by Collette Broady Grund
I used to wish that my divorce had never happened. Nothing good can come of this mess, I thought. If someone had suggested to me that I might someday be thankful for my wrecked marriage, I would have laughed a bitter laugh as my eyes filled with tears, and then I would have fantasized about punching that person in the throat. I spent months during the separation period pleading with God to bring my husband back to me.
It seems the apostle Paul must have felt the same way about the “thorn in [his] flesh” that he mentions to the Corinthians. It’s not clear what exactly this thorn was. Interpreters have suggested everything from a physical ailment to a mental illness, and as I write this I find myself wondering if it could have even been a relationship with an unhealthy person he just couldn’t escape.
Whatever it was, Paul clearly thought he’d be better off without it, and he told God so. “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me,” he writes (2 Corinthians 12:8). I admire his self-control in keeping his pleading to single digits! I’m also envious that God’s answer came to him after only three tries.
For me, God’s answer came much more slowly, so slowly that I can’t pinpoint a moment when I knew it had come. But over time, through lots of effort and therapy, I stopped wishing that the past would change. I started feeling grateful for my divorce, both because I saw how that relationship was not life-giving, and because of the person I’ve become through the healing process.
But over time, through lots of effort and therapy, I stopped wishing that the past would change. I started feeling grateful for my divorce, both because I saw how that relationship was not life-giving, and because of the person I’ve become through the healing process.
As God said to Paul, God said also to me: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). God didn’t say it in such succinct or audible words, but through the people around me, God convinced me that God’s best work could be done with my worst experiences. Through the struggle of single parenthood, God brought me a tribe of compassionate and trustworthy mothers and fathers who surround my son and me with love and support. Through the pain of divorce, God connected me to mentors and guides who witnessed to the new life that was coming. Through the brokenness of two marriages, God brought about a new union for my current husband and me, in which we are learning every day about forgiveness and redemption. The birth of our baby girl in January was the moment when I really felt God’s power had made everything perfect again.
Now please hear me clearly: Saying that God is able to work perfectly in my weakness is not the same thing as saying my divorce was part of God’s perfect plan. I don’t believe that. My divorce was the result of sin, both personal and systemic, and not God’s will at all. Thankfully, God’s specialty is working good out of situations that are not God’s will. Case in point: Jesus’ death on the cross.
As Frederick Buechner says, Christ’s resurrection means that “The worst isn’t the last thing about the world. It’s the next to the last thing. The last thing is the best. It’s the power from on high that comes down into the world, that wells up from the rock-bottom worst of the world like a hidden spring. Can you believe it? The last, best thing is the laughing deep in the hearts of the saints, sometimes our hearts even.”
For me, this is the center of the gospel, the good news that is ours through Christ. God chooses to show up most clearly in our worst moments, making perfect what is weak, setting right what is broken. Through God’s power, my life is now full of that heart-deep laughter, and I’m grateful for the gifts that have come through my divorce.
Most days, anyway. I’m still aspiring to the level of faith Paul attained, enabling him to be “content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.” Even on my worst days, however, I am solidly convinced of this truth: In Christ, “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).
1. Is there anything in your life that feels like a thorn in your flesh? Have you pleaded with God to take it away? Have you gotten any response from God?
2. Looking back over your life, what are the things you wish never happened? Has God been able to bring any good out of them?
3. Who are the people around you that help you believe in God’s goodness when life is a mess?
Jesus, your resurrection is proof that God’s power is made perfect in weakness. As we plead with you to take away the things that hurt us, show us that power at work among us. Bring us hope that you are still able to do good when everything seems broken. Amen.
Rev. Collette Broady Grund is nearly 40 and a new mom (again!) in Mankato, Minnesota where she shares a grace-filled life with her husband, five children and Bethlehem Lutheran Church.