4 ways the gospel comforts children who’ve experienced divorce

December 16, 2019

I should have never believed in marriage. Growing up, I was surrounded by hurting and broken marriages. My parents divorced when I was in kindergarten, leaving my mom to raise four children under eight. Most of my friends’ parents were divorced as well. We spoke a common language of custody and visits and holidays with only part of your family present. We divided our lives as “before” and “after” divorce.  

Much of my generation grew up in divorced families. The no-fault divorce policy from 50 years ago opened a floodgate of divorces for the parents of my peers born in the 70s and 80s. The no-fault divorce legislation wasn’t the beginning of family problems, though. And even though current statistics show hopeful numbers that divorce is on the decline, broken families will always exist this side of heaven. My kids have many peers with divorced parents, and divorce is just as hurtful for them as it was when I was little. 

It’s hard to articulate how much of my life has been impacted by my parents’ divorce. It was decades ago now, but the effects still go on. Holidays, significant events in life, relationships, and family dynamics are complicated to navigate. Fear and hurt linger from being raised without my dad in the home. 

The gospel changes everything 

I should have never believed in marriage, but when I was 13, I heard the gospel for the first time and became a member of a church. There, I got to know peers whose parents were still married. I saw families who were striving to be a picture of Christ’s relationship with his Bride, the Church. And I began to believe that there was a different plan for marriage than the one I had seen. 

Since my parents' divorce was a long time ago now, I have enough distance from it to reflect on some of its consequences. Many of them were hard, terrible things in my life, but some of them were gracious gifts. I can see how God used their divorce to change my life for my good, even amidst the suffering. I was exposed to the gospel because of the move we made after the divorce. I have family members I wouldn’t have otherwise. My entire adult life is built upon the events in my childhood and adolescence that led me to meet my dear husband—events that happened because of my parents’ divorce. I would never minimize the pain from my parents’ divorce, yet I also rejoice in the goodness of the Lord to make something beautiful in the midst of that pain. Here are four areas where the gospel changed how I looked at marriage and divorce.

I would never minimize the pain from my parents’ divorce, yet I also rejoice in the goodness of the Lord to make something beautiful in the midst of that pain.

1. Identity: When I was young, I eagerly anticipated getting married so my last name would change; I didn’t want my name to be a constant reminder of my parents’ divorce. I hated explaining to people why my mom’s last name was different than mine. My own name, something so fundamental to my identity, caused me pain, making me question who I was. But when God saved me, I got a new identity and a spiritual family. 

This new identity isn’t one that changes when earthly relationships end or begin—it’s an eternal identity. It’s an identity that is perfect and without blemish because there is no sin or hardship or failure in life that gets to brand those who belong to God, including divorce. The effects of divorce are real, but divorce does not claim ownership over the believer’s identity—not the divorcee, not the children. Our identity is not in any sin; it is in Christ alone. 

2. Family: My girls all have pictures of my husband and I hanging on the wall next to their beds because they like to see us when they fall asleep and wake up. My girls know what so many people in our culture want to deny: their parents’ marriage is good for them. They are safer and happier and flourish more when mom and dad are striving for a healthy marriage.

But when a divorce changes the family, God’s most fundamental institution for our well-being and belonging is shattered. It can cause a child to question their place in the world. For the child of divorce, the family of God becomes all the more important. In the Church, we have mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers in the faith who can teach us. In my church, I have seen how my faith family comes alongside my husband and me to help shepherd our children. Even intact families will fail us, but as Christians, we have the church to encourage us—and our children—in our faith. 

3. Father: Like many of my peers, I grew up without my biological dad in my home. I can still see how the effects of his absence linger, but praise be to God the Father who is always with his children. Where earthly parents are absent, God is not. Where the marriage covenant has failed, Christ is already victorious in fulfilling God’s promises. We can rest in a faithful Father who will not—who cannot—fail us. God is the standard for parenting, not any earthly parent. We can rest in knowing that his love is perfect. As his child, we can turn to him, knowing that he will not let us down, and he will always care for us.

4. Sin: Divorce is not an unforgivable sin. Although we may feel the effects of different sins with varying degrees of consequences, God hates all sin. My sin is not better and less wicked than the sins that lead to the end of any marriage. When I am tempted to harbor bitterness over some of the circumstances of my parents’ divorce, I must remember that my sins nailed Jesus to the cross, too. The cross is a constant reminder to me that no sin is outside of grace and forgiveness. 

The Bible’s plan for marriage is for humanity’s good 

God created marriage for our good and his glory. Designed to represent the relationship between Christ and the Church, marriage gives us stability, companionship, and love that helps us grow in faith and righteousness. And as children are born into a family, marriage provides them with the safest relationships for their development. 

A friend of mine avoided marriage for years out of fear of divorce. He saw the aftermath of his parents’ five cumulative divorces and wanted nothing to do with marriage. After he was saved, however, he began to see how marriage between two redeemed people reflects the gospel. He began to see that his parents’ divorces didn’t mean that marriage is bad or that God was wrong; it’s just evidence of the effects of sin marring the good gift of family and marriage. 

No marriage is perfect in this sinful world, and divorces will continue to happen. But, the gospel changes everything. While divorce can be devastating, the cross is sufficient for our hurt and grief. Even in broken families, God is working for our good in the midst of pain and suffering. Children who have experienced the devastating effects of divorce don’t have to despair. They can experience the goodness of God and the redemption that he offers and, in turn, offer the comfort they’ve received to those who are hurting around them.

Jessica Burke

Jessica Burke is married to her high school sweetheart, and they have four children. The Burkes lived in Skopje, Macedonia, as missionaries for three years before moving to North Carolina where Jessica’s husband is a chaplain at a local jail and a pastor. A former public school teacher, Jessica home educates her … Read More