Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Divorce: Falling Apart, But Getting It All Together
Had an interesting comment posted on my blog a few days ago. The blog had talked about some of the things one can be thankful for in the midst of a divorce, knowing that during the dark days it can be very hard to find anything positive. The comment was posted by a man named Jason Ratner, and he wrote: “I am thankful that I am starting to see myself for who I am, not who my ex wife wanted me to be. I am thankful to not be put down all the time.” What he said struck a note as I was working on another blog, and so I decided to raise some issues around Jason’s comment, issues discussed more at length in the books.
I want to consider today, in these contexts, the issue that Jason raises in his post, the issue of who we are as people, and how who we are - impacts our behavior during the divorce process and recovery - and also in the shaping of the next chapter of our lives, including the way we step-parent. As Jason suggests, in a bad marriage, it is easy to lose one’s sense of self…especially when stifled or abused. Once a divorce enters the picture and separation occurs, there often can be a regaining of perspective, a rediscovery of the person God created you to be, a sort of rebirth of possibilities, if you will. Making wise choices is crucial (and is a frequent topic in both volumes of my books, Finding God in the Seasons of Divorce), specifically because divorce compels one to make a fresh start.
The truth is, our relationships bring out various parts of our personality and make differing demands upon us. The parts of our character that impact our relationship with business associates may not include the same features that are important to our spouses which may also not be the same as those with our children, church friends or our ex spouses. My business associates may be more interested in seeing my competence while a spouse may want to experience my kindness and trustworthiness. And in all of it, there is the core person God has designed uniquely in each one of us, and the unique calling to grow like Christ in the midst of life’s changes, responding in a honorable way to the challenges that come to us.
It is a powerfully freeing thing to experience what Jason describes, being free to be who we really are, rather than always feeling the need to adapt oneself to unrealistic expectations. I remember a friend once telling me that he had experienced in his second marriage being loved simply for who he was, he didn’t have to try to earn that love through changing who he was. That is a precious thing.
It is important, after the devastation of a bad marriage and divorce, to take time to regain some equilibrium, to discover afresh who it is God has created and called you to be, with all the characteristics that make you uniquely you, while being open to the possibilities of what God has yet to bring into being.
There may be old habits that you are ready to shake off. There may be forgotten enjoyments you want to cultivate. There may be new acts of service you had always wanted to pursue, and are only now able to do. Your own children may see changes, and perhaps realize they are seeing who you really are for the first time. Although, it is also true that the children may not realize that you had been under stifling constraints before, or that some behavioral changes result from the extreme stresses you are struggling to overcome.
At the same time, it is important for the sake of your children as well as yourself, that you do your best to be true to who God created you to be, and to be consistent in character so that your children have some degree of stability in YOU, even though their home is falling apart and being restructured.
So as Jason pointed out, the divorce process opens up the possibility for you to regain a good handle on the person God created in you. My challenge to you is that you don’t squander that opportunity, because it will shape your choices and your relationships for the rest of your life. Make a point to spend some quality time in God’s presence, inviting him to reveal to you things about yourself that are precious, and things about yourself that need to change or grow. As you do so, the kind of person you are in the new relationships that enter your life will be the kind of person God can use, even as you adapt to the needs and moods of those around you.
TL:dr While divorce creates great upheaval, it also creates opportunity to build a future of God-honoring integrity.
Sunday, December 8, 2013
Happiness, Holidays and Healing.
I had to stop with three, otherwise I would have a 4-H sort of thing going, and that would just raise all sorts of copyright issues! And, just to set the record straight, I DO like When Harry Met Sally, but I don’t know that I would really rank it as my favorite…primarily because I’m not a “favorite” sort of person, I like all sorts of things. Although, would have to say, there aren’t many Meg Ryan shows I don’t enjoy…
Now, back to the topic at hand…the 3 H’s above. The holiday season, for those who are not married, often creates a sense of unhappiness in the midst of everybody else’s “happiest time of the year.” Seeing families and couples in the midst of holiday preparation and celebration can accentuate for single people that they don’t have that special someone around in their lives. A divorced person adds to it that awareness that, in the not so distant past, they DID have such a person around, who is now gone. The same is true for a widowed person. I think the hardest of all are those who experience the reality that the holiday season have a high rate of divorce applications surrounding it, as if this holiday was the last hurrah. So, instead of happiness, loneliness, sorrow, uncertainty and pain might be the experience. Which is the harsh reality of our world anyway, that there are always hard things as well as joyful things, and we have to learn to handle both.
Because of these hard things, many people, especially out of loneliness, start intensely seeking someone to marry or at least to be with. Perhaps you have seen, as I have, individuals who divorce, shortly after getting into another relationship that ends up being very shortlived and generally not very healthy. Perhaps they get together out of the loneliness, or a neediness to be with someone, or even just a physical attraction and desire. Sometimes I think there are some who seek that individual believing that if they can just get with the right person, everything will be okay, that, “I will be okay. I won’t hurt anymore. I won’t be lonely anymore. I will be complete.”
loneliness can drive such an urgency.
But the truth is, all too often, these kind of relationships do not
solve problems and issues, instead they exacerbate the problems and issues that
are there, or maybe even create more of them!
Today, I just want to encourage my readers to be wise. How much better it is to experience some inner healing before trying to start into another relationship. Remember that young surfer who was attacked by a shark and lost a limb? She didn’t get back on the surfboard that day. She did get back on eventually, but first she allowed time for her wounds to heal. We see the same thing all the time in professional sports. When a player is injured, they are taken off the field or court. They generally don’t come back out during the game. And maybe not for several games. They get back into the game once the healing is complete. Although the wounds of divorce and broken relationships are not physically visible, and the healing is harder to identify within, the wounding still needs time for healing before an individual “gets back into the game,” so to speak.
Imagine a football team on the field of players who are all injured, some limping down the field, others having arms that can no longer move to throw or catch a ball, and others walking around dazed because of their concussions. I suspect it would not be very hard to defeat that kind of a team, don’t you agree? So, by analogy, doesn’t it make sense that if you are going to get into another relationship, it would be wisest to do so when you are in good condition, when your wounds have healed up, when you can bring a more healthy YOU into that relationship?
Some talk about how many years it takes to heal from divorce, sometimes tying it to the number of years married. I have heard one year of healing for every four or five years of marriage. But too often, people rush back into the field of relationships half healed, like the players of the team I described. Some people may do that to try to prove that THEY aren’t the people who are somehow to blame for the marriage, that THEY are okay! But to rush back too fast increases the odds of another relationship failure. And the statisticians say that in second or third marriages, the odds are already way against us.
The best holiday gift for those who have been relationship wounded, is the gift of healing.
I like that the prophecies about Jesus mention the phrase (echoed by Wesley in his Christmas carol “Hark the Herald”) “risen with healing in his wings.” Christmas is about healing, healing of sin, sorrow and the woes of earth. I encourage you to allow Christmas to remind you to seek the healing from God that brings wholeness, rather than settling for something less. How much better it is for two people who have experienced healing and restoration to join together in marriage than for two still limping in pain to try to start something fresh in their weakened state. If you have a friend or family member who you believe is rushing into a new relationship too quickly, though they may not be willing to hear what you have to say, it is still a caring thing to encourage them to consider slowing down. As I have heard said many times, “If it is truly love, it will still be love in a year from now, because love can wait.”
TL:dr New relationships are best pursued when healing is complete, not from the state of loneliness or desperation.
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Harry And Sally and
The holidays are just around the corner, with music, garland, candles and party horns. For the recently divorced, they are also filled with lonely days, broken dreams, painful reminders of love lost and scheduling nightmares. For those whose lives have moved on after divorce, new memories and traditions have often replaced the old, creating a new overlay of feelings of hope and new life. But even after children have grown and moved away, schedules and relationships can still be hampered by time demands and expectations by one’s ex. This time of year, filled with joy in so many homes, can be a season of heartache and loneliness for many, not only the divorced, but those now alone through widowhood as well. I’d like to pass along a couple of suggestions for the upcoming season, whether you are the one divorced, or if you have a friend who has experienced it. I have been reminded especially of this as I learn of several in my social circle who are experiencing divorce in this time.
My first suggestion addresses the area of loneliness. Just because you are now “alone” and your spouse has gone his or her own way, does not mean you need to be lonely. If you ever saw the movie, “When Harry Met Sally,” then you may recall the arrangement the two leading characters had with one another, that if they ever had a holiday…notably New Year’s Eve, in which they were going to be alone, instead they would find a way to be with one another as friends. Thinking ahead about those times when you may be alone, and especially feeling the loneliness that could come with it, can help you prepare alternatives to going through uncomfortable times of loneliness. Probably a clear example could be that if you have younger children, it would be wise now to start considering plans for the time they will be away from your house to visit the other parent. And, if you would learn their lesson, one of the best ways to plan is to arrange to be with someone else who will be facing potential loneliness.
Let me add, as an aside, that some would warn that you make those plans with someone of the same gender, lest you end up creating confusion or giving false impressions with your friend. Personally, sometimes I found that to be true, but there were other relationships in which a member of the opposite sex and I had clear discussions about our friendship and expectations, and so understood we were not interested in dating. In any case, however you choose to handle it, I encourage you now to identify some of those times that might feel particularly lonely or painful, such as sitting alone at a Christmas Eve candlelight service, and begin making arrangements to avoid unnecessary hardship.
The other suggestion I would like to offer is along the same lines, but with a different twist. If you choose to not put yourself in loneliness producing situations unnecessarily, then consider going one step further.
Instead of focusing solely upon how YOU will feel in that time, is it possible you could find another person or persons who have needs that you could meet by using that time to minister or care for THEM?
In other words, look out for somebody ELSE’S best interest, needs, or feelings. Be the one who helps somebody else conquer their loneliness by offering your friendship. I can guarantee you our world is full of people who long to know that somebody cares. Some of them live in nursing homes. Others work in sheltered workshops. Still others are just walking out of the divorce court themselves. And others have just left a loved one in a cemetery. YOU could be the key that could make all the difference in another person. If you begin to look for people who need a friend, and for ways to make that difference. You may find your holidays transformed into something more special than you imagine.
Oh, and by the way, a wise friend reminded me during my lonely days that though I might feel lonely, I was never truly alone. Because we have a God who promises to never forsake us. Don’t forget to include Him in your holiday plans, too!
TL:dr Holidays can be lonely, but less so if you plan ahead and involve yourself with others
Friday, November 29, 2013
BLACK FRIDAY LESSONS---DIVORCE STYLE!
today is Black Friday. It is the day
after Thanksgiving (only now, too many stores start it ON Thanksgiving….I
boycott those stores, myself), on which businesses try to lure customers by
offering special one day only deals. Or,
as friend told me the other day, it is the day when, after having given thanks
for all the stuff we have, we spend the next day going out to buy more stuff!! However, from the business side, supposedly
it is the day that consumer spending enables stores to shift from being “in the
red” to being “in the black” by starting to turn a profit for the year. United States
Similar terms are used to describe the day the stock market tanked, the several times that has happened. Or, I know of an place where new administration came in and fired a lot of long term employees so that cronies and friends could be hired in their place. Other long term employees saw what has happening, and chose to slip out the door by choice a bit later, and were also replaced by cronies. Those employees referred to that day of firing as Black Friday, and you may know of similar usages yourself. But in divorce, Black Friday may be applied to other experiences.
Instead of seeing Black Friday in the positive sales kind of way, some of us may apply the term to the day we were served divorce papers, filed for divorce, were thrown out of our homes by our spouses, or when the divorce became final and we grieved the end of a marriage. That date may be indelibly marked in your mind when the calendar rolls around, or, if you are like me, you may not be so good at remembering dates, but can certainly recall the awful experience. (And, maybe you also relate to a subsequent time period that some of us call, “The Great Depression.”) But like Good Friday of the Easter Season, which some traditions refer to as “Black Friday,” out of these awful times, resurrection can come.
Financially, the stores talk about the day they turn a profit. Many divorced people experience great financial upheaval, even taking bankruptcy as they seek to pay off their attorney fees and manage the bills on their own after the court ordered financial alterations. (By the way, I have yet to meet a person who feels like the financial court orders were “fair.”) Some say that it takes as long as ten years to regain your financial footing. And I know it can take even longer, especially if an ex has a special affinity for going to court. In that case, you may be like the businesses, and rejoice when your Black Friday comes, and you are finally able to make ends meet, and feel a bit of the stress lift as your financial world finally gains some equilibrium.
But for me, Black Friday sales are a reminder of how far we have gotten from the core of what Christmas is all about, and the same can be applied to Hanukkah. Hanukkah is a reminder of a time when God made special provision for his people, revealed that he was with them at a time of deliverance through the miraculous burning of the temple menorah. But as with Christmas, shopping has almost taken over, and Santa is on every corner with reindeer, while those outside the church clamor for celebration of Winter Solstice instead of Christmas. The Christ child in the manger is all but forgotten. And yet, the greatest Christmas present ever given was when God gave his son, born in a manger, to come as our Redeemer, dying on the cross for our sins that we may live eternally if we choose to accept through faith the gift he purchased.
If you are struggling in a time of divorce, the Black Friday deals may be very tempting, as you seek to manage Christmas on a very tight budget. But I want to encourage you to allow the financial limits to help you restore a more meaningful focus to the holiday.
Let go of the rush to buy the perfect and most expensive gifts, or even to compete with your ex in what kind of gifts you give. Instead, find a new way to restore in your celebration reminders of the true meaning of Christmas, the most perfect and timely and beautiful and precious gift ever given. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.”
Friday, November 22, 2013
GIVING THANKS…IN DIVORCE???
We are quickly approaching the American holiday of Thanksgiving, a day originally set aside for the people of the
to stop and give thanks to God for
all the blessings we enjoy. It is a day
of good food, family and friends, and some families still know that God is the
one we are to thank, though many have lost that understanding. When one has experienced divorce,
Thanksgiving, like every other holiday, is impacted in ways that can be very
difficult for parents and for children. United
Ephesians 5:20 tells us to be thankful in everything, which would have to include divorce. That can be a hard thing to do. Apart from difficult memories that may resurface of holidays gone by, there can also be the nightmare of trying to shuffle schedules to accommodate children, family, in-laws and ex-family members. You may or may not see your children on this holiday, though you once could count on that. Sometimes the mere process of children growing up into adults with their own families and lives impacts the celebration, other times it can be impacted by juggling schedules or by an interfering ex. However, I do think that there are things to be thankful for, even after a divorce, and thought I’d make a little top ten list for your consideration.
10) In this time when all too often news reports tell about households in which one divorcing spouse kills the other, and maybe the children, and then themselves, you can be thankful that you came through your divorce alive and well. It doesn't always happen. Give thanks!
9) If you have children from your previous marriage, be thankful for that. Though it adds to the complications of divorce, children are a special blessing, even in the most difficult times. There are many couples who would give anything to have a child of their own. Give thanks!
8) You may have experienced great upheaval, having to move, finding ways to make ends meet, managing a household on your own. If you have a place to live and food to eat, Give thanks!
7) While divorce radically alters the course of your life, and takes away many things you once held precious, it also gives you the opportunity to start fresh, to make some new and better choices. Give thanks!
6) Though you may have been crushed, bruised, devastated and broken, you are still a person of worth, and may, in fact, be rediscovering parts of yourself that have long been forgotten. Give thanks!
5) In many cases, your marriage may have been a miserable place to be, unhappy, criticized or put down, sometimes filled with anger and disappointment, often leaving you feel lonely and unloved. You no longer have to endure that on a daily basis. Give thanks!
4) This Thanksgiving, you have the opportunity to create new traditions that are meaningful to you, and to make the meal any way YOU want it to be! Give thanks!
3) Odds are, though your divorce has been difficult, you have found that you have some family and friends who have stood by you through it, and let you know you are loved. Give thanks!
2) Perhaps you have remarried, and found in that marriage the kind of spouse you always dreamed of and a kind of love you have never experienced before. Give thanks!
And, most important of all…
1) Though you have experienced the loss of the companion you expected to be with your entire life, there is one Companion who will never abandon you, no matter what life may bring your way. Give thanks for the God who promises to never fail you nor forsake you!
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
WAYS YOU CAN HELP CLOSE YOUR CHURCH
So my wife ran across something surfing the net the other day that struck me as interesting when she showed it to me. It was a list somebody had put together about things you can do that cause churches to close. It reminded me of a sermon I gave in my church nine years ago, so I dug it out, and so, though it’s kind of random, I thought I’d add my tips to the mix out there in the blogosphere. I would also suggest that many of these same issues will also strangle a marriage! So, here are the tips, some of which are about individuals, others are about churches. Follow these tips only if you want your church to close it’s doors.
Areas 1-12 refer to individual attitudes and behaviors
These first three have always been key issues for church life/growth:
1) Use your Bible as a dust collector.
2) Assume outreach and witnessing is somebody else's job.
3) Pray only for your own needs, and certainly never for church leadership or the lost souls in our communities and the world.
These areas, though timeless, seem prevalent in many churches today.
4) Participate in backbiting, gossip, criticism, nitpicking, and strife by speaking or listening to it…and so claim grumbling and murmuring as your spiritual gifts instead of focusing on the positive things in life and in your church.
5) Value only the ministries and gifts that YOU like or benefit from, rather than the ones God chooses to bring for the betterment of the entire church.
6) Develop a self centered focus, where you always ask what did I get out of it, instead of asking how it serves the greater
. kingdom of Christ
7) Become suspicious and decide everybody else is working against you, rather than seeing fellow church members as varied parts of a single body of Christ working toward the common good of the kingdom.
8) Practice a pseudo Christianity where you have an appearance of godliness, but don't allow any real power to change your life or to work through you to change the lives of others.
9) Resist and quench any movement by the Spirit of God that causes people to become excited or emotional at God's touch upon them, or that causes them to step out in faith into new arenas of ministry.
10) Do everything you possibly can in your church….even if you only get the job half done….so that other people won't have to do anything.
11) Decide your church attendance based on convenience rather than commitment.
12) Choose to be a taker in your church, rather than a giver.
Both Individuals and Church bodies adopt these attitudes/behaviors in dying churches:
1) Find a plateau in your spiritual growth where you can be satisfied to dwell…you can also get satisfied in plateaus in your church's growth, too.
2) Focus on what you can't do, rather than what you could do… as individuals and as a church.
3) Place limits on what you are willing for God to do in you or through you or your church.
4) Make your decisions and operate out of fear and uncertainty, rather than faith, risk taking and boldness.
5) Go into any future God has kicking and screaming, rather than with enthusiasm, excitement and hope.
6) Ignore or refuse to act on the opportunities and challenges God places before you or before your church.
These attitudes are often adopted by dying church bodies:
1) Help create division by adopting an “us/them” mentality to describe all sorts of church interactions.
2) Develop a system that is power oriented and territorial rather than servant and humility oriented.
3) Become program and property centered, rather than people centered.
4) Adopt a "pastor as messiah or scapegoat" attitude, rather than examining issues the church body needs to face and deal with.
5) Have no spiritual vision or dreams for the kingdom, focusing instead only on how things used to be, or how they are, but never the possibilities that could be.
6) Set up barriers and hurdles to impede ministries, instead of empowering people to follow God's calling in their lives.
7) Develop a church mentality of maintaining and surviving, doing things in ways that are good enough to get by, rather than staffing and planning for growth or seeking all things in excellence.
8) Ignore that the love chapter is addressed to churches, not married couples.
9) Let die your heart for missions and desire to reach the lost.
There are churches with these attitudes that continue to exist, but the glory of God has already departed from them. They have become nothing more than religious social clubs that do nothing in terms of discipleship, and their doors will eventually close….and they should….because they no longer fulfill the purposes for which God established his church.
Praying that your approaching Thanksgiving is giving you time to reflect and ponder. Giving Thanksgiving in all things, even leaves on the ground.
Saturday, November 16, 2013
My last blog was on divorce in relation to abusive relationships, and a Christian response to such situations. I was actually rather surprised at the reception, because it was one of my most read blogs in several months. The sad part is, because I think all of us know abusive relationships are more common than many in the churches would like to admit…except that while it isn’t addressed often, church folks know it SHOULD be addressed. Because we know it happens, and it happens too often, and it even happens in homes of people who regularly attend church It’s just that all too often the church does not know how to deal with it effectively, and instead it often gets ignored in the church and left to the social workers, courts and psychologists.
It is one topic that the church is all too often sadly silent about when the church has clear scriptural teaching that contradicts any acceptance of abusive behavior. Why is the church so silent in these things?
Some have pointed out how poorly the Catholic Church handled the molestation of young boys by some clergy members. And they should be criticized for that. But they are not alone. Abusive relationships are far too common in many areas of society, including within too many churches. I have been particularly bothered, myself, by those who turn to Ephesians 5 to claim the husband is head of the home and then use that as justification for controlling and abusive behaviors. Headship and submission in that chapter, so often quoted and misused is only to be understood through the example of Jesus, as is clearly indicated in the passage. Christ as head of the church lays down his life for the church, and chose to serve instead of being served, and that is a far cry from the kind of headship that would seek to control and abuse those of whom a husband would seek to be the head. And the verse about a wife submitting is twisted into something that was never intended, because it is often quoted with no reference to the fact that earlier in the chapter the call is for husband and wife to submit to one another, and to Christ. It is this mutuality of respect, service and support that Ephesians speaks of, not the domineering of a misguided husband or the browbeating of an angry wife.
I should probably not have been surprised at how many people were interested in that blog. Because I think people are hungry for a faith that deals with the real world, rather than sweeping the tough issues under a rug, turning a blind eye to the real struggles of people in the congregation and in the world while making declarations of wrongdoing by those outside the church. My recollection is that Jesus challenged us to deal with the logs in our own eyes before we even THINK about dealing with the specks in the eyes of others. How much more refreshing it is, it seems to me, to be part of a fellowship where people acknowledge their struggles and imperfections, supporting one another as we seek to become more like Christ and disentangle from ourselves from the sins that stain our lives an leave us shattered and broken. How can a doctor help heal a person who refuses to acknowledge they are sick and seek the doctor’s help? How can we experience the healing of the Great Physician when we turn a blind eye to the life areas that need to change while pretending to be dependent upon God’s mercy and grace?
The Christianity that most impresses me is the version I have been blessed to see in the lives of certain believers here and there through the course of my life. Those people have represented to me and to others they meet the kind of faith that encounters individuals whose lives have been damaged by sin or hardship, and in the encounter chooses to walk alongside those people with humility and compassion, rather than sit in judgment with attitudes of rejection and “holier than thou.” I especially see this distinction played out in the way various Christians and churches choose to deal with the reality that there are people in their congregations experience the brokenness of divorce. I have been so blessed to have brothers and sisters who met me at my point of brokenness when I experienced divorce, and gave me the hope, acceptance and encouragement I needed for healing that pain.
I hope your experience of the Christian faith includes those kind of people. And I also hope that those who encounter you in life experience that kind of faith in you.