Sunday, March 30, 2014
When YOUR Child Divorces---Adjusting Together
As I begin this final installment on the topic of dealing with your child’s divorce, I do so having had another conversation in which a friend shared with me about a person who just lost their court case seeking establishment of grandparenting time with the grandchild. They went to court because their ex-daughter-in-law refuses to allow the child to visit them, and even though there is no abuse or such circumstances, the judge denied their request. Sadly, the truth is, the law has not yet caught up with the realities of the complications of divorce, and that can be heartbreaking. It is a sad thing to think the court would sanction a child growing up without opportunity to know his or her grandparents, even though the grandparents desire such an opportunity.
So much is at risk, and in the upheaval, significant areas of life experience drastic restructuring. Today we consider some of this restructuring, for both the parent and the divorcing child. Everything cannot be addressed here, so I will pull out a few random examples.
However, the biggest key of all is keeping open and honest channels of communication about expectations, boundaries, frustrations and needs.
The emotions in divorce are strong, whether you are the parent watching your child being dragged to court over and again, or the individual experiencing the loss of your marriage. Sympathy, anger, hurt, frustration and fear are but a few of the emotions that can crop up with great intensity, and when they do, good judgment is all too often clouded. So as you experience the desire to help and to protect, or in the case of the child, a desire to run from the pain, try to make decisions with sound judgment and not allow emotional instability to override reason.
So let’s hit those high points:
Talk about needs. A parent always wants to help meet their child’s needs, and certainly no less when they are hurting during a divorce. So it is appropriate to help your parent understand the needs you are experiencing, and for them to choose to help with some of those needs. I knew a divorcing woman who was so caught up in depression that she desperately needed help preparing meals for her toddlers. This is the kind of tangible way a parent can be helpful. It is also the kind of thing that can become overdone. Helps like these can be important short term, but not on an ongoing basis, nor when they rescue from a difficult situation in such a way that the individual never has to solve the problems embedded in their changing life. Better to respond, “Yes, I can help cook this week, and I’ll make sure you have groceries for next week.”
Talk about finances. Just as parents don’t generally know all the details of a married child’s financial world, it is also not necessary to know all the details (or to share all the details) when divorcing. HOWEVER, there can be extenuating circumstances from the financial devastation that often accompanies divorce. It may be appropriate to discuss the struggle of affording the attorney bills, or covering costs of new housing (or old housing on one budget), but to be overly involved can add a great emotional burden to a parent in an issue that is primarily the child’s responsibility to solve. As another example, I know of times parents have made loans, helped with housing for a while, or assisted with groceries or attorney fees, but in these assists, short term style thinking remains important.
Share the hurt…kind of. If the parent-child relationship is one in which personal sharing of struggles is normal, then it is only natural that it will follow on through the divorce. But the person experiencing the pain and trauma of divorce can sometimes be oblivious to the fact that the parent is also experiencing pain. That pain can be intensified when the parent bears not only their own pain, but also the burden of the child’s pain as well. It is important that the child share in a limited fashion in this area, and seek support and encouragement with other friends, counselors or groups, lest the load on the parent becomes inappropriately heavy. Share pain, share healing, and share encouragement, but avoid “dumping” too extensively.
Talk about limits and boundaries. Sometimes the divorcing child moves into the parents’ home temporarily, or sometimes parents become regular babysitters for their grandchildren now living in a single parent home. These kind of things can be very helpful, but can also become very stressful when unintentionally abused. If you seek a parent’s assistance, or decide to offer help for your child, it is most useful to be specific and establish appropriate boundaries from the outset. Offer to babysit, but only on certain days, or for certain kinds of events. I knew of one grandparent frustrated when they discovered that their child was dropping the grandchildren off with her so that they could go out partying, rather than accept the responsibility of parenthood. If temporarily moving in, establish an expected time frame, knowing it can be renegotiated if needed at a later date, and be clear about expectations in terms of groceries, utilities and assumptions about built-in babysitting. If loaning money, put in writing the expectations for repayment, and discuss expectations and limits of future assistance.
Share about the ex…maybe. Some discussions about the ex-spouse can be important, such as that the parent does need to know the grandchildren are safe. It can also be helpful for them to know some of the challenges you are facing, as well as to understand things they may not know about why the marriage fell apart. However, when it becomes a bashing session, it is no longer helpful for anyone, and only fosters anger and unforgiveness, as well as preventing the child from being able to move on in their lives. These discussions about ex-spouses can also create an environment in which one individual “borrows trouble” from the other, or takes on anger that is not legitimately their own. On the other hand, the parent can sometimes provide a balance and some perspective for a child who has gotten caught up with inappropriate anger or behavior. By and large, though, I believe conversations on these topics ought to be kept relatively limited, and certainly off limits in the presence of grandchildren.
These examples illustrate the kind of shifts that take place between parent and child as the child divorces, and issues that need to be discussed, understood and negotiated. There are many more. However, the encouragement and support of parents in this time is absolutely invaluable. And, as concerned parents, they also need the assurance that you are going to be okay, and will let them know when you need help. You are moving into uncharted and new territory in your relationship, and so you will have to find the way that works best for all of you, realizing you will probably make some mistakes along the way. But the love between parents and child can be an anchor that helps make the journey a bit safer and easier through the troubled waters of divorce.
TL:dr The vital relationship between parent and divorcing child can become complicated and enmeshing, so communication is critical.
Wednesday, March 26, 2014
When YOUR Child Divorces---Grandparenting
When a divorce occurs, we are often aware of the impact on children, but more rarely do people consider the fact that the parents (who may be grandparents), aunts and uncles, in fact the entire family may well be impacted by the decisions made by the two individuals divorcing. And let me add, if you are a parent of a divorcing child, and are able to keep good relations with your former daughter or son-in-law in way that does not negatively impact your relationship with your own child, God bless you…you may well play an important role in the health and well being of your family though difficult days..
One of the areas impacted by divorce has to do with the division of children’s time between parents (mentioned a few blogs back). But that division and loss goes beyond the parent. The limited time with the kids must also be split with the grandparents, if they are to have a chance to spend time with their grandchildren. There are some states in which grandparents’ rights are being protected in the court proceedings, but by and large, the grandparents tend to be without voice and with little protection of their rights. At the same time, a personal request I would make is that you help set the example for your child and grandchildren in respecting the court ordered schedule, honoring the time that even your ex-in-law is accorded in the agreement. To illustrate taking a child away for a birthday or other holiday in such a way that it denies the other parent appropriate opportunity is a poor example to set for your grandchild.
As a grandparent, you can have tremendous impact for your grandchildren, if you have the opportunity. I know that it can be very difficult, and the divorce can sometimes cause strains in your relationship with grandchildren…I have seen that myself in various situations. However, to the best of your ability, continue to grandparent as you always have…or maybe with even a bit more loving care. For children, there is a great deal of upheaval and uncertainty in their homes and lives, as a grandparent, you can be one of the anchors that keeps them steady.
One of the greatest things kids say about grandparents is that grandparents have more time to listen to them than mom or dad often will take. That role of a kindly, listening ear becomes tremendously important during and after a divorce. Children may need to confide in you their heartaches, fears, or struggles as they adapt to a changing environment. Some of those things may be very hard to hear, because you may hear that your child, or the other parent, isn’t taking care of the child as well as they once did. You may hear about a new person who has moved in with a parent, a person whose behavior may scare you for the morals imparted to your grandchild. You may even need to give an extra careful listen, in case even their safety would be at risk, as sometimes happens when drugs or abuse enter the home through a new person. There are plenty of heart wrenching stories, sadly enough. I only hope there are enough heart tuned grandparents to go around.
Be careful not to feed hostility against a parent, or not to get overly emmeshed in helping your child parent during a difficult time. At the same time, you may need to become an occasional advocate for your grandchild when you become aware of serious mistakes your child is neglecting while caught up in the throes of divorce.
And most of all, more than any other time in their lives, your child and your grandchildren desperately need your prayer support. I truly believe it when the book of Hebrews tells us that the angels are ministering spirits sent by God. More than once in the Bible angels are dispatched in answer to fervent prayers. For the sake of your grandchildren, dispatch a few their way today.
TL:dr When an adult child divorces, the role of the parent as grandparent to the children becomes of paramount importance.
Sunday, March 23, 2014
When YOUR Child Divorces…
Once, in the early days of my pastoring experiences, I visited with a couple who were not too far from their 50th wedding anniversary who were heartbroken as they watched one of their children going through a divorce. I remember to this day the words of that father, as he told me, “I think it would be easier to go through a divorce myself than to watch my son going through one.”
It was a sentiment I have heard many times since, and I was reminded of it just the other day as I visited with a woman who is a grandmother of children whose parents recently divorced. I had just met this woman when she introduced herself, telling me she had bought my book at the bookstore and passed it down to her child, and was telling me how much it had been appreciated. It was nice to hear, and it made me think about some things worth blogging about, I believe.
Today I want to discuss some of the issues between such a parent and their adult child. In the next blog, I will focus on the issues of grandparenting the children during the divorce. Before I do, I would suggest that you not allow yourself to get caught up in some kind of self-deprecation, questioning whether you have failed as a parent and thus caused your child’s divorce. Every parent makes mistakes, and sometimes really big mistakes. We have to own that fact. However, the adult child makes their own choices, and when there is a divorce, the child’s spouse also makes choices, and the responsibility for those choices rests with them, not with you. If you feel you need to apologize or make amends, then by all means, do so. But do not take on responsibility for somebody else’s life and their choices. We each have enough responsibility for our own!
Sometimes the parent watches from the sidelines as their adult child makes poor or maybe vindictive decisions, not caring to hear the wise counsel of a concerned parent. In other cases, they observe their adult child being victimized in the divorce process by a dishonest or abusive spouse. There have been times I have known of parents who, in the process of divorce, discovered for the first time how much their adult child has suffered in an abusive marriage. Brokenhearted for their child, the parent is often powerless to make a difference they might long to make.
So, what to do?
A few thoughts for the parents, and perhaps later for the divorcing child might be in order.
First, if you are the parent, realize you are never truly powerless. It may seem trite to some, but the truth is that there is more power in prayer than the mightiest army on earth. Pray for your child…even if you don’t know all the details of the marriage or the divorce, God does know them, and your prayer support brings the power of God to bear upon a difficult situation.
Secondly, while it isn’t healthy to be there as a rescuer, it can be extremely helpful to be available as a refuge. Sometimes the child may need to get away for temporary shelter in your home, for an outing to dinner or a museum, or maybe even need you as an occasional babysitter or a bit of financial aid. These are tangible things you can offer, but they are also things that you must be careful to not allow to become overly enmeshing or enabling (and sometimes the heartstrings make those boundaries difficult to discern).
While you may be a good listener to the struggles of your adult child, it isn’t helpful for you to join an attack on the ex, or to try to solve all their problems. A sympathetic ear can be very encouraging, but you may need to be careful, if you are “dumped on” too much, it may create too much emotional drain on YOU, making you no longer able to parent and grandparent effectively. It may be wise to encourage them to develop friendships where they can also seek support, or help pay for a counselor who can provide useful support. While it may be tempting, it usually isn’t helpful to be judgmental about poor choices made, although there is nothing wrong with occasionally expressing concern over inappropriate actions or choices.
I have known of times parents have actively assisted their adult child during a divorce, sometimes in positive ways, sometimes in very questionable ways. For example, I have known of parents who have assisted their child in secreting away money that should have been reported as assets to the court, believing that they are helping secure their child’s financial future. While the intent is noble, it causes me to wonder if financial security is being sought at the expense of personal integrity and character, a choice that could have significant consequences later on. I have seen parents who have washed their hands of the whole thing in various ways, with statements such as “you have made your bed, now lay in it” might suggest (not that I am opposed to natural consequences or the importance of personal commitment and responsibility). Others have watched their adult child do abusive things toward their ex, and simply said, “oh well, he has always been a difficult person,” when challenging their child could have been an opportunity to make a difference in the kind of person they have raised.
I have never been the parent of a divorcing child, so I can only imagine how hard it must be. Like most parents, I have had to accept choices of children or step children that I may not consider the best choices on their part, and have experienced the various heartbreaks that always comes with parenting.
But I do know this: the unconditional and healthy love of a parent can make all the difference in the world.
Hang in there, they still need you, whether they are divorcing at the tender age of 20, or in their third divorce at the age of 55. They remain your child, and though you cannot (and should not) solve all their problems, you can love them, pray for them, and care for them as you continue into the next stage of parenting them.
And as you do, I encourage you to allow God to parent YOU, healing the heartbreak you experience along the way.
TL:dr It is a fine and heartbreaking balance between loving parenting and overinvolved enabling as one cares for an adult child experiencing divorce.
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Silence can be deafening. Empty space can seem huge. Hurting can be agony. And “alone” can feel like total isolation. Even though the marriage left behind may have been far from perfect, may even have been downright awful, the resulting experience can be overwhelming. Especially during the days when my children were at their mother’s home.
I remember how silent my house was after the divorce, walking in and finding the only noise I heard was the noise I made myself. The dog that used to greet me at the door was at the other house with the children. The cats were in the children’s rooms. The children were at my house, but only sometimes…I now had to take turns seeing my own kids. Weekends seemed to last for months.
If something was going to be cleaned, I would have to do it. Alone. If something was going to be made for supper, I had to do it all myself, and then eat it alone at an empty table. If I was somehow injured, I would have to wrap it myself. After a minor procedure at the doctor’s office, I would be driving myself home, alone. If I wanted to go to a concert or movie, there was not automatically another adult to enjoy it with, or with whom to discuss the options.
Instead of feeling like a haven or refuge, my house felt like a cave, or prison cell…at least in those first months after the divorce.
The bed was much colder, and the space way too big. To the point that I often simply slept on the couch instead. The sense of loss and emptiness was strong in every room. The conversations about how the day went were no longer existent. The sharing of a meal, or comments upon the flavor of the food had ended.
After nearly two decades of shared space, the space belonged entirely to me…space filled with things, but often not full of people. And all the things had their own power to conjure up memories, even the most joyful of which would bring tears for the loss. Some things were simply best kept in boxes. Some days, even the calendar on the wall would prompt memories that reminded me of days gone by and opportunities now stolen.
When the kids were with me, of course, it was different. Then, I would do my best to make the house a friendly home for them, cooking meals or doing things I knew they would enjoy. Not because I was trying to dazzle them or win their love, as is sometimes claimed about single dads. Because I relished what time I had with them, and mourned the time I did not.
Even though there was shared custody, and the time with children was pretty evenly divided, the time apart was extremely long, extremely lonely. Helping with homework was no longer an every day event. Packing a lunch or seeing them off to school was suddenly a treat.
Divorce can be one of the most difficult experiences of life, especially for those of us who do not believe that divorce is really the answer, at least not for us, that there are better alternatives. These images are just a few of my memories from the early days of divorce. It is a far cry from where I am now in life, but it wasn’t back then. I could say that it does get better over time, though I will readily admit that the aching hurts subside. I don’t know that it is so much that it gets better, as it is that one adapts and moves on, or that the process of recreating one’s life and future brings a new chapter with its own joys and meanings.
The emptiness I felt around me during my divorce and the aching within are now long in the past, a stage of my life I am glad to have far behind me. I know that the new chapters of my life have great meaning for me, a greater joy, and that I have no desire to return to different days. In fact, the precious experiences of my current life are far beyond anything I would have imagined back then. But I also know that in my life, there has been a great loss, and a great deal of pain, that entered my life through the process called divorce.
So take courage, if you are in the throes of divorce. There can be a future that is good, even if you cannot see it or believe it now. And the hard things in the midst of the process are only for a season. Though their memory remains, the pain they bring does subside, and God can bring a fresh tomorrow in his own good time.
Sunday, March 9, 2014
LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE!
After a couple of more serious blogs, I thought I’d throw a few more fun thoughts out there, for balance you know.
Divorce is a crappy experience, right? And for most of us, it’s a heartbreaking experience. There are those, I know, who find it to be a deliverance from an awful homelife, I was reminded as I watched “Sleeping With The Enemy” again the other night. But even when it is a deliverance, it is still heartbreaking and difficult.
During divorce and the aftermath, sometimes it is helpful to find something to smile about, because there is so much that can drag you down. I am a person who enjoys all sorts of humor, including humor that can sometimes be a little dark, and somehow, I decided, I’d make up a list of the “bright side” of divorce, and maybe it will bring that smile. Some are more serious than others, some, though true, bring a bittersweet smile, but take it in the spirit intended, and maybe something in it will brighten your day. So here is my little list, hopefully pieces relevant for both genders:
1) You can now sleep on whichever side of the bed you want to…even catty whompus diagonal across the middle. In other words, you can have the whole TOP side! And, for a bonus, you even get to keep all the covers!
2) If you don’t like broccoli, or Brussels sprouts, there won’t be anybody making them whose feelings will be hurt if you don’t at least taste them, neither will you have to pretend that the burnt steak from the grill actually tastes good.
3) You won’t have to decide where to invest your money. (The court and the attorneys will be very willing to help decide where to direct your finances.)
4) The toilet paper WILL be dispensed the “CORRECT” way, the toothpaste rolled or squeezed (which YOU know it is the best method) and the toilet seat will be left exactly how you want it left.
5) Your grocery bill will be substantially less. (And, if you are a guy like most guys, substantially less healthy, too!)
6) If you remarry, you will get a “second honeymoon,” but with a different person, making it two “first honeymoons” instead!
7) You don’t have to watch action movies (or romantic movies) unless you want to.
8) If you’re a guy, there will be more room in the bathroom medicine cabinet with the makeup gone and you won’t have to use shower gel stuff if you want to use soap.
If you’re a woman, you won’t have to fight against the bathroom smelling like a locker room, or find bits of shaving cream, toothpaste and who knows what else left on the counter and in the sink.
9) If you want to take the kids to
Disneyland, it doesn’t matter whether you spouse wants to
go or not, you can just take them! (financial
10) The house can be decorated, depending on your gender, with all the pastels or trophy deer heads you want!
11) If you break a dish or the faucet, there won’t be anybody around to remind you that it is all your fault!
12) And, odds are, you will now win most of the adult arguments in your home…unless, of course, you are a person who beats yourself up a lot or the old multiple personality disorder kicks in.
13) Either you will now get to find out how the television remote control works OR you will no longer hear complaints about the way you work it.
14) If you want to go to the all night store at three in the morning, you can do so, and not only will nobody mind, nobody will even notice!
15) When you leave something in the fridge, it will still be there next time you go back for it (unless you have teenagers, in which case you should install a revolving door on your refrigerator anyway).
Well, those are a few bright sides, perhaps. And when so much is lost, sometimes it really does help to find something to consider a bright side. There are some positive things that can happen as a result of a divorce, but they come with a pretty high price. But then, so does staying in a really bad marriage, right?
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
ANGER MANAGEMENT, PART TWO
Can I tell you something funny? A friend of mine passed a copy of my first book to someone he knew might benefit from some of the things in it. Apparently, when she got it, she went straight to the topical index, and then asked him how come I didn’t have anything listed in the topic of rage! When he told me about it, I mentioned that she will find relevant discussions under the topic of anger, however, do you sense what she was saying? I did. As a result, the second book has rage as one of the topics listed in the index (mainly because, as I recall, I chose to go back and write a devotion specifically on that topic)!
Now, granted, the index was never intended to be exhaustive, and there are lots of topics addressed that may not be listed under one name or another in the index, but I think her point highlights something profound about the divorce experience.
If there is one word that describes the emotions of divorce, the word would be “intensity.”
There is an intensity to the anger that comes, resulting in that woman’s search for the word “rage.” But it is not only in anger, for there is also a profound loneliness, a deep sorrow and sense of loss, an aching sense of hurt or betrayal, a dramatic uncertainty about the future…the list is almost endless, but for many, they are not merely emotional responses to the experience, they are incredibly strong emotional responses. But for many, anger is one of the most difficult, because it can turn so destructive and make one feel so very ugly and unlovable. So I wanted to follow up with one more post about anger.
I have noticed far too many times in the news, stories about suicide/murder crime scenes, in which an individual kills the spouse and children, and then themselves, frequently a male being the perpetrator. And in recent years, there have been several stories of mothers who have attempted to kill their children along with themselves in the midst of their emotional trauma. More than once I have heard people absolutely stunned with disbelief that anybody could do something like that. But for those of us who have been through the divorce process, while we may be repulsed by the choices they made, we tend to be more able to relate to the intense emotions that led to their choices. And, I hope, are grateful that we never got to that point ourselves! (You know, the old “but for the grace of God, there go I” sort of thing.)
This intensity is what is often missed in the misrepresentations of divorce we see portrayed so often, and even the most caring of friends and family will never fully appreciate how difficult it truly is. Every once in a while it peeks out, as you may recall hearing when, for example, the media was playing the intended-to-be-private tirade of Alec Baldwin toward his daughter a few years ago. Regardless of what other issues contributed to that situation, it is a clear reflection of the intensity of emotion aroused by divorce and its aftermath.
I would like to offer a few ideas to help with that intensity of anger (though some will apply to other emotions, as well).
1) Recognize that it is transitional. The divorce process is very much an in-between sort of time of life. You aren’t yet out of a previous marriage, but not yet single, either. The old life is still in the process of separation, while the new life cannot be fully embraced until court issues are settled.
2) Realize that healing takes time. The intensity of the anger will subside (unless you nurture it), but it does not subside overnight. Just as burning your hand on the stove hurts intensely at first, and continues to hurt intensely for a while in the healing process, so the anger does not instantly stop as your heart heals.
3) Create appropriate buffers. This can mean having a disinterested party read over the email you are about to send. It can mean that when certain emotional signals arise (such as despair for those who might be suicidal), you have contracted with yourself to seek the outside help of a counselor or pastor immediately. Another place it can arise is to choose to communicate indirectly, though responsibly, so as to not stir up additional anger in yourself or your ex (such as writing instead of face to face, or sending needed information through the attorney).
4) Make wise choices about your emotions. If you are feeling extremely lonely, it is wiser to go spend time with friends or family than to sit in isolation and feed that emotion. The same is true with rage and anger. One of the ways I find helpful is to think about the choice in terms of whether I will be able to look myself in the mirror afterwards, if I make a certain choice. Another is to seek wise counsel, maybe a friend, maybe the attorney, maybe someone who has gone through it before, and be willing to listen to their advice.
5) Never act out of the anger without first delaying that action at least 24 hours. Somehow, simply the time to let the feelings settle a bit helps add to one’s perspective. This is especially true in communications you might initiate…better to sit on it a while first.
6) Establish a guiding principle or two for yourself, such as, “if I am going to err in my decisions, I want to err in the direction of being too kind, rather than too harsh, or having done more than I had to, rather than not as much as I should have.” Or perhaps, “I will never act based on anger without first having gotten at least two outside opinions from people who are not mere “yes” people in my life.”
7) Take some reflective time to consider the real source of your anger. Often the intensity of the anger is directly related to the intensity of the hurt, or the sense of unlovability because of the betrayal. Maybe the anger is a result of fear, whether fear of the future or fear of being alone for the first time.
8) When your anger moves up to rage, don’t try to handle it all alone. Develop a confidante with whom you can share who will allow you to vent, and can offer some perspective and balance in a helpful way.
9) If you and your ex have children, NEVER, EVER, EVER, EVER forget that the ex is still the mother or father that your children love, and that is as it should be. Do not let YOUR anger (or try to use your anger to) infect the hearts and minds of your children. Teach them to be better people than that.
10) ALWAYS take time to talk with God about your anger…even if your anger is directed toward God! Don’t merely talk TO God about it, allow God to speak to you as well. Pay attention to the words of the music at church or the Christian radio, seek God’s voice in the pastor’s message, and be diligent about time spent reading your Bible (there are lots of lessons about anger in it!).
Well, those are some thoughts. Maybe one of them can make a difference for you or for a friend. There will be mistakes made, none of us is perfect. But you can minimize the regret you have later, by being wise during this tumultuous, though temporary, time of life.
Monday, March 3, 2014
I am always impressed with couples who manage to get through a divorce without a lot of anger, hostility or bitterness. (Sometimes, they have done it so well I have wondered why they bothered to get divorced at all!) In spite of the illusions created through television and movies, it doesn’t happen very often, and from what I have seen factors that seem to make the difference include whether or not there are children, if finances are manipulated, or if there is an affair all have significant impact on the emotional outcomes. However, sometimes it is also merely a matter of temperament, the kinds of choices the individuals makes, and sometimes it is merely the matter of one individual simply acquiescing to accept whatever injustices are imposed. Those who acquiesce are sometimes very forgiving people and do so in a manner that might serve them well over time, while others acquiesce in a way that is merely stuffing resentments that surface later on.
In Ephesians 4:26, Paul warns us against harboring anger by challenging us to not allow the day to end with anger still in our hearts. Hebrews 12:15 warns against allowing bitterness to take root in our souls, because it infects others and cuts us off from the grace of God. In divorce, trying to take these verses seriously is a real challenge.
It is a difficult choice to not let the various injustices, betrayals and fears foster these emotions. Eviction from your home, financial uncertainty thrust upon you, lies cast your way, lack of concern for your needs, abandonment by an individual you once trusted an loved dearly…these all create such tension that anger and rage easily surface. In fact, for many of us, they are almost unavoidable, and the behavior of some spouses in the process of divorce exacerbates those feelings almost daily. Sometimes these emotions become so hardened that the individual nurtures and carries their anger and hatred for many, many years, creating not only problems between the two, but even enslaving the angry person in a bondage of bitterness and rage.
It is even more disturbing, I believe, when those feelings get handed down to children. All too often children form opinions and judgments based on childish interpretations of the things they observe, and then jump into the anger bandwagon toward one parent or another. Very often, they discover much later their mistake, and that they have adopted feelings that are not theirs to have, based on information that has been represented from only one perspective. It is very sad to see, especially when that attitude infection passes on unsuspected for many years.
So what to do? I don’t believe that anger has NO place in our lives…even Jesus experienced anger in his life and acted upon it on several occasions. But he never harbored his anger or allowed it to fester into rage and bitterness. And the anger he tended to act upon was anger he experienced over the mistreatment of others, not of himself. Peter mentions that when he was persecuted himself, he chose silence as his response. I have known people who managed this path in divorce, though most struggle with it.
The key, I believe, is not so much whether or not you feel angry, as to what you let your anger do.
Do you make your choices and actions based on anger?
Do you allow your anger to fester, or do you deal with it daily?
Does anger harden your heart into bitterness and hatred, or do you forgive offenses as they arise, refusing to carry them from one day to the next?
If you are years out of your divorce, does the anger still rage within, or have you honestly let it go?
Do you allow, no encourage, your children to love their other parent, or, out of your own anger, do you poison their minds with misinformation and personal interpretations that turn them against the other parent?
It doesn't mean you cannot be honest with them about shortcomings of the other parent, but it does mean you acknowledge forthrightly that even with all their shortcomings, the other individual is still their parent and, as such, deserves some degree of respect from the child.
God’s call is to forgive, for James reminds us that our anger does not attain the level of the righteous anger that only God has.
Being angry is not a very pleasant way to live, nor does it win one very many friends. I certainly don’t enjoy being around angry people, do you? The destructive emotions of festering anger, resentment, hatred and bitterness will rob you of the joy and very presence of God in life. Take a stand, move toward forgiveness and mercy. It is the way of living that God honors. And, it will keep you in touch with the grace of God for yourself, as well.