Redemption After Divorce
Once upon a time, the fairy-tale version of my life was looking pretty good. By age 35, I had been married for over a decade, to a man who checked all the “right” boxes. I had a great education, a job I enjoyed, a church home, and two precious children.
It looked like a life to be proud of, and I was proud. Right up until the day I realized that it really was a fairy-tale: pretty, cheerful, and not real.
And just like that, so much changed. My first thought was to try to save my marriage, but when it became clear that reconciliation wasn’t possible, my focus shifted to the kids. I fought hard to protect and stabilize and love them, despite the waves of sadness and betrayal and shame threatening to overtake me. There was a part of me that wanted very much to hide: to close the door, wrap my sweet children in my arms and shut the rest of the world out.
Practically speaking though, I didn’t have that option. The world felt broken, but it didn’t stop moving. I had kids to feed and obligations to fulfill and a life to live. So I kept putting one foot in front of the other. I kept going to work. I kept going to church. I leaned heavily on good friends and family, and I was deeply, desperately dependent on God.
And through it all I saw and felt first hand that there is no pain and no trouble that God cannot redeem for His glory.
Learning to let go.
Actually signing and filing a divorce petition was one of the more surreal experiences of my life. It was absolutely not a part of my life plan. Slowly, shakily, I recalibrated my thinking and my expectations. I’d always been a hard worker who tried to do the right things, and I’d been successful in lots of ways that tended to garner approval and admiration. And, frankly, I liked that. In contrast, my divorce felt like a dramatic and conspicuous failure.
I realized quickly that with so much to worry about, there were some things I would have to let go of, like other people’s approval. In order to keep moving, I couldn’t afford to care about what people thought about me, or my marriage, or my career decisions. I focused instead on making my heart right with God and on providing for my children.
Leaning in to the blessing of friendship.
Not long after my divorce was final, my job took me from Tulsa, Oklahoma, to Dallas, Texas. I was grateful for the fresh start, but also very, very lonely. I knew some people in town, but they were mostly male friends I’d met through work or in business school. They weren’t the kind of friends I needed. I had found a good church, but as a professional—and now divorced—single mom, I wasn’t connecting with many of the women I met there. Officially, my workplace was family and faith-friendly, but that didn’t always make it comfortable. There were so many areas of my life where I felt isolated; I needed badly to be known. I needed deep, raw, no-holds-barred, no-judgment-offered communion with some prayerful women who actually got me and where I was coming from, and I needed it fast.
Gradually God brought the right women into my life in ways that I never could have accomplished alone. First there was Savannah, then Sue, Brenda, and Claire. We were all professional women, all Christians, and all experiencing motherhood and marriage or divorce (or both). God had brought us all together, but for our friendship to work, we each had to choose to trust in God’s provision. That meant pushing past those first awkward encounters and deciding to let down our guards and be vulnerable. We were all desperate, in our own way; and out of that desperation, a vibrant, faithful, life-sustaining friendship bloomed.
Learning to say no.
I don’t mind admitting that I’m glad I raised my children before the age of Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, and the like. All those communication tools can be useful and fun, but they’re also full of something that can be any woman’s undoing; something I think of as “the more.” No matter how much you have on your plate, there is always more that you could be doing or buying or learning or praying for to improve your life, your kids, your career, your relationships, your community, the list goes on and on. The more represents everything you’re not doing. It’s all the networking events that you don’t make it to, all the worthy fundraisers that you sit out, all the adorable animal-shaped sandwiches that you are not making for your children, all of the “top ten” Bible verses that you don’t have memorized yet.
Learning to set boundaries and steward your resources will serve you well, but you’ll have to get very comfortable with the word, “no.” Sometimes “no” will come easy, and sometimes it won’t. I never had any desire (or the necessary gifting!) to be a room mom in my kids’ classrooms, but I do genuinely enjoy cooking, and sometimes it hurt not to be helping out with a pot luck or a bake sale.
Because I love hard work and new challenges, I’m a natural-born over-committer, but for a time after the divorce, I said “no,” to pretty-much everything. I was in survival mode and that meant God, family, work, and very little else. In that time I learned to pay close attention to what my gifts and priorities really were, and to value the opportunity to slow down and really focus on doing a few things well. Doing less is less exciting, but it’s also more fulfilling. Once you get a taste of it, you won’t want to go back.
Incidentally, for a long time after the divorce, I also said “no” to quite a few dates. I didn’t know at that time whether God would ever lead me towards marriage again, but I knew that I was broken and that only God could make me whole. I took several years to focus fully on my relationship with Him and on becoming the woman God made me to be, trusting that He would move my heart if and when it was time. And when God did bring Chris and me together, I was ready and able to move freely into a new relationship and to experience and appreciate what I now think of as “real” marriage: imperfect, and sometimes challenging, but joyful, sharpening, and affirming.
Understanding God’s power and his promise.
I don’t wish the hurt that I experienced in my first marriage on anyone. But I can’t regret it either, because today the pain is so completely outweighed by the joy and love and unspeakable blessings that have come from experiencing God’s redemptive power so clearly. Every person goes through a storm in their life, some very big and some small. Experiencing adversity is not a sign of admonition or failure; it is a fact of life that comes on everyone. Learning how to handle it – how to stay poised, focus on God, and weather the storm – is critical to proving to yourself your trust in God and to growing fully into the person He intends you to be.