by Lora Chandler
© January – April, 2006
At last, they are in their cars and I am standing at the back door smiling and waving as they drive away. Our time together was anything but peaceful and relief washes over me when their taillights disappear from sight. My heart is filled with conflicting emotions. Who is in the cars? Well, our son is driving the first car and his “second” new bride is driving the other. Two adorable three-year old boys are riding with him, one his-one hers. A beautiful seven-year-old girl and two precious five-year old girls are with her, one his-two hers. It’s like suddenly having two sets of twins with a big sister. They cannot fit everyone, with all of the car seats required by law, into either of their vehicles. The noise level has increased, the demands on time and energy are great, and sensitivity is amplified. They are just getting to know each other. Seven years of family growth have been experienced separately. Now, two families have become one and our son and his wife know it will be awhile before they are unified. Basic elements of love are evident, but the diversity of a blended family makes unity difficult.
My journey through the divorce and remarriage of my son challenged me in ways I never expected. Divorce takes relationships out of your hands and changes them against your will. Feelings of outrage, helplessness and fear clouded my thoughts. My son had been betrayed and his family torn from him. His financial burden was overwhelming. He was devastated and extremely sad. Needing to know how best to help my son, I sought direction from God, but I couldn’t feel His presence. It was a new definition of loneliness.
Divorce is a word people say without emotion because these days broken families are as common as strong ones. In our family, it would have been easier to face death. Naively, I believed divorce could never happen to us. Our family has a history of strong marriages and we hold a conviction that divorce is not an option. I felt safe in that heritage and assumed because we taught our children marriage is forever, it would be. But, every new addition to a family through marriage brings a different set of values into it. As families grow, these values are assimilated and some are strong enough to change the dynamic of the family. What we believe to be “law” for us may not matter at all to others. Our former daughter-in-law was aware of our conviction about marriage, but it was not a conviction she held. Knowing a “law” exists doesn’t ensure compliance to it. There has to be a greater reason for unity, in marriage, in family, and in church than “should” and “ought to.”
Devastation similar to divorce has recently thrown the church I worship with into turmoil. When the subject of grace was explored through an in-depth study of the book of Romans, we found we strongly disagree whether we are saved by the grace of God through faith or saved through our obedience to commandments. Christian brothers and sisters who have worshipped together for many years began to show ungodly behavior on both sides of the issue. Labels were tossed about – words like legalism, grace-driven, judgmental, liberal, legalist, false teacher. We became like Israel in the day of the judges. There was no king here, but every man simply did what seemed right in his own eyes. God was not on the throne because each side wanted its own way and claimed to be “right.” It quickly became obvious believing you are right does not foster unity.
The obstinate stances taken by some members shocked me. I had never labeled the theology of my parents’ generation as “legalism” before. To suddenly place the way I had been raised in an ugly light seemed wrong to me. Yet, the study of Romans clearly showed me I can do nothing to merit salvation and I am in desperate need of God’s grace. I wondered why we were at odds over this truth. What is that “everlasting something” that is the same in all people and makes them unified? Is it knowledge? Or love? Or trust? Or correct doctrine? Even if we had never fully understood the need for grace in our salvation, weren’t we still covered by it? As our minister led us through this study, I began to understand why I had always secretly questioned my faith. I had learned a faith of “working out my own salvation.” It was not faith in God, but faith in myself. As a Christian trying to merit salvation, fear was my constant companion.
When I was a child growing up “in the church,” religion was about what I could not do. What I could not participate in was much more important than developing a spiritual relationship with God. In fact, a spiritual relationship was never encouraged. The Holy Spirit of God was considered to be only the written Word. The possibility He had any power to move or act through me was denied. Evidence of the Spirit in a person’s life was measured by moral excellence and it was the job of the church to “measure” each other. It was a horizontal religion that did not include a vertical relationship with the Father. God was a person who watched from a great distance to see where I failed; and “standing up for what I believe is right” boiled down to living a morally upright life, hiding my sins and condemning any sin I saw in someone else. We obey laws to avoid punishment. I lived a moral life for the same reason. I feared the punishment of God and the disapproval of others.
Fear is a strong motivator used by those who are too lazy to invest their time and energy. A lazy parent uses fear to ensure compliance so they may avoid spending time with their child. Teaching valid reasons for obedience and moral living is much more difficult because it requires time, patience, love and grace. Similarly, obedience to God is more easily accomplished if fear is the primary motivator. You cannot have a close relationship with a god you are afraid of. You won’t even try. You will simply obey and hope he never comes close enough to find out you haven’t done everything you could have done. You do what you “ought” to do and never feel you have done enough. I was baptized as an adolescent because it was a required step for my salvation. I felt great relief once I had obeyed that command. After that, I can honestly say I never believed I was pleasing God in daily living. I only believed I was appeasing Him.
The study of Romans the church engaged in here was good for me. I learned so much and my heart opened to gladly receive the truth. Many other members of the church have expressed similar experiences; but, sadly, change did not take place in all of us. Some left our fellowship, unable to see beyond what they have always been taught about God. Like divorce, the process left deep scars and stirred anger and helplessness in the face of disunity.
Having lived so many years without understanding the grace of God grieves me. The hunger and thirst in my soul amazes me. There is so much to know about God and so little time to learn it! I understand now why we need an “eternal” life for it will take an eternity to know God and to become like Him. My fear is gone. God’s unconditional love is now mine to share with others. Whether in our families, in the world, or in the church, love brings unity to our spirits and bonds our spirits to the Spirit of God. Unity with God brings us peace.
I am hopeful my son will soon attain that bond of peace in his marriage. His striving left its scars, but the passing of time and answered prayers are allowing healing to take place. His second marriage holds all the promise of any new beginning resulting from painful experience. He is truly happier now than he has ever been and is finding joy in the challenge his larger family presents. God has given him a beautiful and godly young woman to share his life and support him as they work toward the same goals with singleness of mind and spirit. He has prefaced his love for her with a commitment to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and to lead their blended family to the Lord. God will bless his efforts.
As we learn to love as Jesus loves, our church will find unity. Though it is on a small scale, we are beginning to contribute to the global picture of unity among all believers. Our painful scars remind us that anything worthwhile involves sacrifice. A new energy and spirit of sharing the Lord is more evident in our worship and also in our service to each other and our community. We are less judgmental and more loving. We are showing grace! A new day is coming when all believers will worship God in spirit and in truth and then we will know we have finally found the everlasting something.
Lora Chandler lives in New Mexico with her husband, Joe, who owns a furniture manufacturing company. They have two sons and a daughter. Lora writes a quarterly column, “Strength in the Shadows” for Hopekeepers Magazine and has been published in A New Heart Magazine and New Wineskins Magazine. Her interests include inspirational writing, short story and poetry writing. She maintains the website and manages the office for Pioneer Woodworkers, Inc., her husband’s company. Lora’s email: [email@example.com