Article #3 (see explanation) written in 2006, just after my divorce was final. 2014 perspective added.
2006 article: At 40, if nothing else, my life’s direction seemed decided. There was a predictable rhythm to my days and years that bordered on a comfortable rut. I knew my marriage wasn’t all I wanted — but these were the busy years with children. I was slightly dis-illusioned and weary, but enjoying my role as mom. I was on well-known terrain and lived in a level of denial regarding my marriage that left me at least well functioning. I took relational solace in the fact that empty nesters reconnect, right? Soon the kids would be grown. We’d travel, fall in love again, and enjoy the “good life” before reaching the dreaded “golden years.”
A week before my 42nd birthday, I find myself a very different person living a totally different life. I have a divorce under my belt and a new name on my driver’s license. Six weeks into divorced life, nothing feels certain. I love my children, and thankfully they live with me; however, one is in college, and the other two are busy teens. My once bustling household alternates between overflowing with children, and emptiness. Just me, alone. This is the beginning of the stage I had once romanticized as reconnection time…
My house is for sale. My budget unresolved. Health insurance a quagmire. My savings shifted. Trust is shattered, taxes extended, friendships altered. I am battle weary and need a vacation, but instead, I have simply been relocated to a different “front line.”
One of the most difficult realizations of the last weeks is that “divorce” doesn’t really end the web of consequences created by marriage and shared children. Final dissolution, as they call it, is a misnomer. Divorce requires interactions with my ex regarding topics we never discussed in marriage. The five year plan (as I dubbed the time left with children at home) and the future beyond loom large and intimidating blank canvases before me. I never dreamed of this life.
Many ask, “how are you doing?” with understandable looks of pity and concern. Most would be uncomfortable with the truth, so I say, “Thanks, I’m fine.” Then they ask about the children, and I respond, “they’re rocking along,” because my heart, broken for them, cannot bear to say more. I believe divorce is a better outcome for my children than living in the disfunction that we called home. But they deserve so much more — and I am keenly aware of how powerless I am to provide all they need.
Please do not misunderstand my comments and hear that I am ungrateful for concern or that you shouldn’t ask the newly divorced how they are. My world is turned on end, and your acknowledgement of that is caring, real, and greatly appreciated. It’s just that I don’t always want to talk about it. Sometimes it is all I can do to get through the moment, and the “divorce situation” needs to be blocked out. Other times, I slip up and say more than I intended, because my emotions are raw, and I’m still trying to understand what I feel. Please forgive the awkwardness of our conversation. As my psychologist says (yes, counseling helps a lot), “you will be nutty for a few months. It’s OK and it won’t last.”
Already I have realized what poor support I was for my friends who divorced before me. It’s just hard to understand that which you fear for yourself, or that which you cannot fathom. My learning curve has been steep. I’ve faced head on every lie in my marriage and many of my own shortcomings and mistakes. I’ve navigated the legal system, learned I am my own best advocate, increased my financial acumen, and should earn an honorary degree in marriage and family counseling! (I am in no way minimizing the value of a licensed therapist.) I have grown in confidence, faith and maturity. I’ve learned much more on every subject than I did in four years of college.
I am different, and therefore my relationships must adjust. Sadly, several friends have fallen by the wayside. My therapist explained it in two ways that I found to be beneficial illustrations: “salt and light” and “my store.” Hearing his theories may help both those who are involved in divorce and their friends to relate better to the inevitable changes occurring.
If my old life and relationships were represented by a store, I was mostly undercharging or giving everything away (remaining in a bad marriage usually robs you of personal boundaries). I attracted people who felt comfortable with me. As my life changed and I became more emotionally healthy, I metaphorically began charging a fair price for my goods. Some merchandise is eliminated and new items emerge. Now if I have a sale, or give away merchandise — it is a conscious choice. Of course, I make mistakes, but overall, I run a better store.
This change rocked the worlds of the regulars at my store. Some adjusted and remained loyal customers. They were the more healthy people who adapt and grow in life. They eventually appreciated the healthy changes I made and adapted with their own healthy response. Another group of customers were mad that I raised my prices to a competitive rate, and they left in a huff. They were the ones who cannot bear change, possibly because it disturbs their fragile reality. Others, who were never comfortable with my dysfunctional business, happily became regular customers. They are the truly healthy and emotionally high functioning people.
2014 perspective: I was blessed that not many friends “chose sides” in my divorce. This is yet another very painful experience. The changes above are those inevitable shifts in relationships that occurred precisely because I am a new person. In looking deeply at my life, my sins, my marriage and the inevitable path of divorce, all that had remained private or at least in the shadows of dysfunction came under the light for dissection. I sought wise Biblical counseling (which I highly recommend as essential) throughout the process, and God began transforming me from the inside out. Those around me were either attracted to the light and authenticity (and welcomed God’s work in their own life), or they were repelled, which introduces the 2nd theory from my therapist.
God uses all things for good — including divorce. Please hear no arrogance or boast in the following analogy. I am a sinner still and humbled that God might use anything in me or my life for His purposes and His Glory. In the divorce process and after, I began to more fully offer my life (all of it, not just my marriage) to God for examination. I became more aware of my sin, more honest and real with myself, and more vulnerable and authentic to others. Daily I want to be more dependent and surrendered to His will. Only when I am truly in this posture can God’s light and salt be used through me. My flesh still often gets in the way. But in the middle of divorce and the aftermath, I was raw and desperate for HIm.
2006 article: “Salt and light” — The Message (MSG) Matthew 5:13-16
“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.
Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”
I was mildly salty and dimly lit two years ago. While I can’t really see it, I am told that Godly counseling, facing reality and divorce, the ensuing humility, dependence, and repentance — all have evidently allowed God to fill me with more of His salt and light. In my exposed state, I rub against others and the salt of God’s work in me is either painful in or healing to their own wounds. His light of Truth (as I face the denial and disfunction in my own life) is either welcomed or repulsive to those around me. In short, people either want to be affected by what God is doing in my life, or they do not. Neutral is not an issue with God. The more closely the sin and deception in their lives mirrors my own, the stronger will be their reactions.
Neither the gains or losses are about me. God is at work. Many friends politely fall away. I don’t try to guess why. Some are angry; I let them go. Others reach out to me, and I am grateful. God is mysterious and always good. Acceptance, not understanding, needs to be my goal.
As a newly divorced woman (wow, that’s hard to write), I am navigating new and uncertain terrain and often have no idea of the rules of the road. Instead of looking at life through the lens of fear, defeat or dreams lost, I am trying to see the blank canvasses as exciting opportunities. I don’t always succeed, but I have noted two definite advantages to being divorced at 42.
My learning curve as described earlier, has been the steepest of my life! And secondly, I have a new lease on all my relationships. Moving forward I hope to make increasingly better choices with family, friends and hopefully a future husband. I want to learn to give and receive healthy love and respect. And definitely an exciting possibility… I have the opportunity to experience the exhileration of falling in love again!
God is good. All the time. I need only know Him and trust Him.
2014 Perspective: This isn’t just about divorce. As Christians all of us are here to be salt and light! I do believe in our intense growth periods (often the valleys), God’s work is most evident in us, and we are most available to be used as His vessels. I once heard it described like this: pretend your relationship is a dance, and you’ve been doing The Bump. If you change steps, and began doing The Waltz, your partner (friend) must respond too! They can’t do the Bump anymore as you Waltz! This thought helps me to just offer love and not condemnation or judgement as relationships are often seasonal. I think in my raw post divorce state, I was sometimes self-righteous and defensive in these changes.
I paraphrase the common quote: Everyone is on a journey, and you have no idea what they are going through. Be kind and love always — even if you are Waltzing near their Bump!