There are two memories from my childhood that define my family for me. The first was as a 3-year-old running into a hospital ward with my dad after my mom had given birth to my younger brother, excitedly shouting at the top of my lungs, “Where is my little brother?”, and seeing him cradled in my mom’s arms.
The second was as a 9-year-old walking into my parents’ bedroom with the intention of using their bathroom to get ready for school—as was my habit at the time—only to walk in on my mom telling my dad that she was moving out and wanted a divorce.
Both memories have played opposing roles in my life. The first represented a time when my family was together, when my parents were happy, and when my younger brother was cute and not yet annoying. But most of all, it represented a time when everything was perfect. The second, represented a time when my life was turned upside down, when our time together was marked by shouting, and when I grew increasingly isolated from my family.
Divorce today feels rather trivialized; it’s common to see celebrities swapping spouses like they are fashion trends. Statistics indicate that one in three Australian marriages ends in divorce. As a society, we seem to be increasingly getting desensitized to failed marriages.
Yet, the reality is that for the families involved, it’s a long and agonizing process.
As a kid, one of the tougher things about dealing with my parents’ divorce was navigating the social dynamics. I became proficient at looking down and shuffling my feet in the rare awkward moments when my parents were in the same place. I learned to tune out the negative comments that they made about each other. And when both my parents got remarried, I learned to gracefully dance around the questions they asked about my new step-mum or step-dad. In short, I hated it.
For a long period of my life, I hated being around my family, because it was a constant reminder that things were not as they should be. I ended up moving away from home and living with my grandparents, while my younger brother stayed with my mum. We rarely saw each other except during the holidays, when being together was memorable for our fights and arguments more than anything else. Outside home, my behavior took a nose dive as I started skipping school and taking my frustration out on the people around me.
My parents’ divorce was one of the hardest things I have had to go through. It continues to serve as a defining period in my life and one that brings back many painful memories. Fifteen years later, many of the events from that period still feel raw, as if they had just happened.
However, a recent Bible study of Romans that I’ve been doing with my university’s campus ministry opened my mind to a surprising fact. It revealed this truth: that nothing in this life is as it should be. As Paul describes in Romans 1:18, we live in a world where every single one of us is guilty of suppressing the truth about God. The result of that is a world that is broken, desperate, and inherently sinful. That means our visions of family are idealistic, at best. After all, every single family, divorced or not, is made up of broken and sinful individuals. And this brokenness extends to everything else we experience in this world. Life on this side of eternity is fraught with disappointment and pain.
So where does this leave us? For one, my perspective of relationships has changed. It’s one that is more realistic but also more forgiving of others’ failings. It has also pushed me to become more gospel-minded in my interactions with others, knowing that the only solution to our sinful nature is found in Jesus. All this has helped me to grow in my love for my family, and despite our flaws, I now treasure the time we have together. While my family continues to be far from perfect, the interactions that used to depress me are now a prompt to pray for the salvation of my family.
Ultimately, the truth leaves me yearning for the new creation, the promise that God has given us of His kingdom where there is no pain or sorrow. It brings to mind Paul’s counter-intuitive teaching in Romans 5:3-5 to glory in our sufferings because it leads us to hope; the pain of this life reminds us not to get too attached to this world, but rather to anticipate the day when God will take us to the new creation.
We can have confidence that God will do this, as Romans 5:6-10 says, because of Christ. His death for us on the cross and the justification it has brought us gives us the certainty of salvation.
So, while I used to run from the reminder that things are not as they should be, today I’m learning to embrace it. As hard as it may be, the experience of my parents’ divorce is something I glory in as I await the new creation. It’s given me opportunities to talk about the gospel and the incredible promise of eternal life. I’m now trying to live for the next life and reminding others to do the same, because that is the life that truly matters. It’s also made me all the more appreciative of the cross, and the certainty that it’s brought me that I will be in the new creation. Fifteen years on, the words of Revelation 21:1-4 continue to grow in salience and stir my heart:
“Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”