It is a common, oft-repeated statistic: One in two American marriages will end in divorce—even within the Church. It hangs over our nation like a dark cloud. But what is truly sobering is that an entire generation of Americans has grown up in a culture where statistically, divorce is every bit as normal as marriage itself.
Writing in a recent Newsweek article titled, "The Divorce Generation Grows Up," David Jefferson tells the stories of the Grant High School class of 1982. "In our parents' generation, marriage was still the most powerful social force," he writes. "In ours, it was divorce. My 44-year-old classmates and I have watched divorce morph from something shocking, even shameful, into a routine fact of American life."
Indeed, no-fault divorce laws have been in place for nearly 40 years—leaving broken lives scattered in its wake.
The statistics are depressing: Every year "1 million children watch their parents split apart, triple the number in the '50s." They are twice as likely as their peers to divorce and more likely to experience mental-health problems. And children in single-parent homes, as we have seen at Prison Fellowship, are more likely to commit crimes.
Kids also take on emotional burdens they are not ready to carry. "I was a 15-year-old high-school freshman who was forced to become a crisis counselor," says Jefferson's friend Chris, "trying to keep [my dad] from completely breaking down." Chris ended up "doing damage to himself, encasing his own emotions in a dispassionate shell," writes Jefferson, affecting both his professional and personal life.
Many of Jefferson's classmates later also got divorces; some avoided marriage altogether.
But others had a different reaction. "In many ways," Jefferson writes, "the urge to stay married is stronger in my classmates' generation than the urge to get divorced was in my parents'." Understanding the pain of divorce may be driving younger people to keep their marriages whole.
Unfortunately, the only solace Jefferson could offer Newsweek readers was that their parents' and their own divorces "were probably for the best," and that maybe they could find "acceptance of our parents and their life choices."
But as Kristine Steakley, author of the forthcoming book Child of Divorce, Child of God and a blogger at The Point, wrote recently, "God offers us a better comfort. He doesn't give us acceptance; He gives us redemption. . . . His comfort does not say, 'Well, that's just the way things are; better get used to it.' Rather, His comfort says that our world is essentially broken and that our only hope is the redemption that He himself offers."
And that is the message the Church must send to the Divorce Generation. The brokenness caused by divorce is palpable. The pain is real. There is a reason God says, "I hate divorce." But He is also the God who makes all things new, Who binds up the broken-hearted.
If we want future generations to see marriage not as a hit-or-miss relationship, but as an enduring sign of God's grace and love, then the Church has some work to do. We must promote the sanctity of marriage in our congregations and in our culture. We must reach out to husbands and wives who are struggling. And we need to show a hurting world the true joy and blessing of strong, holy marriages.
From BreakPoint®, May 12, 2008, Copyright 2008, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. "BreakPoint®" and "Prison Fellowship Ministries®" are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship