This is in response to some of the backlash I have read against Lysa TerKeurst over the last few weeks regarding her decision to pursue divorce.
I recently posted a letter written by Lysa TerKeurst, “Rejection, Heartache, and a Faithful God,” posted 6/13/17. Lysa is a popular women’s ministry leader and teacher, and she is a New York Times bestselling author. Her ministry, Proverbs 31 Ministries, is named after the chapter reference in the Bible of the well-known passage depicting what a virtuous woman looks like. If you’ve ever checked out my list of favorite blogs in the margin (header or footer depending on which digital platform you use) you know I’ve had Proverbs 31 there since I began blogging in August 2013.
In all fairness, I’ve read more comments in support of Lysa than against. Yet I’m not sure why some in the Christian community are shocked by the news, and saddened or enraged that Lysa decided to pursue divorce.
Lysa had the right to walk away from infidelity and to publicly name the reasons, biblical reasons, why she was choosing to file divorce proceedings.
“My husband, life partner and father of my children, Art TerKeurst, has been repeatedly unfaithful to me with a woman he met online, bringing an end to our marriage of almost 25 years….I don’t share this to harm or embarrass him, but to help explain why I have decided to separate from him and pursue a divorce.” ~Lysa TerKeurst
I’m sure she was well aware that some in the Christian community would take the opportunity to verbally shred her over the airwaves, in the blogosphere, and on podcasts. Many Christians believe Christians should not divorce—ever!
I especially notice this in legalistic backgrounds and those deeply engrained in the patriarchal movement.
I ascribe to the Biblical grounds that God allows for divorce under specific circumstances. I consider divorce a merciful gift from our gift-giving Heavenly Father for a spouse enduring unfaithfulness, a spouse’s addiction and/or abuse. (I’m yet to hear of a pornography addiction that didn’t fuel verbal and emotional abuse.)
I’ve also read excerpts of Lysa’s letter picked apart and spun in different ways. As a woman who was in ministry, and who divorced a pastor, I’ll add my commentary to the mix.
“I so wish we were sitting face-to-face so you could see my tears and hear the deep grief in my voice as I share this with you.”
It took courage and I imagine hours heaped upon hours of Bible study, prayer, and professional counseling, topped off with immeasurable puddles of tears for Lysa to reach the conclusion to file for divorce. I’ve personally never known a sister-in-Christ who made this decision quickly, thoughtlessly, or gladly. It’s just not an emotionally healthy woman’s nature. We are nurturing, long-suffering, forgiving, and abounding in providing extra chances for the offender to make things right.
Even if Lysa didn’t have deep grief, or was past that stage, she would still receive my compassion and prayer support for choosing to divorce her unfaithful husband who was also not seeking healing for substance abuse issues.
Next, she writes about her commitment to marriage:
“Anyone who knows me and Proverbs 31 Ministries knows how seriously I take marriage. I’ve always encouraged women to fight for their marriages and to do everything possible to save them when they come under threat.”
I believe her. It takes the commitment of two people to get married, but only one person to break the vow. Lysa learned like many of us that one person is not capable of fighting the battle alone to save a relationship between two people who both have the free will to choose. We are not the Holy Spirit and cannot convict the unfaithful spouse of their error/sin. Even the Holy Spirt won’t make them do what they don’t want to do. It only takes one person to abuse, abandon, and destroy the marriage. I know Lysa took her marriage covenant seriously and earnestly wrestled through her husband’s infidelity. If she is anything like me she refused to give up or give in until she knew she had done everything humanly possible to save her marriage while waiting on God and waiting on Art. After all, as Christians we know God can provide the healing and restoration…but here’s the catch: both people must desire it. In the end, Art didn’t desire it and he made a choice. Lysa simply decided to make Art’s abandonment of their family legally official.
Lysa also mentioned the effort she put into trying to “save” her marriage after discovering her husband’s infidelity 18 months prior.
“But sadly, though I have repeatedly forgiven and accepted him back, he has continued to abuse substances, be unfaithful, and refused to be truthful to me and our family.”
She went above and beyond to give Art time to repent, heal, and restore their relationship even though she was not biblically responsible for doing so. He was the cheating party who should have been putting in the time required for the hard work of winning her back to save their marriage and keeping their family intact; as well as, restoring his fellowship with God. Art rejected reconciliation; he broke the marriage vows and refused to stop cheating. Lysa may have been the one to file for divorce but make no mistake; he is the one who first left and his choices led to divorce.
“After much prayer and consultation with wise, biblically-minded people, I have decided that Art has abandoned our marriage.”
Yes, he did. He also defiled their marriage bed and broke his covenant between him, Lysa, and God.
I understand and agree with Lysa that her husband abandoned their marriage. If only it were a past action that could be filed away. For those who haven’t lived through betrayal you should realize…it is an ongoing, active trauma that continually violates a woman’s heart, soul, mind and strength. The road to healing is long.
I’m grateful for Lysa’s courage and vulnerability to share the facts with her readers, without going in to details, as to why she is choosing divorce. Lysa strives to be real, even when life is messy or ugly, for the sake of passing on gospel lessons.
“Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” I Thessalonians 2:8
Lysa’s a teacher at heart; with a heart that is broken but still nurturing. Her marriage failed because of her husband’s choices; she did not fail. I believe it’s safe to say this trial has not been fun or easy, but when she comes through on the other side she, because of her faithfulness to God, will see fruit—not just in the circumstance—but in herself. God knows the fruit is there because He’s already prayed His will over it.
“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” Romans 8:26
Lysa kept her husband’s secrets, endured his unfaithfulness, chanced danger from his substance abuse and possible STDs, loved him, and offered him forgiveness multiple times.
Telling Lysa, or any other betrayed or abused wife, that she should … remain subjected to lies, neglect, cheating, emotional trauma, and probable STDs while loving him and hoping to save their marriage because God hates divorce… is not biblically necessary. I imagine Lysa did that for a time; hoping Art could come through the mess holding his head high with his dignity intact.
I desire for Christians to put away the, “God hates divorce” as the one size fits all quote to prevent a marriage from ending. God hates unnecessary divorce that could be prevented by spouses loving each other, being faithful, and placing each other’s needs above their own. He hates the pain divorce causes each member of the family.
Divorces feels like it will surly kill you when you are suffering through it.
God hates the wounds and the pain caused by divorce…but…God allows divorce in the cases of infidelity and abuse.
Over the last 5 years of ministering to broken women in destructive marriages I have been heart-broken at how quickly the church takes the unfaithful abuser’s side in an attempt to persuade the woman to stay.
Let’s stop assigning damaging words and expectations on the faithful spouse and instead understand their hurt, pray for them, and offer practical help as they walk through the valley of abuse, betrayal, abandonment, and/or divorce.
I’m grateful Lysa will continue to pour her energy and gifts into her ministry, Proverbs 31. I’m thrilled that those around her have not placed blame on her for the wrongs her husband committed against her, nor asked her to step down from ministry. To remove Lysa from ministry and from her current source of income would be revictimization. Her husband’s failure does not damage her character and gifting; in fact, she has been subjected to exemplifying the Proverbs 31 woman in the middle of extreme stress while enduring the public’s eye and a few Christian’s judgementalism. Some Christians believe divorce is sin and should never be used as an option. Others believe that the offended or abused spouse should die to self, take up their cross, and endure more unfaithfulness and/or abuse. God does not place the institution of marriage above the safety, sanity, and health of the victim. He is a God of relationship and he does not expect us to experience the death of our personality, energy, heart, spirit, and strength to appease the offender/abuser and keep the marriage together.
Honestly, I see that the Christian world places more expectations on the innocent victim of the divorce than they do on the offender. Our community of believers tends to want more details so they can verify if you have biblical grounds for divorce.
I sure would like to see this same community hold the unfaithful spouse, or abuser, to the same standard of accountability. Perhaps if they did, the intervention and accountability would have relieved the victim from more heartache and—perhaps—helped to save the marriage.
In the end only One opinion matters—the One who forever calls Lysa worthy.
I’m sure Lysa waited patiently for the Lord, and He allowed her time to work through everything. Through this, Lysa knew she did everything she could to save her marriage and did not prematurely leave.
Did Lysa find what many of us who went before her found? The greater and deeper our emotional trauma; the more intense our spiritual walk becomes. When we are too weak and the problems too big; God supernaturally exerts His power in us resulting in a life of extraordinary growth.
“Marriage and family are important to God; just as important to him are the individuals within those marriages.” ~Leslie Vernick, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage: How to Find Your Voice and Reclaim Your Hope
For more perspective see: Biblical Permission to Leave a Toxic Spouse