My husband Lance is in America and I am alone, here in Brisbane, Queensland.  Sunday morning, I went to church alone. After greeting friends I sat down to the beginnings of a praise song. It was unsettling to not to hear Lance’s booming voice sing along. So strange to not lean over onto his shoulder, or to hold his hand when the Pastor prayed as was our usual thing. I ended up holding onto my own hand and fiddling a lot with my bible. I was so uncomfortable, I picked up my purse from the floor and plopped it on the chair in an attempt to fill the void. I was reminded of a scripture I used on a previous blog: “Yet, I am not alone, for the Father is with me!”(John 16:32b ESV) but the space beside me was breezy and a constant reminder I was physically lonely.

What follows are thoughts about the single people in my life; those who face the empty seat every week, everywhere they go.

It wasn’t too long ago I rode the high horse of judgment towards divorces. It was my contention that IF ANYONE got divorced it was completely selfish; if you got divorced well, you weren’t trying hard enough. Oh, and also, that God hates divorce.  I was pretty good at lobbing these opinions at people, or in public forums. Then someone close to me got divorced.  It was very clear that in order to protect her family she did the best thing for them by leaving a man who refused to repent of issues that would/could damage her children. She was, first of all a mother protecting her children. How can that be wrong? And, turns out, from her ex’s actions and lack of action since the divorce, it was the absolute right thing to do. Her church did not help in any way, there was no compassion, support, encouragement, certainly none of Jesus’ grace, mercy or love anywhere.  But what was not lacking? Judgment. And plenty of it. Including from her Pastor. When I saw myself reflected in mean self-righteous people acting the way I once did, well, my fall of the high horse was short but painful.

Since then, God has lead me to beautiful women whose husbands were chameleon Christians at best and abusive at the least. These men seemed to hate their blessings: their wives and children. By their actions it’s clear thy have no understanding of what a husband or father is supposed to be, it seems they want only something to control, or display  The fact that I see this happening more than once is disturbing and I ask myself, is a wife compelled to spend her life in these ungodly conditions? Is this what God would intend for the lives of His children?

There’s an oft quoted verse from Malachi, “For the Lord of Israel says, That He hates divorce, For it covers one’s garment with violence. Therefore take heed to your spirit that you do not deal treacherously.” (Malachi 2:16 KJV).  But, in the ESV it is alternatively translated, thusly, “for the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit and do not be faithless.” (Malachi 2:16) The reason it is not the typically translated, “God hates divorces,” is because the compliers/researchers/preachers/teachers who put the ESV version together believe that even in the earlier translations the emphasis of this scripture is not that God hates the DIVORCED, but instead, He hates DIVORCES, because it causes a man to be covered in violence. The ESV study Bible has a huge section explaining how they came to conclude the interpretation, which I would encourage you to check.   Our problem is that our humanness makes it easy to often hate the people of divorce. We don’t show any of Jesus’ grace, mercy or love and instead condemn and ride off on our high horse without having done anything except pour verbal vinegar into the existing wounds of the divorced person.

A woman whose husband is serially unfaithful, emotionally distant, abusive with anger and feeding a wicked hunger for pornography, a man who refuses to get help because he so narcissistic he cannot see the problem is his, has been abandoned or if you will: divorced.  Sad things is, I’ve met many women who have lived this same tragic scenario. How sad God must be when one of His children destroys the very gift God had chosen to bless him with. How do we account for God’s family who should be in place to help, love, care for the bleeding wounded and yet do nothing but righteously judge ‘em and kick ‘em.   When we’re down, trapped, lost we need need HIs grace, mercy and love the most, instead this seems to when Christians judgment is most vehement. I’m not saying we condone sin, I’m saying take up the challenge to be Christ-like and not a Pharisee. Difference being:  to be a Pharisee might make you feel good to point out your interpretation of someone else’s sin, but to be like Jesus is to point the way to the truth, the way, Himself, and people feel better, healed, and loved.

The empty chair beside me is a reminder that single people; moms and dads who once had a marriage relationship and participated in church together, must initially, be painfully lonely, coming to a place where they once were two and now sit alone. My friend tells me that even when she was single, never having had the experience of the marriage relationship in church yet, she felt outside, not included. While I don’t think that the action of exclusion is intentional, it might be that people are focused on themselves or on those who are obviously doing something wrong,- like, in their opinion, getting divorced, so they don’t have time to reach out to someone new.

I am glad that God fractured my judgmental attitude towards divorced people. I hope He will continue to remind me that Jesus’ actions were full of grace, mercy and love, and strive to have those be my first reactions.

Selfishly, I pray I don’t have to experience the empty seat too often. But, mostly, I pray that His children will love His other children and be listeners, encouragers, supporters. Love each other as He has loved us. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 14:34)

Let me be clear, I’m not saying that we should have blatant disregard for His word, I believe it holds all the answers to a Believer’s life. I’m suggesting we take up the challenge to grow in His grace. “18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. (2 Peter 3:18).  If we immerse, absorb and soak in HIs word, it will be in our hearts and on our lips. It should be like our language and our first response. If we do this, then our reactions will be His and we can help ease pain. Or, instead, we can climb on our religious horses, and with our Parasitical arrogance denounce wounded sisters or brothers and feel good about our religiosity.

My prayer and hope is that Jesus’s grace, mercy, and love will prevail and saturate us, so when we walk nourishing drops will drip on hurting folk. Then those who have to sit with an empty seat beside them will before long, feel not so lonely.

By Linda Mae Baldwin | Freelance writer | Website