a constant and a place where my life-mess doesn’t walk in the door with me. We sit around the table and fill out worksheets and talk about Jesus and the Israelites and the early church and ask questions and decide we don’t know everything, but we like that Jesus loves us.

Friendships have shifted, in all of this, and I’m not sure why (it’s not directly caused by people rejecting me because of the divorce), but it’s tangible and uncomfortable and strange. A lot of it is me changing and others not, and not being sure how to relate, how friendships work for this same-but-different self. I’m more introverted, more emotionally exhausted by social interaction. I like the slower pace of this, but it’s also awkward in general.

Expectations are low. I don’t know what tomorrow’s going to be like, how I’ll deal, what promises will be broken, what to do with trust cast off and thrown back at me, what to do with my constant need to withdraw and protect myself. I haven’t been writing much. I feel like when I do, it will be a long slow process of telling myself my own stories and then reintroducing myself to myself, the new version who embraces her new identity and is moving forward.

I’ve been reading bell hooks a lot, again. All About Love: New Visions has been a lifeline to sanity. Similarly, Runaway Husbands by Vikki Stark (I may do a review of this one here soon). And I’ve been plunging into a lot of novels, novels that don’t have much to do with my world. Escapism isn’t wrong when you don’t have time to rest sometimes, right?

So hi. Maybe I’m back again. And if I’m not back as frequently as before, know that I will be again, after I’ve sat on the floor and breathed into the stretch of this season over and over again until I can tell you how it feels without falling to pieces.

Posts that resonated with me recently:

When Too Many Things Are Happening
How to Weather June