In Touch Magazine Feb 09
Finding Hope After Divorce
When my wife left me for another man, I had to start over with my life.
I will always remember that night with crystal clarity. We had just moved to a new city 11 days earlier to enable my wife of three years, Amy, to begin a master’s program. Having graduated from seminary 10 weeks prior, I was working a retail job while I searched for a church ministry position.
By William Ryder
Weary from a 10-hour workday framed by a one-hour commute, I slowly climbed the steps to our new apartment.
Inside, I sank gleefully into my favorite chair and turned my attention to Amy, who was sitting at the edge of the couch beside me. She nervously cleared her throat and said, “We need to talk.” I was not prepared for what came next.
Dropping the Bomb
In what seemed like a single breath she said: “Well, I have not been very happy lately. I have been racking my brain trying to figure out why, and I think I’ve finally realized the truth. I don’t love you. I don’t have the feelings for you that I think a wife should have for her husband. I think marrying you was a mistake, and I don’t want to be married anymore.”
Wow! There was simply no response in my mind to what she had said. I was numb.
I stood up and paced the floor as I desperately strove to work through this information. I understand that in most divorces, both parties usually see it coming; however, there is occasionally that hapless idiot who is caught completely off guard. That was me, catching butterflies in left field while my wife decided she no longer loved me.
Almost immediately, Amy moved out of our apartment to stay with a friend. She would only speak to me through e-mails and, soon after, her attorney.
For several weeks, I pleaded with her to change her mind. However, two months after the initial bombshell, Amy had divorce papers drawn up and I realized that our marriage was truly over. Knowing her decision was final, and because I had no job or friends in the new city, I prepared to leave town.
Walking through the apartment, trying to separate “my” things from “her” things was impossible. It was like reaching inside of a baked cake, trying to pull out the individual ingredients.
No longer was there a unity of belongings, but rather a collection of two people’s possessions thrown together. Looking over our things, I was no longer able to see any gray; everything was either black or white, hers or mine, staying or going.
As I made the last inspection after packing all of my things into a U-Haul, my attention paused on a framed wedding picture on the kitchen table. For a moment, I stopped breathing. I looked into the eyes of that beautiful bride in the photograph and I trembled.
Returning the picture to the table, I became painfully aware of the now-defunct piece of gold on my left hand. I slowly pulled the wedding band off of my finger, gently kissed it and sat it on the table beside the portrait.
With that I turned, walked outside and locked the door behind me. At that moment, in every way, I was a man with no home.
The Truth Comes Out
Weeks later, I suffered the tremendous indignity of piecing together the abhorrent truth behind Amy’s departure. Her “rational, adult decision” to leave our marriage was a sham; she had actually been embroiled in an affair with another man for almost a year–one-third of our marriage.
This was the “friend” with whom she was staying while I pled for her return. With this insight, my last hopes were destroyed, and I signed the divorce papers…two days before Thanksgiving.
Ministering to the Heartbroken
This is my story. Tragic? Absolutely. Pitiful? Without a doubt.
The real question, though, is why should you care about all of this? Why did I invite you into the darkest part of my private nightmares?
The answer, sadly, is that if you do not have such a painful story yourself, you can be certain that you know someone who does. Roughly half of all new marriages in America end in divorce; surprisingly, for born-again Christians this percentage is higher.
Despite all of these “newly single” people populating American churches, the church in general has no idea how to react, relate or respond to the needs of this heartbroken crowd.
I believe the first obstacle that must be conquered is a matter of identity. Let me explain.
In the last year, I have become painfully aware of how, when and where the word “divorce” is used. It often appears in a checklist under the heading “Marital Status,” which gives people four options: single, married, widowed or divorced. I have seen this in the most unexpected places, from a church visitor information card to an application for health insurance.
The issue is that people have grown accustomed to categorizing others according to certain “pegs” in their social life. The problem with this, however, is that there is no such thing as a “divorced person.”
Divorce is an event, not a condition. My divorce was something that happened to me, a tragedy in my past. However, that misfortune should not characterize my whole life from now on.
The church can go a long way toward ministering to the wide population of “new singles” by simply striking the word “divorced” from its vocabulary. Using “divorce” as an adjective simply identifies an individual by a horrible event in his life. In this, saying, “Will is a divorced person” is tantamount to saying, “Frank is a pancreatic cancer person.” No one would be so insensitive as to say the latter, so why would it be acceptable to commonly say the former?
The most shocking and hurtful appearance of the “divorce check-box” that I have seen was actually church-related. I had taken myself out of the ministry search for almost a year while I worked through my divorce. Then, as I began to test the waters, I sent résumés to local denominational associations, asking for help in finding possible positions in their areas.
One group mailed back a Personal Inventory Checklist to be stapled to my résumé. The checklist contained a brief list of yes or no questions that inquired about any involvement in child abuse, spousal abuse and other indiscretions.
There, wedged neatly between “Obscene/Harassment Phone Calls,” and “Do you use illegal drugs?” was the question, “Have you been divorced?” That is when I realized that in many people’s opinions, my new peer group consisted of wife beaters and child molesters. I completed the form, but obviously never heard from any church in that area.
Another problem is the average person’s inability to understand what divorce does to a person. Unfortunately, many well-meaning people attempt to help their hurting friends by uttering the five most potentially destructive words imaginable: “Get on with your life.”
This encouragement is built on the premise that their friend’s life is still there, but he has just removed himself from it. This is a mistake. Even though he may still be breathing, your friend’s life, for all intents and purposes, was taken by his divorce.
Out of the Ashes
Let me demonstrate this point from my own experience. For eight long, continuous years I worked hard in school, held a full-time job, took on various church leadership roles, got married and began making long-term career and family plans. However, my wife’s actions effectively ended that life.
In a real sense, my divorce murdered the man and the minister that I was becoming. I will simply never be that man again.
The miracle is that God has raised a new life from the ashes. I now have a new career and ministry that I adore. I honestly cannot imagine being happier doing anything else.
Does this mean that my current life will always be second-string to what “might have been?” I do not think so; however, I do know that this life took time, patience and the determined work of God to bring about.
Do not be quick to urge the newly single person to “get on with his life;” he may actually be stuck between the old life and the new. Only the Holy Spirit and a hearty amount of patience will truly enable him to get on with his new life.
The Best Advice
When my ordeal first began in August of 2000, I met with a trusted mentor, a minister who had been through a similar situation. He said something to me that I will never forget: “Will, there is nothing that I can say that will make this less painful. But I do know that if you get through this with your faith intact, you will know some things about God that most people never realize.”
Now, looking back, I see that he was right. I have never been more aware of the enduring presence of the Holy Spirit than I have this last year and a half.
I have never before known the complete joy and release of casting everything at the foot of the cross, and coming to God with a broken heart and empty hands. Mostly, though, I never expected to actually like my new life, but God was more gracious than I ever imagined.
If you are standing where I have been, or if you love someone who is going through the whirlwind of divorce, do not expect any trite words of comfort and solace here. However, if you are a hurting individual who is crying out to God for the strength to endure, be encouraged by His response through the prophet Jeremiah: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jer. 29:11, NIV). Even if the present seems insurmountable, you can trust that the future is wide-open for your success, love and happiness.
How do I know? Because God said so, and because He has done it for me.
William Ryder (a pseudonym) is a writer for an Atlanta-based Christian magazine.