“Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Phil. 2:4
One of the toughest things parents face when their marriage is breaking up is staying focused on the real best interests of their children. Sometimes there are major disagreements about what that best interest is. But perhaps even harder is being sure that the parents are not calling something the best interests of the children when it is really something that is in their own best interests. Many children are not able to express what is really important to them, but many are never asked by their parents either. This letter is meant to represent what child might say to his parents about some important issues if he could express himself honestly.
Dear Mommy and Daddy,
A few days ago you told me you were going to get a divorce. That makes me very sad because I think you are the two greatest people in the whole world and I don’t understand why you can’t just get along so we can stay together as a family. You told me that I will understand better when I’m older. Maybe so, but it sure is hard now. You also told me that it isn’t my fault, but I’m not too sure about that. I’m afraid that caring for me has made your problems worse, and I’m very sorry for that. I hope I can make it up to you. But I don’t know how.
I was talking to one of my friends. His parents got divorced last year. He said the hardest part is that he has to live in two places instead of just one. He wants to see his mom and his dad, but moving back and forth between his dad’s house and his mom’s house is hard. He is still trying to get used to it. He said that he had to go and talk to a judge, which was really scary. He was really old and wore a black robe. He had to go in the judge’s office, where there were lots of books and very big furniture. He said the judge told him that his mom and dad had to act in his best interests. He didn’t understand what that means, and I don’t either. Do either one of you understand that?
Anyway, he thinks it means that his mom and dad are supposed to think about what he wants, not just what they want. So I am writing this letter to tell you what I want just in case you need to know.
The main thing is that I’m really scared. I don’t know what’s going to happen to me and I can’t do anything about it. I’m just a kid, so I have to go where I’m told. I hope you will tell me exactly what is going to happen to me as soon as you can. Then maybe I won’t be quite so scared.
I love both of you soooo much! I always thought you love me too, but now I’m not so sure. If you don’t love each other anymore, how can you love me? I know you tell me that you do, but I hope you will show me as well because I really need to be sure. I think I can be strong enough to hang in there if I just know that. Sometimes I cry when you think I’m asleep because I worry about that so much.
My friend said that sometimes he can get away with stuff when he’s with his dad that his mom won’t let him do. That sounds pretty cool! But you taught me that sometimes your mom or dad needs to say no because what you want to do would not be good for you. I guess that’s true. And I guess I really hope that you will both tell me the same thing. If both of you tell me I can’t do something, I can believe it’s really wrong. But if you are always telling me different things I won’t know what is really right.
There is some other stuff I would like to tell you, but I have to start my homework now. I have an idea! Maybe all three of us could talk about what is best for me. I might have some ideas you haven’t thought of.
Of course, your child would write a different letter, or maybe no letter at all. But the feelings expressed in this sample probably track very closely at least some of the feelings your child has if you are going through a divorce. It can be difficult to put your children’s interests first, but paying attention to their feelings now will pay great dividends in their lives, and in yours.
In October, 1991 a Nor’easter storm coming across New England and Canada into the western Atlantic collided with Hurricane Grace coming up the eastern seaboard from the tropics to form a huge storm which wreaked havoc along the eastern seaboard and recorded some of the worst sea conditions ever measured. NOAA buoys out in the Atlantic recorded sustained winds of over 60 mph with gusts much higher and waves consistently over 30 ft. Some observers recorded much bigger waves.
In the midst of this a small sword fishing boat named the Andrea Gail was caught out at sea and was swamped. It sank and all of the crew died. “The Perfect Storm”, a popular book and movie, told the story. If you saw it you may remember the terrifying images of the small fishing boat being swamped by the huge waves.
Storms are a part of life, aren’t they? We all experience storms of one kind or another. They may not be sea storms as the crew of the Andrea Gail faced. But they are often just as big to us. They may be caused by business or economic difficulties. They may be caused by disagreements with people we love. They may be caused by sickness or death or marital strife, or 10,000 other things. It’s a sure bet that we will all experience more than one of them in one way or the other.
Along with storms comes fear. We ask ourselves daunting questions—How bad will the side effects of the chemo be? Can my child stop taking drugs? Can my marriage survive? How many employees will I have to lay off? How will I make my mortgage payment? etc.
The Bible is full of stories about storms: Abraham struggling with how to kill his son whom God had promised him. Jacob meeting his brother Esau from whom he had stolen the birthright. Moses leading a complaining and rebellious people through the desert. Job losing everything he had. Paul being beaten and thrown in jail several times, and enduring a shipwreck (his own sea story). The list goes on and on.
Sometimes it feels like we’ve been thrown overboard. We are struggling to stay afloat in a stormy sea, but we’re exhausted and we are sinking. We are hoping that someone will throw us a life preserver that we can hang onto and be pulled to safety.
The Bible contains a dramatic example of how Jesus can be our life preserver and can even go further and calm the storm that we are experiencing. You can read it at Matthew 14:22-32
This extraordinary experience of Jesus and His disciples in the middle of a dangerous storm helps us discover how to put the storms in our life in perspective and survive them.
A Frightening Storm
Jesus had been teaching and healing all day on the shores of the Sea of Galilee (really a large lake in northern Israel). As a climax to the day He had just fed about 5,000 men plus an unspecified number of women and children using only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish that a boy had brought. He had also healed many of them of various maladies. Now night was falling and the crowd was finally dispersing.
Jesus’ closest friends, the 12 disciples, must have been exhausted. They were probably ready to sit around a warm campfire and relive the day’s many miraculous experiences. But Jesus insisted that they get into a small boat and start rowing across the lake to the other side. He made a vague promise that he would join them later.
The disciples soon set out. They traveled for a while, but soon all thoughts of the wonderful day were gone because they found themselves in the middle of a raging storm. Their small boat was being buffeted by large waves and they were rowing for their lives. To make things worse, it was the middle of the night and they had gone too far to return to land. Do you think they were scared? You bet they were. They needed help to survive the storm.
Seven Survival Lessons
- What lessons can we learn from this account that will help us to survive our own storms?
1. When the disciples went to sea, their master went to prayer.
Part of being able to survive a storm is to be ready for it. Survival experts tell us that having the right equipment and knowing certain procedures is imperative. Jesus was divine. People prayed to Him. But He was also man, and he desired to spend time alone with his Heavenly Father. If we are followers of Jesus, shouldn’t we do the same? Communicating with the Heavenly Father involves prayer and Bible study. Once the storm starts it may be too late to make preparations. Our time alone with God is our time to pray for wisdom and direction and to build up a reservoir of spiritual strength that we can draw on when the storm hits.
2. Sometimes the storm doesn’t start until after the journey begins.
Verse 23 doesn’t say anything about the weather. But in verse 24 the disciples find themselves in the midst of a terrible storm. We can never be sure when a storm will come up, so we must be prepared all the time.
It is easy to understand why a storm might come up if we are fleeing from God like Jonah did, but the disciples were actually doing what Jesus told them to do. Why do you think Jesus allows storms to come up when we are trying to follow Him? See 1 Pet 1:6-7 God certainly knows how painful and frightening a storm can be, but can allowing a storm to hit your life to teach you to trust him and to show His love for you?
3. Fear grips us the worst when we can’t see Jesus.
Jesus was alone on the mountain praying, but the disciples were in the middle of the terrible storm. They knew that Jesus could calm the storm because they had seen Him do many miracles before, but they didn’t see Him now. When we are in the storm it is sometimes hard to see Jesus. But the Bible teaches that we can be sure that He is really there. See John 14:18-20. Remembering these promises when the storm is raging around us is like having a life preserver to hang onto.
4. Sometimes Jesus lets us struggle for a while before He shows up.
Jesus comes during the “fourth watch”. The people in that time used a military system to keep time during the night, and the fourth watch was 3 am to 6 am. So the disciples had been out there all night fighting the storm. It was toward daylight that Jesus came. Sometimes Jesus lets us persevere to train us and strengthen our faith. Maybe He wants to show you that this storm really is beyond your control so that in the next storm you will be quicker to call on Him. The disciples would have liked Jesus to come earlier, but He came at just the right time.
5. When Jesus comes in the midst of a storm He will make himself known.
Sometimes it can be very hard to see when you are in the middle of a storm, especially at night. That’s probably what happened to the disciples. They could see something coming toward the boat, but they didn’t know what it was. Matthew says they “cried out in fear”—what an understatement! But Jesus didn’t need to say, “It is Jesus” because they quickly recognized Him. When we spend time with people we get to know them. We can not only recognize them, but we know something about their ways and how they will act in a particular situation. It is no different with Jesus. If you want to know Him and recognize when He is offering you help, spend time with Him through prayer, Bible study, and talking about Him with other believers.
6. When we reach out to Jesus in a storm He will help us.
Peter it is Jesus he jumps out of the boat and starts walking on the water toward Him—for as long as he stays focused on Jesus. But when he looks around and realizes what he is doing in human terms he starts to sink. He could have tried to swim back to the boat, but instead he called on God, and Jesus reached out his hand and walked with him the rest of the way. When we are sinking in a storm the most important thing we can do is to keep our focus on Jesus. If we try to save ourselves, or if we turn to the wrong thing, or person, we are likely to sink. Turning our eyes to Jesus is our only sure hope. He is the one who can provide the strength and direction to save us.
7. Ultimately Jesus calms the storm.
When they reach the boat the storm goes away. I don’t know about you, but if I’m in a storm I want Jesus in the boat with me. Not only did Jesus still the storm, but the experience of being in the storm and being rescued by Jesus strengthened his friends’ faith and made them better men.
If you are reading this, it is likely that you are experiencing a storm in your life right now. It might be that your marriage is breaking up. When that happens, it can feel like your ship has capsized and everything you know and love is being carried away from you. But remember Peter’s experience with Jesus. When he called out, Jesus reached out His hand and rescued him. Jesus can do the same for you if you let Him. Jesus uses the storms in life to help us trust him more. Often we don’t understand why something is happening, but Jesus always knows. He loves us, and He is always going to work for our ultimate good.
Marital conflict often presents difficult challenges to counselors, friends, and other peacemakers who are trying to help the couple whose marriage is in trouble. Several different forces, acting simultaneously, are usually in play. There are the emotional and spiritual concerns of the husband and wife, there is fear about the future that may extend to the children of the marriage, and there are usually financial concerns and uncertainty about how everyone can be adequately provided for if the marriage dissolves. In many cases these various aspects of the crisis feed upon each other, making it even more difficult to solve the problems.
It is becoming increasingly apparent that the courtroom is not a good place to resolve these issues. Yet in many cases the financial issues make the parties feel that they must seek the court’s intervention. When they do, it is even more difficult for a counselor or other professional who is working with the couple to work on the emotional and spiritual issues that may really be the root of the problem.
An effective way for the couple to work on the financial issues in a non-adversarial environment is available through the process of mediation. Yet sometimes people who are trying to help the couple are not sure when a case can be successfully mediated,
The questions below are designed to help a struggling couple, their professional helpers and friends determine whether a particular situation is likely to benefit from mediation.
- Does at least one of the spouses want to keep a civil and constructive relationship with the other spouse, even if they are divorced? If so, mediation can help avoid bitterness and anger that often builds up during the process of separation and divorce.
- Does the couple have minor children? Separation and divorce of parents always has a traumatic effect on children. Many of the decisions that must be made by the divorcing parents have a direct impact on their children. For instance, where will the children live? How much time will they spend with each parent? How will each child’s financial needs be met? Mediation provides a framework for making those decisions in a way that recognizes the best interests of all concerned, but is not adversarial. And usually those decisions can be made much quicker with the aid of a mediator.
- Do the parties desire to settle the issues surrounding their separation in an efficient and cost-effective manner? Mediation is nearly always much less expensive than going to court, and a workable agreement can usually be made quickly without waiting on clogged court calendars. One legislative study showed that overall costs of mediated agreements are 40 percent less than matters resolved through litigation.
- Do the parties need “breathing room” and time to reflect before they make permanent decisions about the future of their relationship? A mediation agreement can provide a structure for a family to handle day-to-day matters such as paying bills, having access to the marital home, caring for children, etc. while larger decisions about whether the marriage can be saved are made. A temporary agreement reached through mediation can relieve pressure and free the couple to concentrate on the emotional and spiritual issues facing them.
- Do the parties want their discussions and decisions to be kept private and confidential? Mediation sessions are confidential, and details are not part of any public record. The final agreement may be made a part of the court order if the parties decide to obtain a divorce.
- Does at least one of the parties profess to be a Christian and express a desire to apply biblical principles to the best of their ability in dealing with the conflict? A mediator always remains neutral and treats the parties fairly and equally. However, if the mediator has a Christian world view, he or she can better understand how issues of faith and spirituality play into reaching a solution.
If any of these factors is present in a particular situation, then the couple may receive great value by meeting with a skilled mediator. There is a better-than-even chance that all of the issues in the conflict can be resolved in a manner that is in everyone’s best interests. Even if all issues cannot be resolved, the parties will leave the mediation with a much clearer picture of the issues facing them and constructive ideas for addressing them.
At the same time that I was practicing law, I was also experiencing significant growth in my spiritual life. I was raised in the Christian tradition and accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior and lord at an early age. As I represented clients in various legal matters I often saw how their beliefs about God and their spiritual life had an impact on the way that they viewed their problems and the way that they went about solving them. I found many people who got into trouble in the first place because they ignored the spiritual dimension of their life. I also met many people who were trying to apply principles found in the Bible to resolve their problem, but didn’t know how. When I took my mediation training I learned that the principles we were taught to use were consistent with the principles that I had learned by studying the Bible.
I have been around churches all of my life and during most of my adult life I have been an active leader and a Bible teacher in my local church. Churches talk about reconciliation. Indeed the central focus of Christianity can be seen as the reconciliation of humans with God. But I observed that when people I went to church with found themselves in conflict with others they turned to secular sources and the courts for help, and that the church offered very little help. They might see the pastor a few times. But particularly where their marriage was breaking up they found that it was uncomfortable for them to be in church because they didn’t fit in and people didn’t know what to say to them. So many of them drifted off to other congregations or left the church altogether. It seemed to me that of all the groups of people in the world Christians should be leaders in helping people reconcile when they have disagreements. The Christian ministries engaged in this type of work are few and far between.
I have begun to study how principles that are stated in the Bible apply to conflict resolution apply to conflict resolution in general and mediation in particular. Some of them, such as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, are rather obvious to consider, but more difficult to apply when you are in the midst of conflict. Others, such as “Love your enemy” are much more difficult. One interesting aspect to the study is that many of the principles apply to people of any faith (or no faith), not just Christians.
How do you apply those principles in mediation? Carefully, lovingly, and with wisdom. I certainly don’t have all of the answers, but I’ve had enough experience to know that each person’s faith is an important part of how they handle conflict. I have also learned that applying the principles found in the Bible, some of which are in common with the writings of other faiths, can be a valuable guide as people work through their disagreements. There are two aspects of this that are definitely not helpful: one is to try to make someone feel guilty because they haven’t followed these principles or the principles of their faith; and the other is to demand that they apply a particular principle. One of the hallmarks of mediation is self-determination, so it would be wrong for the mediator to dictate. Rather the mediator’s job is to get the parties to think thoroughly about the issues and then make their own decisions. This includes the consideration (but not forced application) of biblical principles.
One of the purposes of this Website is to offer thoughts on biblical principles and how they might apply to conflict. Hopefully they can be used as a practical tool for those currently engaged in conflict and serve as a springboard for discussion by professional mediators, counselors, pastors and other interested people.