We are so excited to launch our new series, How to Help Families in Crisis. This month, we give you practical tips on how to help families going through divorce, addiction, death, and cancer. May these resources bring grace, love, and hope into you and those around you.
HOW TO HELP FAMILIES GOING THROUGH A DIVORCE
I liken a family going through a divorce to the death experience of a loved one. There is loss, separation, grief, and pain, but there can also be healing, restoration, renewal, and resurrection in time. Here are a few ways to help families going through a divorce.
DO’S AND DON’TS TO HELP DIVORCED FAMILIES
DO MAKE IT A MARATHON.
There are five stages of grief in a divorce, similar to those in death. There is denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These steps of grief don’t happen quickly. It’s a process, and sometimes a long one.
We have to be willing to commit as a community of faith to walk through this process, no matter how long it takes or how messy it becomes. Families often need more ministry later in the process rather than initially. We need to be there long past the day the last “casserole” is delivered to the house.
DON’T MAKE IT A SPRINT.
It’s common to be heavily engaged on the front end to try and keep the family unit together. We pray. We counsel. We listen. However, if the marriage ends, remember there is more to do than “be there” for the family to try and keep the family together. Once the papers are signed, and the decree is finalized, continue the commitment to walk through the process. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
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DO CHOOSE “ALL.”
There are no winners in divorce, and everyone is hurting. Life is not the same as it once was, and it never will be the same again. Things are awkward and hard. Loneliness and struggle are real FOR EVERYONE.
Our call is to love because love covers a multitude of sins. It isn’t our job to “fix” people or condemn them with Scripture out of context (e.g., “You reap what you sow.”). Instead, we can choose love. Choose ALL.
DON’T CHOOSE SIDES.
When the family unit is broken by divorce, sometimes there is one side that emerges as “more at fault” for what has happened. It’s very easy to care for and love the spouse who appears to be the victim, along with the children who are involved. But through this process, someone can get left out of receiving ministry care—“the other party”- and they often need it just as much.
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DO KNOW “ALL THE QUESTIONS.”
What are the questions that we need to be asking about families who are going through a divorce? Here are some to consider:
- How do we keep the whole family at our church and not make that awkward?
- What do we do if they stop coming to church?
- How do we meet practical needs they might have, such as logistical, financial, or even social?
- How do we create an environment for the family that still helps them feel welcome, loved, and cared for?
- How do we minister to them if things unravel with friends or their former community? How do we help them in their faith journey to believe that God loves them and still has a plan for them?
DON’T KNOW ALL THE ANSWERS.
Not every family needs or wants ministry in the same way. The timetable and situation are different for each one, so it’s okay to not have all the answers. Here are a few differences between families:
- Some need and want counseling immediately, while others prefer to wait until later on in the journey.
- Some families need and want advice and guidance, while others want to be left alone for a season.
- Some are hungry for Bible studies, divorce care, and all the programs to help them through a difficult season. Other families want to be able to hide, breathe, and regroup for a season.
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DO FORGET THE PAST.
As a community of faith, we are called to forgive and forget. As the Lord restores, we can come alongside the family with opportunities to stay involved and connected. These adults and children need to know that they still have a purpose and are still a part of God’s plan. Many lose sight of this truth, so we are called to help them rediscover their purpose.
DON’T FORGET THE PRESENT.
Life in the present is the unknown for divorced families. Many of them have never walked this road. They once did things together and shared the responsibilities. Now, they are waking up each day to a different world.
Be aware of the new normal and think through practical ways to help. Could you arrange help with carpools or schoolwork? These thoughtful details matter and can go a long way.
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DO EMBRACE THE NEW NORMAL.
Despite the sadness and grief, life does go on. Time is a beautiful healer. While everyday life may not look the same in a newly divorced family, continue to care for them and remind them that it will get better. Remind them that God loves them, you love them, and you will be there for them throughout the journey—no matter how long it takes.
DON’T EMBRACE THE “ABNORMAL.”
Divorced families feel marked and labeled, condemned and ashamed, and often just down-right weird. Therefore, certain actions can make it weirder for them. They already wonder what people are saying about them or how their church community perceives them. Keep this in consideration.
Unconditional love embraces the truth that we are all made in God’s image and then acts upon that belief. And as you offer unconditional love to divorced families, you lead those around you to do the same.
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Michael Murray lives in Murfreesboro, TN, and served in vocational church staff ministry for almost 20 years before a divorce in 2014. 6 years later after going through restoration and healing he continues to be active as a volunteer in his local church and has recently joined a non-profit ministry called Standing Stone, caring for pastors and their wives and ministry leaders. Michael is a father of 3 children through his first marriage and now remarried has a stepdaughter as well.
Need to help families in crisis due to COVID?
M2P Members, pick up your resource A Quick Guide to Helping Families in Crisis in Toolbox: Encourage Parents.
M2P releases new books in the M2P’s Family Bible Series!