This week I had the privilege of interviewing author Renee Ettline, about her experience of going though divorce even though in her Christian upbringing it was not an option. Sometimes life is such that you need to take care of yourself and your mental, spiritual and physical well-being even though you face opposition and judgement.
Deryn: What was your perception of marriage? Did your parent’s marriage influence it?
Renee: Absolutely. My parents stayed together until death, as did all the adults of my youth. That was the model I saw for marriage. I absorbed a value system through my family and Church that said marriage is sacred and for life. Divorce was never considered an option.
When I was about fourteen, all these influences were driven home when my best friend told me her parents were divorcing. Consequently, my parents would no longer let me stay at her house because they didn’t know the circumstances. I felt so for my friend as I witnessed the reactions of others. The message was clear that divorce was deemed wrong and was not how things were supposed to go. Divorce was a dreadful thing, and I could never have imagined it would be a part of my future. Even so, my mother made it clear to me I was never to tolerate a man hitting me or being unfaithful to me. God bless her soul for teaching me I was worth far more than that.
Deryn: What was the Church’s response to you, and what kind of support had you hoped for from the Church?
Renee: I grew up in the Church, and it was an essential part of my life, but at the time he left, I was going to a new church. Sadly, this meant I didn’t know many people well and wasn’t yet really plugged into the church family. I needed the message and the music I found there. Nonetheless, I was fearful of facing judgment for something that wasn’t my choice. I went to worship service late and left early so as not to talk with anyone. The Church became a lonely place.
I needed to be in God’s house, but I in no way saw the Church as being there for me as I struggled to cope with divorce. In my mind, the Church specialized in marriage, not divorce. I felt abandoned, but I still assumed people at Church would somehow hold me at least partly accountable for the marriage’s demise. I felt embarrassed and confused. I didn’t expect people to understand my pain. In my mind, I was a victim. Divorce wasn’t my choice, and I couldn’t fix it.
I felt embarrassed and confused. I didn’t expect people to understand my pain. In my mind, I was a victim. Divorce wasn’t my choice, and I couldn’t fix it.
Deryn: What tipping point made you decide to leave the marital home?
Renee: I wasn’t the one who left. He left. Although, when I told a good friend we had separated, she said, “I wondered how much longer you were going to take before you left him.” It shocked me that she saw the problems to that degree, and it was very revealing.
After a year of separation, I filed for divorce. In a million years, I never dreamed that I would be put in a position to file for divorce. God helped me see I only finalized the legal paperwork, that it wasn’t I who ended the marriage. It was either that or to live my life alone but married. Going to divorce court was the worst thing I had ever done, and I wasn’t sure my legs would hold me up; it was so painful to my heart and soul. Yet, when I walked out of divorce court, I felt a huge weight lift even amid the grief.
Deryn: What support did you need to help you move through the pain of divorce?
Renee: Divorce and its aftermath were indeed painful. My constant companions were rejection, fear, anger, loneliness, and loss. And, here’s the odd thing, even though I had been a faithful, dedicated wife, I still felt guilty. The word divorce was so unnatural that I had trouble just saying it.
Even so, I knew I needed to “gird up my loins,” as God told Job. I always thought that was a funny saying, but God told Job to prepare for battle as he stood before God. In my case, I realized I was fighting for my sanity and my life. My marriage ending had wrecked me. Finding strength from God became imperative if I was to thrive. I needed God in a big way.
Every day as soon as I got home from work, I raced to read Psalm 51:10-12. It was the glue that held me together.
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.Psalm 51:10-12
That Scripture was a lifeline, and I read it over and over. Leaning into God and believing in Jesus carried me through and gave me hope.
I also began to build a support network of friends and resources. Suddenly I had to handle things my husband had handled before, so I needed essential resources like a good car mechanic. Friends and family also provided emotional support.
As a counselor teaching life skills at a college at the time, I had a framework for what I needed to do to cope and heal. It still took a lot of time and intent to work through the pain of a deeply wounded heart. Another great resource was a counselor friend who helped me wade through my brain fog and follow a healing process.
Deryn: What things have you done to get closure on the past and move forward with the future?
Renee: Great questions! Interestingly, you ask what I have done because I learned that action is key. Moving through the days just waiting for things to get better is minimally effective at best. Staying busy was a distraction, but the rubber didn’t meet the road until I took steps to work on the emotions and thoughts tying me to the past.
Healing from divorce is a decision, a process, and a journey of faith. Only by becoming intentional about letting go of my divorce wounds could I fully move into the joy and peace God has for me. Specifically, I had to learn how healing as a whole person takes place.
You see, our emotions, thoughts, actions, and spirit are all intertwined. Divorce stress can affect even our physical well-being. Working through strategies that helped me process my emotions while understanding how my thoughts played into my emotions was key. I wanted to stop the pain while also getting rid of those haunting thoughts that kept me awake at night and clouded my days. All the while, I needed to be leaning into God and understanding that he still loved me and was with me every moment.
Working through strategies may seem daunting, but healing naturally became a reality as I took action and processed all of this. Where to start this process and how to work through it may seem overwhelming, which is why I wrote my book Peace After Divorce. It’s a workbook of sorts designed to give readers a step-by-step process they can sink their teeth into to support their healing with God’s help.
Deryn: Have you reached the point of peace yet, or are you still on the journey?
Renee: It was a journey for sure, but I have reached the point of peace. Life is really good now, and my divorce no longer has emotional power in my life. It’s wonderful!
It is especially a marvel because there was a time I thought that peace and joy would remain forever elusive. I want to encourage all of your readers that there is hope. Not only that, God still loves you and has a plan for good in your life.
Deryn: What was your biggest takeaway from this entire process and transition in your life?
Renee: Three things. First, the past doesn’t have to dictate our future; healing is possible if we become intentional about it. Second, divorce is an experience we have; it doesn’t have to become a shroud we wear. Third, God still loves us and is close to the broken-hearted. Yes, God hates divorce (so do I), but he doesn’t hate divorced people. I believe he hates divorce because of the pain it causes his children. That’s God’s love. So, even when our lives seem shattered, there is hope.
Deryn: Supporting those who have been both wounded by life and the Church is critical as people need the spiritual aspect to recover and move forward in their lives. I hear your book, Peace After Divorce, is a powerful tool for this and has even been recognized as an exemplary Christian self-help book by the Illumination Book Awards. Tell us a little about it and how to access your resources.
Renee: Yes, the book award is exciting because people need practical and spiritual support; this is truly important. Having been through a divorce myself, I was acutely aware of Christians’ struggles when divorce becomes their reality. There’s a fundamental spiritual and mental disconnect between knowing God’s design for marriage and the reality that your marriage fell apart.
Not only that, but divorce is such a highly controversial topic in some Christian circles that it can be tough to feel like you’re not somehow a second-rate Christian. I got into divorce ministry because I wanted people to know two things. Firstly, God’s love for them doesn’t depend on their marital status, and second, life can get better if you become intentional about healing. Divorce can bring all sorts of adjustments during the divorce and for some time after. Seeing people carry divorce grief for life distresses me a lot because God offers us so much more.
People need inspiration and hope, but they also need help with how-to-heal strategies. They need tools that will help them move forward past the pain. It’s too easy to feel lost, lonely, and unsure of where to turn. That’s why I wrote my book Peace After Divorce. I want to share actions people can take to move forward to a brighter place in life.
Click HERE to learn how the Peace After Divorce book can help you or order the book.
Deryn: Tell us about your other resources.
For several years, churches have offered the Peace After Divorce Workshop, a video-driven study across the states and even outside the US. My newest release is a FREE book study guide for Peace After Divorce, which you can download from my website. It provides an affordable way to offer a divorce ministry in light of the financial challenges many churches face due to the pandemic. If each participant orders their book, a church can offer a group for free, as can an individual who wishes to lead a Peace After Divorce book study.
The free book study leader guide can be downloaded from www.PeaceAfterDivorce.com. Please share that link with your Church and get your free copy of the guide as well if you’re interested in leading a Peace After Divorce book study.
In addition to the book study guide, there are other resources on the website. You can take the FREE self-assessment that will help you consider where you are in healing related to the topics in the book. After you finish the self-assessment, you will be sent a free eBook called 5 Keys to Healing from Divorce. You can also jump on over to my blog for helpful articles.
Deryn: It sounds like you’re committed to giving others the tools they need to flourish.
Renee: Yes, I am. We can’t erase the past, and divorce will always be a part of our history. We can find ways to move to a place where divorce no longer has emotional power in our lives. It’s my heart to help others find their way to that glorious and blessed place.
Renee Smith Ettline is the author of the award-winning book Peace After Divorce and is host to The Separation & Divorce Christian Community on Facebook. You can find her resources and learn more about her and her ministry at www.PeaceAfterDivorce.com. Her book Peace after Divorce is available in print or eBook on Amazon.
If Renee’s story has been helpful to you and you would like to read another story of a pastor’s wife who also struggled with Divorce, you can read one of my previous interviews with Keabecoe Choene. Be sure to sign up for my NewsLetter so you don’t miss any other interviews of hero’s and heroines of their life journey.