A friend of mine has a daughter who is going through a divorce right now, so I asked her how it’s going. In the process of our conversation, she asked me what was the biggest thing God showed me through the process of my divorce. It felt like a hard question. God saved me two months after I walked out of my ex husband’s house. The 15 months that I was getting divorced were a surreal journey of ending a life and beginning a new one, with regards to my marriage and, more importantly, my heart and soul. I learned more about God and myself than any other time in my life, before or since. But none of it really felt applicable to someone else. When I think about it, it feels like a unique situation. It certainly doesn’t feel applicable for someone who has been walking with Jesus their whole lives.
So I said something about how if that is where God has her, then that is where he wants her and he is going to turn it into something that will make it all totally worth it. And I did learn that and that was a good thing.
But was it the “biggest thing” I learned? Honestly, no.
When I was newly saved, all I wanted to do was read my Bible and figure out what it meant to be Christian. I had no job, it was just me and the kids, homeschooling and living. So I spent every available moment reading and listening to sermons and talking with the only friend I had left, That Weird Kid From The Gas Station. I read through the Bible 3 times that year and I did more focused studies on Romans, Hebrews and Genesis. I felt like I was behind, like I had 34 years of no Bible knowledge to make up for. I didn’t (which is another thing God showed me that year), but it did put a consuming fire in my heart. And the more I learned, the more I wanted to know. I was so hungry to know God and what he wanted from me that nothing else mattered.
I don’t think I can really convey what those words mean. I was ending a 14 year relationship and bringing three kids with me, ages 12, 9 and 6. I had been with him since I was 20 years old. And it was kind of an ugly divorce. When I submitted the petition, two things happened: the judge referred me to the sheriff to see if my ex-husband needed to be prosecuted and they required psychological testing to make sure that the kids would be safe with my ex-husband without supervision. So, yeah, ugly stuff.
I was going through what I would consider to be the worst thing a person can go through that doesn’t involve death or illness. My earthly life was in total upheaval. Everything I had known in my adult life was coming to an end. But I wrote in my journal and I told Eli that none of that seemed to matter most days compared to the weight and intensity of getting to know my God and trying to figure out how to live in light of that relationship. Nothing was as fascinating or overwhelming or hard or earth-shattering as that. And having the understanding of God’s love and grace so new and so bright in my vision made everything else so small. Even when I was in pain, all that really mattered was that someday I was going to be with Jesus. No matter what happened, that was true and it eclipsed everything else.
And that was the biggest thing that God showed me through my divorce. Whatever I was going through, whatever my struggle was, whatever happened in court or whatever my ex-husband said: it all faded into the background compared to the overwhelming need to know more about God, to be closer to him.
I thought that wasn’t something that I could really give to someone else. It feels like it doesn’t apply to any other situation or any other time because it came out of that time when I was totally at rock bottom and alone. For people who are in a place where they have nothing else in their lives? Sure, use that awesome gift to get totally absorbed in God. But, all the time, every day? How do you even do that? What does it even look like?
What if the awesome gift isn’t the times when life is so empty or boring or bereft that you have nothing else to do but spend all your time and energy with God? What if the gift is that we can be that focused on God all the time? What if the gift is to be totally obsessed with God? Maybe the best way to not be overcome by the world is to be overcome by God. Overwhelmed. Consumed. With a capital C. It made sense when it was all new, but, ironically, it doesn’t so much anymore.
But then I go back to Moses and the verses so important that Jewish people have said them every day for millennia.
“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” -Deuteronomy 6:4-9
And I think about Moses spending 40 days up on the mountain with no food, not just once, but at least twice that we know of. God was right in the center of their camp and he was always in front of them in the cloud. Even God’s use of the phrase “a man after my own heart” to describe David (Acts 13:22) speaks of pursuit and…obsession. I think about my favorite verse, Deuteronomy 4:24: “For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” Yes, it speaks of God’s judgment consuming idolators like a fire. It also speaks of God jealously taking up all our lives, an all-consuming fire, until we have nothing left for idols.
I guess it’s easy to fill yourself with Jesus when your life is empty anyway. I suppose the challenge that many of us face is emptying ourselves of lives that seem so full. I have heard it said that if we do not humble ourselves, God might just allow life to humiliate us. In the same way, I think that if we don’t deny ourselves, God will allow life to deny us. Does that mean we have to physically walk away from all our possessions and everything that fills our lives? Must we literally hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters and even our own lives to come to him?
I don’t think so, and I think the text will bear me out on this one, though I am not going to go into a topical study on it right at the moment. I do think we need to empty ourselves of those things just as if we had lost them physically, so that we can be filled with Jesus. However, I also think it would be more fitting to frame it as a promise, rather than a task. The real gift, the best gift that God gives and the biggest thing God showed me through my divorce (though I forget it more than I remember), is that we can be filled with Jesus to the exclusion of everything else, until they are meaningless. Just as if we had lost them physically.