Everyone loves the holidays, right? Well—not exactly. If life is going great, sure, this might be the “most wonderful time of the year.” But—for those in the middle of relational hardship or pain, this time of year might be most difficult of all. Is it possible to be thankful—even hopeful—when life is a mess?
Meet John Greco. In a matter of days, he found himself without a home, without a marriage, and without a job. When John’s life fell apart, he found that grace didn’t show up like a neon sign, but it came alongside him and answered the only question that really mattered. Read on to find out exactly what that question was…
John, would you start off by telling our readers a little bit about yourself?
I’m a bit of a Bible geek, blessed to be a full-time writer and editor, and doubly blessed to get to spend most of my time writing about the gospel. For the past several years, I’ve made my home in the suburbs of Atlanta, but I’m originally from New England. I’m married to my best friend, Laurin. She’s also a writer, so it’s rare to walk into our home and not hear the clacking of at least one keyboard.
The topic we will be exploring in this interview is relevant to readers whether they are single or married. But before we dive in, can you give a brief snapshot of your journey?
A few years ago, I walked through something I never thought I would: divorce. It wasn’t something I wanted, and it wasn’t something I ever entertained as an option. But as I discovered, it takes two to continue a marriage. One Saturday morning, I was making breakfast, when my former wife announced she had broken our marriage covenant, wanted a divorce, and wasn’t interested in trying to salvage our relationship. Needless to say, I was devastated.
To make things worse, just a few days prior to my former wife’s announcement, I had been offered what I would have considered my dream job: family pastor at a wonderful, gospel-centered church in Northeast Ohio. I had been in prayer and conversation with the senior pastor and elders of the church for about five months and was convinced it was the place I should be serving. But when my marriage fell apart, so did the ministry opportunity.
So in just a few short days, I found myself without a home, without a marriage, and without a job.
Our topic today is “Embracing a Message of Grace in the Midst of a Mess.” Tell us about the revelation of grace you had in the midst of your mess—how did God reveal this to you?
Looking back, I can see that God’s grace showed up in a hundred little ways during that season of my life. But His grace didn’t come with a neon sign to announce its arrival. It came quietly and gradually. And that grace didn’t immediately change my circumstances or give me all the answers I was hoping for. God’s grace came alongside me and answered the only question that really mattered.
I don’t think there’s anything particularly special about the tragedy of divorce. It’s one of the most difficult experiences a person can walk through, but I believe all heartaches ask a person’s heart the same question. Whether it’s enduring a broken marriage, losing a loved one, facing a terminal disease, or one of a million other varieties of hardship—every tragedy whispers into a person’s ear: Is God really good?
My temptation, when I was struggling, was to focus on my circumstances and how to make them better, but ultimately that’s just a distraction. It’s fine to work and improve your life, but none of that matters if you aren’t walking in the truth that God is good.
If God is not good, then the gospel is a lie and we have no hope. So the greatest grace I experienced during the darkest part of my journey was the assurance that God is indeed good.
What was most difficult for you during this time in your life? Did you believe any lies about yourself, God, or others? How did God meet you in this place and what did He show you?
I struggled with the loss of control. Up until that point, I think I had my life pretty well planned out. I wasn’t rigid about it or anything, but I generally knew what my life was about and where it was headed. I found my identity in being a husband and a pastor. When my world crumbled all around me, I felt lost and abandoned. So, I began to entertain the lie that perhaps God didn’t really care about me. I also believed the lie that my life was now somehow unsalvageable, that all I could hope for was a second-best, consolation prize kind of existence.
But God showed me in His Word that He uses all things—not just the good things, the planned things, or the manageable things—to bring about my good and His glory. Ultimately, there is nothing that can thwart God’s plans. Nothing. And while we may be surprised by detours in life, none of them surprise God.
What did you do to heal? To cope? To move forward? What worked—what didn’t?
Healing took time, and I don’t think there are easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions for moving through a time of pain more quickly. Every journey is different. But here’s the path I walked, and here’s a bit of what I learned:
First, I had to learn to give my desire for justice (and I’m ashamed to admit, for revenge) over to God. God hates evil, and so should we. The problem is that it’s God’s prerogative to dole out justice, not ours (see Deut. 32:35; Hebrews 10:30). When we breathe vengeance, we only harm ourselves, so I had to learn to give my anger over to God.
Second, I had to forgive. Forgiveness doesn’t mean our pain is any less real; it just means that we are releasing the person who owes us from their debt. It’s a decision that may need to be made many times over.
Next, I prayed for healing, and in time, I even learned to pray for my former spouse, that she too would find healing. I learned that forgiveness isn’t about justice—and that there would be times I would have to endure being wronged—but that these moments were opportunities to imitate Jesus and glorify God. There were even times where, in order to follow Jesus, I would have to show kindness to and help my former wife, something that would have been unthinkable when my journey began.
And finally, I had to decide to move forward. I had to decide to live fully trusting in Jesus, not only for the pains in my past, but for the future He was building.
That’s just a very brief snapshot of what my walk with Jesus looked like during that time.
What did you find to be the biggest lie from the enemy during this time and what did God show you to do with these lies or misconceptions?
There’s a fine line between being hurt and being a victim. And victimhood, if it’s allowed to fester, breeds self-righteousness. So I think one of the biggest lies from the enemy during times of hurt is that we’re justified in seeing ourselves as completely innocent. From there, it’s easy to make excuses for sin, and it’s easy to see God’s grace as unnecessary. What God showed me is that, even though I wasn’t the one who decided to end our marriage, I also wasn’t innocent.
When God rescued Israel from Egypt, the only thing that separated the people of Israel from the people of Egypt during the last plague—the death of the firstborn—was the blood on the doorframes of their houses (see Exodus 12). The Egyptians were the bad guys in the story, but the Israelites weren’t innocent either. They needed a covering. They need someone to take their place. They needed God’s grace.
In some ways, it’s better to be the one whose sin is written in big, bold letters for the all the world to see. That person is like the prodigal son (see Luke 15); he knows he needs God’s grace. It’s far more dangerous to be the one convinced he’s doing just fine on his own, like the prodigal’s older brother. At the end of that story, it’s the older brother—the seemingly innocent one—who misses out on the father’s blessing.
Is there anything else you would like to say to our single readers related to our discussion today? Any words of advice or encouragement you would like to offer?
No matter how dark things may seem at the moment, God is still good. Freedom does not come from a particular set of circumstances or from getting life to align with our plans; it comes from God. Life is good, no matter how many unexpected turns it takes, because God is good. As Psalm 16:11 reminds us, “In [His] presence there is fullness of joy; at [His] right hand are pleasures forevermore” (ESV).
Thanks for the opportunity to share a bit about what God’s grace looks like during a difficult season like divorce, but we’ve just skimmed the surface. If readers would like to learn more, they can check out my book, Broken Vows: Divorce and the Goodness of God and stop by my all-too-infrequently-updated blog, BlogInMyOwnEye.com.
John Greco is the author of Broken Vows: Divorce and the Goodness of God. He currently serves as a writer and editor for an international Christian ministry in the Atlanta area. In the past, he’s served in a variety of local church positions, and he’s been a staff writer for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Crown Financial Ministries. He holds a Master of Divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. John’s website is BlogInMyOwnEye.com.