Emotional Abuse, Grace, Guilt, Surviving Adultery and Divorce

Shame and Guilt…No More!

“For I hate divorce!” says the Lord, the God of Israel. Malachi 2:16

I’ve heard it quoted by so many people. It’s been thrown in my face, reminding me what a sinful person I am for walking away from my marriage. I’ve been told I am required to live a celibate life until my death, pining away for my ex-husband or risk the fires of hell for living in adultery.*

And yet, I know how hard I tried to save my marriage. I know how I chose forgiveness after learning of his adultery. I know how I prayed without ceasing, fully believing God would save my marriage. I know the hurt and pain I endured for the sake of doing the right thing, of keeping my marriage together.

I also know how I was losing my dignity and self-respect. I know how my very life was being chipped away, bit by bit. I know how I doubted myself, wondered what was so terribly wrong with me that I couldn’t keep my husband happy. I know how I began to hate myself, hate my life.

And my kids. Oh, how I feared for them! What if I divorced? Would it permanently destroy them? Wasn’t it always better to be raised in an in-tact home, a family with a mother and father?

So I stayed. I clung to my vows, to my covenant I made before God. I put myself aside for the sake of doing what I believed was right. I didn’t want to disappoint God.

Until the day God told me it was time to walk away.

Yes, God told me it was time, I had endured enough hurt, pain, and rejection. It was time for me, the captive, to be set free. It was time for me to fulfill the purposes for which He created me.

Staying in my marriage was destroying me. I wasn’t fulfilling God’s purpose for my life. I wasn’t even living.

I was sinning by staying in a marriage where sin was rampant.

Since that day over seven years ago, my life has changed dramatically. My children and I have found freedom. We have found joy. We have found purpose. We have found life.

And we have found our Savior!

But it’s not been easy. I have battled shame, guilt, and condemnation for years, and my fellow Christians have often chosen to add more guilt and shame on top of what I’ve already experienced. I’ve been told how much God hates divorce, how disappointed He is in me. I’ve been told I chose happiness over holiness.

But, if that’s true, why would God tell me to walk away?

Let’s take a closer look at Malachi 2:

You cry out, “Why doesn’t the Lord accept my worship?” I’ll tell you why! Because the Lord witnessed the vows you and your wife made when you were young. But you have been unfaithful to her, though she remained your faithful partner, the wife of your marriage vows.

Didn’t the Lord make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are his. And what does he want? Godly children from your union. So guard your heart; remain loyal to the wife of your youth. “For I hate divorce!” says the Lord, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.” Malachi 2:13-16

I don’t know about you, but what I see in this passage is an emphasis on hurting your wife, not an emphasis on divorce. God hates when men hurt their wives by being unfaithful to their vows. And what is unfaithful? Failing to love them as Christ loved the church. Failing to protect and nurture their hearts. Failing to treat them with love and respect. Failing to be the men God created them to be.

(Caveat: I want to recognize the reality of men who are abused by their wives through adultery, addiction, and abuse. I am simply writing from a feminine standpoint.)

Author Gary Thomas wrote a book, Sacred Marriage, in which he states marriage was designed to make us holy more than happy.

And, over the years, I have had many people use it to tell me I should have never walked away, I should have stuck it out and allowed God to use my marriage to make me holy rather than focusing on happiness.

Shame and guilt. Doubt and condemnation.

Last week, however, Thomas wrote a blog post entitled Enough is Enough. He talked about a recent marriage conference where he was confronted with story after story of women suffering through hellacious marriages, marriages fraught with all types of verbal, emotional, sexual, and mental abuse.

Did he say, “Hang in there. Marriage is designed to make you holy not happy”? Did he say, “You took a vow and you have to keep it no matter the cost”? Did he say, “If you love him well and pray enough your marriage will survive”?

NO! He said, “Enough is enough!” Enough of women suffering untold abuse in the name of keeping a marriage together! Enough of the church valuing an institution over a person! Enough of women sacrificing their God-given purpose for a man who doesn’t value them! Enough of this shame, guilt, and condemnation being heaped upon women for walking away from abusive marriages!

Thomas, the man who holds marriage in highest esteem and has dedicated his life to encouraging Christians to stay in their marriages, to encouraging Christians to allow marriage to make them holy, says enough is enough!

In his own words, [women need] to be protected from such grotesque abuse, and if divorce is the only weapon to protect her, then the church should thank God such a weapon exists.

Our loyalty to marriage is good and noble and true. But when loyalty to a relational structure allows evil to continue it is a false loyalty, even an evil loyalty.

Christian leaders and friends, we have to see that some evil men are using their wives’ Christian guilt and our teaching about the sanctity of marriage as a weapon to keep harming them.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is time to throw away the rags of shame and guilt, of doubt and condemnation! It is time to stand tall, to tell the world we walked away because we were following God’s instructions. It’s time we stand together and proclaim there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).

It is time the church recognizes divorce is always caused by sin, but divorce itself is not always sinful.


*My husband has passed away, and therefore this statement no longer applies to me. However, I heard it many times while he was still living.

44 thoughts on “Shame and Guilt…No More!”

  1. Dena

    Loved your column today. Thanks for sharing. Would you mind if I were to post it on my blog http://www.TamingChristianShame.com? With full credit of course.

    Eddie *Only By Grace*

    Eddie Capparucci, MA, LPC, CCSAS Candidate Abundant Life Counseling 4343 Shallowford Road Building C2 Marietta, GA 30062 404-788-0002 edcappa@gmail.com http://www.abundantlifecounselingga.com http://www.tamingchristianshame.com http://www.sexuallypuremen.com

    On Thu, Dec 8, 2016 at 9:31 AM, Dena Johnson Ministries wrote:

    > Dena Johnson posted: ““For I hate divorce!” says the Lord, the God of > Israel. Malachi 2:16 I’ve heard it quoted by so many people. It’s been > thrown in my face, reminding me what a sinful person I am for walking away > from my marriage. I’ve been told I am required to live a c” >

  2. So very powerful and healing. Thank you, Dena. Though I was still choosing to remain in my tattered marriage until its painful end by his choice, I am so touched and blessed by the Scripture here as I continue to struggle. Thank you for your continued faithfulness in speaking into hurting lives. Your family remains in my prayers.

    1. It is so ingrained in us to stay and fight, to never give up. That’s the only message we ever hear from the pulpit. Many of us stay until we are utterly destroyed, utterly decimated. It’s a very sad statement on the church. But, He is the God that sets the captives free! Hugs and prayers! And thank you for the prayers!

      1. I was told to stay until one day i said NO…..i am not going to stay just for our son and be turned into some of the hurtful and bitter women i have seen and still see from staying in marriages where they weren’t valued. There is a difference b/w forgiving and staying because he SHOWS you and work towards changing….vs a man who says (ha you forgave me, but i will still do what you allow me to get away with)

      2. And that’s where I found myself. When I finally decided I was worthy of value and respect, I chose to walk away. And it was the best decision I could have made for my children and myself. It is sad to see so many women continue in the servitude and bondage. Christ said there is no male or female (we are equal), no bondage for those who are in Christ Jesus. It’s sad that a teaching has been so twisted as to keep women (and men) in bondage.

    2. I am apart of a divorced group on fb and i notice alot of them husbands left them after yearsss of cheating, and the woman ended up more wounded and mad at his decision to leave. I asked them, wouldn’t you have rather him left than continue to degrade and lower your self-esteem/worth? I wonder why we put up with years of this stuff, allowing our emotions and mental state to be broken.

  3. I have heard this over n over for 20 yrs + and as a divorced mom of 5 am continually left out at church and by Christians with no support. Yet I know God loves me as I am and he knows my heart

  4. this post so speaks to me . I had my moment with God too. After literally screaming adn crying out of utter frustration. I was led to this : Luke 20: 45 and on to Luke 21 1-4
    I knew i was released….

  5. “…valuing an institution over a person..”
    Thank you Lord that You are a personal God to each life You created, and you didn’t impart Holy Scripts for joining a club of do-gooders. I often have wondered if “fear ” is a motivating factor when that ‘hate’ interpreted verse comes up.. I had that flung at me by Pastoral counsel too. I felt like God hated me for many years. And it’s no wonder people leave the church.

    1. I am so glad to see this. I have been divorced twice. Married now to a.wonderful man AND a pastor. He is divorced twice too. We have both dealt with so much. Many people miss the part of the Bible where our spouse is to love us as the Church does and we are not to allow them to.think it’s ok to abuse us. Sometimes the way to love them is to say ‘No more!’ Thank you for pointing out that part of Malachi that is skipped. And I love Gary Thomas. ‘Sacred Marriage’ has helped me in this marriage tremendously. But my husband is a good man. So that too is huge.

      1. I’ve intentionally avoided Sacred Marriage because it has been a weapon used against me. But, I believe I will pick up a copy and add it to my reading list. Thank you for your beautiful testimony!

  6. Thank you Dena! This touched my heart and soul as I facing my first holiday divorced and have felt such guilt for following God and saying those exact words – enough is enough. I know that I and my children will be and already are better for the decision not to stay. Thank you for helping remind me that what caused the divorce was sinful, but not the divorce itself.

  7. Dena, I interviewed Gary Thomas in The Sitting Room ( I think the show is still out there on line somewhere, probably http://www.sittingroomradio.com) I told him that when I first heard the comment “marriage is to make you holy not happy” I thought it was the stupidest thing I ever heard. It put marriage in the same category as prison – certainly prison has the capacity to make you holy.

    He corrected my quoting of the line. He said he is often misquoted – he never couched the statement in an “either-or” context i.e., he never said marriage is to make you holy, not happy. What he said is “what if the purpose of marriage is to make you holy AND happy?” He went on to say that at times the friction of marriage causes unhappiness, but cooperation with the friction creates holiness and in the resulting holiness – cooperation with the molding of God closer to the image Christ, we are given greater joy than we can imagine. The ultimate goal and gift of marriage certainly includes happiness. And (me, not Gary saying this) certainly there should be happiness in the journey.

    Believing I was being a “good Christian wife” I put up with abandonment for over two decades. After 25 years of marriage and hearing “God hates divorce…” I had a very wise person tell me “yes, but He also hates when His daughters are treated like S—.” I got out and have never been happier, more blessed, and closer to God.

    Thank you for your voice.

    1. I think I listened to that interview! After reading his blog this week, I really want to pick up his book and give it a chance. I never felt like his statement was meant that holiness and happiness were exclusive of one another, but it always sounded as if the holiness part was meant to supersede all else. That’s certainly the way it’s been used against me over the years.

      I am certainly with you, however. God absolutely hates when we are mistreated and abused. And, most of the passages we have about divorce are about that very mistreatment, about elevating women to a place of equality with men and removing them from the abuse they suffered in biblical times.

  8. Thank you for this. I’m actually the one who heaps condemnation on me. I feel guilt, shame. Our marriage couldn’t be saved. My ex was unrepentant, blamed me for all the woes of our marriage, & lied in so many ways, failing to keep his word to help us rebuild our marriage, to be restored, to be reconciled. Sadly, I really felt like the church vilified me even as they agreed that he was unsafe, unrepentant, controlling, & prone to violence & abuse. My divorce was one of the saddest things I’ve ever been through. But it is a blessing to be on the other side. Out of a toxic & destructive marriage that was killing me- literally. Thank you for being a powerful voice for many of us who have sometimes been vilified by those whom the Lord has called to protect -the weakest among us.

    1. I understand completely. I’ve walked through years of beating myself up…even though I literally did everything I could to keep my marriage together. Like you, my ex was unrepentant, uninterested in rebuilding our marriage. He was only interested in continuing to fulfill his lustful desires. And yet, it was all my fault. Sweet friend, it’s time to get rid of the rags of shame and condemnation and take the clothes of righteousness that Christ offers you! You are holy, forgiven. You are a Child of the King!

  9. Well said Dena. I just filled for divorce 2 weeks ago. It was clear that she was unrepentant. And scripture is clear in what we are supposed to do with an unrepentant brother/sister. The physical emotional and spiritual abuse was killing me. I stayed to o long in the marriage. Guilt was a tool of the devil that she loved to use. But no more. Christ came to redeem and free.

    1. Hi Eric, I hope you are holding up ok. I know how long you held out, hoping, praying, for reconciliation. I know, however, that God will see you through. I know He will hold you close and heal your wounds. I know you will find joy in our Father.

  10. Thank you! One of your best posts by far. Have felt the guilt and shame even though I tried everything to work it out. I have been a faithful wife for 30+ years in a very abusive situation that has sucked the life out of me to the point of a total breakdown. Am finding health and healing now as I move forward. Your ministry is so important!!! Thank you.

    1. Thank you! I am so excited as you find the healing only God can give! Let Him love on you, heal your heart, teach you to trust Him. Then, sit back and watch as He uses your story! Hugs and prayers!

  11. Wow Dena. You do not even know how much I needed to read this. I walked away from my marriage because he was verbally and emotionally abusive and I had had enough. My life was a living hell and I attempted suicide during the course of that failed miserable marriage.
    My girls were 17 and 18 years old when I divorced him. I hung in there for them and it almost cost me my life.
    I have grown so much closer to the Lord and have a great intimate relationship with Him. He is my husband and my life and heart are content. One of my daughters is so blessed and loves the Lord and doing mighty work in the kingdom. The other daughter despises me and is hurt that I attempted suicide and left her father. I do not blame her. I know she will need help. She walked away from God at age 14 ( long before I tried the attempt). I pray for her.
    Anyway, I encourage any woman to seek the Lord and listen to Him when He says you can leave because there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus.

    1. Amen! I join you in prayer for your daughter, that the prodigal child will return home. Always remember your peace, your changed life, are a testimony of the goodness of God. She will be drawn to the peace you exude.

  12. I’made so grateful to read all these comments, to have reassurance that others have struggled as I have, experienced cruel statements, i.e. “you will lose your witness,” or “you’re asking for cheap grace.” Christians will look at me as though I have a horn coming out of my head when I say “God told me to step aside and get out of His way.” (Obviously not audibly but rather a nudge/stirring). And so I did after 31-1/2 years of marriage. So many of those years living under the burden of “good Christians don’the get divorced.” And like many of you, I was dying –literally–physically and suffering spiritually. So Dena, thank you for this post, and thank you to the many who have commented. You have spoken the very thoughts and experiences of my heart. God has been faithful beyond anything I could imagine. He has blessed me emensely since I’ve stepped into this single life. I personally know and have experienced what it is when His word says “Never will I leave you or forsake you.”

    1. Hi Beth. Yes, you speak of the events many of us have experienced. And yet, here I am 7 years later, and I am free! It is a freedom I never would have known without choosing to finally walk away. I would never change any of it. Hang in there! We know the truth!

      1. Yes i am about 7 yrs later in the single life. It sucks alot, but i try to find the peace in it. And i try to still learn to work on the wifely characteristics so once God send me the godly man HE is molding, then i will be more than ready to put in the work of what godly wives are called into.

    2. Wow, these testimonies will definitely help the future generation. For so long we try to force a family (marriage) to stay together for the fear of “God hates divorce” and that we want our children to grow up in homes with BOTH parents, but far too long we have forgotten that God does not force us to do anything or change us against our will so how should we expect Him to change our spouse to do what we want, IF the spouse is not willing to repent and get it together. We waste years, we end up hurt and bitter and in the end, we end up divorced and more confused/hurt IF our spouse decides to leave anyway. Being unfearful and taking God’s direction for our marriages saves us alot of heartache and headache. BUT we all have went thru this so that we can help others who will go through it and who ARE going through it.

  13. I wish the woman I love would not let the church, his parents, and her parents pressure her in to forgiving him again and taking him back. He has abandoned her and the children 2 times to live with other woman. He also cheated on her countless times. It was not until his parents found out she was getting close to me that they told her it is her responsibility to forgive him, and take him back again. I love her with all my heart, and am so brokenhearted now. I pray that God will give her the strength to do what she knows is right for her. She deserves happiness….

    1. Perhaps she will find the courage to stand up to the abuse. However, I encourage you to give her time to heal. No one can step out of a marriage and into another relationship without time for healing. While you wait, I encourage you to make sure you are as emotionally healthy as possible. Spend this time pouring into a relationship with God, getting to know Him in ways you never have before. Let Him love you, prepare you, mold you into His image. You won’t regret it.

  14. This gave me something very powerful to consider. I feel so trapped by the Christian standard and I have SO many fears as well. Thank you so much for sharing your story and these words.

    1. There is nothing more freeing than truly knowing the Savior! He did not come to trap us; that is the effect of human traditions. Seek His face. Seek a relationship with the Father. Live for an audience of the One!

  15. Three years ago (Feb 2014) I discovered my husband was addicted to internet pornography. I knew he had been pulling farther and farther away from me. Sleeping in the living room; staying up late on his computer. When I confronted him, he was extremely angry and went so far as to say there was nothing wrong with it. At that time he told me he had been doing it for years. I immediately went to our pastor and started counseling. I had no idea what to do. I was counseled to forgive and give him time to repent.

    It took about 6 months for him to come around and at least admit it was wrong and that he would give it up. He didn’t give it up. I caught him again and again and again. Each time I forgave. The porn started to get much worse – involving group sex, violence and even rape scenes. In August of 2015 when I again discovered he had been doing it on his phone, I moved out. That’s what it took to get him to the altar in church where he confessed to our pastor what he had been doing. I moved back in and things got better for a couple of weeks. But soon we were back to the same scenario. He was angry, even violent on occasion. I withdrew and spent the evenings in my office.

    I caught him again and again and yet I continued to try to forgive. In September 2016, my 23 year old daughter discovered a woman’s bra and condoms in his work bag. We moved out again. He declares he wasn’t having an affair. He claims that he found those in the trash and put them in his bag to make me angry. (I’ve heard better lies than that one.) We went to several counseling sessions in that fall but got nowhere. My husband became very vindictive and started telling lies about me in the community and in the church. He was trying to destroy my reputation. In January, the pastor told me we couldn’t continue living apart. It was time for a decision – reconcile or move on. We met for two more counseling sessions. My husband lied all through those two sessions. It was so bad, the pastor sat in his chair yelling at him and laughing at him for his ridiculous stories. After the second session, my pastor told me that marriage counseling at this point was a waste of time.

    The beginning of February 2017, I filed for divorce. After filing for divorce, the church council decided to take sanctions against me. I was removed from the worship team, directing the choir, and singing special music in our church. They had me take a leave of absence from teaching my Sunday school class. I felt shamed. I felt rejected. I felt like I was the guilty party. They turned on me and abandoned me in my hour of need. Where was the love and support I needed. I never wanted a divorce. I stuck in there for three years of torture, deception, lies, abuse of all kinds, and unfaithfulness. I would love for someone to explain to me why the church has done this to me. I know God hates divorce, but He also hates the environment we were living in. There are days I feel like the church has hurt me almost as badly as my husband. Sometimes I feel like it is a “good old boys club.”

    1. My heart aches for you! And this is the very reason I do what I do. The church has failed in this area in so many ways. They guide us, counsel us. And then, they abandon us, discipline us, and guilt us. And I am so tired of it!

      I am sorry the church has hurt you so deeply. There are churches out there who take a different approach, one of loving support, one of grace. I pray you will find a body of believers to embrace you and help you through this painful season. Until then, know that I am a friend, here for you.

  16. Boom! Life isn’t always cookie cutter “War Room” out come…you can go to the war room with the same exact persistence and have a completely different outcome…our Creator is the one that has the last word. Thank you for sharing your heart. I love this.

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