The Quiet Divorce

rod artersI recently read a story about Joe, a young man born and raised in a small 3rd world village. He comes from a large, blue-collar family and he enjoys being a part of a very close-knit community. In fact, in his area, Joe can’t go anywhere without being greeted by family or running into a friend.

Joe recently fell in love and got engaged to a wonderful young lady, another local with a sweet disposition. Excitement fills the air whenever two love birds engage. Ask anyone in his circle and they would tell you that Joe’s future is bright and full of hope.

Well, it was bright, that is, until the dark cloud appeared.

Joe was recently informed that his beloved fiancée had been unfaithful during their engagement. To make matters worse, the “infidelity” led to an unplanned pregnancy. No one, especially Joe, saw this coming. And if all of that isn’t hard enough for him to handle, Joe lives in a small-town “fishbowl.” This news cannot be contained. Knowledge of this “affair” will quickly spread in this small community. I mean, how do you hide a pregnant belly in a town like his, especially before the wedding day?

To say Joe feels wronged, is putting it lightly. To say that he experienced the sting of betrayal is an understatement. There isn’t a person out there who can’t sympathize with his situation. Joe is a great guy who certainly doesn’t deserve this treatment. This news is especially crushing given the conservative climate that Joe lives in. Infidelity and divorce are nearly unheard of in his part of the world.

Sadly, Joe’s predicament is hardly news for us in today’s current Western culture. We seem to hear story after story of great men and women being cheated on by their self-centered spouses. So common is this in our day and age that it hardly raises an eyebrow any more. If we don’t learn of our friends or family behaving badly, we certainly get our fair share of “juice” from tabloid television. There was a time when news of infidelity would shock those who learned of it. We are well beyond that reaction. Take a brief stroll down the Facebook news feed and it is not uncommon to watch ex-husband’s spewing the latest gossip about their philandering ex-wives. Follow along the twitter road for just a few minutes and you will, no doubt, see the angry tweets from scorned women. I can’t tell you how many derogatory memes I see, on a daily basis, calling out the liars, cheaters and scoundrel behavior that exists in today’s moral climate. Social media has not only made it easier to broadcast the sins of the sinner, but it has made it instantly viral. There is not a one of us who cannot, with great detail, repeat the injustices of our friends who have swam in the same murky waters as Joe. In fact, perhaps you have shared the salacious details of your injustices with others. With so many willing and supportive ears to hear, it’s hard not to.

And therein lies the reason Joe’s story is so powerful. The primary thing that separates Joe’s heartbreaking situation from our own is not the situation itself but how he handled it.

Though he could have publicly “outed” his wife-to-be, he didn’t. Though he held the hard-to-ignore “victim” card, he chose not to play it. He didn’t gather family or friends and “vent” or even attempt to create a verbal lynch mob. He didn’t slander his fiancée or give in to the common excuse for gossip, otherwise known as a “prayer request.” In fact, unless you were really paying attention, you may not have even noticed his response or recognized its significance.

We live in a “no-fault divorce” country. Joe does not. We live in a “she-did-me-wrong-she-should-pay” cul de sac. Joe does not. In fact, in Joe’s tiny village, his fiancée’s actions could be punishable by death in a court of law. And Joe knew it. One word from Joe and her life could be over. Justified capital punishment.

Fortunately for her, Joe is not your typical man. Before I tell you how Joe handled this complete injustice, let me ask you this….

How have you handled the injustices aimed your direction?
What has your response been when someone has done you wrong?

Even if our situation is different than Joe’s, haven’t we all experienced some sort of injustice at some point in our life by someone close to us?

  • A cheating husband?
  • A lying girlfriend?
  • An abusive ex-spouse?
  • An absent parent?
  • A disobedient child?
  • A difficult neighbor?

We don’t have to go too far in our past to realize that someone somewhere has done us wrong. And sadly, our human nature tempts us to make sure everyone we know – knows it.

Joe’s story is so familiar to you that had I not masked Joe’s true identity, you may have missed the impact of his actions.   You know Joe as Joseph who was engaged to Mary, the future mother of Christ. You know how the story ended – he did indeed marry Mary and become the earthly father of God. But before he was convinced by an angel that this union was of God (Matthew 1), Joseph fully believed that Mary had been unfaithful and that a divorce was required. But it’s not the impending divorce that is significant but the manner in which Joseph desired to handle it:


Did you catch that?    Without.fanfare.

Matthew shares the details in chapter one of the book bearing his name,  “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.” (Matthew 1:18-19)

Who responds like that?? Instead of seeking revenge, he chose to protect. Instead of broadcasting her “sin,” he chose to keep it secret. She was on the verge of being DISgraced and Joseph simply removed the DIS.  From a human vantage point, she deserved the judge’s gavel, instead he gave her heavenly grace.  And he chose to handle it privately – even in the midst of a tight-knit community.

Does that describe your heart?  Not wanting to disgrace the one who disgraced you?
Would you send those who wronged you… away… secretly?    Do you?

As people, we tend to keep the things WE have done wrong under lock and key.  If it’s OUR dirty little secret, we are Fort Knox in how it’s protected. By contrast, if it’s someone else’s failure, we become the New York Times. We tend do whatever we can to bring our sins to the grave while broadcasting the sins of others on Satellite radio.

Joseph is different. He chooses to keep secret what Mary had (in his mind) done wrong. This response would not only be unusual in Joseph’s day – it’s just as unusual in ours. How many scorned wives are quick to share the stories about their husband’s failures to anyone who will listen?  How many betrayed ex-husbands search for ways to speak ill about the sins of the ex-wife? And yet, somehow, Joseph doesn’t take the bait. It’s not like he didn’t have motivation. It’s not like he lacked ammunition. It’s not like he wouldn’t have the full support of the entire community on his side. And yet, his response is so counter to what most of us would do or (ahem) have done.

How is he able to respond in such a gracious way?  What kind of man can react like this to such betrayal?  Who possesses such self-control?   Again, the text reveals who:

“A righteous man.”   (Matthew 1:19)


In this brief description, we find the true hypocrisy lodged deep within our own hearts. We are quick to crucify the ones who disgrace us and yet justify our attempts to disgrace them in return.  When we trash someone’s reputation for past sins against us, are we really any better simply because they sinned differently?   Joseph was wronged (in his mind) and yet chose to do right in spite of it. Being wronged did not give him the freedom, as a man of character, to justify the loose lips that gossip ultimately encourages, even if the gossip was true.

As I think about our current culture of divorce and revenge, Joseph’s example provides at least 3 reasons why a quiet divorce is a better divorce:

1) It is the most honoring way to treat the other party. Long before Jesus shared the “Golden Rule” with his disciples in the famous Sermon on the Mount, his father had lived out this principle with His mother, “Treat others the way you want to be treated.”  There is not a one of us who wouldn’t love to be in the position to receive quiet grace after we have broken a loud law. Joseph extended this grace to Mary and allowed her an opportunity to experience as much anonymity as he could give in an environment of inevitable exposure.

2) It creates the possibility for a comeback. Imagine that Joseph told the entire village what had happened. Imagine that the entire community knew of Mary’s apparent infidelity and already judged her in the court of public opinion. How hard would it be for Mary to come back with dignity? How hard would it be for Joseph to have a change of mind and reconsider making the relationship work? More importantly in this situation, how hard would it be for those same people to ultimately believe in the coming Messiah, if they were first led to believe Christ’s existence was merely the consequence of an adulterous affair?

3) It reveals a different spirit & inner strength that lives within you. Anyone can cry foul. Anyone can gossip, slander and bring public humiliation to a public sin. Anyone can get the masses to support you in how you have been wronged. But it takes a true person of character to remain silent in the midst of injustice. It shows an amazing depth of integrity to try to protect the one who wronged you.   Yes, they may deserve a public thrashing but does that mean we have to provide one?

Joseph aimed to protect Mary and deflect her shame not because she deserved it but because he was righteous.   In other words, his reaction was based on his character, not hers.

I’m not suggesting that you need to suffer in silence just to protect the perpetrator of your pain. I’m not saying you can’t share your story with a counselor, friend or family member. But I would say the people you choose to share with should be a trusted few and in a position to help you carry the emotional load. Many times sharing your pain with the masses (or children – NO!) creates more damage than the initial wrong done to you.  Sharing with one close friend is one thing.  Sharing it on your public social media wall is another.

As you process the wrong done to you, be careful not to do wrong in retaliation.  It’s easy to verbally hang someone in the public square.   What’s easy and right are often too different things.   Treat people the way you want to be treated.

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse…Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, as far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed hi, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  (Romans 12:14, 17-21)