(An Open Letter to those with questions about my divorce…)
This has been an incredibly exciting week as we released a new website, new logo, and a whole new podcast! Before I dive into today’s blog (which I’ve chosen to write instead of record, which I may do on occasion) I want to say “THANK YOU” to all who have sent your kind words of affirmation and shared our enthusiasm over these new developments!
I feel as if I’ve gotten a supernatural wind back in my sails lately after the past few years had taken a LOT out of me — kind of like the girl that gets violently bucked off her horse, and is hesitant to get back on for a bit because she’s still reeling. But the human spirit is resilient, and brave souls allow us to eventually get our bearings, climb back in the saddle, and gallop with glee once again.
So in today’s post, in the interest of “Showing Up… Right Here… Right Now…” (my 2020 slogan), I’m going to summon the courage to answer some of the questions that have come to me this week about my divorce. For example, Cheryl emails:
“Hi, Shannon. I have read a lot of your books, followed your blog, and assume that your previous marriage ended since you are now re-married. You look like you are so happy, and I am so happy for you. May I ask what happened? I don’t mean to pry. I just know so much of your story and want to know how you came to this step in your life.”
I certainly appreciate the sincere concern expressed by many who feel as if they “missed something” as they’ve been following me for the past several years, and perhaps saw on Facebook that I recently remarried. Indeed, a lot has transpired since I wrote my last book in 2013. Some of it has been incredibly traumatic. Some of it has been incredibly triumphant. But all of it has been very personal and private. I chose to hold it in a more sacred space rather than flinging it into cyberspace.
My beloved counselor, Julianne, spent 20 years trying to convince me, “Shannon, you’re entitled to a private life! Not everything needs to go into a book or a blog!” In 2016, when our 26-year marriage ended in an incredibly painful decision to divorce, I finally realized the wisdom and truth of those words. I was in so much emotional, mental, and physical pain from the stress of a failing marriage. I had to take a step back from doing nearly as much writing or public speaking, and that was okay, because I am entitled to a private life, and I needed time to heal. I did continue my coaching and workshops because it was incredibly therapeutic for me to focus on clients’ problems instead of my own for a while, and the ability to connect deeply and help others wade through their own grief certainly softened the blow of my personal pain. While it’s true that hurting people can hurt people, it’s also true that hurting people can really help other hurting people if they remain closely connected to God through the process.
I’m also so incredibly grateful for the wise counsel of my life coach, Dwight, whom I consulted with the question, “Do I owe the world an explanation?” He replied, “Shannon, the ending of a marriage is a lot like an amputation. There are two ways of doing it. You can respectfully wheel them into a private surgical suite, offer anesthesia, remove the diseased limb, and send them home to heal. OR you can take them down to the County Fair with a video camera and a chainsaw, and aim for YouTube’s Most Grotesque Video of the Week.” I knew exactly what he was saying. The failure of our marriage was painful enough to both of us and everyone who loved us, that the last thing I felt the need to do is make matters so much worse by going public with graphic explanations, attempts at justification, defensive mud-slinging or under-the-bus-throwing. I’d seen enough of that in the world, both inside and outside the church, and I had no desire to make our 26-year marriage fodder for tabloids or rumor mills, so I only shared it with my innermost circle of friends and family, clients and colleagues, and those we felt had a “need to know.” Aside from letting our loved ones know so they could pray for each of us, there was no sense in making it a public spectacle, so we didn’t.
Q: What happened in your marriage that led to a divorce?
A: As much as I wish I could satisfy the enquiring minds of those who want to know more, I am not at liberty to divulge intimate details. Please understand that it’s not because there was moral failure to hide, or shame over some heinous secret. It’s just that some stories are not exclusively ours to tell, and we have chosen to respect each other’s dignity by keeping our private life private.
Q: Did you ever question whether to continue in public ministry or not?
A: Yes, and No. Yes, I knew it would be difficult to overcome the judgment of those who didn’t know any details, and naturally but erroneously assumed the worst (i.e., “One of them must have had an affair!”). I thought about working behind the scenes in some ministry organization where my divorce wouldn’t be an issue. But several things kept me from making that detour…
First, I never felt God gave me a red light for ministry, nor a green light to depart from it. Friends and spiritual advisors often reminded me of Romans 11:29, that God’s gifts and His calling are irrevocable. I feared that a career trajectory change would put me in the belly of a whale like Jonah, so I’ve chosen to remain focused on exactly what I was called to do 25+ years ago.
Perhaps the biggest personal impetus to remain faithful to my calling was the individuals and couples with whom I work. They knew I was going through a divorce, but still believed in me wholeheartedly as their coach. That honor wasn’t something I felt the freedom to just walk away from. So one of my most valuable take-aways from all these years of soul-searching is that “Divorcees are NEVER ‘disqualified’ from loving and serving God, or loving and serving others.”
In light of the fact that over 50% of people will experience a divorce in their lifetime, just think of what a victory it would be for Satan if the church completely disqualified all of them from representing God, or allowing the Holy Spirit to work through them anymore. Oh, how the advancement of God’s kingdom would suffer so greatly! Let’s remember that if God can speak to His people through Balaam’s donkey or elicit praises from rocks along the roadside, He can certainly use the relationally traumatized to minister to others who are walking wounded. That’s the body of Christ functioning as it should.
Q: What were you most afraid of during this season of turmoil?
A: I was so afraid for so many years that if my marriage crumbled, my ministry would crumble too, and I had worked so hard that I couldn’t imagine letting that happen. However, the reverse has been true. I’ve continually offered it back to God, and He’s continually put it back in my lap and continued bringing hurting people to my doorstep, so I decided to stop trying to convince God that my marriage failure is bigger than His sovereignty.
One of the 24 professional counselors I consulted about our marital dynamic asked “Shannon, how many books have you written?” When I responded 22, she replied, “Wow. That’s a lot of pain.” I wept. She got it. She knew I had been trying to save myself and my own marriage all along. I had studied and researched relentlessly like a woman with her hair on fire. But she helped me see that my marriage dynamic was beyond my control, and simply unsustainable, and it was costing me far more than my body, heart, mind, and soul were able to keep paying. I knew that there would potentially be an incredibly high cost to my ministry, but I didn’t see any other way. I also knew it would certainly be a huge waste to have decades of schooling, research, writing, and coaching experience, then walk away from this ministry because I ultimately couldn’t save my own marriage. So I’ve committed that I won’t bow down to fear, nor will I bow out of ministry.
Yes, it was the biggest loss of my life, and I’ll probably never fully get over it, but I’m choosing not to let it define me. It will not limit my potential to apply all that I’ve learned to help those that can be helped.
Granted, some may feel as if working with a divorced-remarried relationship coach makes no sense to them personally, and I can understand the fear behind that sentiment. But many have said things like, “We still believe you’re our best hope!” or “Wow, you know our pain, and that makes you a safe person,” or “We trust that you can empathize, and aren’t going to judge us because of our relational trauma.”
Because divorce isn’t something I’d wish on my worst enemy, I will help couples fight tooth and nail to make their marriage work. But I’m also glad that I can assure clients who are having to suffer through the devastation of divorce that God IS SO much bigger than this, and you WILL get your life, health, hope, and sanity back IF you do the necessary soul work.
So for those who think that because you are divorced, you are disqualified from ministry, I urge you to STOP limiting yourself – and even more so, STOP limiting GOD!!! Yes, God hates divorce and the pain it causes, but He LOVES divorcees, and can use you to whatever extent that you’re willing! I echo what many great theologians have said, “Your greatest misery CAN become your greatest ministry!”