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Dec 23, 2010

Merry Christmas to the Children of Broken Homes

This is a picture of my sons on their last innocent Christmas before their world fell apart. They were only five and nine years old. Young enough that at least one still believed in Santa and both still believed that their parents would be happily married forever. Their only concern in the world was what they would find under the Christmas tree the next morning.

By the following Christmas, these boys had learned that their home and their family were going to be broken apart. Their parents had set them down in the summer to tell them that they were getting divorced. While the younger son eventually broke the thick tension with an awkward joke, “Yeah, double presents next Christmas!”, clearly both boys were just beginning to learn what it would be like to go through the rest of their childhood as children of divorced parents. There would never again be a Christmas, or birthday, or holiday not tainted by the family changes thrust upon them unexpectedly.

When I look at this picture of my sons from not so long ago, I see faces that now exist only in photographs and memories. My younger son, with his bright smile and handsome downturned eyes he gets from his French grandfather, doesn’t yet carry the sadness that came later after being pulled between two parents and two worlds that grew increasingly incompatible. My older son was still carefree and childlike, not yet carrying the burdens of having to defend his mom and reject his own dad. These are worries that no child should have to bear and which eat away at the innocence and joy of youth.

My sons have had it worse than many children of divorce. Not all divorced parents alienate their children from the other parent, forcing kids to make the unthinkable decision of which parent to love and which to reject. Not all kids get grilled every time they return from spending a little time with their mom or dad. Not all children have to hear a parent they once adored get disparaged, insulted, and disrespected in front of them – by their other parent. Some divorced parents actually try to co-parent and follow the rules for their children’s sake. Some divorced kids actually get to love and respect both of their parents even after they live in separate homes. Many children, even with divorced parents, still get to be raised in loving homes by both of their parents, and enjoy a relatively normal, happy, and secure childhood, despite the ending of their parents' marriage.

On the other hand, my sons have also had it much better than many children of divorce. Too often, kids are simply abandoned by one of their parents, who one day just leaves them to pursue their own life and to escape their responsibilities. Some kids know where their father or mother ran off to, others never see them again. Too many children are abused or have to witness one parent abusing their other parent even in front of them. Some children can’t visit or live with their mom or dad because their addictions or their lifestyle make it unsafe for them to be together. Many divorced kids go through the rest of their childhood, and their life, never again feeling the security of knowing that both their mother and father love them and are there for them.

My heart breaks for children who have experienced the curse of divorce firsthand in their lives. They have to deal with difficulties and hurts every day which other kids don’t. From the weekly inconvenience of living as nomads, travelling back and forth between two homes, all the way to the unresolved holes in their hearts from a missing parent, these kids experience the Fall of Man more than any child should. Christmas only makes these impacts worse for a child of divorce. We have more “visitation” schedules to coordinate, more family gatherings to attend or be absent from, and a more pronounced and unavoidable feeling of loss when relationships are still severed or strained.

But fortunately, Christmas is exactly the cure for these pains too. By Christ coming to earth and dying for our sins – the sin of divorce and all others too – we can finally have hope for restored relationships, forgiveness, and renewed peace and love. My Christmas prayer is that God will grant special grace on all the children I know who have had their lives impacted through broken homes.

So I’m praying for my niece and nephew and for their mom who is encouraging them to spend time with their dad who’s come this year for a visit. God bless my step-daughter’s friend who is willing to give her father another chance at Christmas even after all his addictions and failures. I pray for strength and wisdom for the wonderful teenagers in our small group who are still dealing with their parents' divorce. Merry Christmas to my two former students who now live all the way across an ocean from their dad.

And most of all, I pray for God’s grace and protection for my own children. Merry Christmas to my step-daughter, whose life between two homes can be hard but whose parents love her dearly and do a great job working together to raise her as best as they can. I’m thankful that I can now be a part of that effort too. And Merry Christmas to my own sons, wherever you are this year. I love you and miss you more than you’ll ever know, especially right now. You will always be in your father’s heart and I pray for God to bless you and keep you always.

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