Review of Children of Divorce by Dr. Andrew Root

Returning to Family Matters

In July’s edition of the WLC Messenger, I am returning to family matters after a couple of months on other topics. If you know me well, then you know that divorce, remarriage, and the effect such decisions have upon children is a topic that is close to my heart. I myself am a child from a home that has been touched by divorce. I have close family members, friends, and parishioners whose lives have been touched by divorce. I have studied the teachings of Scripture on the topic of divorce and remarriage.

Children of Divorce

Lately, I have been reading Children of Divorce: The Loss of Family As the Loss of Being by Andrew Root. It is a heavy book (not in weight, but in content), and having been published by Baker Academic, it is indeed an academic book. It is 171 pages in length, and its author, Andrew Root, holds a PhD from Princeton Theological Seminary and is the assistant professor of youth and family ministry at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN. Professor Root is renown for his interaction with German theologians Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer as he converses and writes on the area of youth ministry. In an era where so many are attempting to merely entertain youth with the latest trends, Root has breathed theological depth into relational youth ministry. In addition to his training and expertise, he also brings his own experience of his parents’ divorce to bear on this 2010 publication—Children of Divorce.

Introduction

In the Introduction, Root shares about his own experience as a child of divorce. He also briefly describes the increasing cultural acceptance of divorce that grew out of the 1970’s and “no fault” divorce. The book provides a much needed perspective in all of the divorcing going on—the perspective of the child. He states his thesis, “My overall thesis is that divorce is an ontological issue, one that impacts our very being-in-the-world” (xviii). Ontology is the study of being or existence. Therefore, Root is suggesting that when a divorce happens, the union which gave a child his/her very existence is removed and results in an ontological crisis.

A History of Family, a History of the Self

Chapter one develops the history of the western family along with shifting objectives behind why people have married. He sums up this development when he writes,

The history of the family has followed a broad progression the last six hundred years: its objective has shifted from property and power mergers, to labor, and then to love. These changes follow the evolution of cultural currents impacted by the Enlightenment, currents that changed us from premodern to modern to late-modern people. Divorce, then, is the tragic underbelly of the liberation of marriage and family from being centered on land or labor to being centered on love. But now, standing in late modernity, we find ourselves with a problem, a problem much like the effects of modernity on scientific discovery or technological advance. It is the problem of risk. Scientifically and technologically, this means we can split the atom, but in doing so can destroy the world. We can construct effective power plants, but they pollute the planet. Similarly, marriage and family are free from the bondage of a harsh earlier world, but free for what? Making family about love heightened the significance of the person (the self), but it left us with a dangerous risk. When marriage is about love between persons, and nothing more, what remains when love is doubted or destroyed? . . . then who are [the children] once the love that created them and their primary community is gone? (4–5).

As love became more individualized, subjective, and about self-fulfillment, “the step out of marriage into divorce was then increasingly inevitable” (22). While objectives for marriage such as mergers or labor cemented the child’s existence in the family’s tradition or function, these things were much more difficult to discard or destroy. Families formed out of mergers or labor needed the father-mother-child community to survive and succeed, and it took monumental shifts or changes to take away the security the family provided for the child.

But for the children of the late-twentieth-century love union, all it took to destroy a marriage was a change in Mom and Dad’s individual, subjective feelings. Here, then, is the conflict that we have yet to solve: what do you do when the self-fulfillment of mother and father requires the dissolving of a marriage, but the security and self-fulfillment of the child depends upon its continuation? (23)

Marriage, Divorce, and Ontology

This opening chapter sets the stage for chapters two and three where Root interacts with Giddens’s Social Theory and Heidegger’s Dasein (German—being there). Root concludes, “My being, as we have seen with the examples above, is contingent on the being of others.” In other words, “In confronting the question of my identity, I am also confronting the question of the identity of others . . . To be is to be with” (64). That is to say, a child is only with the parents. Gidden and Heidegger lead Root to assert,

that divorce in this detraditionalized late modernity may have a deep ontological impact that is often overlooked . . . divorce confronts the core of the young person’s humanity, for it affects his or her being and acting in the social world (64).

Barth’s Anthropology and Imago Dei

Subsequently, Root moves to the theological in chapters four and five. Here, he engages the anthropology and imago Dei (image of God) doctrines of the German theologian, Karl Barth. These chapters touched my soul and gave expression and words to feelings and thoughts that I have harbored for twenty years. Root discusses Barth’s analogia relationis, “an analogy of relationship between the being of humanity and the being of God.” That is to say, “To be is to be in relationship.” Barth demonstrates this first in the Trinity’s relating as Father, Son, and Spirit and then moves to anthropology and deeper still into the imago Dei—being in relationship is fundamental to being human, even to being real. Root writes,

This means that relationship constitutes reality; it is relationship that leads to being (not the other way around). We find our being in being-with-others (71–75).

Considering the child of divorce, I hope that you can begin to see and feel Root’s argument as he employs Barth’s theology. The relationship—the union—of father and mother gives the child his/her being, his or her reality. To be in this relationship is to be real. When divorce divides the union which gave the child existence, he slips into the unreal. While a child of course forms other communities in which he lives and moves as he gets older, divorce means that he “has lost the one that has been from the beginning the one that made him real . . . When this is taken away, the young person is lost.” At this point, Root shares an interview with a young lady named Nicole who describes her parents separation and divorce,

That afternoon, after he left, she [her mother] sat us down on the couch and said he wasn’t coming back. I can’t even remember my reaction. I know I couldn’t understand what was happening. But I know exactly how I felt. Lost. Now everything I see I have to know the cause, so I can explain the effect. Since I can’t really understand why the divorce came about, I constantly struggle to make sense of my family (75).

Having engaged with “the being” of Barth’s anthropology, Root also engages “the acting” of Barth’s anthropology as it relates to the child of divorce. Beyond the ontological crisis for the child, there is a crisis of acting. The child of divorce now lives in two worlds but is in his very being a reminder of the old world, the old reality. His resemblance, the shape of his eyes, his mannerisms, expressions “are no longer undeniable witnesses to their being as being-with these people [i.e., the parents]. They become instead signs or reminders of division” (65). In these two worlds, the child struggles to find coherence regarding his acting or his agency. “He must act one way in one world and another in the other world” (65). Root acknowledges that living in multiple “worlds” (e.g., work, school, social gatherings, etc) is part of our modern society and that children must learn to act and compartmentalize appropriately in these varied settings; however, he writes,

But to have to act differently, even contradictorily, in relation to those who correlate and are responsible for your being is quite different. When there are two family worlds, the child is asked to do the impossible. To find his being in two opposed worlds, he is asked to be two people (65).

I summarized this in the margin of the book by saying that ontological duplicity leads to relational duplicity.

Also within chapters three and four, Root offers exceptional research that distinguishes the difference between the impact of the death of a parent upon a child and the impact of divorce upon a child. One difference is that the death of a parent points a child forward to a future event regarding his being while a divorce causes a child to look back to a past event regarding his being.

Death looks to a future reality, an event that will happen as time unfolds for the young person. Divorce does not so much point forward as throw the foundational event of the child’s very origins into regret and question. Death promises the eventual end of his being; divorce questions if he ever should have been at all (77).

Root calls this a “haunting reality” for the child of divorce. Second, the death of a parent and the divorce of parents differ in the area of agency. Root writes,

Death (unless it is suicide, which opens up a whole other truckload of issues) rarely if ever occurs through the agency of the dying person. Disease, accident, and tragedy happen to the parent over and against their choice (action). But divorce is an action, not a fate; it may feel unavoidable, but from the child’s perspective it will always come finally by the choice of one or both parent to end the union (77).

Barth’s view of the image of God introduces a substantial shift in theology and gives further explanation as to why divorce causes a crisis for the child at the ontological level. Many have articulated the image of God as pertaining to humanity being endowed with an essence similar to God’s, possessing a diluted form of God’s substance. Categories such as intellect, volition, and emotion are described. Having these capacities, we are able to serve God, have dominion, pursue freedom, liberty, and happiness. Barth looked beyond these capacities to something else that makes us truly human—our relationships.

Barth proposes a major paradigm shift in theological anthropology: one from seeing the human being as an individual defined by innate faculties to seeing the person as a dynamic-interpersonal agent whose faculties arise only as they exist in relations to others (91).

The point is this: what good is intellect, volition, and emotion without relationships in which to employ them? Root writes,

To reflect the image of God is to be in community, it is to be with and for others, just as the Father is with and for the Son through the Spirit . . . Reality itself is constituted not in substances and essences, but in relationships. We are real and freed from the unreal, not because we can think, reason, or feel, but because we are held in the community of others composed by the relational community of God (92–93).

He connects Barth’s relational imago Dei shift to the topic of divorce in this way,

When the image of God is seen as a relational reality, freedom is not understood as the freedom to do whatever is needed to make oneself happy and free. Rather, freedom is understood as the freedom to be for others. In the logic of a relational imago Dei we find our freedom, not away from others, but in giving ourselves to others (93).

Going further, he connects the relational imago Dei to the children of divorce by correcting assumptions,

We assume that divorce impacts [children] at the level of intellect, will, and emotions. Therefore, our actions for them seek to help them think correctly about the divorce (“It is not your fault”), reason realistically (“Mom and Dad are not getting back together”), and feel properly (“It is OK to be mad and sad, but soon you’ll feel better and be better because Mom and Dad will be happier”). Most of the initiatives to help kids deal with divorce seem stuck in this substantialistic perspective”(93–94).

This approach often results in the theory of “The Good Divorce,” which is founded upon two myths: (1) “Happy Parents Make Happy Children,” and (2) “Divorce Is a Temporary Crisis.” Both of these are untrue, and neglect the ontological crisis of the child. Thinking better or providing more information won’t help. Parental happiness will not enduringly influence the happiness of the child who has experienced a deep cut against his imago Dei. Even will power—of the parent or the child—will not be able to limit or restrain the far-reaching ontological effects of divorce.

Barth’s relational imago Dei reminds us that a child needs the parental union in which she can experience objective relational encounters in three areas: (1) male and female, (2) environment, and (3) mirroring. First, male and female are realities of the imago Dei. The mother and father provide a communion in which the child can securely figure out his connection to and difference from them. Second, the child encounters “Mom and Dad in the distinction and unity of the environment” (108). It is in the environment of male and female that the child belongs and is the image of God. Further, this environment also produces rituals that became larger than any one individual and anchor the individuals in common, shared experiences. Third, whether “for good or for ill, the family environment serves as a mirror, which through its action reflects our being back to us” (110). The problem divorce causes for mirroring is that not only has the mirror been shattered, but also multiple mirrors replace the one mirror, and the result is oftentimes contradictory images that leave the child ontologically insecure. Root draws this section to a close by quoting another writer, “To be human is to be concretely ‘this person’ belonging to ‘these people’” (112).

Ontological Security in Christ and His Church

As Root transitions to the final chapter, he explains that for most children the announcement of divorce does not come as good news. It is also not an end for them, rather it is a beginning—“the beginning of her search for a place to be as she acts between their two worlds. She must find a way to be ‘this person’ now that ‘these people’ regret their union that created her” (116, italics mine). The child will search for communities of belonging, and it is Root’s hope that the church can be the kind of place where a child of divorce can find belonging and ontological security in the perfect and powerful love of Christ. In this chapter, Root develops four practical actions that church’s can take to help children of divorce, and he addresses them to three different kinds of people: (1) the youth worker/children’s minister, (2) the parent, and (3) a friend or mentor (e.g., a grandparent). The four practical actions are (1) Mirroring in the Church as Seeing and Being Seen, (2) Autonomy and Belonging in the Church as Speaking and Listening, (3) Routine in the Church as Mutual Assistance, and (4) Bracketing out Anxiety in the Church by Acting in Gladness.

Conclusion

Finally, I should say that Root is sensitive to those tragic situations in which divorce may indeed be the severe mercy needed for the family. So, he doesn’t view divorce as impossible. The strength of the book is Root’s ability to discern and integrate multiple disciplines (i.e., sociology, psychology, philosophy, and theology) in a powerfully harmonic voice regarding the ontological challenges and solutions for the child of divorce. While I realize it was not necessarily the aim of his academic publication, I would have benefitted from a longer book; perhaps, he could have included another chapter that addresses the biblical imperatives to honor and care for parents in light ontological realities and challenges following a divorce. Although I must share that when I attempted to correspond with Dr. Root regarding these additional topics, he was quick, personal, and very kind in his response to me via email—a true scholar and a gentleman! All in all, I am so thankful for this book that gives voice to the children who live through the tragedy of divorce.

Making Connections

Building Relationships

Saturday morning was a rainy gloomy day. We took our morning to relax, unwind and do some laundry.

In the afternoon was our last shift together.  In the coming week, we will be mixed up with the other woman who came to serve. We are excited to get to know all of them even more! (We have enjoyed our nights socializing in the apartment, laughing and talking and even going out on late night bear hunts!)

After we started our shift in the afternoon at the net, it got really busy fast! We enjoyed making cookies, socializing, and handing out books and quilts. Parts of the afternoon were really challenging for us because so many bus loads of people are coming in from all over the world. With so many different languages, it was hard for us to have a conversation with them.

One of the men who is part of the VBS team arranged for a group of people to play music at Sunday morning service. So, Deb and Sean left to go practice for Sunday worship. Later that evening a couple from Hilltop Christian invited our team over.  She invited us over for some traditional ice cream called agutuck (a-goo-tic). This is “Alaskan ice cream” made from blueberries, salmon berries, raspberries, sugar, and crisco-(if you don’t have whale blubber on hand).  She showed us around her house. She showed us many different things she has made or collected through the years.

One of the most fascinating to us was the furs that they had tanned to make parkas. She showed us the way that she hand-stitched the furs together. Then she took us into another room and showed us all of the different parkas that she has made for her family.  Then they invited us to eat.  They were so kind to let us try different kinds of moose sausage, salmon spread, and the ice cream. We were able to ask some things about Naknek and other parts of Alaska. This was just a super time of fellowship with local believers.

Father’s Day

Sunday was Father’s day! We were sad not to be there to celebrate with everyone back home but we celebrated here in another part of the country!  Sunday morning a few of the women got up early to start on a pancake breakfast for all of the congregation in celebration of Father’s day. This was a great time of fellowship with all of the people we have gotten to know over the last week or so. They served pancakes, sausage, eggs, fruit, and rhubarb crumble (to die for). In between the breakfast and the service Pastor Jeff and a few of the men on our team went to some of the local canneries to pick up some of the workers for church. Debbie got to play keyboard in a little worship band with a harmonica, guitar, piano and accordion!

An International Experience

The church was just packed with people from different states in the U.S., also from Nicaragua, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, and more. The best part was that a man named Darcy translated Pastor Jeff’s whole sermon into Spanish. It’s amazing to see the different cultures coming together to worship the same God.

Baking, Evangelizing, Praying

Monday was the first day that we worked different shifts.  Caeley worked the morning shift. We had to open the Net early because there was people already lined up outside to come in! It was stormy so we gave them some place dry so that they were comfortable.

The morning consisted of much baking to keep up with the needs of the people coming through.  Debbie worked Monday evening shift.  It was very busy again.  Again a LOT of baking.  Most of the people are using the internet to connect with home, eating cookies and drinking a lot of cocoa today in the rain!  There are many people that love for you to just sit and talk with them.  One of the men that has worked at the Net before said that the best way to start a conversation with anyone is to ask if you can see the pictures of their family at home.  This opens up conversations where we can share about Jesus.  So many are searching here!

One man said to Deb that afternoon “Sister, Sister, come here.”  And he went to the back room where the clothes are.  Thinking he needed clothes, I asked if I could get a bag for him.  He grabbed my hands and asked me to pray please, right now, for temptations that are all around him.  So we prayed.

– Caeley and Deb

Loving the Locale and the Locals

Work, Locals, and Beauty

Wednesday Morning was our last morning working at The Net together. Thursday-Saturday we will be working the afternoon shift which is 2-8 P.M. Wednesday Morning we had to say goodbye to a local named Richard. He is moving to Palmer, Alaska with his wife. We definitely did not want him to leave and he did not want to say goodbye either. We have learned a lot from the locals. Mostly about fishing of course, but also about their life stories, their walk with God, and history of the town. Wednesday night, Sean and Caeley convinced Deb to stay up for the sunset. Of course, here the sun does not set until about 11:40.
This was a challenge for Deb because she is not much of a night owl!  But we made it. We went out at about 10:45 and started to search for bears. After seeing none, we decided to make our way to the bay and get ready for the sunset. It was worth the late night because that was one of the most beautiful things that we have ever seen. Since Thursday was the day we started working afternoons, we had the morning to do as we wish. Lacey, Jeremy, and their son Malachi decided to go to the beach and invited us to go along. Before we went to the beach we made a pit stop at a local coffee shop called Shearwater. It was one of the cutest coffee shops that we have ever been to. It overlooked the bay and they provided some binoculars so we were able to see everything closer.
Afterwards, we strolled along the beach for awhile. As we walked, we came upon some bald eagles. One even flew right over our heads! We also learned the little sheds on the shorelines are where some of the fishermen dock and stay when they are out fishing. How interesting. After lunch and a little cleaning up we were headed to the Net for our first afternoon shift. It was really different walking in and not seeing the normal locals that come in the morning. The shift started off slow, but started to pick up. We were able to have some good conversations with some of the fishermen and the cannery workers. We even had a younger group of people start up a scrabble game!

Planting Seeds of Love

The Net is a place where everyone is able to experience love. Love that people do not get when they are thousands of miles away from home. Love is a free cup of coffee and cookies, it’s the books and bibles that fill the shelves that they are able to take back to wherever they are going. It’s also in the free warm clothes, blankets and quilts given away. The hugs and prayers from the workers. Many seeds are planted even if we do not see it right away.
The people that come through never fail to thank us for the hospitality that we provide and the services that we offer. There is a huge need for this ministry here in Alaska, and that becomes more and more obvious every day. One thing that really breaks my heart though is to see those same people at night walking the roads heading for the bars to waste their nights away. Unfortunately, because we are so isolated here, there is not much else to do here for those people. Everyone is waiting for the salmon. They are waiting for their 16 hour days to begin. Friday morning, we woke up to the first rain that we have had here. With the rain comes quite a bit of rain too. We were able to sleep in especially with the gloomy weather. Friday our afternoon shift started a little bit earlier around 12:30. Today we only worked till 6 because we had a pizza party that evening with Pastor Jeff and Jane. This was one of the busiest shifts that we have worked so far.
Sean and Caeley were constantly baking trying to keep up with all of the goodies being eaten and trying to make sure they had some frozen cookies for the next morning to use. Debbie was talking to people and handing out quilts.
Keep us in your prayers!
-Caeley and Deb

On Mission in Alaska!

Safe & Sound . . . Groceries Too!

One of the things that surprised us as we came into Naknek was the towering stacks of refrigerated shipping containers! They are used by the canneries to ship the salmon.  For those of you that don’t know, we are here at this time because it is the salmon season.  That means this small town of 500 grows to several thousand people from around the world.  What an opportunity!  When we got to our apartment at KAKN radio station, we were excited and nervous to open our box and bag filled with the produce that you all helped us buy.  It had been quite the trip and we wondered how it had made it.  Helmar church donates quilts up here and sent a bag with us.  We used it to wrap the veggies and fruits.
Everything was good! And they were so excited to see the fresh produce.  Groceries up here must be shipped or flown in, usually and are very expensive.  (For ex.: a gallon of milk is about $10.).

Worship & Prayer

Sunday morning we enjoyed going to Hilltop Christian Church where Pastor Jeff Swanson is the pastor.
Then, after salmon for lunch (!), he and Pastor Jeremy Crowell (who is also the pilot here) invited 4 of us to go with for Sunday afternoon services in the remote village of Ekwok.  We flew in a Cherokee Six 300.  It was our first time in a small plane.  So EXCITING!
Pastor preached to a small group of natives, and Debbie was able to play keyboard for them – they usually sing with no musical accompaniment.
Sunday night when we came back to Naknek, we went to prayer service at Hilltop Christian.  When they asked for prayer requests, we were able to pray with them for Emily Holman Nash!

The Net

Monday morning, bright and early it was our turn to work at The Net.  The coffee house outreach program run by Hillside Christian Church.
The busy season has not begun yet, but ships are hiring and canneries are hiring, so crews are coming in.  After only 2 hours our first morning, we had met people from Anchorage, Miami, Costa Rica and the Czech Republic!
The coffee house needs to be ready for those coming in.  We serve coffee, hot chocolate, lemonade, and tea.  Also, we make cookies, brownies, and cupcakes etc.  One of the main things that we have seen bring people in, is the free internet.  The Internet is very, very expensive up here, and phone service is very hard to get!  Many times we hear Pastor, or someone, say. “We offer free coffee, free conversation, free books and Bibles to represent the best free gift — salvation through Jesus Christ!”
After our shift at the coffee house, we looked around Naknek and learned more about it.  Following supper—when The Net was closed for the day at 8:00— we helped Pastor Jeff and Jane paint the front steps of The Net.  We had plenty of time, the sun doesn’t set until 11:45 P.M.!!
Tuesday, we again were on the morning team at The Net.  We really enjoy visiting with the “locals” who come in each day to start out the morning.  One of the pastors gives a devotion and prayer to start the morning out.  If we are caught up in baking and there is plenty of coffee, etc., we can sit and play checkers or put together puzzles.

Adventures

After our shift, we volunteered to take the garbage to the dump outside of town.  Bears had been spotted there and they were hoping to see one.  Not this time!  But, later we saw the beach and a closer view of 2 of the canneries.  After supper, Pastor Jeff and Jane offered their 4-wheeler.  Caeley had a great time on the beach on the 4 wheeler with one of the other volunteers up here.  They saw a beautiful bald eagle.  Debbie enjoyed riding in the van with Jeff and Jane and seeing the same scenery.  Maybe the 4-wheeler next time!!
Thank you for all of the prayers! Keep them Coming! God Bless.
-Caeley & Deb

Alaskan Arrival!

After worrying about our bags being overweight with all of our food and clothes for the next 16 days, the man at the counter did not even weigh our bags. They did not even charge us at check-in for them. So, hopefully they make it to where they need to go! After Deb and I bought our caffeine for the night, we boarded the plane at 11:55 P.M. All went well and we left right around 12:35 A.M., to begin our 6 hour journey to Anchorage, Alaska. As the plane loaded, we came to realize that we were the only two people in our row, so we were able to have the middle seat open and spread out.

Despite the heavy turbulence in the air, we were both got around three to four hours of sleep. This was a blessing considering the future time change we were going to confront and the flight connection. The flight into Anchorage was beautiful and we learned fast that their “nighttime” was still light. CRAZY!

We decided to get some breakfast and sit down and look at the view outside of the window until our boarding time at 6:30. Little did we know that there was heavy fog where our plane was coming from which caused us a delay…wait no make that a cancelation of our morning flight. We had to reschedule for a later flight at 6:00 P.M. As we were waiting in line we met a guy who is going out to fish for the summer. He came from California and turned out to be meeting a bunch of Christian men to fish with all summer. He had to spend two nights in the airport without any family or friends. Wow, God works in mysterious ways we were able to take him out to lunch and a walk around Anchorage. He says he was so thankful he met us because he was starting to get frustrated.

Finally when 6:30 rolled around we were able to board our plane and take off for King Salmon. From there we found John and Carrol who picked us up from the airport. We were then taken to the KAKN radio station, which is where we would sleep every night. Thank you for all of the prayers! God Bless.

—Caeley and Deb

Rebuilding Rhythm for the Spiritual Life

In April, our Church Council completed a year-long, devotional study of the book of Nehemiah. In total, we developed twenty-nine principles for leaders. The book of Nehemiah is typically a go-to book for biblical principles of leadership. While it is a treasure trove for that topic, I think it’s important not to miss the reason that Nehemiah’s leadership is necessary—to rebuild a rhythm for the spiritual lives of the exiles who returned to Jerusalem. Have you ever built a retaining wall? One time at a Christian camp, a team of teenagers and I accepted the challenge to construct a large retaining wall made of railroad ties for a hillside near a basketball court. It was grueling work, bringing out the best and worst in all of us. Quickly, we learned that this project wasn’t merely a physical and mental test, but also a spiritual one. Nehemiah’s wall-building project had a deeper aim than to simply build a wall. He aimed, with God’s help, to restore a regular rhythm in the spiritual lives of people. Here are five key lessons to rebuilding your spiritual rhythm.

Report of Ruin

Read:

Nehemiah 1:1–11

Reflect:

Have you ever received bad news? Such was the news that Nehemiah received, yet behind the gloomy report was the smile of God. This is called providence. One Bible dictionary describes providence this way,

The biblical concept of God’s providence . . . signals a universally confident belief in God’s loving care and protection of the world. It is grounded in the belief in God as Creator, one who continues at all times to preserve and order the world, holding chaos at bay, and leading the world and all human history toward life and full happiness. Sometimes through unpredictable turns . . . God’s providence can be written ‘straight with crooked lines’ . . . God’s provident presence can be manifest in both merciful care and righteous chastisement, but the biblical emphasis surely rests with the affirmation of God’s ultimate care (Freedman, David Noel. Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (2000). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.).

Consider God’s providential provisions surrounding Nehemiah’s news: (1) he happened to have a rare job (1:11) that made him privy to royal reports, (2) a team from Judah, involving someone Nehemiah knew, arrived in Susa with a report of Jerusalem, (3) Nehemiah’s heart was soft enough to repent and to remember God’s promise, and (4) he had an audience with the king to request that something be done.

Resolve:

Get familiar with the background and story of Nehemiah with The Bible Project. Then, write out the current, major circumstances of your life. Can you see God’s providential fingerprints? Humbly ask God to make his providence clearer to you this week. How would your own “Report of Ruin” read?

Revival Reconnaissance

Read:

Nehemiah 2:9–20

Reflect:

After receiving approval from the king and favor from God to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls of the city, Nehemiah aimed to revive the people and the work. However, he faced radical rivals — Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem. These men opposed Nehemiah throughout the whole story (cf., 4:1, 3, 7; 6:1–2, 5–6, 12, 14, 17, 19; 7:62; 13:4, 7, 28). They tried to destroy his plans through violence from outside the walls and through deception inside the walls. In 2:11–16, Nehemiah took a secret, night-time ride around the entirety of the city wall. Verse 13 says, “. . . and I inspected the walls of Jerusalem that were broken down and its gates that had been destroyed by fire.” The word “inspect” means to test or investigate with a hopeful attitude.

Resolve:

Look at the representation of the walls of Jerusalem in Nehemiah’s day. Imagine that this represents your life. Inspect the walls of your life. Is your life whole and at peace? Or are there breaches? Gates were the places where important opportunities and decisions happened. Have you had opportunities or decisions that you feel have been “destroyed by fire”? Lastly, who are your enemies? Remember, external enemies utilize violence. Internal enemies utilize deception, lies, and schemes. Personal revival starts with an honest inspection of the conditions of our lives. Notice how the temple, the place of worship, is at the center. Just as the people in Nehemiah’s day couldn’t worship while neglected walls existed, neither can we effectively worship God while we neglect our own lives. After a thorough look at the walls, gates, and enemies of your life, remember that Nehemiah’s inspection was a hopeful one. He didn’t despair. He was real about the lousy conditions, but he was also real about his hope that God could revive the walls against all odds.

Responsive Reading

Read:

Nehemiah 8:1–12

Reflect:

The people showed great resolve to complete the rebuilding of the walls of the city (cf., 4:6–23). Faithful leaders were found and appointed (cf., 7:1–2). Once the work was completed, the people gathered to hear the reading of the word of God in their own city for the first time in generations. The leaders helped the people to clearly understand the word of God. The people became emotional for two reasons: (1) the clear and accurate teaching of God’s word cut into their souls with precision, like a spiritual surgeon, and (2) the atmosphere of standing within the rebuilt walls of their once destroyed city most likely created an overwhelming feeling—mixed with sadness about the past and hope for the future. Following their emotional response to God’s word, the people made decisions to obey God’s word (cf., 8:13–18) and to remember God’s faithfulness to his past promises and present protection (cf., chap. 9).

Resolve:

Commit to the healing of the walls of your life. To do this, you must faithfully steward the areas of the wall which God has entrusted you to rebuild. You also must have faith in God with those things that are outside of your control. Discuss and measure the impact that the word of God is having in your life. Is it cutting into you (cf., Heb. 4:12)? In what ways precisely? What kind of emotional atmospheres have you experienced with the word of God (e.g., camp, retreat, conference, prayer meeting, small group, recovery)? God providentially uses events like this to stir and awaken our hearts, but what happens after these unique experiences? Do you allow the word of God to cut into your regular rhythm of life? Discuss with a close friend the ways you are or are not creating space for the word of God as a part of your regular rhythm.

Reform Remains

Read:

Nehemiah 13:6–11, 15–21, 23

Reflect:

The book of Nehemiah ends in a strange and deflating way. Nehemiah left Jerusalem and reported back to the king of Persia. While he was gone, the people returned to their old way of life—(1) they flirted with the enemies of God and Jerusalem, (2) they forsook the temple and failed to worship God, (3) they forget to keep the Sabbath day holy, and (4) the men found wives who worshiped false gods, instead of the true God. Nehemiah went on a righteous rampage! The book ends with Nehemiah offering one of his many prayers—the reader can feel how tired he is—“Remember me, O my God, for good” (13:30). So what gives? What happened? Here’s the point. Don’t miss it: All the changes or reforms that we might make in life won’t truly stick unless they land on a new heart. Nehemiah was a great leader and did great work, but even he and all his efforts were not a match for the stone-cold, hardened hearts of the people. The 70 years they had spent in exile didn’t change anything. Consider the words of Jeremiah,

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (17:9),

and Ezekiel,

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh (36:26).

Religious movements, reforms, and retreats may create experiences that cause temporary changes, but if you want permanent, enduring faith and life change, then you need a new heart from God in order to truly take in all of his amazing grace available in Christ.

Resolve:

How’s your heart? Is it stone cold and lifeless, or is new and alive to God? It’s as Ezekiel said—your spiritual nature is stony and must be removed, and God must give you a new spiritual nature. How does God do this? By God’s grace through your faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection, your old, calloused heart may die, and a new, soft heart may resurrect within you. The New Testament uses the phrases “new creation” and “new birth” to describe this spiritual phenomenon:

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (Jn. 1:12–13).

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:3–5).

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17).

If you recognize your need for a new heart and are willing to put your faith in Jesus Christ alone for the forgiveness of your sins, to receive the Holy Spirit, and to possess the hope of new and eternal life, then pray to God to receive Jesus Christ as the Savior and Lord of your life. Do not remain as those Stephen addressed in Acts 7:51,

You stiff-necked, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit.

The Bible also teaches (e.g., 1 Cor. 3:1–3; 2 Cor. 13:5; Gal. 5:13) that even believers with new hearts can grieve and quench the Spirit in ways that diminish the power of the new life in Christ. If you’re a believer who has grown lukewarm, lazy, and lousy in the spiritual life, resolve today to repent and recover your faith in Christ.

Regular Rhythm

Read:

Romans 8:18–39; Galatians 5:13–26

Reflect:

Tim Keller once described revival as . . .

. . . the ordinary operations of the Holy Spirit intensified.

Ordinarily, the Holy Spirit (1) convicts of sin (Jn. 16:7–11), (2) converts to faith in Christ (1 Cor. 12:3; Acts 10:44–48), and (3) gives assurance of salvation (Eph. 1:13; 4:30). Have you ever experienced these activities of the Spirit in an unusually intense way? It’s important to realize that these are his regular rhythms too. In the Read portion of this section, we find two more important regular rhythms that the Spirit wants to work into your daily life. The first comes from Romans 8:29. The Holy Spirit aims to use your sufferings, weaknesses, circumstances, and hope to shape you into the image of Jesus Christ. Notice that prayer (v. 26) is an important way for you to participate in his aim for your life. The second comes from Galatians 5:22–23. The fruit of the Spirit’s rhythm in your life looks like these things: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Here, the Spirit’s regular rhythm in your life provides the essential attributes to conform you to the image of Jesus.

Resolve:

1 Thessalonians 5:19 says, “Do not quench the Spirit.” Ephesians 4:30 teaches us not to “grieve the Holy Spirit.” In unique and rare moments, the Holy Spirit has worked in an intensified way in your life, and he aims to provide a regular rhythm that transforms you over time to look more and more like Jesus. As you participate in his regular rhythm, how will you avoid quenching the fire that the Holy Spirit started in your life? How will you avoid grieving him? Start by reading the context of the all the verses mentioned in this section. Get a handle on what God says the Holy Spirit wants to do in your life. You’ll discover things like thankfulness prevents the quenching of the Spirit, and putting off the old life and putting on the new life in specific ways prevents the grieving of the Spirit. Discuss with a believing friend the ways that you’ll participate in the Spirit’s rhythm for your life. Remember, God is providentially at work in your life. Are you up for the adventure?

Staying Together: When an Affair Pulls You Apart

Marriage & Mountain Climbing

I just finished Dr. Stephen M. Judah’s (1949–2008) book Staying Together: When an Affair Pulls You Apart. The book is full of stories of his experiences counseling couples caught in the web of an affair (or some cases multiple affairs). He describes these marriages using a very helpful illustration: mountain climbing. As Judah sees it, couples climb toward an affair. He calls it “the ascent into brokenness.”

Novice climbers approach the mountain unaware of what awaits them. In my one experience climbing, I remember watching a couple of my team members have uncontrollable emotional reactions as they acclimatized to the altitude. Similarly, nothing can truly prepare a person for all that marriage entails. Couples should avail themselves of every opportunity possible to prepare and train, just as a climber should! Preventative measures are practiced by the wise of heart. Even so, you still have to climb (i.e., get married) to have the real experience.

from Staying Together: When an Affair Pulls You Apart by Dr. Stephen M. Judah

Judah describes the active affair as the peak of the ascent into brokenness; he also calls it the “death zone.” The reason for such a description is because a person cannot linger long on the peak of a mountain and live—the body simply cannot take it. Likewise, a marriage cannot linger long in an affair. He also compares the active affair to the peak of a mountain ascent because an affair does not simply all of a sudden happen. A couple climbs into it. Judah describes the progressive ascent into brokenness as the accumulation of brokenness from sin, brokenness from the family of origin, brokenness from our peer group, brokenness from dating relationships, romantic love, civil war, the evolution of affair conditions, and finally the peak—the active affair. Rather than an affair being a spontaneous act of passion, the spiritual and social science of the act explains that the affair is the result of the unchecked accumulation of brokenness in a person’s life. We enter marriage with imbedded flaws that remain hidden until a crisis exposes them.

As a boy, I remember watching footage of the January 28, 1986 NASA space shuttle Challenger explosion. It happened 73 seconds into its flight. All crew members were lost. The U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology concluded its hearings with a statement: “The fundamental problem was poor technical decision-making over a period of several years by top NASA and contractor personnel, who failed to act decisively to solve the increasingly serious anomalies in the Solid Rocket Booster joints” (under Conclusions, pages 3–7). Years of poor decisions by experts who failed to act decisively created a death zone that exposed everything.

The Ascent into Brokenness

Civil War

In his chapter entitled “Civil War,” he writes, “The experience of civil war has universal and unmistakable characteristics: (1) Awfulization best characterizes the overall experience. The warring pair tend to primarily see the bad in the other. The good is denied or remains carefully ignored. Each becomes at risk to fall into a pattern of being at their worst. (2) Awareness of incompetence—The couple becomes mostly conscious of each other’s incompetence. (3) Negative response—The couple moves either against or away from each other, engaging in classic fight or flight. (4) Depressed sensory acuity—The couple’s senses are diminished, and they attribute the lack of clarity to a lifelessness in their relationship. (5) Separation—They may think or say, ‘I can’t stand to live with you.’ (6) Incompletion—They may think or say, ‘Something is missing.’ (7) Unfamiliarity and disbelief—They may think or say, ‘I’m in the wrong place with the wrong person. How did I ever get here?’ . . . We demand more and put up with less” (pages 65–66). The reality is that both spouses have both brokenness and wholeness within them. Dr. Judah states that “master couples” learn how to focus and practice an awareness of one another’s competencies, which eventually evolves into an unconscious trust in one another’s competencies.

Evolution of Affair Conditions

I found chapter seven, “The Evolution of Affair Conditions,” insightful. He suggests that both “difficult” and “good” marriages experience affairs, and then he seeks to answer the question “Why?” He proposes a two-fold answer: (1) the 60% push and (2) the 40% pull. A negative or difficult marriage environment is likely to “push” a spouse toward an affair. Dr. Judah describes the primary factors at play as (1) communication issues, (2) character or developmental issues (e.g., unmet needs), (3) conflict resolution issues, (4) adult life stage or landmarks (e.g., mid-life crisis), and/or (5) confused or broken choices. A combination of these factors can literally “push” someone toward an affair. However, sometimes affairs (40%) happen in marriages described by couples as “happy” or “fulfilled.” In these cases, there are factors present that “pull” a spouse into an extramarital affair: (1) proximity, (2) similarity, and (3) reward. Work relationships where men and women are working in close proximity and where conversation moves from work-related into more personal feelings, desires, dreams, etc. Unintentionally, boundaries are crossed. From proximity, similarities may begin to surface and create a dangerous intimacy. Eventually, it is possible for the offending spouse to perceive rewards associated in an affair with the third party person.

After explaining these “push” and “pull” realities of the evolution of affairs, Judah offers wrong ways to handle the evolution of an affair and right ways to handle the evolution of an affair (pages 69–75):

Wrong Ways Right Ways
Toying with the possibility of having an affair Commit to finding a way to create a strong marriage—step away from the edge and look for the safe path
Acting out (without talking about) your negative thoughts and emotions Talk about your inner struggle—find friends of the marriage, those who will strengthen your commitment to the marriage bond
Blaming yourself or your partner Replace blame with understanding and take responsibility
Getting bad advice from friends, family members, coworkers, affair partners, or even counselors Get professional guidance that specializes in marriage or relationships
Triangulation or substitute triangulation, which is focusing more on the third party or some other substitute that you do on your spouse Embrace the usefulness of suffering, and choose optimism—suffering together can be a bonding experience
Focusing on the third party rather than on your core values and commitments Focus on the primary couple, the husband and wife
Waiting for a crisis, that is, most people seek help only after an affair has happened Focus on your core values and commitments
Be proactive, preventative and preemptive.
Master essential disciplines—Dr. Judah covers these in part three of his book.

Dr. Judah brings this chapter to an interesting close by warning readers not to dismiss the role of both evil and good supernatural forces at work behind the evolution of an affair. As people of the Bible, we believe in supernatural realities. God calls us to love as he loves—with faithful, steadfast love; however, sin, Satan, and demonic activity are realities opposed to human flourishing. Beware the spiritual forces at work in the “push” and “pull” of the evolution of an affair. Cling to your God and to your spouse.

The Descent into Wholeness

The third part of the book is entitled “Descent into Wholeness.” Surprisingly, the descent down the mountain is harder than the climb up. I remember being caught off guard by this during my single mountaineering experience. There a number of factors that make it more difficult: (1) you’re not as motivated; (2) the goal destination seems boring and anticlimactic; (3) it hurts your joints and feet in an unexpected way; (4) you’re off balance because of terrain; (5) you’re exhausted; (6) you have fewer supplies and possibly damaged gear; (7) you’re far more irritable; (8) the path isn’t always as clear; and (9) well, you’re just done! While all this is true, you must make it back down the mountain—your life depends on it. You can’t survive long at the top. Reaching bottom restores normal, whole, healthy living.

In this section, Dr. Judah walks the reader through his five essential disciplines that have the potential to restore wholeness to a marriage broken by an affair: (1) SHARE—sharing the truth with your spouse, (2) RECONCILE—reconciling the crisis with your spouse, (3) REFINE—redefine and realign your character through development and commitment, (4) ENHANCE—rebuilding and cultivating the positive, (5) ENVISION—flourish by creating the possible, exploring tomorrow’s dreams, and generating today’s plan. The first three disciplines function “like powerful workhorses to transform the negative” (1) communication techniques, (2) crisis experiences, and (3) character traits; whereas, the final two disciplines (4) cultivate what is good and (5) create the possible.

The Crisis & RECONCILE

In chapter ten entitled, “The Crisis,” he borrows an experience from Andy Politz, who has reached the summit of Mount Everest multiple times. He writes, “On one occasion he helped rescue a party of five . . . They had spent the night near the peak in bad conditions. Another party had come across them but left the party for dead, giving them only a candy bar to assuage their own guilt. Andy and his party, by contrast, abandoned their climb to devote all their resources to the rescue. The party in trouble needed oxygen and water of course, but mostly they needed someone to walk them down the mountain step by step. Every two steps those being rescued would collapse. Generally competent, experienced and strong, now they were temporarily dazed, confused, weak and blind. They could not rescue themselves. They needed somebody to help. Rescue by definition usually requires others” (page 108).

He continues to develop what the essential discipline of RECONCILE looks like for the offending and the offended spouses. The offending spouse may experience a great deal of relief when the affair is either discovered or confessed; however, the offended spouse often goes through a threefold process that he describes as (1) disorganization, (2) reorganization, and (3) organization. Further, the offended spouse may experience something similar to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and other severe emotional conditions. Judah writes at the close of this chapter, “Oddly enough, the descent into wholeness involves temporarily putting your partner into a crisis state. The offending spouse has been in the death zone for a while, so descending lets them breathe a little easier. By contrast, the offended spouse feels like they have been dropped into the death zone of a mountain peak without any acclimatization. The necessary disclosure hits the offended spouse hard” (page 125). While this crisis has to be a part of the journey, it is miserable.

Flourishing & ENVISION

Chapter thirteen introduces that couples who have experienced an affair can indeed flourish again. “With God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). Here, he helps couples recover and reestablish core desires and core values together. Having “survived, stabilized, and succeeded, then pursue significance” together. Couples that reach this ENVISION stage of the descent into wholeness are invited to imagine a resurrected relationship in which they can clarify goals and adjust priorities. Couples that remain committed in the descent can have fulfilling relationships, discover anew that they are good at something together, make the world a better place together, and enjoy peace with God together.

The Spiritual and the Scientific

Descending into wholeness is possible for the couple that has encountered the “death zone” of an active affair. It will take help from others; it will take commitment to a process; and it will take a new hope and vision. Dr. Judah has a couple of appendices at the end of his book that speak to special situations that couples may face along the way of their journey. His final chapter addresses “The Spiritual and the Scientific: A Fusion of Strengths.” He is a committed Christian, who has trained and worked as a social scientist (a.k.a. a professional marriage counselor). He describes the relationship between the two by returning to his mountaineering imagery. He explains, “Mountain climbers have found one particular rope design superior to all others. The structure involves an inner core rope that provides strength and a series of woven otter strands which amplify strength and offer protection. You cannot actually see the vital inner rope. You can only see the otter strands. When spiritual wisdom and the wisdom of social science combine, a fusion of strengths occurs. They become woven together like strands of a rope. At the core lies an indescribable, invisible and vital force. We cannot see God, but we can see the strands surrounding the core” (page 172).

Don’t Lose Hope; Grab the Rope

Don’t die on the mountaintop trying to handle your crisis all alone. There is hope. Get some help. May God grant your marriage the grace to descend back into wholeness with a new hope and vision. May it be stronger having gone through such an incredible crisis.