Missed God’s Plan?

wrong way signI hugged my two youngest daughters good-bye, and kissed them each. Then, I turned quickly to leave, before they could see the tears in my eyes.  Driving away from their mother’s house, the tears spilled down my cheeks.

A few minutes later, I sat in the kitchen of a trusted friend’s house, sobbing, “It’s not right!  It’s not supposed to be this way!  A father should not have to regularly drop his children of at another home for two weeks at a time.  How am I supposed to raise my daughters when I have so little time with them?”

It was the summer of 2002, not quite a year since the divorce was finalized.  Just when I had begun to think I’d made peace with everything and moved on with my life, I found myself flooded with a whole new level of grief.  As I became increasingly aware of my reduced influence in the lives of my pre-teen daughters, and the effects of the divorce on their lives, I discovered new levels of grief and the realities of life’s unfairness.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way!

This wasn’t the life I envisioned for my children, eighteen years before, when decisions were being made about marriage, children and family.

My pre-teen daughters were quickly growing up.  At a time when they needed more time with their father, they had less…and I felt helpless to do anything about it.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way!

How was I to reconcile the reality of a divorce and raising kids under a two-household custody agreement with the vision I had pursued for so long of a godly family living together, supporting each other in loving encouragement?  How was I to be a godly father in this situation of minimal influence in the lives of two girls who were both growing up so quickly?

It wasn’t supposed to be this way!  …but it was…

My questions, my frustration, my sorrow, were all a natural part of the grieving process.  These were real issues to be processed and either accepted or dealt with.  There was a real need for these emotions to be recognized and validated.  The shattered dream of how things were “supposed to be” was a real loss, and I needed to recognize and grieve that loss.

At some point, though, in the following months, I had to move from grieving over the loss of how things were “supposed to be,” to accepting the reality of how things were.  I had to learn to embrace life as it was rather than pining over how it was “supposed to be.”

This stage, the transition from grief to acceptance, is, I think, where some of us get stuck.  It doesn’t happen overnight.  It’s different for every individual in every circumstance of sorrow.  It cannot be rushed just because someone else thinks we should be ready to move on.  Yet, the transition must be made if we are to live an emotionally healthy life.

Most of life’s sorrows draw out of us an expression of, “It wasn’t supposed to be this way!”  Death of a loved one, health issues, permanent injuries, brain damage, each is a deep sorrow that leaves us wondering what to do with the remnants of a shattered dream.

For those experiencing divorce, the transition from grief to acceptance has an additional hurdle of overcoming perceptions within the church.

For those who lose a spouse to death, the event is seen by the church (and society as a whole) as something beyond their control. Therefore, it must be God ordained. Their life has deviated from the human dream, but is assumed to be still under God’s control and plan for their life.

Divorce, on the other hand, is seen as something which we should have been able to control. Either we should have been able to prevent the divorce and reconcile to the marriage partner, or we should have been able to foresee the potential relational issues and not have married that person to begin with. Depending on the person and circumstances, one of two assumptions is often made about the individual who has gone through divorce:

  1. Either, the divorce, itself, is viewed as a sinful act, which they should have prevented, or
  2. The marriage is assumed to have been based on a selfish rebellious act, in which they failed to seek God. Had they sought God’s wisdom in choosing a marriage partner, God would have blessed the marriage, and, presumably, the marriage would not have ended in divorce.

Either way, the person who experienced divorce is viewed as someone who has missed God’s perfect plan for their life, and must now settle for God’s second-best plan.

That perception is incorrect.

With God, there is no Plan B. God is in control, start to finish.

If you are a believer in Christ, then you were chosen “…in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us His beloved” (Ephesians 1:4-6).

The book of Exodus opens with “Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8). The blood covenant cut between Pharaoh and Joseph has been neglected and forgotten, and the heir to that covenant, the new Pharaoh, rather than honoring the covenant with his sworn blood-brothers, the Israelites, chooses, instead, to enslave them and to kill their sons. God intervenes to redeem them “with an outstretched arm and with great judgments” (Exodus 6:6).

So, did Israel miss God’s perfect plan? They found themselves in a blood covenant which had become bondage and from which they needed redemption. Did they fail to seek God’s wisdom before entering into covenant with Pharaoh? Did they fail to honor their covenant with Pharaoh and thus cause the relational deterioration which led to divorce?

Not at all!

It was all foreordained of God, all part of God’s perfect plan for Israel, and all prophesied in advance to Abraham. In Genesis 15:13-14, God told Abraham exactly how long his descendants would be enslaved by a foreign nation, as well as how He would deliver them.

It was all part of God’s plan!

Here is an example of a blood covenant being entered into, lasting 430 years, then ending in divorce, all of which was foreordained of God and part of God’s perfect plan for His people. God intended for Israel to enter into covenant with Egypt. God knew that they would be enslaved. God himself redeemed them from that covenant of bondage and delivered them through the divorce.

Too often, people who have been through divorce are treated as second-class citizens in the church family, as people who simply cannot be trusted to have the wisdom required for a leadership position. We are too often seen as having failed a great trust and, as a consequence, no longer to be trusted.

Worse, we believers who have experienced divorce often see ourselves the same way. We are prone to see ourselves as having made a horrible mistake which has taken our life off-track, and now the best we can hope for is a few mercy drops of God’s blessing, crumbs from the children’s table, as we work out the second-best life we can manage.

The myth of “missing God’s best plan” conceals the truth that, if you are a believer in Christ who is trusting and following the guidance of the Holy Spirit, then you are God’s chosen child, directly on track for all of God’s bountiful blessings which He has stored up for you, and all of the richness of the destiny He has foreordained for you, before the foundation of the world.

You are exactly where God wants you to be, and your life experiences are precisely as He orchestrated them to be for the purpose of blessing you with your specific destiny and inheritance!

What life event has left you feeling, “It wasn’t supposed to be this way”?

Portions of this post are excerpts from my book, So You are a Believer…Who has been through Divorce…, a Myth-Busting Biblical Perspective on Divorce.

[Linked to God Bumps , Scribing , WIP , Beholding Glory , Graceful , Seedlings , Wellspring ]


26 thoughts on “Missed God’s Plan?

  1. This is a great post, Joe. I’m so sorry about your situation, but even when you trust that you’re exactly where God wants you to be, there’s still pain. My sister lost her 7 yr old daughter. It was sudden and unexplained. Perfectly fine one minute, in the arms of Jesus the next. Talk about things not being how they’re supposed to be.

    The lesson for her (and all of our family) is to press on. He is sovereign, so we trust that and keep moving forward. I’m glad to see you’re doing that and encouraging us to come along.

    • Oh, Susan! What a tremendous and unexpected loss to grieve!

      Yes, even knowing we’re where God wants us and that our loved one is at home with Jesus, there is still such a sense of irreplacable loss.

      I am so glad that God knows the plan…and so glad we can trust Him even when it makes no sense to us.

      Yes, He is sovereign…and He is kind and loving.

      God bless you and your family, Susan!

  2. As a divorced person I have often felt like a second class citizen and had difficulty ‘moving on.’ Thank you for your timely piece which brought joy and new understanding to my heart today. God Bless You.

    • My heart goes out to you, Elizabeth!

      That is all too common an occurrence in today’s church. And the crazy part is so many people are so blind to it (including myself a couple of decades ago).

      The church (in general) has developed a legalistic system of myths about divorce, that many have accepted as truth without thoroughly studying God’s heart toward His children who have experienced divorce.

      For me, it was a huge help learning God’s perspective. Knowing He loves and accepts me, and that He is still working out His plan for my life, made it much easier to stop being concerned about what anyone else may think.

      May God continue to richly bless you, drawing you closer to Himself, and working out His will and purpose in your life.

  3. Great post, Joe. Hurts my heart to know you still experience others treating you as second class. You would think we would have risen above all that decades ago ::SIGH::

    Here’s how it boils down for me: God loves me, perfectly flawed me. And He loves you, too. No more or no less. We’re both worth dying for. Regardless of our circumstances. And I don’t know about you or others, but I’m not going to stand in the way of grace. My life depends on it.

    All that being said, even my life isn’t the way I had envisioned. But I’m learning to see, as He is turning me upside down (only to realize I’m finally be turned right side up) that His plan was far better than I ever dreamed….

    • You know, overall my church has been really good. Many of my issues had more to do with teaching in churches I attended as a child.

      No, none of our church deacons has ever experienced divorce, and yes I realize there would likely be some level of disagreement and confrontation before someone who has divorced could be appointed as a deacon.

      However, God is faithful in providing avenues of ministry, and there have never (to my knowledge) been any objections to my teaching a Sunday School class.

      My wife and I were married in our church, and it was never treated as an issue, though we had both been previously divorced.

      However, I know a lot of other people whose churches have been much less understanding than mine. There really is a lot of legalism within many of today’s churches on this topic.

      Yes, God is so good, and I am so glad He knows the plan! I am truly blessed in so many ways!

      Thank you, Nikki!

  4. “With God there is no plan B”; that phrase woke me from a state of denial a few years back. We all look at things from a short term perspective, like if today, this week, or this year turned out bad then somehow we are missing God’s plan.

    That’s religious thinking and not biblical.

    What God says- Because you love me I will work all things together for your good… and I have called you for my purpose!”

    The sad fact is, we all can get bogged down in a religious life without looking through the lens of truth and grace. That’s a view only God can give….
    Thanks for sharing God’s truth!

    By the way… this post reminded me of how we met in 2002… Wow a decade!

    • “We all look at things from a short term perspective, like if today, this week, or this year turned out bad then somehow we are missing God’s plan.”

      Exactly! I’m sure Moses thought he had missed God’s plan during his 40 years in Midian…but everything was right on track for God’s timing.

      Yes, it has been a decade, already. Speaking of which, I recently posted about that mountain bike ride that Joey and I did together, and that you helped us drop vehicles: http://josephjpote.com/2012/08/a-long-weary-ride/

  5. Divorce does carry so many additional losses, as well as, mistreatment than the death of a spouse, Joe. I would not want to experience either, but I see the hardship that your very familiar with having gone through that valley. I pray that this will encourage those who are going through a similar situation and will enlighten those who do not understand this difference.

    • You know, on the one hand I can honestly say that I wouldn’t wish the pain of divorce on even my worst enemy.

      On the other hand, having been led by God through that valley, I can also honestly say I would not trade that life experience for anything.

      I learned so much of God’s love and faithfulness! I learned so much about depending on Him not only daily, but minute-by-minute.

      I also learned to question things I had been taught…to ask the Holy Spirit to give me insight…to let Him be my teacher.

      The understanding I have today of God’s heart for His children who have experienced divorce….I gained that perspective by digging into God’s word and being ministered to by the Holy Spirit while going through divorce, myself.

      And I wouldn’t trade that for anything!

      It is all His plan…start to finish! And I am so glad it is!

      Thank you, Beth!

  6. Joe,

    I’m grateful for the behind-the-scenes look in the life of a father in a post-divorce situation. You shed some helpful light on the subject, while also giving us a personal look at what some of the “supposed-to’s” feel like. I think you’re right … we all do this from time to time in our life, when we watch our dreams fall apart. It can sometimes take years before we see how God was actually piecing things together, right at the point we thought it was broken beyond repair.

    I appreciate you.

    • “It can sometimes take years before we see how God was actually piecing things together, right at the point we thought it was broken beyond repair.”

      So true! Once we let go of our own plans…our own ideas of how it is “supposed to be”…then we are ready for God to show us the next stage of His plan!

      I appreciate YOU, Jennifer!

  7. I know many people who have divorce in their story and ask the same questions. God has given you wisdom on this subject and I’m so glad you are sharing it. You’ve also opened my eyes to the need for greater compassion for those who have gone through divorce. Thanks Joe!

    • “…opened my eyes to the need for greater compassion…”

      I love how you phrased this, Christina!

      Several times in the gospel accounts we are told “…Jesus saw…and had compassion…”

      Compassion always begins with seeing.

      Thank you, for seeing! 🙂

  8. It’s true, things usually don’t turn out as we planned or hoped. Somehow God is able to turn all things for good by His redeeming love. He is a restorer in His time.

    I heart your heart as a father, not because I am one, but because I grew up without one. I pray for you and your girls, that God will multiply the time you do get to have with them, perhaps not in minutes, but in the harvest. As you take the moments you have to sow into them what God has imparted into you, and as you love them and give them the security of knowing they are loved by you, I pray that they will grow up confident in who they are in Christ and they would follow God all the days of their life.

    Visiting from getting Down With Jesus today. We are neighbors. Blessings to you.

    • Thank you, so much, Michele-Lyn, for the prayers!

      That was ten years ago, and a lot has happened since then. A lot of struggles and a lot of healing. Overall, we’re all doing well.

      I’m happily married to a wonderful woman. Between us we have six children and six grandchildren. All the children are now grown except my youngest stepson.

      I’ve learned we can trust God’s faithfulness and goodness even when everything seems to be falling apart.

      He is truly faithful!

      Blessings to you, neighbor! 🙂

  9. “I had to learn to embrace life as it was rather than pining over how it was “supposed to be.”

    That gives me a picture of hugging the circumstance, hugging the now with all it’s pain. That’s full acceptance and a hard place to get to.

    If I didn’t trust in God’s sovereignty–well, I’d just be a mess–or more of a mess.

    And I heart your father’s heart, too.

    • Yes, it is a hard place to get to…but a really good place to be.

      I began to realize if I really trusted God that I had to trust Him in every circumstance. So I started thanking Him for how He was using the divorce and the custody agreement as a blessing in my children’s lives.

      I’m learning that thankfulness can be key to inviting God into the circumstances and changing my attitude to one of being prepared to become part of His plan.

      Thank you, Sandra! I appreciate your encouragement!

  10. Joe,

    Thank you so much for posting this. I too, have and do feel like a second class citizen, even begging God for His forgiveness over and over for the divorce. A divorce in which I asked for.
    Things are not always as they appear in a relationship to those who we are friends with and to those we go to church with. Not only did my marriage come to an end, but also several friendships… long friendships one in particular that had grown for 10 years, then because of the divorce the friendship ended because she said she just didn’t understand.
    So I ride a horse called guilt, and though I have remarried to a wonderful, wonderful man, who is to me a great precious gift. For the first time in my life I feel loved, truly loved and accepted, and in turn I can accept his love.
    But there are those days I mount up that horse called guilt.
    Now, at this point, I wonder if I could ever do as God has purposed. Where do I go from here? And I remember, “perfect love casts out fear” so there is a place in me that is not believing God’s forgiveness I reckon.
    I don’t know where to go from here. I want to do His will, but I have no idea what that could possibly be. And I’m tired of feeling judged by Christians who I have known for years and when I see them in town they seem afraid, possibly ashamed to speak to me.

    Again, Thank you for opening yourself up, so others may learn to heal.

    • Sherry, I am so sorry you have had to endure such rejection from people you had considered friends. Unfortunately, it is not terribly uncommon.

      You can rest assured, based on God’s word, that His heart toward you is one of love, compassion and redemption.

      If the divorce involved sin on your part (which is not necessarily the case) He offers forgiveness.

      You can be confident that nothing about your divorce caught God by surprise. He knew exactly how the marriage would end before you even took your vows. And He knows exactly how He intends to use this life experience to draw you closer to Himself, to transform you closer to His image, and to work out the destiny He has planned for you from before the foundation of the world.

      You can trust His grace and His faithfulness!

      Praying for you!

  11. This post has lots of wheels turning in my head. Admittedly, I am one of those “church people” who has thought those very thoughts, but age and maturity has taught me that life is not always so cut and dry.

    There is tension between the fact that God is sovereign and yet we still have free will. Certainly our choice to sin (whatever that sin may be) is not part of God’s perfect plan for us. However, He has chosen in His great love and mercy to work in our lives despite our sin and redeem our situations (as your life is a beautiful testament of).

    • Yes, discussions about both God’s soverign will and His respect for human free will can get convoluted pretty quickly.

      From a human viewpoint, we tend to see these two concepts as being in opposition, so we use words like “tension” or “balance.”

      I’ve begun to realize that God does not see them as being in opposition. He does not work out His will and purpose in a vaccum void of human frailty and sin, nor does He work out His will despite human frailty and sin. Rather, he works out His will and purpose through human frailty and sin…as well as through our obedience, love and courage. He uses our own weaknesses as a tool to bring about His will in our lives.

      As the Apostle Paul put it, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

      For the Apostle Paul, “all things” included active leadership in persecuting Christ’s church…which led to the Damascus Road experience…which led to His conversion…which led to His becoming a missionary to the Gentiles…which led to His writing letters to the churches…which now make up the majority of our New Testament.

      All part of God’s plan…from start to finish!

      Blessings to you, Mary Beth! Thanks for the thought-provoking comments!

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