Holidays renew pain of divorce

When he was in the third grade, his parents divorced.

He remembers sitting there with his brother and sister as his parents asked them where they wanted to go for Christmas — Mom’s or Dad’s?

The answer was obvious: They all wanted to be with Mom and Dad.

Only Mom and Dad weren’t together anymore, and Mom and Dad were hurting so much, feeling so much anger — they couldn’t work out the issue of where to spend the holidays.

“These were two of the kindest people to me,” he said. “I really mean that. But they still gave us (the kids) questions that we should not have faced at that time. There was so much tension… ”

If I go with Mom, does that mean I don’t love Dad as much? Or will Mom think I don’t love her if I go with Dad? Dad left our family, and if I don’t go to his new house for Christmas — maybe he never will come back for me.

“I suggest that the parents work this stuff out between themselves, and do it away from the children,” he said. “Don’t throw the burden of picking one over the other for Christmas on them.”

The divorce was more than 50 years ago, but the man still feels it. He is on his first marriage; his children are grown, but his heart still aches for those in the middle of a divorce.

The man is Knute Larson, pastor of The Chapel.

“This time of year, it’s so easy to beat yourself up with your own failure and how what you had is lost,” he said. “There is a lot of guilt and anger, and it can come out.”

Some counselors suggest the divorced parents still buy presents for the children together — so it doesn’t become a contest of one parent trying to outspend the other to impress the kids.

According to the 1990 census report, as many as 52 percent of marriages will end in divorce. In a 2004 survey of 3,614 adults 18 or older, George Barna Research discovered that 35 percent of married, born-again Christians have experienced divorce — identical to the figure for married adults who are not born again.

The common 50 percent statistic is the product of people having multiple marriages, some surveys showing that as many as 60 percent of second marriages fail. Regardless of the numbers, divorce is a fact of life for so many in churches and temples, or out. Some of them need an invitation, a place to go, especially at this time of year.

Churches such as The Chapel have divorce recovery groups. Some churches are afraid to tackle the subject, fearing it might sound as if they are encouraging divorce, or they just don’t want to deal with this fact of life.

Author Bill Butterworth (New Life After Divorce) told Christianity Today magazine that recently divorced people often feel like “second-class citizens” and “damaged goods,” especially in religious settings.

It’s critical to remember that there are some real screwballs in the pews, and they will say incredibly dumb things. Not all people are that way, but the most vocal tend to be those with the least compassion.

“Most people go through guilt around a divorce, especially when it’s fresh,” said Larson. “There are three kinds of guilt. The first is what we place on ourselves, which is usually destructive. The next is what others place on us, and that’s not good, either. There is guilt that comes from God, if we walked away from what God wants us to do.”

Larson believes the last part can be constructive, if we change what is wrong and remember that God is ready to forgive, to welcome us back — even if others (in church, family or otherwise) continue to reject us.

When Jesus talked about not judging, it usually was in the context of dealing with wounded people. And those who are divorced are feeling pain right now, and everyone needs to remember that.

Terry Pluto can be reached at Sign up for Terry’s free, weekly e-mail newsletter “Direct from Pluto” at


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