Question (from blog reader): “My friend wants to walk away from her marriage, without just cause. How can I be her friend right now?”
When I was in college, someone told me a secret. I was honored that they trusted me. And then I realized that they told me because they knew I wouldn’t yell at them for what they’d done. They knew I’d show grace. And, apparently, only grace.
Over the years, I have had women share things with me. Friends, book and blog readers, women who hear me speak. And for the most part, my response is to be grace incarnate to them. I figure, they’re already hurting enough, or they’ve already gotten an earful from so-and-so, or they already know better anyway so there’s nothing I could say that would make a difference. I figure that what they really need is love and gentleness. And that if I want them to trust me, if I want them to ever come back to me again with a burden or sin, I better leave it at that.
But sometimes something needs to be said or something needs to be done. So, if a friend comes to you with the declaration that she wants out of her marriage – and she doesn’t seem to have biblical grounds or there is no abuse going on – here’s what you can try.
Listen. She may just need to vent. So be the kind of friend that can handle this. Be trustworthy. Be loyal. Don’t be a rumor-spreader. Don’t be naïve. Try not to let the news of other people’s sinfulness shock the crud out of you. (I say this knowing full well that the news of other people’s sinfulness still totally shocks the crud out of me.) As Jesus said, “…be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” There’s a lot of crazy stuff out there, and when I say out there, I mean the Church. Be ready to hear it all.
Speak. Once you’ve heard her case, you are obligated to “speak the truth in love”. She may know it all already, she may have already been read the riot act. But you need to know that you said all you could. So think through clearly the points you want to make and then make them, as gently and lovingly and respectfully as you possibly can. Do not yell at her that she’s stupid for wanting to leave; that will just push her away from you too. Bottomline is she is hurting. Picture her with a sign over her heart: Fragile: handle with care.
Bring another. If she doesn’t listen to you, just blows off your words of wisdom or makes a bunch of excuses, Matthew 18:16a says “if they will not listen, take one or two others along…” It is time at this point to bring in another person who is on the same page as you, and when I say that, I mean on the same page as Truth. Find someone you and your friend trust and set up one more conversation.
Let her go. There may come a point where she refuses your advice and your help. Her mind may have already been made up by the time she even came to you. So if you’ve done what you can and said what you feel was needed to be said and you know she heard you, and I don’t say this lightly, you may need to move on. You can only help someone who wants to be helped. Jesus even “shook the dust off his feet” as a symbol of walking away from towns that wouldn’t welcome him and his message. But your love for your friend does not stop, let me be clear; it just changes shape, shifting from standing alongside no matter what to standing up for the truth. The love doesn’t stop, it just does the harder thing sometimes.
Support her spouse/children. Without getting too entangled with someone of the opposite sex, support your friend’s spouse and their children along with your husband. Encourage your husband to be there emotionally for your friend’s husband. Have your kids invite her kids over, give them a break from the chaos going on in their family, and offer to be there for them if they need to talk.
Pray. Walk this whole process out with prayer. This can be very tricky and you need to make sure that you’re not getting pulled into anything yourself.
Life is messy. Sin screws up relationships. Selfishness tanks entire families. But God calls us to walk this life out with others, to point out sin to each other, to bring about restoration when we can. So you walk closely with Jesus, and be willing to do your part to restore your dear friend. Even when it’s hard, even when it hurts. If my work has encouraged you and you’d like to partner with me as I reach out to help hurting women, click here for more information.
I have a friend who was in an emotionally abusive marriage, and she shoved it all inside. in the end, she kinda imploded, and screwed a lot of stuff up herself, and moved forward and divroced him, even though at that point, he wanted to “fix it.” I spole openly with her about trying to work things out, even though i knew she’d lived in a difficult, suffocating marriage for a long time. she couldn’t see a way forward. today, she is divorced, and she has 5 young children. she is still very much hurting, and there is a lot of sin on either side. although i wish she hadn’t moved forward with divorce, i still see a place for me to be her friend. she is in immense pain, and her faith is almost lost. she is hurting and alone. last weekend i helped her to prepare to rent out her basement, so she can supplement her income for her and th kids. even though Scripturally I could probably “walk away,” I still have before me the image of Christ standing with the woman caught in adultery, saying, “and neither do I condemn you….” Some of us may feel that we are “justified” in filing for divorce, while others are not. but really, we’re all so needy, and needING of others–people who will continue to speak the truth in love, but don’t necessarily “walk away” if we don’t listen the first (or second, or 50th) time.