Divorce. How can there be so much shame in a single word?
This week marks my first trip around the sun as a legally divorced person. My divorce was unwanted, unwelcome, yet necessary. It has often felt like a scarlet letter, a neon sign above my head or a prominent tattoo to warn others that I am, in a sense, unclean. The thousands of dollars paid to my attorney, the “Dissolution of Marriage” filed away and an empty finger on my left hand are what I have to show for the end of my marriage. How unromantic and shameful.
While I was unaware of his betrayal, I would determinedly declare, “Divorce is not in my vocabulary!” At that time, I self-righteously believed that divorce was reserved for those who simply didn’t try hard enough, avoided red-flags, or experienced severe physical abuse. Little did I know, I was shaming those experiencing divorce.
Upon discovering my ex-husband’s affair and subsequently realizing marital restoration was not his desire, I took the unthinkable step. I hired a divorce attorney.
“Divorce is not in my vocabulary!” became a self-fulling prophecy for a time. Even months after I was on my way towards the settlement, this word could not pass my lips. “The D-word” would be its substitute.
“Why is this happening?”
“I was nothing but faithful
“I don’t want the D-word.”
“How can this be my story?”
Divorce has no classification. There are no categories for the ones who fought hard, or the ones who do not try or the ones who gave up or the ones who had no choice. Divorce is divorce, is divorce. And I would soon be just as divorced as any divorced person in the world. I would be grouped in the same shameful divorced camp as any average Joe. What a shame.
When God created man and woman in the garden, he created them to be free and open. Barefaced and uninhibited. Nothing hidden from each other and nothing hidden from the one who created them. Living in total intimacy with God, “…the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25). Freedom, wholeness, openness and unashamed, until sin enters the world through human choice.
“Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ And he said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.’” (Genesis 3:7-10).
Adam and Eve did not hide from God out of guilt or conviction; shame brought them there.
Shame erects walls between ourselves, those around us, and God. Surrendering to shame is surrendering to division. Between my divorce, which unties the bond of the most intimate earthly relationship, and the shame of that word itself, I was quickly feeling the isolation that only shame can bring.
I found myself frantically attempting to explain my story. “It’s not a normal divorce, you see. I’m not in the wrong!” at times were the intent behind my words. This incessant need to be clear of blame and justify my divorce was birthed out of a deep desire to fight the shame of that word.
Shame would not win.
I strived to prove to myself and to others that the word “divorce” held no power over me. I made it my mission to not live in fear or shame and I would fight till the death to prove my victory.
After the legal end of my marriage and in a full-on war against shame, I thought about tattooing a small “D” on my arm as a public declaration that I was unafraid of my new life. There was no tattoo, but I did buy a ring for the same purpose.
I chose my ring carefully and strategically. I chose a midi ring which fits on the middle knuckles of a finger. This ring had a broken circle in the front and a small letter D engraved there. It was understated, delicate and beautiful and I wore it proudly.
The ring symbolized my incomplete marriage and the word that once held so much fear. It replaced the wedding bands that I had worn with pure, unhindered love. The new ring became a symbol of the season in which I found myself. A season of confronting shame with my head held high. It was subtler than a tattoo, but still a testimony of my pain, my reality, and my healing.
In August of this year, I wore the ring to my little brother’s wedding in a gorgeous outdoor ceremony in Minnesota. I stood as a bridesmaid and witnessed the vows and covenant. While overjoyed for my brother, I felt the shadow of the shame creep in again. Many of the guests would also have memories of 7 years ago, when I got married. I thought, “What did they think of me?” I became fixed on holding onto hope and not allowing shame or cynicism to dictate my future. I cried tears of joy and sorrow; tears of surrender and trust.
As my brother and his new wife exchanged rings, I heard the voice of the Holy Spirit as clear as ever. “It’s time to let it go.”
I knew exactly what that meant but still needed confirmation. “Lord, is this you? I didn’t think this ring was holding me back. I thought it was leading me forward.”
“It’s time to let it go.”
“I trust you.” Was my answer.
Carefully, I removed the beautiful ring from my finger, closed my eyes and dropped it in the tall grass. A wave of peace flooded me as warm tears fell. It was time to let it go. Not just the thing, but the fight against shame.
I wore that ring with pride and tenacity. I wore it as a warrior, feeling as if I were fighting shame boldly and bravely. I wore it as an example for men and women who live with fear and shame because of unwanted labels from an old life. The ring was important for a time. I wore it for freedom, yes, but, I wore it to fight shame. That’s the thing, I was fighting for something from which I had already been freed. Shame is no longer my battle to fight.
Upon the cross two thousand years ago, my Lord and Savior took my shame and replaced it with his righteousness; this is the essence of the atonement. The impulse to hide after sin committed by us or others was put upon Jesus when he died. By exchanging my shame for his righteousness and choose to live in this magnificent reality. I can live unashamed. Dropping the ring was, in a sense, dropping my fight to manage the perceptions of others. Dropping the ring was a step past fighting shame and a step towards living unashamed.
Trading my shame for his righteousness, I no longer need to prove myself. People will believe what they will about my life and my divorce but, I am open, free and clothed with the righteousness of Jesus. I am free from the fight.
He has already paid for your shame on the cross. Fighting shame is no longer your job. You now must embrace what has already been done for you and surrender to the atonement. Whether divorced or married, his offer is always a surrendered, unashamed life.