I grew up in a stable family and in a church community of stable families. Divorce was almost unknown among the Christians I knew as a child. But as I looked to friends and family outside the bounds of the church I saw many broken homes. My parents let us see these families and I think they wanted us to see them as an object lesson in the reality that God is the one who had bound our family together and the one we would trust to always keep it bound together. It is a sad reality, though, that many families and almost a majority of families are immediately affected by divorce. It is sadder still that Christian families are by no means immune.
Kristine Steakley came from such a broken home. Here is how she begins her new book Child of Divorce, Child of God:
Three-year-old Krissy stands at the window, her mom by her side. Outside, Krissy’s dad drives away in his car while Krissy and Mom wave goodbye. It sounds like a common enough memory–and it would be, except that it is the only memory Krissy will ever have of her mom and dad together.
More than thirty years later, that memory still makes my heart weep for the child I was. That was me, waving goodbye to Daddy.
In this book, just published by IVP Books, she writes about the challenges, both emotional and spiritual, that face adult children of divorce. Do note that this is not a book written specifically for parents of broken families or for young children, but for grown children who have experienced divorce as part of their childhood. By telling her own story, Steakley describes the difficulties faced by many adults who once saw their families fall apart. And while she describes honestly the inevitable challenges, she offers hope–the hope given to us through the God who cares, the God who is the Father to the Fatherless and the healer of broken hearts.
The pain of divorce and its wide-ranging implications do not end with the dawn of adulthood. Instead, the hurt may continue indefinitely and, unless dealt with in God’s way, may never go away. And so this book deals with a wide range of issues: the acknowledgment that God is compassionate and tender and wants to help with deep hurts; that God is faithful even when others have proven they are unfaithful; that children of divorce carry heavy burdens that God wishes to help carry; that God’s love sustains and overcomes natural inabilities; that God is the source of peace and security; that God can restore hope and joy; that there is purpose in suffering and that God is able to help children of divorce be more than mere statistics; that God expects His people to extend forgiveness and to let go of bitterness. The overall message is that God is sovereign and that God is love. He is the source of all true healing.
The author’s pattern throughout the book is simple and effective; she describes one of these issues particular to children of divorce and brings Scripture to bear on them. And she does so with clarity and with great effectiveness. Throughout she seeks to have the reader experience the hope and healing that comes from knowing the depth of God’s love. And she seeks to have the reader, who is intimately familiar with the pain of broken homes, become an advocate for families. “I pray that all of us would become advocates and intercessors for other families in trouble. I pray that we would stand firmly on the side of marriage, encourage others to honor and cherish their spouses, and live our own lives in ways that uphold biblical standards. I pray that, on behalf of other children of divorce who may not have a voice, we would speak out about the heartache we have experienced and the incredible hope and healing we have found in Christ. I pray that we would find ways to reach out to the families in our own churches and communities that have been touched by divorce. When we do these things, we redeem the tragedy of divorce that struck our family, turning it into something that brings hope to others and glory to God.”
I noted just a couple of downsides to the book. First, I would have liked to see perhaps just a little bit more emphasis on the gospel. This is not to say that the gospel was absent from the book but I’m not sure it maintained quite the centrality it might have had. Second, I would caution readers against the author’s advice that they read John Eldredge’s book The Journey of Desire when considering hopes and dreams. And finally, the issue of conditional versus unconditional forgiveness arose in my mind as she described the importance of extending forgiveness. I would have liked to have seen a little bit more on forgiving those who seek no forgiveness and perhaps the difference between offering forgiveness and actually granting forgiveness.
Overall, Child of Divorce, Child of God is an excellent book and one I would not hesitate to recommend. I am grateful to God that I am not the book’s primary audience, but am still grateful that I read it. It has given me a valuable window into the challenges faced by those who come from broken families and how they may carry deep wounds into adulthood. It has strengthened my resolve that I must do all that is necessary to protect my own marriage. And it has shown me the incredible centrality of the family in God’s plan for people and thus the heartbreaking tragedy that is divorce.