A couple of years ago I was on a special Ministry assignment thousands of miles away from home. On that particular night I had experienced one of the most powerful services I have ever had in my over thirty years of Ministry. At the end of that eventful service I had a phone call from my wife saying our marriage was over.
To say I was shocked is an understatement. But, I knew my family was in crisis and it needed my immediate attention. I took the next flight back home to England.
On my return home from Africa I fought a heartfelt battle to try and save my marriage but sadly, I failed.
It was traumatic to be separated from my wife and my three wonderful children of whom I had given so much for. My children suffered depression and were at the cusp of being taken into care, their academic and social development stalled. I also lost almost every thing including a house, a job and Ministry. In addition, I suffered acute financial difficulties – many times going hungry and homeless. For weeks I had to live on food supply from charity food bank. I ended up sleeping rough, sharing an overcrowded, filthy accommodation with drug addicts, alcoholics and ex-offenders.
This experience and other painful lessons that followed completely turned my life on its head. I had been through tough times in my life before. But this particular incidence hit me really hard for a number of reasons;
Firstly, I could not see it coming. Like all relationships, my marriage was not perfect, but as a couple we always tried to navigate through tough times with great degree of success. This time, though, was different. To me, there was (and still) no credible reason why my wife would file for divorce in that dramatic and callous fashion.
Secondly, it was contrary to my strong personal faith about God. I became an ardent born-again, spirit filled believer at age 12. By 15 I had already served as one of the founders and overseers of one of the largest Churches in my hometown. From this tender age I was exposed to this strong Christian view that holiness (living a sinless life), exercising strong faith, being good and serving God with all of your heart was enough to make God help you achieve anything you want. For all these years, I believed that adversity or failure of any sort (not least of marriage breakdown) was punishment from God for either sin or lack of faith.
Thirdly, I feared for my career as a Minister. Within right-wing Christian circles (especially the extreme branch of Pentecostal, born-again faith that I had been part of) there is a strong emphasis on achieving and maintaining a strong and happy marriage. Those who divorce are deemed to be spiritually inadequate, unfit for Christian Ministry and therefore deserve to be alienated. So, as an Ordained Minister I knew my career was on the rocks, and remarriage was a difficult prospect if not impossible.
Fourthly, I was a man of strong personal drive. From a very young age I had this strong drive to have a great family life. To achieve this, (I believed) I needed to be independent, competitive, and, above all, attain extreme success. Through out my youth I wanted to be a man in control – not showing any sign of weakness or vulnerability.
In a way, I embraced my Christian faith because it blended nicely with my persona. If I’m honest, it had served me well till then. I had considerable spiritual, social and financial achievement as a result of it. God had elevated me from my humble African roots up to the European splendour where I now live.
Sadly, though, my strong persona and my extreme faith made me naïve, cynical and vulnerable. When I fell into hard times I thought God had deserted me. Divorce was a matter of personal tragedy to me. To an ordained Minister like me, family breakdown was deeply humiliating “fall from Grace”. As a result I tried to cover up my plight for more than four years.
Because of what I was going through many people, not least my fellow Ministers, treated me with contempt. No one ever gave me an opportunity to minister in their congregation because to them I was more of a liability than anything else.
For me, life without my children or my lovely wife was not worth living. I wondered how I could cope without money and without a job. The pain was unbearable. To be honest I felt rejected, betrayed, isolated, useless, and hopeless. I felt cheated – by God. I was angry.
I could understand why people would treat me like that, but I could not understand why a loving God would allow such tragedy to befall on me His faithful servant.
Strangelly, in the midst of all this I found something precious and something so eternally true. In that terrible mess of my broken life I found something that is now so dear to me – Agape, the love of God that brings a life full of love, peace, joy and fulfillment.
This kind of love that puts everything else into perspective has an exceptional feeling that defies description. It made me appreciate the beauty in everything, even in the very things that didn’t impress me before. I now find easy to love people regardless of their condition or conduct, yes including those that hate me.
In the world where hatred, pain and worry are part of life God’s love has become my best friend. She keeps me buzzing with joy even when everything is crumbling around me. Agape makes me feel right in my soul even when everything around me seems so wrong.
As a result, I now enjoy my life more, I love others more and I worship God even deeper because my perspective about Him and His love has been overhauled.
Like Job, I now understand that our loving God is both the giver and the taker of our blessings. He is the only one that has the permission to join two people in marriage or put them asunder. I completely trust God to give me what He sees to be the best for me, and in the manner that suits Him.
More over, God has continued to restore even the things I had lost. Although the restoration is still far from perfect, my life is, in many ways, better than before.
Not only that, He has given me the task and strength to help others.
I strongly believe God put me through these life changing situations in order to refine my mission, recharge my spirit and add an important ingredient into my destined assignment.
For years I had had a privilege to serve the needy, the homeless, the hungry and the hurting. But never had I found myself at the receiving end of help. But my recent experiences have made me even a better steward to serve the hurting because I know how pain hurts.
My divine mission now is to use my traumatic experiences and the lessons learned to help others live a better life. The two things that qualify me to be a servant of the heart-broken are His grace and the fact that I, too, am broken.