In Which I Cut Open a Vein and Speak about My Divorce

In Which I Cut Open a Vein and Speak about My Divorce

Surely you’ve heard what Hemingway said about writing, haven’t you? You know: “Writing is easy. You just cut open a vein and bleed.” (Or something like that.) At any rate, I was asked to speak in the “Encounters with the Risen Christ” short talks my local PCUSA church has as part of the Easter season services last Sunday.

I wanted to share the talk I gave in part because I really feel like I practiced assertive spirituality in that talk. And also because giving the talk, and the positive response to it, finally inspired me to start this whole Assertive Spirituality venture I’d been putting off. I’ve been struggling lately with even the idea of giving a “testimony,” since that’s such a fraught word. But I feel like the words helped me express where I was pretty well, which was really satisfying.

Here’s what I said:

Hi. I’ve been a member of this church for almost a year and a half. But I’m here to tell you that part of me died the day I met with the session to join this church.

Don’t worry—it wasn’t any of your fault, that death. It just happened that the decree for my divorce came through that day. I knew—and had confirmed with those close to me—that I had done everything I could in the matter of my divorce, and in a way, that made my marriage more of a death to grieve. I had done everything I could, and things still didn’t work out.

This was difficult for me, because I hadn’t realized until the divorce was a clear outcome how much I’d internalized messages my whole life about family values and the evils of divorce. I also didn’t realize how much I had unwittingly been complicit in that messaging.

For years I’d been silently judging celebrities, those I heard about, those I met as strangers, and even those few close friends I knew who had been divorced or had what my pat interpretation of theology saw as unconventional relational situations. I’d internalized a deep discomfort at the idea that even in the depths of scripture, relationships didn’t always fit in the perfect, eternally-lasting marital box they were supposed to. And didn’t always work out, despite best efforts.

Even though I had kept my mouth free of external judgment and been outwardly supportive, I had judged all of these people, deep inside myself. I had believed that surely, somehow, there ought to have been something else they could have done.

I knew, of course, that relationships were never perfect. I wasn’t naïve or egotistical in THAT way, I told myself. But still, on some level of sinew and bone, it had been inscribed in this little ugly part of my soul that surely those people couldn’t be doing the right thing. Surely there was something deeply wrong with them because they didn’t fit this pat narrative.

And I had internalized that message to the point where I believed that in my situation as well. Not with my head, of course. My head agreed with my family and friends that I had done everything I could.

But somewhere, again, in my bones and sinews the message had been inscribed that I had to be, that I somehow was “better than those other sullied humans” in those relational situations. I stayed until death parted, and that was it.

It’s taken a while to process all of this—to allow this sick, Pharisaical, shaming and shamed part of my soul to die. To face and accept the fear I had of being scapegoated and rejected from the body of Christ. Of not being good enough for it (for him?) somehow because shockingly I couldn’t—and perhaps wasn’t supposed to—control everything in the world myself. To accept that perhaps that belief that I could control everything was the lie, the twisted hubris-shame, the sin I had to repent of, that I had to allow that twisted belief to be put to death.

For a long time I wasn’t at all sure that the tissue would die and heal, that new cells would (re)generate. To be honest, it’s still ongoing—somehow resurrection in people other than Jesus takes a trifle longer than two days and a bit, it seems.

What I can tell you is this: I know the new cells because in them is a fierce desire to stand up for those who have internalized messaging that they aren’t good enough to be in the church for whatever reason.

Those pink cells have become super sensitive to the ideas that any of us can or should be able to fully control situations that involve things outside the small sphere of influence we are given.

Those pink cells tell me that maybe the image of God in us is paradoxically good enough for God’s love, even when we feel as ugly and rejected as the Man of Sorrows—and even when our souls are as wounded as he was, and as decayed as his body was supposed to become.

These new pink cells have made me aware of how easy it is for seemingly spiritual words and concepts to become lashes that will turn into deep wounds under the right circumstances.

To be frank, though, I’m not sure I’m comfortable with these new cells. They feel foreign, unfamiliar. Not righteous enough, or maybe too righteous? It’s hard to tell. And that’s how I know I can’t even promise that my inner Pharisee is even entirely dead. There are still some stubborn ugly cells hanging out with the new pink ones that just haven’t gone yet, or this new birth wouldn’t be so incredibly uncomfortable.

Like I said, not all of us get to be Jesus, with such a neat trick of conquering shame and death and hell over the weekend. But I do know that since this shame of mine became mostly dead and with it my judgment of at least a few categories of people who don’t fit the usual Christian molds, that I am seeing glimpses of what seems to be the risen Christ more and more in places I would have never expected.

It feels miraculous, these days, to go to a place associated with tombs—in this case, the status of divorced, behind my name—and to have found unexpected life—healing, release, and fierce compassion—there, springing up as surely as the crocuses in spring, the ones we never thought would come this year. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia.


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17 thoughts on “In Which I Cut Open a Vein and Speak about My Divorce

  1. Wow! This is honest, beautiful, and straightforward. Thank you for speaking your experience so clearly. So many of us – whether because of the wound of divorce or some other reason – have that inner Pharisee who needs to die in order for us to live out our continual conversion. And, yes, it takes more than a weekend, doesn’t it?!? Blessings on your ongoing resurrection, the new pink cells, and this giving witness to God’s promise of new birth in your life.

  2. I was privileged to be on hand when this courageous talk was delivered in church. It was *very* moving and quite well received–you could have heard a pin drop in the sanctuary! I think it really helped move the congregation beyond seeing the church as a proper space where we all have to keep up appearances, to recognizing church as a safe place where real sharing about real issues can take place. I am so grateful for your honesty and courage!

    1. Thanks so much, Mark! I’m so glad it had that effect–I was hoping for that. But I wasn’t planning on it, and was just glad that there were already tissues being handed out in church for other reasons in case I needed them (glad I didn’t). 😉

  3. Very moving indeed. It is quite a journey to the place where we get to see the church as a safe and healing place for those of us who don’ t get it all right. Indded it is through the cracks of our brokenness that the light of Christ shines most brightly. Thanks so much!

    1. Aw, thank you greatly! I do think that whole “those of us who don’t get it all right” thing is tricky, too, isn’t it? No one gets it ALL right, because as humans we’re limited naturally, but we too often associate things not going well with people not “getting it right,” and I’ve been realizing in the process of all this that the fact that we presume people need full control over things by saying we’re all sinners because things don’t go well or because things pop up that we could have never foreseen is part of the problem.

  4. Sorry I missed this and the church talk! Beautifully real. Thanks for reposting. I hope the year has been one of continued experiences of resurrection!

    1. Thanks so much! I’m so glad you were able to catch it this time around! It has been a year of continued healing, though not always in a straight line. Quite busy, too! I hope it’s been an excellent one for you as well. We should catch up at some point–I’ve been bad about that lately. 🙂

  5. I am in tears. Thank you for this, DS Leiter. I’m reading this on 3/2/20 as I struggle with our daughter’s divorce. I have been a divorce bigot…”this ugly part of my soul”. My head knows it was the right decision for her but 65 years of divorce-is-wrong is hard to overcome. I desperately needed this.

    1. This makes my heart melt. Thank you for commenting. It makes me feel the vulnerability is worth it when there’s a positive impact like this. So many hugs.

  6. Thank you DS Leiter. Your testimony is well narrated in a very spiritual manner. I resonate with your pain and appreciate you for saving me from making a lifetime mistake. God speaks to us through his chosen ones. I hope you get over your divorce. I am praying for you dearly as I can tell you’ve a beautiful heart and deserve a better person. Lots of love to you my dear sister in Christ.

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In Which I Cut Open …

by DS Leiter Time to read: 5 min