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Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Life After the Divorce


In some communications with a friend of late, an interesting word popped into the conversation.  As my friend was briefly commenting on her experiences since her divorce some years ago, she mentioned the difficulty of figuring out what is her particular niche in life these days.  That word, “niche,” really resonated with me as a very meaningful word in the process of recovering from a divorce, but it will probably take some explanation.

When we are young, everyone asks us what we want to be when we grow up. So we decide what we would like to do, attend college or other training necessary and launch into our careers.  We fall in love, marry, start a family and make a home, make a life.  In other words, we make our niche in the world, hopefully following what we believe is God’s purpose for us.  When our spouse announces he or she wants a divorce, suddenly everything we have built up is shattered and we feel like we have been thrown back to square one.  The world we have worked so hard to create, the home that has been our refuge is forever altered.  What do we do now? 

Divorce is not the only experience that creates this kind of situation.  The death of a loved one, job loss, factory closing, bankruptcy, war, natural disasters…all of these can cause a similar sense of loss.  In each of those situations, you have to start all over.  There is a difference with divorce, because these other things are not intentionally inflicted upon you personally by the one person in all the world whom you were closest to and you once trusted implicitly.  

That one factor changes everything. 

In the years following a divorce, the great task is to begin reassembling life all over, to determine how to create the appropriate niche for the rest of your life.  Do you stay in the same community?  Will you be able to keep the same friends, or will they be friends for you ex instead?  Can they be friends for you both?  Will you have to move, if you haven’t already?  How will your relationship with your children change?  Will you be able to be a good parent alone?  Will the children understand who you are or end up with a skewed perspective of you and of the divorce?  Where will you celebrate the holidays?  What about church, will I need to go to a different one, or even to a different denomination?  Will people at my old church still accept me as a divorced person?  Would they at a different church?  God remains faithful (although sometimes that can be hard to see), but even your relationship with God is now under strain and scrutiny.  You are no longer a husband or wife; now your identity is single parent and divorcee.  Some of the characteristics of who you are will remain core to your identity, but with new life directions, there are some things you may choose to leave behind and some new ones you may choose to adopt or develop.  How will you decide which to keep and which to leave aside?  So many choices.  So many changes. 

It takes time to create a new niche, to find the meaningful new identity and reassemble the shattered pieces of your life into the new structure for the future.  Sometimes it takes a lot of trial and error.  Sometimes there are foolish choices made during a time of emotional craziness or vulnerability, choices that can cost a lot.  For a period of time you may retain many elements of your old life, but over time you find that some of them simply no longer fit.  God may well be leading into new directions for your future.

Finding that new niche is perhaps one of the greatest challenges of divorce.  It takes time, because like the old niche, it will have to be built on discovery, experience and choices.  It reminds me of what I learned in archaeology about the buildings of ancient Israel.  Often, after a city was destroyed by war or fire, the time would come that people would resettle the area.  They would level the space, and build again by combining stones and other materials from the previous structures with new materials to form the new building.  In places where this happened time and again over the ages, the location would pile up into a mound, called a “tell.”  The new city was filled with new habitations, but was built on the remnants of the old buildings now gone. 

That seems to me to be an apt picture of rebuilding after divorce.  

There are things worth keeping and reusing. 

here are things that will be discarded.  

And there are new materials that must be added in order to create the new structures of your life.  

The result is a new home, a new life filled with new meanings, shaped by the past but designed in the process of building anew.  Just as they say Rome was not built in a day, neither will the new structure of your life.  Some of the materials of your old life now appear useless and may be discarded.  Some new ways are going to be necessary, and some of them will be a lot of fun, like a new adventure, while others may bring the sorrow and struggle that are necessary to build something new.  But there are some important pieces of who you are that have always been there, and have nothing to do with your former marriage and everything to do with who God created you to be.  Those precious character blocks that you and God have planted into your life can serve you well as guides for building the next niche for your life.  That niche may come in surprising ways, in the form of a new career, a new relationship, a new location, or a new kind of ministry and service to others.  It can work out into something very special.  After all, God is an expert at transforming things that awful, such as a cross, into something marvelous and new.

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