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The Perplexes of the Exes

Learning to put away childishness when dealing with a previous spouse.


by Terri Clark

Sometimes I really miss being a kid. When I was a kid, it was up to the grown-ups to make all of the decisions and plans. The responsibility of doing the right thing for the family was on their shoulders, not mine. I was just a kid. My biggest problems were in my homework assignments. But, let's face it, we all have to grow up sometime.

As much as we hate to admit it, we are the grown-ups in our families, and we need to put away our childishness. Paul put it best in 1 Corinthians 13:11, writing: "When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things." As children, we do a lot of silly, childish things, but as adults we sometimes still reason that way.

Childish reasoning

Maybe you can identify with this example of thinking as an adult but reasoning as a child. For years, packing bags for visitation was a biweekly ritual when I sent my stepdaughters off to visit their mother. I would pack nice clothes many times, but only some of them would return. Over and over again, I would remind the girls to please be sure to bring everything home. After the weekend visitation was over, we would get ready for school on Monday, and guess what? No jeans. Two weeks would pass before the girls could retrieve the needed clothes at their mother's home. After months of missing everything from socks, underwear, jeans, and shirts to coats and homework assignments, I made up my mind that I would pack only old clothes that I didn't care about getting back.

Whatever the reason for the clothes being overlooked, whether they were left in the laundry, kicked under a bed, or eaten by Peewee the dog, I was fed up. I harbored resentments toward my husband's ex-wife for "keeping" the clothes and not being responsible enough to send them back. In my mind, I felt my solution was justified. I told myself I was thinking only of the girls, they needed their good clothes for school.

As a result of my childish reasoning, while at their mother's house they had to wear clothes all weekend long that they didn't like, were stained, or didn't fit well. For playing outside, this was fine; however, if they went anywhere special, all they had to wear were old clothes. This made the girls unhappy. Not only did the girls resent me, but the hot coals in our relationship with my husband's ex-wife were fanned into flames. Things were sizzling hot around the Clark house.

All of this could have been avoided had I put away my childish reasoning. I allowed my mind to make the situation worse than it had to be. It was hard for me, in my frustration over this "missing clothes" situation, to see past my husband's ex-wife to the big picture—or the consequences of my stubbornness. Thankfully, God, in his mercy, tapped me on the shoulder with a few words of wisdom. I read in 2 Corinthians 10:31: "Though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses." God was showing me that I had some serious fortresses built up in my mind against Harvey's ex-wife, and I was warring against her in my flesh.

God reminded me that Satan was out to destroy my family, and I was buying right into his plan with my "fleshy" responses. Satan was the real enemy, not the ex-wife. The next verse (2 Corinthians 10:5) talks about taking our thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ. That got my attention! I finally recognized that I was actually being disobedient to Christ with my childish reasoning and actions. God was instructing me to take those thoughts captive so they wouldn't be free to do any more damage. I had to regain the vision of a solid home being built upon the Rock.

Our thoughts are where many a battle can be won or lost. If we don't gain control of our thoughts, we will surely lose the war. God gives us the weapons to pull down the fortresses we build in our minds (see 2 Corinthians 10:4). These aren't weapons we can see or touch, but they are "divinely powerful." When encountering emotional situations with your or your spouse's ex, the first thing you have to do is recognize with whom you are doing battle. Your enemy, as well as the battlefield, is spiritual, not physical.

Knowing Satan's schemes is like the president of the United States knowing the exact plan of a future terrorist attack. A good leader doesn't sit around waiting for the hit; he assembles the men and means to crush the enemy in his tracks before he can do any damage. In the same way, God expects us to put away our childishness, using wisdom to reason as adults. Encouragement comes from Romans 16:19-20: "I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet." Because we act on what we know, we'll be dancing over a crushed and defeated enemy.

In my weekend, bag-stuffing situation, I had to change my strategy by forgiving the girls and their mother. The first step was taking a hard look at the actual problem, as well as the real enemy—minus the thought-exaggerated blame game. The problem was in the children being children. In their last-minute haste to repack their bags before coming home, they missed or forgot things. I knew the girls were responsible for gathering up their own things, and this was something I had no control over.

The solution was to make a list for each child of everything that was packed into their bag, with short descriptions if necessary. They could go down the list, item by item, as they repacked their bags. If they didn't bring something back, they had to suffer the consequences. Doing without a coat, redoing homework, or living without their jeans or favorite clothes for two weeks was the consequence for their own neglect or forgetfulness. Harvey's ex-wife was removed from the battlefield, and I no longer had reason to resent her for not returning the clothes with the girls. Suitcase closed.

A case for love

Paul talked about putting away childish things in the context of love. His description of love isn't all mushy and dripping with sentiment; on the contrary, it is challenging to one's faith. He talked about loving in a way that goes against our nature— especially when we are wronged! Take a look at this passage from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, keeping your exes in mind:  "Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."

Now look at it again, resisting the temptation of thinking you need to send this Scripture anonymously in a letter to your ex so they will treat you better. It is written to you and to me. This is a description of how Christians are to behave toward other people—even those who are disrespectful, mean, and downright ugly toward us.

The responsibility of teaching our children moral integrity and respect falls squarely on us because we are the parents and we are Christians. Difficult as it might be, we must look past any grievances we might have with our ex-spouse and demonstrate, by our behavior toward them, the love Paul wrote about in 1 Corinthians 13. Talk about tough love!

Our children need for us to behave respectfully toward their other mom or dad. If you are willing to honor a person out of respect for God, you can be assured that God will return honor to you. That doesn't mean you have to bake them cookies or buy them a Christmas gift; it just means that as far as it is up to you, be peaceable (Romans 12:18). The million-dollar question here is. How do you practice love toward someone you dislike and who may dislike you? This is a question that has plagued Christians for centuries. The answer is, you can't. Neither could I. But in Christ we can do all things.

Terri Clark is an international speaker, author, and missionary. She and her husband reside in Pearcy, Arkansas. For more information about Terri Clark Ministries, Inc., and the Uganda Mission, visit www.terriclarkministries.org.

FamilyLife is a donor-supported ministry offering practical and biblical resources and events to help you build a godly marriage and family.



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