Martin was far from home, when he walked into the lobby at Calvary Baptist Church one Sunday morning. A friend said he could get a book there called Hope for the Separated (Moody), by Gary Chapman, Ph.D.
Martin and his wife Leah had been separated for six months and he was desperate for help. That same Sunday, 3000 miles away, Leah went to a church in California, where a pastor handed her that same book. Imagine their surprise when they spoke a week later only to discover they had been reading the same book.
"We both recognized that had to be the hand of God. I went back home and we got counseling. Today we are back together," says Martin.
In an age where more than 1 million marriages fail each year, the term separation often becomes equivalent to divorce. Yet, through God’s power, Christians are called to change the equation.
"I don’t think separation equals divorce," says Chapman. "Separation can lead to an absolutely wonderful marriage if we are willing to deal with the problems that led to the separation."
Chapman suggests treating the trauma of separation with a 9-1-1 approach, "If it were a physical problem, we would put you in intensive care and look after you day and night until you either died or got better. Separation says this marriage is in serious trouble; it needs intensive care."
Attending Toward a Growing Marriage seminars led by Chapman is one way to get help. For years, couples nationwide have attended these two-day workshops for the purpose of marriage restoration and growth. Lisa* believes this seminar provided the remedy her marriage desperately needed.
"I knew in my heart that divorce was not what God wanted … but deep down, I was hoping he (her husband) would leave," confessed Lisa. "What happened after the seminar could fill a book! We confessed the ways we had failed one another and sought forgiveness. Then my husband was convicted of his need to be in God's Word daily. Prior to attending the seminar I was certain I had two options, end my marriage or continue unhappily ever after. Praise be to God that his ways are not our ways."
"There are two objectives for the seminar," explains Dr. Chapman, "help people, wherever they are in their marriage, take steps of growth, and then equip couples to go back into their churches and minister to others."
Couples looking for a quick fix for their marital woes often become frustrated, abandoning the marriage too early, thereby missing the benefits of God's timing.
"I think the most common problem is couples try to get on with their life too quickly," explains Chapman. "They go six months and the spouse shows no response, so they start dating and become involved with someone else. A year later the spouse comes back and says 'I realize I made a terrible mistake,' and they want to reconcile, but now the other partner’s already involved with someone else. I like to encourage couples to give some time. I use two years as a guideline. For people who are separated it seems like a terribly long time, but in all of life, it's a short time."