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Divorce: Bridge Over Troubled Waters

Linda Ranson Jacobs

Forget bleak statistics about kids of divorce. Use this blueprint from a leading expert to build a bridge to connect to these kids.

"Kids are resilient." I've heard this said more times than I can count. I've said it myself, and I'm guessing you have too. But is this statement true when we're talking about children of divorce? It is...and it isn't.

The truth is, kids of divorce can be resilient when they have a strong support system undergirding them while the family they knew radically changes. What better place for children of divorce to find strong support than in God's house, among friends and adults who'll love and care for them? Still, many children's ministers are unsure of what it takes to minister to children of divorce. And sadly, inadvertent actions, poorly chosen words, or outright avoidance rooted in this uncertainty can cause kids to turn away from God rather than toward him in a time of great spiritual need.

Children of divorce come to your ministry with unique challenges. They may come every once in a while. Many times these kids have out-of-control behaviors. They may not want to participate in organized activities. They're often angry, sad, and may even have what we label an "attitude problem." Add to all these issues parents who are disconnected --a common side effect of parents coping with the grief of divorce -- and you've got a lot of problems to solve.

But let me challenge you to look at children in this situation differently, with a vision for the possibilities. Rather than viewing these kids as problems to solve, let's look at how we can help improve resilience and consistency in their lives when they need it most. Let's look at them with the vision that you may be the only person who can bring them into an understanding of God's unconditional love and a growing relationship with Jesus.

We can intentionally build a strong bridge of support and caring that'll stand the test of time and connect these kids to God's love. Ask any engineer and he or she will tell you that constructing a magnificent bridge that's sound and beautiful takes a lot of time, energy, and resources. No one brags that bridge construction is easy. The same is true of building bridges for kids of divorce in your ministry. It's not easy. But it's not that difficult, either. Each child needs your commitment, time, energy, and resources. Here's a blueprint for building bridges to connect with kids of divorce.


Help kids see God's truth by embodying it. We know that the perception children have of God is based on their relationship with their earthly parents. So how do hurting children reconcile their parents' fickle love for one another with the lasting love of God? How can they trust a heavenly Father they can't see when perhaps they can't trust an earthly parent they can see?

Beginning today, look at children of divorce as kids who need your attention and support. You can become a safe haven in your actions, your words, and the environment you create. Make your ministry a place for these kids to connect and witness healthy relationships and interactions between people. Sure, this requires extra effort on your part. It takes commitment to the child. It takes commitment to prayer. And it takes time and creativity. But your extra effort is worth it -- just ask any child of divorce who's experienced consistent acceptance, kindness, and care from a trusted adult.

BRIDGE BUILDERS:

• Contact a child each time he or she doesn't attend class.
Resign yourself to the fact that this may be every other week. If that's the case, make your call friendly -- not nagging -- just to give a quick update and say hi. Put this on your to-do list. When a child misses and you know he or she was with the other parent, ask how things went.

• Be open and available to talk to the child. "Nancy, I understand your parents are getting a divorce. That must be hard on you." If you've had a personal experience with divorce, share it. Use the word "divorce" rather than avoid it. But don't initiate a conversation about the parents' divorce in front of the child's friends.

Never give up on a child. One day a pastor called me to say he was going to ask a child to leave Sunday school--for good. The child was from a divorced home and his behavior was out of control. Other kids' parents were complaining. The leaders felt they had no option but to take the dramatic step of kicking the boy out of church. Before they took action, though, one leader had asked the pastor to call and visit with me about their dilemma.

I had one question for the pastor: "If you kick this child out of church when he's 7, do you really think he's going to come back when he's 17?"

The pastor paused, and then our real conversation began.

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