So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them,“He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” – John 8:7, NKJV
This past weekend I had some interesting conversations with people I had just met. They were generally positive interactions on the whole. I appreciated the time these individuals gave me and their willingness to share their own stories with me.
That said, one exchange was difficult for me. It came when meeting another pastor for the first time. He asked me a question, and that question threw me down the “shame hole” for a little bit.
He asked me–as I remember it–
“Did your former spouse have any legitimate grievances against you in your marriage?”
Instantly, I felt defensive. I was in the docks, and this man had made himself judge by asking this question. It did not seem fair.
This question triggered the wicked spiritual abuse of my former in-laws and ex-wife who loved to season their lies about my character with just a hint of truth. Then they would point to the little hint of truth to try to get me to swallow their degrading lies whole.
This question dredged up icky feelings about when I had to give an answer regarding my divorce to a panel of evangelical ministers just to stay “in the club.”
I felt like I had to give a reason for why I did not deserve to be abandoned, cheated on, lied to, and divorced by my unfaithful (now) former wife.
And this to a practical stranger. Someone I had just met.
I fumbled out a serviceable response. He graciously assessed that I was the classical “wronged party.” The conversation went on from there to more pleasant places–at least, for me.
Reflecting on that exchange, I wished I had been better prepared for that sort of question. It is a type of question I am sure others have encountered in Christian circles. And I am confident I will encounter it again.
For some reason, evangelical Christians feel entitled to pry into the intimate details of a divorced Christian’s dead marriage even after knowing their former spouse committed adultery.
So, I have prepared a response to the question:
“Did your former spouse have any legitimate grievances against you in your marriage?“
*Answer: “No more than I am sure your wife could legitimately say about you in your marriage.”
The point is to remove the questioner from the place of judgment to the place of brotherly or sisterly solidarity.
It is a reminder that the tragedy of adultery and divorce can strike anyone.
It is a reminder to remain humble when talking to a divorced person. A married person is not necessarily a morally better person. All marriages have sin in them (Ro. 3:23).
And it is a reminder that they are treating a divorced person in a way that they might not wish to be treated themselves–i.e. having a near stranger pry into tender areas of their own marriage.
Ultimately, we do not owe such individuals an answer, though. The shame of divorce is not ours to bear as faithful spouses. I just pose my answer as a possible pastoral response.
That said, it is frustrating to have to deal with these sort of situations. I do not like the feeling that I “have to” prove “I’ve learned my lessons” or that it was not my fault or whatever when it comes to my divorce.
However, working through such feelings and exchanges is the price we pay to remain in our imperfect communities. That includes when the exchange is more about the other person’s hangups than our own.
Even so, sometimes the community is not worth it. That is a choice we can make as well. We can just walk away.
It is a privilege to hear our stories. Not everyone is worthy. And not everyone deserves to hear such intimate details.
Even Jesus reserved some of his most delicate secrets, plans, and teachings as for his disciples.
* Another way to tackle this is simply to ask clarifying questions. “Why do you ask?” You can then decide from there whether it is worth it to answer the first question.