When Dr. Judith Wallerstein book, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25-Year Landmark Study, was release a few years ago, it reconfirmed that divorce is not an event children quickly get over. In fact, the effects of divorce on children are profound and cumulative. The most distressing finding was that children of divorce do not get better with time. Instead they develop problems that tend to peak in their 20s and 30s. Wallerstein and co-authors Julie Lewis and Sandra Blakeslee reported that problems from divorce carry over into new relationships. Because children lacked healthy models of marriage, they often have commitment and intimacy problems as adults. Unfortunately, the effects of divorce on children linger for life.
Many Christians applauded the results of Wallerstein’s longitudinal study, feeling it supports the need for a life-long marital covenant. But what about divorced Christians?
Comments like: “I don’t want to hear the research findings. It’s like hammering another nail in the coffin.” “How many times do we have to be told divorce hurts children? The Church already does a great job reminding us of that.” “I didn’t want divorce. I fought it with everything in me. Doesn’t anyone ever think of that! I know God hates it. I hate it too. I know divorce has negative consequences. I live with them everyday.”
What is needed is hope, not more condemnation.
So here are my suggestions. Don’t ignore the findings because you feel judged by them. Be informed of the possible ramifications in order to know how to pray. Do this. List out the possible consequences of divorce from the research. Then take each one and pray over that part of your child’s life.
For example, take the finding that says children of divorce have difficulty with love and commitment later in life. Pray specifically about this. Ask God to break that pattern in your child’s life. Strengthen your relationship with Him so that your child sees a healthy model of love and commitment to a heavenly Father. Expose your child to other people who exhibit healthy models of marriage commitment. Trust God to do as He promised—restore what was stolen. Children don’t have to repeat negative family patterns if you identify them early and begin to make changes.
Here is a simple way to pray:
Lord, I break dysfunction (be specific here) over my child now. The enemy is under my feet and I’m telling him to take his hands off my child. Somehow, miraculously, lead this child into the knowledge of Your love. Help him/her experience it in such a way that there will never be doubt about the power of love. Help me be obedient in my covenant with You that I may be blessed. Let the relationship I have with You as my intimate Savior be the one that will impress and mold my child.”
If you feel hopeless about the divorce research, take heart. God can take what’s probable, according to the research, and render it impossible. But you must know what you are up against in order to fight back with prayer and intercession. When we give our brokenness to God He restores us to wholeness. That’s His desire.
Intercessory prayer and God’s transformational power were not variables in Wallerstein’s study but they are available to Christians. Both are powerful influencers of change. If you are divorced, don’t feel condemned by research findings. Instead use them to specifically target prayer for your children.
For more help, check out Dr. Linda Mintle’s book, I Married You, Not Your Family—a great resource for divorce prevention.