By / Sep 9

Advice on achieving wedded bliss likely began when Adam and Eve passed their hard-won wisdom about the first marriage down to their children. But since then the quality of marital advice has varied considerably. Too often, recommendations about what is necessary to create and maintain stable and happy marriages are based more on old wives tales than on supportable evidence. 

Here, for example, are three myths about marriage that Americans continue to believe and pass on to young people.

Myth #1: Marriage is inherently unstable, and about half of marriages end in divorce.

Although this claim has been debunked for decades, the idea that close to half of all marriages end in divorce remains all too common. A related belief is that while the statistic is no longer true, it was the reality at an earlier time in American history. The truth, though, is that there has never been a time when half of marriages even came close to ending in divorce. 

The most common metric for measuring divorce is the divorce rate, a measure of the tendency for divorce to occur within a specific population. The divorce rate is calculated in any given year by dividing the number of divorces occurring within a population over the year, by the average or mid-year population for that year, expressed times 1000. For example, in 2019 there were 14.9 divorces for every thousand marriages. This was the lowest rate in nearly 50 years. 

A low divorce rate means that people are staying married longer. Census data reveals that the median duration of current marriages in the U.S. in 2019 was 19.8, which means about half of marriage lasted longer than that, and half lasted less. 

Where did the myth originate? It’s likely a result of people calculating the marriage to divorce ratio. In 2020, the rate was 2.2 marriages for every divorce. That’s almost 1 divorce per every 2 marriages—close to 50%. But as Dan Hurley of The New York Times explains:

[R]esearchers say that [using the marriage ratio] is misleading because the people who are divorcing in any given year are not the same as those who are marrying, and that the statistic is virtually useless in understanding divorce rates. In fact, they say, studies find that the divorce rate in the United States has never reached one in every two marriages, and new research suggests that, with rates now declining, it probably never will.

Myth #2: If you want to stay married, wait to get married until you are in your 30s.

A common view in America is that to have a successful marriage a person should marry later in life, presumably when they are more mature and have established some stability. That is almost always a reliable truth if the person is considering marriage in their teens. Research has shown that delaying marriage from the teens until the early 20s produces the largest declines in divorce risk.

And it also used to be true of people who waited to marry until after age 30. But that seems to have changed in the past 20 years. Recent analysis (since 2002) shows that prior to age 32 or so, each additional year of age at marriage reduces the odds of divorce by 11%. However, after age 32 the odds of divorce increase by 5% per year.

Myth #3: If you want to stay married, live together first. 

One of the most persistent myths about developing a stable marriage is the idea that a couple should live together—cohabitate—before tying the knot. A study by Barna Group found that a majority of Americans believe in cohabitation (65%) and 84% of that group  do so because they believe it provides a test of compatibility prior to marrying. 

The reality, though, is that there is almost no greater predictor of divorce than cohabitation. Living together before marriage increases the probability a couple will split up. For example, a 2018 study found that cohabitation before marriage was associated with a lower risk of divorce in the first year of marriage but a higher risk thereafter

One of the reasons may be that the experience of cohabitation makes people more open to divorce. A study from Europe found ​​that once people married, they were less tolerant of divorce. That was true only for those who had not lived together first. If a couple had cohabited prior to marriage, they were more tolerant of divorce than they had been when they were single. The experience of being in a less-than-committed living arrangement carried over in attitudes even after the wedding. 

Even for those who do not divorce, cohabitation can reduce marital satisfaction. One study found that almost half of people who cohabited before engagement (43.1%) reported lower marital satisfaction, dedication, and confidence as well as more negative communication with their spouse. 

Some actual good advice 

What contributes to ​a successful marriage? Here are three pieces of advice that actually help couples create a happy marriage: 

Share faith in Christ: When asked about what kinds of things are important for a successful marriage, 44% of adults surveyed by Pew Research said shared religious beliefs are “very important.” By this metric, notes Pew, shared religion is “seen as more important for a good marriage than shared political attitudes, but substantially less important than shared interests, good sex and a fair division of household labor.” Follow the Apostle Paul’s advice and “Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers” (2 Cor. 6:14)—especially in marriage. 

Share a pew: Spouses should have a shared faith in Christ and then share a pew in church. Research has found that couples are substantially more likely to report being happy in their relationship when both partners attend church regularly than when neither partner does. Couples who attend religious services together are also happier in their relationships than are their peers who don’t regularly attend church.

Share prayer and Christian friends: Evidence shows that couples who attend church together enjoy significantly happier relationships, in large part, says ​​family researcher W. Bradford Wilcox, because they socialize with friends who share their faith and especially because they pray with one another. “In other words,” adds Wilcox, “those couples who pray together are happiest together.”

By / Dec 13

Most people look at me and see a cliché soccer mom from the suburbs trying to keep all the plates spinning: raising five kids, looking for that perfect Pinterest Instant Pot recipe that everyone will enjoy, racing to basketball games while practicing spelling words in the car, all while trying to squeeze in a weekly — OK, let’s be honest, monthly — date night with my husband. It’s the daily grind filled with small moments of joy, stress, pain, grief, and celebrations that many American families experience.  

What people would be surprised to learn is that my life didn’t always look so idyllic. I grew up in the 80s, amid the divorce boom. Every parent, grandparent, aunt, and uncle I knew was divorced. I didn’t have much of a relationship with my dad, and overall, in addition to divorce, I experienced addiction, abandonment, abuse, and general dysfunction throughout my childhood. These experiences gave me the desire to break the generational cycle of dysfunction in my own life.  

My childhood also gave me great empathy for those who have endured similar struggles. It opened my eyes to ways in which the church supports its flock — like the way Jesus ministered to the woman at the well. Unfortunately, my experience of growing up with great instability and dysfunction has also shown me ways in which the church has room for growth. I have seen the church respond with both empathy and judgment, and it has caused me to pause and ask myself, “In what ways are we doing well, and in what ways can we do better?”

Growing and thriving

There are many ways in which the church is caring well for people who have experienced abuse, addiction, abandonment, divorce, and general dysfunction. In past generations, some in the church perpetuated the notion that Christians must “have it all together.” Believers succumbed to an underlying pressure to look, act, and be perfect. This perfection drove many believers to live secret lives of sin and shame — to hide their addictions to pornography, drugs, sex, food, and alcohol, among others. And struggles with pride, anger, depression, mental illness, and more were pushed below the surface. When they perceived they could not confront their sin in a safe and healthy place, they fed their sins until they were bloated with depravity and buried under a heap of guilt.

Today, I see a shift. The church is actively acknowledging that we — Christians included — are all sinners (Romans 3:23). Preachers used to preach it from the pulpit, but now local churches are putting Scripture into action by providing a welcome place where people can process their sin, pain, and grief through programs like Celebrate Recovery, GriefShare, DivorceCare, and other local, faith-based recovery groups.  

I also see a shedding of the stoic exterior once worn by the baby boomers and Generation X. And I believe we have the millennials and Generation Z to thank for that. While the older generations tend to conceal their emotions, the younger generations revel in vulnerability and authenticity. They view openness and sharing their feelings as a strength, not a weakness. They are creating a culture of open dialogue through life groups, discipleship, and mentors, which is helping everyone within the church feel less ashamed and more apt to confess their emotional struggles, familial baggage, mental health issues, and spiritual doubts and confusion. This mentality of vulnerability — along with the ability to acknowledge one’s sin—cultivates a field ripe for more authentic relationships with Jesus and with each other.

Room for improvement

But there is still so much the church can do to improve how it cares for people who have experienced abuse, addiction, abandonment, divorce, and overall dysfunction.  

First, we must realize that those in church leadership are not above these issues. We must provide safeguards and accountability for our staff, elders, deacons, teachers, and the entire church body (because anyone who steps foot in the church building becomes a leader in some form or fashion). These safety measures can come in the form of accountability partners, prayer partners, and life groups, all of which must be shrouded with truth and grace.

We also need to shake off the attitude of “that would never happen to me.” We think dysfunction occurs in someone else’s family and life until our spouse has an affair, our teenager becomes addicted to drugs, we get addicted to prescription pain killers, our daughter struggles with an eating disorder, or our husband looks at pornography on his work computer. We believe these things only happen to other people until we are sitting on our counselor’s couch asking, “How did I get here? Where did it all go wrong?” The truth is, we are all one bad decision away from living a completely different life.

Next, we need to embrace the sinners among us with truth and grace. Instead of having the Pharisees’ hypocritical attitude of judgment (Luke 6), we should have the attitude of Paul who realized he was the worst of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15).  Fred Rogers once said, “There isn’t anyone you couldn’t love once you’ve heard their story.” Wrong judgment ends when listening begins. When we hear someone’s story, we understand them a little more. When we understand, we empathize. When we empathize, we can offer them the help they need.  

Instead compartmentalizing our faith — consciously or unconsciously — to Sunday mornings or Wednesday nights — we must follow Jesus into the messiness of other people’s lives. We need to listen to the hurting, weep with the broken, hurt with the sick, and cry with the grieving. Due to my family’s circumstances, I lived with a friend’s family during my sophomore year in high school. Later, during my senior year in high school, I lived with a different friend’s family. These families saw a need, and they met it. This is the church — seeing the messy and the broken and putting it back together. Not just when it’s convenient, but when it’s needed. 

So, what can the church do to help those who have experienced abuse, addiction, abandonment, divorce, and general dysfunction?  We can listen and empathize. We can get involved for the long haul. We can point people to Scripture instead of offering pithy, empty clichés. We can be on guard and accept that these traumas can happen to us, even though we live in middle-to-upper class neighborhoods, we have a college education, or sit in the front row at church every Sunday. We can intentionally focus on connection and discipleship, and we can do all of this while offering authenticity and vulnerability along the way. 

By / Nov 16

Editor’s Note: This article is part of our primer series on Christians ethics where a respected leader and thinker recommends and gives a summary overview of a book that helps orient readers to a certain aspect of ethics and philosophy. This series is designed to equip the local church to engage foundational texts of Christian ethics. Find the entire series here

Every one of us was born into a family. It’s true whether we’re single or married, and if we’re longing for children or if each chair around the table is full. If you have a pulse, you are someone’s son or daughter. This fact alone makes it necessary for each one of us to be able to navigate the various ethical issues that confront family life. 

But necessity doesn’t equal ease. The issues related to marriage and singleness, parenting and divorce, and gender and sexuality are emotionally and politically loaded. When it comes to these topics, we all have a personal history and preloaded assumptions that can blind us to our biases. If we want our ethical choices and the conversations we have with others who have different perspectives to be driven by biblical truth, we must spend time examining our thoughts about family life in light of the Scriptures.

And, for those who serve in ministry, the Bible gives us another important reason to study the ethics of family. Paul tells us that having the competence and character to manage a family is a prerequisite for leadership in God’s household (1 Tim. 3:4). 

These are a few of the reasons why a book like God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation, Second Edition (Crossway, 2010), is so important. In this book, Andreas J. Köstenberger and David W. Jones give Christians—and church leaders in particular— a thorough and unapologetically biblical primer on family ethics. 

Building a biblical foundation for family ethics

Köstenberger and Jones’ book begins by announcing a cultural crisis. The authors write, “It can be rightly said that marriage and the family are institutions under siege in our world today, and that with marriage and the family, our very civilization is in crisis” (15). The authors then provide a careful survey of the Bible’s major exegetical and ethical issues related to marriage (chapters 2–3), sex (chapter 4), parenting (chapters 5–8), singleness (chapter 9), homosexuality (chapter 10), divorce and remarriage (chapter 11), and family life as it relates to church ministry (chapters 12–13)—all with the goal of rebuilding a biblical foundation for family life.

The greatest strength of the book is its thorough research (the “For Further Study” bibliography for each topic is incredible) and strong exegetical work. This is noteworthy in chapter 11’s treatment of divorce and remarriage. Köstenberger helps his readers understand each biblical passage that addresses divorce—in Deuteronomy, the Gospels, and Paul—as well as both the history of Jewish and Christian interpretation of these passages. Then, in an accompanying appendix, he carefully weighs the meaning of Matthew 19’s exception clause and the Pauline exception in 1 Corinthians 7.

But it’s not simply thorough exegesis but the thoroughgoing application of the biblical text to various issues that has made God, Marriage, and Family the standard on family ethics for conservative evangelical Christians. Pastors, you will find help for premarital counseling not only in Köstenberger’s exegesis of passages like Genesis 2 and Ephesians 5 in chapters 1–2, but also in his clear discussion of marriage as a covenant relationship (73–78) and his teaching about God’s four purposes for sex (79–82, they are procreation, relationship, pleasure, and—one that less often makes it into sermons—the public good). Parents, you will find the overview of family relationships in the Bible (chapters 5–6) informative, but I think you’ll want to photocopy, laminate, and put the “eight levels of parental discipline” from the Book of Proverbs (145) on your refrigerator.

What most impressed me about this book when I first read it is the way that it thoroughly covers issues many Christians approach with little thought. Köstenberger, for example, devotes 16 pages to the use of contraception (121–137), an ethical matter with which many believers do not wrestle adequately. He does not take the historic Roman Catholic view—rejecting contraception outright—but in light of a number of passages (Lev. 21:20; Deut. 23:1; 1 Cor. 6:19), he cautions Christian couples to approach sterilization methods such as vasectomies or tubal occlusions with care. He writes, “While not every Christian would agree that sterilization involves an improper violation of one’s body as the temple of the Holy Spirit, it is vital that believers submit their personal desires to prayerful consideration of what is scripturally permissible” (125). 

When it comes to “the pill” (hormonally-based chemical contraceptives), Köstenberger is even more cautious, ultimately concluding that using this method is tenuous because, in some rare cases, it does not only work to prevent conception but instead as an abortifacient, that is, it inhibits the uterine lining “from supporting the life of a newly conceived child should fertilization take place” (126). Other pro-life thinkers have come to different conclusions from Köstenberger; See an alternative perspective in William R. Cutrer and Sandra L. Glahn, The Contraception Guidebook (Zondervan, 2005). But Köstenberger and Jones’s careful treatment equips Christians to approach difficult ethical matters without blindly adopting our culture’s assumptions. 

The need for courage with compassion

God, Marriage, and Family does have drawbacks, and one notable one is that the book is a bit dated; it’s now 10 years old. Over the last decade, we’ve seen the rise of the #MeToo movement, new questions among Christians of varying political stripes about how to weigh a political candidate’s sexual ethics, and heated debates over how evangelicals should approach sex and gender (e.g., the spiritual friendship movement, the Nashville Statement, and the Revoice conference). Köstenberger and Jones’s second edition was released five years before Obergefell v. Hodges legalized gay marriage. On my bookshelf, Köstenberger’s book sits adjacent to Russell Moore’s Storm-Tossed Family (B&H, 2018). For more up-to-date discussions of some of these issues, this book is a helpful go-to supplement.

Because every person is part of a family, it’s essential that every Christian be able to navigate issues of family ethics with a rooted biblical frame of reference.

A second concern comes in chapter 13. Köstenberger and Jones review some current trends in family ministry and provide a healthy critique of the family-integrated church movement, a model that eliminates all age-segregated programming from the life of a local church. In their overview, the authors state, “Some churches are more purist in their convictions and application of family integration, while others are amenable to combine this model with other approaches” (259). The trouble with this assumption is that the family-integrated approach isn’t as common as the authors think. The other family ministry approaches that the authors briefly mention (259, n. 20) are more widespread and have greater biblical and historical support. Timothy Paul Jones has pointed out how the imbalanced treatment given in God, Marriage, and Family could turn some church leaders off to family ministry models that would serve and help their ministry contexts

God, Marriage, and Family has other oversights, too. The divorce and remarriage chapter, while exegetically excellent, doesn’t weigh whether or not physical abuse within marriage constitutes functional abandonment. It doesn’t talk about how to help a person who struggles with same-sex attraction build biblical friendships. And, while it encourages parents to cultivate masculinity and femininity in their children (146–147), it doesn’t help parents distinguish between biblical and cultural expressions of gender. 

It may be that these oversights are just more examples of the fact that the book is dated, but I wonder if these concerns aren’t more related to the book’s overall tone and culture-war posture. God, Marriage, and Family is framed with statements about how family life is “under siege”; the authors believe that marriage and family are experiencing a “cultural crisis,” one that is “symptomatic of an underlying spiritual crisis that gnaws at the foundations of our once-shared societal values” (15, 269). We certainly need courage to stand on truth in a world that is hostile toward the Bible’s family ethic, but we shouldn’t romanticize the past; commonly-held societal values have not always been as pure as we might assume. 

While believers certainly need courage to stand for truth in the face of Satan’s lies and worldly temptations, our bold talk about family ethics must be seasoned with a heart of compassion for people. We mustn’t forget the woman who has been battered in an abusively patriarchal marriage, the teen who experiences gender dysphoria, or the young man who has been bullied because of his sexual orientation. 

Because every person is part of a family, it’s essential that every Christian be able to navigate issues of family ethics with a rooted biblical frame of reference. For this reason, I’m thankful for books like God, Marriage, and Family, and I’m prayerful that God will use resources like this one to grow us into leaders who approach family ethics with careful study, courage, and compassion.

By / Jul 28

I’ve been in the business of helping save marriages for nearly seven years now and in the business of keeping families together much longer. The amount of similarities between the families I work with and our current cultural climate is striking. We are all seeking to navigate these choppy waters, and some of us are drowning in the process. 

In reality, there’s not much difference between a bickering and resentful family and a bickering and resentful society. In fact, you would have to work hard to convince me the two are not a byproduct of one another. We’re living in a time promulgated with self-derived truth. We find our version of events, enter into the fray, and are unwilling to yield and unable to find solutions. American families have been brutalizing one another in this way for the last 50 years due to dramatic cultural shifts in family philosophy and belief systems. So, it is no surprise to me this chaos has poured onto our streets.  

It is why you’ve heard it said the art of compromise has been lost on our society. There are days this certainly feels the case. But hope is not lost. It cannot be. The alternative is too grim. How we handle the contentious conversations of our day has an immediate impact on our culture in the present, not some distant day in the future. We can no longer kick the can down the road on our relationships in this American family.

I took it upon myself to think through the images and clichés I often use in couples therapy—the things I find myself saying from memory again and again that resonate with the families I work with. My hope is that you can take these principles and work toward compromise in your homes and spheres of influence. The time to act is now. Step out and have meaningful conversations with your neighbors. Show your support for the people who make up our nation by being kind wherever you are. Put others first above your own needs, and never cease to advocate for truth and justice above all things.  And seek to apply these ideas along the way in order to live at peace with those around you.

5 ways to approach tough relationships

You can both be right. There are times in life when we should stand our ground in the face of injustice and evil. Murder, rape, and other criminal activities are just a few examples. When it comes to these things, we should never compromise, never back down, and seek swift and righteous justice. But in most conflict situations, there is a lot of room for compromise. Believing there is some validity to what the other person is saying is a good first step. You may not agree with all of what they are saying, and you may completely disagree with their emotional reactions. However, people can almost always find common ground. 

And it always starts with seeing how the other side could be right. Because when you can see the shoreline from the other person’s point of view, you can begin to swim in that direction. When you can accept this, tension is relieved from the pressure cooker, and the two sides can begin to converse. The trick is talking in the right way. The communication of compromise is hard to do, especially when you’re used to fighting for your side.   

Make “the thing” the thing. This is conflict resolution 101. When I was in seminary there was a fun saying all the preaching students would recite: “A mist in the pulpit is a fog in the pews.” This goes for conflict as well. It’s impossible to see the shoreline if there’s fog in the air. The antidote is clear communication, which leads to clear understanding. Understanding leads to empathy. Empathy leads to compromise. But if two people are talking about two related but different topics, the communication breaks down at the “understanding” phase. 

I can’t tell you how many people are such bad communicators that they’re actually fighting over two completely different topics most of the time. This is why you have to make sure the thing you’re fighting about is actually the same thing. If not, we get mixed up, confusion reigns, we don’t listen, and we become defensive. Our current cultural climate is a perfect example of this. There’s a lot of talk going on and a lot of emotionally charged ideas and opinions with layers of variations. That’s because problems are never just one thing; they are complex. Thankfully, solutions are often simple, though not painless (more on this later).

So what’s the key to knowing when you’re not talking about the same thing? When your conversation goes round and round, and both sides end up repeating the same thing while just varying the terminology. The reason people repeat the same thing over and over is because they feel like they’re not being heard. If the conversation is cycling into oblivion, you have two options: the person you’re speaking with does not understand, or the person you’re speaking with does understand but does not care. 

More often than not, if it’s a legitimate relationship (basically anything outside of Facebook, Twitter, or social media), the person you’re speaking with does care. This means you have to pause the conversation and move into what I call reflection mode. Reflection mode is a simplified version of the speaker/listener technique, where one person repeats back what they hear the speaker saying until the speaker agrees that the listener comprehends what they’re saying. So, if my friend says, “I like cats.” I say, “What I hear you saying is you like cats, is that right?” They say, “Yes.” If I say, “What I hear you saying is you like rats, is that correct?” They say “No. I said cats not rats.” The conversation remains emotionally low, and we keep going in an attempt to understand whoever is speaking in that moment.  

Work to understand, instead of working to be right.  What happens when the speaker responds, “I said cats not rats, you piece of trash. You’re so dumb”? Remember when I said it’s possible the person you’re talking to doesn’t care? If compromise is going to happen, you have to work to understand instead of working to be right. Things get volatile really quick when you have a person who only cares about being right. And that’s when you need to start looking for the nearest exit. Don’t feel bad about leaving. Express your concern and love for the people, your passion for the topic, and then politely excuse yourself.

We currently have a number of differing worldviews waging war in the hearts and minds of American society. Diversity of thought is a good thing, but you have to be open to other people’s experiences and feelings about an issue in order to understand one another. That’s how civilized conversations work. Discounting your spouse’s experiences will only lead to further frustration. Shaming your neighbor for speaking his or her mind about a topic will not win them over to seeing things from your point of view. In fact, it is guaranteed to escalate the conversation to a bad place. So if you find yourself using manipulative words or shouting another person down, go ahead and quit. Because even if you get the other person to be quiet, you most certainly have not won over their heart or mind.

Living justly leads to making sacrifices. Fairness and justice are not synonymous. Life is not fair, and no one should ever expect it to be. Before I was married my grandmother doled out some serious wisdom. She said, “There’s no such thing as 50/50 in marriage. Just focus on giving it your 100, and the rest will come together.” She was right. I’ve tried my best to give my marriage 100%. And I’d say it’s paid off really well. Furthermore, I’ve worked hard to not concern myself with what I’m doing versus what my wife is doing or not doing. This really makes a difference. Saying something is not fair is not grounds for compromise; it’s the foundation for entitlement.

Justice, on the other hand, is something completely different. And unfortunately, it is often deferred. It should make us sick when this happens. Despite this, we should never stop living righteous lives in the face of injustice. And we should never cease to implement justice when we have the ability.

So let me bring these two together for you. Because life is not fair, and because justice must be done, sacrifices will have to be made. Adequate solutions are never pain-free. The path to healing and living together under one roof will come at a cost. There is no other option. You will have to die to yourself on multiple occasions. You will have to give ground in exchange for peace and harmony. This is how marriages work. This is how families find peace.

One last piece of this “just sacrifice” puzzle is important for you to understand. You cannot find peace with a person who is not willing to live justly. You cannot burn down the house in order to save the family. I would never advise a friend or a family member to make a deal with the devil. And neither should you.

Don’t give up. All is not lost. Hope is still the best medicine. Your marriage is not over. Our society can move forward. There are greater days ahead if we want them. Show me a man without hope, and I’ll show you a man without a future. And as Christians, we of all people have the greatest reason to persevere in the midst of difficulty because we have a living hope (1 Pet. 1:3). 

Don’t allow the news cycle to tank your aspirations. Step out of your home and build relationships. Step out from behind your keyboard. Ask people how they’re doing. Go out of your way to acknowledge someone while you’re walking through the grocery store or standing in the checkout line. Live a righteous life, and look for the best in others. But don’t just stop there; work for the best of others. If we give up now, we leave a vacuum, and there is no telling what will fill it. As Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” While we’re in this contentious society, let’s affirm the dignity of everyone we encounter by showing them the same grace we’ve been shown in Christ. 

By / Dec 16

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.

By / Aug 16

Fifty years ago this summer, California implemented the first no-fault divorce statute in the nation. Here are five facts you should know about the policy that changed marriage in America.

1. No-fault divorce is the term for the dissolution of a marriage on a finding that the relationship is no longer viable, without any need to show “fault” or marital misconduct. Before passage of no-fault, marriages were dissolved on the basis of marital misconduct, such as abandonment, adultery, and cruelty. “Just like in every other lawsuit,” says Beverly Willett, “plaintiffs had to allege and prove a violation of their legal rights—the very definition of justice. But lawmakers abolished this requirement in divorce cases.”

2. The first modern no-fault divorce law was enacted in 1917 in Soviet Russia. A primary goal of the Bolsheviks was, as Elizabeth Brainerd explains, to “break down the traditional ‘bourgeois’ structure of the family in order to equalize the status of men and women.” They did this by implementing a number of changes to the Family Code, including allowing civil marriages (whereas before only religious marriage was allowed) and instituting no-fault divorce. By 1926, to get a divorce a spouse needed only to register with the local bureau of statistics and the other spouse would be notified three days later. “The results were what we would expect: “Divorce became much more common,” says Brainerd, “and for men, re-marriage emerged as a new and widespread marital institution in the wake of divorce. Women were much more likely to remain divorced.” When Joseph Stalin came to power ten years later he reversed the policy because of its destructive impact on the family

3. In 1966, California Governor Edmund G. Brown established the Governor's Commission on the Family to undertake a "concerted assault on the high incidence of divorce in our society and its often tragic consequences.” The Commission issued a list of recommendations, including eliminating “existing fault grounds of divorce.”

Three years later, Governor Ronald Reagan signed the Family Law Act of 1969 into law, making California the first no-fault divorce state in the nation. As Elizabeth Schoenfeld once wrote, “with a stroke of his pen, California governor Ronald Reagan wiped out the moral basis for marriage in America.” Five years after passage of the California law, no-fault divorce statutes were enacted in forty-five states. New York became the last state to pass a no-fault law in 2010. Reagan later admitted that signing the no-fault divorce bill was one of the biggest mistakes of his political life.

4. From 1867 to 1915, the divorce rate remained 1% or less (one divorce for every 1,000 population) and remained less than 2% until 1940. The first year the divorce rate exceeded 3% was in 1969, the year California became the first state to adopt no-fault divorce. The divorce rate peaked between 1979 and 1981 at 5.3 percent. Since then, the divorce rate has steadily declined along with the rate of marriage. (From 1968 to 1987, the marriage rate stayed at or above 9.9 percent. It dropped to 9.7 percent in 1988 and 1989, climbed back to 9.8 percent in 1990, and dropped steadily until 2017 where it remained at 6.9 percent.) The current divorce rate is 2.9%.

5. The effects of no-fault divorce were much greater than just the direct impacts on the divorce rate, says Douglas W. Allen. Writing in the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, Allan notes,

The law influenced the rate at which women entered the workforce, the number of hours worked in a week, the incidence of spousal abuse, the feminization of poverty, and the age at which people married. It influenced a series of other laws related to spousal and child support, custody, joint parenting, and the definition of marital property. Many of these changes had subsequent impacts on the stability of marriages. In short, the actual outcomes of no-fault divorce were completely unanticipated and unintended.

Perhaps the most unexpected result of the no-fault divorce revolution was the creation of a divorce culture, says Allan:

By inadvertently allowing for opportunistic divorce, the law created a whole new class of inequality as many women and children entered poverty through divorce. The sheer size of this group over the span of thirty years has influenced everything from greeting cards to day care centers. The divorce culture has led to a society with more coercion, individualism, and less commitment. Schools now teach ‘life skills,’ ‘job counseling,’ and ‘secular ethics’; these lessons were, at one time, universally taught by families.

By / Aug 7

Whether it’s an acquaintance, a friend, or even a close relative like a grandparent, your children will likely be witness to divorce sooner rather than later. Perhaps by God’s grace, he has sustained your marriage, and you’re not sure how to talk with your kids about divorce and its fallout in others’ lives. As parents, it’s our job to train our children to understand what God thinks about divorce and, therefore, how we should think about it as well. There are at least three principles that can guide you in these conversations.

1. Speak about God often

In Deuteronomy 6, God calls Israel to surround themselves with the law and talk about it with their children in their homes so that it would be on their hearts. As God’s people today, we can make our dinner tables, car rides, and bedtimes the “doorposts and gates” where we discuss God and his Word with our children. If we equip our children to know from an early age what God has to say about marriage and divorce, they will be better prepared to understand these issues when they arise. Though there are many voices competing for our children's attention, it's our responsibility as parents to build a lens through which they interpret the world. Let your voice be the first place your children hear about divorce. 

2. Speak honestly and carefully about divorce

Divorce is a sad reality in our culture, but that doesn't make it any less scandalous. "No-fault" divorce and "falling out of love" may be normal language that we hear, but these concepts are foreign to the Word of God. Although there may be innocent parties involved, divorce is always the result of someone's sin. Our children need to hear that the Lord designed marriage to be permanent (Matt. 19:6). We do, however, need to proceed carefully when talking about the sin involved in divorce. There may be things our children are not prepared to hear, especially when involving key relatives in their lives, like grandparents. Jeremy Pierre has provided some helpful ideas for what those conversations might look like here

3. Speak about the unfailing love of God

Without a doubt, the most important thing your children need to hear about divorce is that God is not like us. Even though our sin can invade our lives and tear apart our relationships, God’s love is unfailing for his children (Psa. 13:5). He has promised that he will never leave us nor forsake us (Deut. 31:6). He has promised that nothing will separate us from his love in Christ (Rom. 8:38-39). And he can redeem those who turn to him (1 Cor. 6:11). The precious promises of God’s love bring hope and healing in the face of the broken promises of divorce. Teach your children the wondrous love of God. 

Having this conversation with your children is difficult, and that is not a surprise to God. It’s never easy to talk about sin and its effects on the world. We speak God’s Word about divorce to our children because we want to show that God has the final say on these matters. While we do so, may we also speak with the hope of the gospel to show that sin and brokenness do not have the final say. 

By / Oct 10

A new group is dominating America’s religious landscape. According to a recent survey report from the Public Religion Research Institute, nearly 25 percent of Americans now “claim no formal religious identity.” In less than three decades, these “nones”—Americans claiming no formal religious affiliation—have grown from only six percent of the population into “the single largest ‘religious group’ in the U.S.”

This represents a staggering shift in America’s religious patterns. For decades, the Christian religion has dominated America’s religious and social life. But the rapid increase in the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans has already weakened traditional structures of American Christianity, and even more significantly, these trends likely portend a more secular future in terms of our nation’s public life.

The report indicates that the “growth of the unaffiliated has been fed by an exodus of those who grew up with a religious identity.” While the ranks of unaffiliated Americans have swelled more than 15 percent, the three largest Christian groups, Catholics, white mainline Protestants and white evangelical Protestants, have all declined over the same period. Of these three, Catholics have suffered the largest decline, falling more than 10 percent. The research shows, “Nearly one-third (31 percent) of Americans report being raised in a Catholic household, but only about one in five (21 percent) Americans identify as Catholic currently.” At the same time, white evangelical Protestants and white mainline Protestants are also experiencing negative growth, falling 2 percent and 5 percent of the total population, respectively.

The effects of divorce

The nature of these statistics leaves us with many questions, especially as we recognize that these declining percentages represent millions of people abandoning organized religion. So, we must ask, how did we get here?

The answer to that question is both complex and multi-faceted, but there is an interesting correlation mentioned in the PRRI’s report. Listed in the findings among the causes of disaffiliation is divorce.

Consider the following data:

  • Previous research has shown that family stability—or instability—can impact the transmission of religious identity. Consistent with this research, the survey finds Americans who were raised by divorced parents are more likely than children whose parents were married during most of their formative years to be religiously unaffiliated (35 percent vs. 23 percent respectively).
  • Rates of religious attendance are also impacted by divorce. Americans who were raised by divorced parents are less likely than children whose parents were married during most of their childhood to report attending religious services at least once per week (21 percent vs. 34 percent, respectively). This childhood divorce gap is also evident even among Americans who continue to be religiously affiliated. Roughly three in ten (31 percent) religious Americans who were brought up by divorced parents say they attend religious services at least once a week, compared to 43 percent of religious Americans who were raised by married parents.

These conclusions are certainly revealing. While divorce is by no means a definitive factor in determining whether an individual will continue to adhere to the religion of his or her youth, the data demonstrates that there is a strong correlation in this regard. The research positively establishes the fact that stability in the family increases the likelihood that an individual will develop strong religious habits. And conversely, it indicates that “the children of divorced parents have grown up to be adults of no religion.”

The importance for evangelicals

This is incredibly instructive for us as evangelicals. We have long maintained that the way we live tells the world what God is like. For Christian parents, it is equally true that the way we live tells our children what God is like. It should not be surprising then that our children have such difficulty maintaining their religious beliefs after the divorce of their parents.

We should take heed of these statistics and consider them in light of our own practices. For too long, our churches and pulpits have been silent on the issue of divorce. And the data indicates that this has crippled the faith of an entire generation:

Today, nearly four in ten (39 percent) young adults (ages 18–29) are religiously unaffiliated—three times the unaffiliated rate (13 percent) among seniors (ages 65 and older). While previous generations were also more likely to be religiously unaffiliated in their twenties, young adults today are nearly four times as likely as young adults a generation ago to identify as religiously unaffiliated. In 1986, for example, only 10 percent of young adults claimed no religious affiliation.

In response to this, we must consider carefully, our responsibility to cultivate Christ-centered marriages and families. And this reflection should take place on at least three levels.

  1. What can parents do? The family is the center of nurture and formation for the individual. Christian parents should strive to love their children and to raise them in the fear and admonition of the Lord (Deut. 11:19, Eph. 6:4). Moreover, husbands and wives should strive to cultivate and maintain a healthy and sustainable marriage that is built on the foundation of the gospel, in order that their children might observe an accurate and healthy picture of the love and goodness of God. And in this regard, fathers should assume the responsibility of exercising spiritual leadership over their households.
  2. What can pastors do? Pastors should seek to equip their congregations with the resources and biblical wisdom to pursue gospel-centered marriages and families. Pastors should also assume the burden of speaking the truth about the issue of divorce. They must strive to faithfully uphold the teachings of Christ. This includes counseling, confronting and rebuking those under their care who may be tempted to forsake their marriage vows or those unwilling to cultivate a gospel-centered home.
  3. What can the church do? Local churches must recognize their unique stewardship in both partnering with parents to raise and disciple their children and to exercise spiritual care over one another. It is the duty of the local church to support and help sustain the marriage covenants represented among their membership. It is also the duty of the local church to love, assist, confront and rebuke those who fail to honor their commitments to the Lord as husbands, wives, daughters or sons.

It should be our desire to see our local churches filled with gospel-centered families seeking to share their lives with one another for the good of the church and the glory of God. We cannot be silent on the issue of divorce. For the faith of our children and the integrity of our public witness, we can and must do better. God help us.

By / Aug 26

At the beginning of last year, the Lord made it clear that my home, my marriage and the last seven years of my life had been a lie.

He exposed the fact that my spouse was living a complete double life — one marked by terrible and almost unbelievable immorality. Everything I knew to be true and alive was in fact false and dead. His name was even on the infamous Ashley Madison list, though that was just the tip of the iceberg. My spouse was defined by the utter darkness of the sin he lived in and cherished.

To say I was grieved, shocked and devastated would be an understatement. I didn’t see it coming and couldn’t have conjured it up in my wildest imaginations. Our marriage was the personification of John 3:19-21:

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.

While I could write pages of all the sordid details, the most important things I have learned through this tragedy involve the work the Lord has been doing in my heart. Here are a few lessons that I pray will help you, as well:

1. You do not get to choose your tragedy — I would have never chosen this for myself. My greatest desire is to be a wife and a mom and to have a home for ministry, specifically centered on prayer and the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4). I cannot choose the actions and consequences of another’s sin, but I can choose my response to it.

2. The death of my marriage brought the death of me — Great joy has come through great tragedy. The Lord has used this trial to reveal to me what is in my own heart. Jeremiah 17:9-10 reveals to us that our heart is desperately sick and wicked and only the Lord knows it. The Lord used this tragedy to pluck up, overthrow and destroy areas in my life that do not look like Christ, so He can build and plant (Jer. 1:10).

We want the Lord to build on our garbage, but do we allow the Lord of the Word to take the Word of the Lord and perform spiritual surgery? This I know full well: the Lord will not build on my junk. This is his mercy! Think of it this way, had there been any other way for God to redeem man unto himself, would he not have spared his Son? There was no other way, and the instrument used was the cross. Why would my walk look any different than Christ’s? Am I not to deny myself, take up my cross daily and follow him? This is putting to death the flesh, and it is for our good!

3. The enemy does not fight fair — When the Lord unveiled to me what was going on in my marriage, lies of the enemy flooded in at an ungodly speed. It was like an automatic machine gun was going off in my mind, lie after lie after lie. Jesus says in John 8:44-45 to the Pharisees,

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is not truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I speak truth, you do not believe me.

The Lord speaks and the enemy speaks; and he is still speaking today! This is as old as the Garden. In Genesis 2, the Lord speaks, and in Genesis 3, the enemy speaks. In those moments of great devastation, I had a choice to make: was I going to listen to the voice of the Lord or the voice of the enemy? The Truth in me chose truth.  

4. The Lord wants all of me — Over and over again in the Gospel of John, you see Christ saying, “I have come to do the will of my Father.” This is what brings glory to God — when I surrender my will to his will and walk in obedience. This displays his proper weight and value.

John, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, states, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” (John 1:5-6). Here is where the rubber meets the road for me: does what I say and how I live align with truth? If not, I am deceived. As the Spirit of Truth worked in my heart through this time, I was constantly reminded that my husband wasn’t the only one who needed Jesus — I am in desperate need of him, too.

There are some days you will never forget because they are marked by great blessing or tragedy. For me, last year was marked by a great tragedy that the Lord, in turn, is using for my good and his glory. But the good came about through a personal act of obedience to the Lord, even though the revelation returned was great and costly. We have heard it said many times, “Sin affects others.” Yet, I also have seen that obedience affects others, too. Through my obedience, light was given, and as a result, darkness was exposed.

As I look back on the last year and what the Lord has done, I can honestly say I would not trade it for anything. And I wouldn’t go back, either. I have seen the richness of his Word and character in ways I would have never seen had I not walked through this tragedy. I can say with all sincerity, “The Lord causes all things to work for good, to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

By / Mar 25

This month marks the tenth anniversary of the scandalous death of Terri Schiavo.

The attempts to prevent the killing of Terri involved the Florida courts and legislature, the Supreme Court of Florida, the U.S. Congress, the President of the United States, and the Supreme Court of the United States. But in the end, all it took was an order by a Florida probate judge to condemn this innocent disabled woman to death. On March 28, 2005, the court ordered that all nutrition and hydration be removed. Terri died three days later, killed by the excruciating method of dehydration.

The disheartening end to Terri’s ordeal exposed a glaring weakness in both our society and our legal system. A woman died in a hospital bed in Florida because of the failure of American Christians and other likeminded citizens to act when we had the chance. When we could have stopped the chain of events that lead to Terri’s death, we chose instead to do nothing. Some of us have even used the system to our advantage, never realizing just how far down the slippery slope our nation would slide.

Sadly, even now, after a decade of hindsight, we fail to see what led us to this tragedy. Many well-meaning people mistakenly believe the primary issue was about autonomy or the “right-to-die.” But at its core, the Schiavo case was not about bioethics, living wills, or medical choice; it was about the failure to protect the institution of marriage.

Florida law allows medical decisions of incapacitated persons developmentally disabled patient to be made by a guardian, spouse, parent, sibling, etc. In 1998 Terri’s husband, Michael Schiavo, petitioned a Florida court to remove her feeding tube. That same year, Richard Pearse was appointed by the court as a second guardian ad litem for Terri. Pearse determined there was no possibility of her improvement. He also claimed that Michael’s decisions might have been influenced by the potential to inherit what remained of Terri's estate as long as he remained married to her (about $713,000 from a medical malpractice suit). Pearse recommended denying Michael’s petition to remove Terri’s feeding tube.

In his report, Pearse also noted that Michael Schiavo had admitted to “at least two romantic involvements since [Terri’s] accident.” In fact, while still married to Terri, Michael Schiavo cohabitated with another women, with whom he has two children.

Under Florida state law, if Michael Schiavo had attempted to formalize his relationship by marrying his mistress while Terri was still living and their marriage remained undissolved, his action would have be considered “illegal, bigamous, and void from its inception.” Indeed, if a marriage license had been found showing Michael Schiavo had secretly married this other woman he would have no longer been considered a suitable guardian for his invalid wife. Yet because Florida repealed common law marriage laws in 1968, Michael Schiavo was allowed to live like a bigamist without having to suffer the legal consequences. 

Florida is also a “no fault” divorce state, which means that a history of infidelity is of no concern to the courts. While adulterous conduct might be used in determining the “moral fitness” of a parent seeking custody, it couldn’t be used as evidence of lack of moral fitness to be a husband. Even though Michael Schiavo had committed adultery, sired illegitimate children, and openly shared Terri’s marriage bed with another woman, he was still considered fit by the courts to undertake his role as a husband. Under that role he was not only allowed to choose actions to be taken that would cause her death, but was allowed to benefit by inheriting her estate.

In giving him guardianship over Terri while he lived as the cohabitating, common law “husband” of another woman, the Florida courts exposed the absurdity of modern marriage laws.

Many Christians are rightly concerned about the threat to marriage posed by the legal recognition of same-sex relationships. But it would take an army of homosexual rights activists several decades to do as much damage to the sacred institution as heterosexuals have done by tolerating no-fault divorce and the repeal of common law marriage.

We assume there is no turning back, that we can neither reinstitute common law marriage nor repeal “no-fault divorce.” But what if we’ve failed in our efforts because we’ve simply failed to attempt at all? Perhaps it’s time we fight for marriage on all fronts. It’s worth the effort, for as Terri has shown us, it can literally be a matter of life and death.