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Divorce: Bridge Over Troubled Waters

Linda Ranson Jacobs


• Create a safe, responsible environment.
In your actions and words, express to the child that he or she is safe and secure in your ministry. Stick to routines. And don't be afraid to give responsibility to the child, such as passing out supplies whenever he's there.

• Bring God's Word alive. More than ever, children experiencing divorce need to fully grasp how God's Word applies to their lives -- here and now. If your lessons are boring and rote, these kids are merely passing time in your class. Focus on active learning that's relevant, and create opportunities for kids to foster relationships with you and with each other.

• Love unconditionally and pray without ceasing. These two things are the most critical things you can do to support a child in the middle of a divorce.

Get a clear picture to better understand the child. As the pastor and I talked about the boy in question, we realized that the adults in the ministry actually knew very little about the boy's life. Whenever you minister to a child of divorce -- whether or not behavior is an issue -- learn as much as you can about that child's unique situation.

I coached this pastor to "research" the boy's family to find out what the relationship was between his parents. I wanted him to inquire about the child's living situation -- was it shared custody, sole custody, or something else? Where did the boy spend the majority of his waking hours when he wasn't in school? How often did he visit the other parent? What happened when he was at the other parent's home?

The pastor said he'd see what he could find out.


• Learn the child's first and last name.
And don't assume the child has the same last name as the parent who brings him or her.

• Use the child's name when you speak to him or her. Look into the child's eyes. Give an affirming pat on the shoulder or back. Smile.

• Make friendly contact with the parent or parents. Send a note saying how much you enjoy the child, or call and give a good news report. Stay in contact as a friendly support -- not as a monitor.

Make adjustments to meet children's needs. About six weeks after our first conversation, I called the pastor to see how things were going. I was heartened to hear him say he'd thought a lot about my advice and hadn't realized the depth of the consequences for the child if the ministry asked him to leave. They hadn't fully considered the fact that they were kicking a child out of church.

The pastor had learned about the child's home life. He met or learned about the key players in the child's life. The boy spent most of his time with his paternal grandmother, so the pastor asked the grandmother to volunteer in the boy's class as a leader to provide a consistent and familiar source of comfort.

"You were right," the pastor said. "The boy didn't feel safe. Once we got his grandmother in class and he felt safe, his behavior calmed right down. We've given him a lot of attention, and we tell him over and over that he's safe. He's not the same child as before. We're very pleased with how this turned out."
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