Welcome to the first part of our series of “Single-Parent Impact.” If you’re familiar with the ministry of Sentinel for Christ we wanted to take some time this fall especially as the holidays approach to reach out as we know many we minister with are involved in the most difficult season of their lifetime as a result of a family breakup. But just because you may not have kids don’t fret, this series has been especially written neutral as we know regardless of the circumstance that brings any couple to the point of divorce it’s difficult, to say the least.
Let me introduce myself I’m Jim. I guess you could say I’m the voice behind Sentinel for Christ and I know firsthand the chaos that comes from the breakup of a family. I’ve had the privilege through the Sentinels over the past few years of ministering to numbers of men as well as women and I wanted to speak more personally than usual and hopefully encourage you whatever your “fire” may be. I’ve found whether you’re in the church are not, divorce is a particularly lonely journey and a messy business. Many of those around us, not knowing what to do or confused about a conflict of loyalties between us in our soon-to-be ex-spouse scatter. Divorce is truly a barren road and because of its severity it’s similar to any severe trauma. As it’s lonely because those on the outside often lack the experience or perspective of what it entails. Over the past 20 something years in mental health, ministry and counseling I’ve noticed it doesn’t matter how amicable you may think the breakup of your family was or is, the fact is it has life-long impact. That said, how that impact will play out has everything to do with the choices you will make and what you put your hope in. I chose by the way, in my own ordeal to put my hope in Christ.
So what does it mean to be in the fire?
If you’re in the fire undoubtedly you have just started or are about to enter the “public exposure”‘ of your personal and social unraveling which probably has been going on for some time. Most of us noticed there’s a very odd dual emotionality with divorce. On one hand you are truly glad the cats out of the bag because it’s been difficult most likely for years hanging on by your teeth. On the other hand, your keenly aware a new difficulty is emerging that involves a significant step into the unknown. I remember when my own marriage melted down driving down Highway 280 in California with the Eagles song “Already Gone” blaring at volume 10 on the stereo elated while at the same time tears pouring down my face. There may be a lot of anger between you and your soon to be former spouse and that anger might even be justified. You may be wondering “How in the world you’re going to face the holidays this year and all the family members with the “genie out of the bottle?” Perhaps your concerned some ugly personal secrets will be revealed at your expense by those who once were close friends, family and associates. If you’re anything like me you’ll probably take things personal, you will retaliate on some level, say things you wish you’d never said and yes even use your children occasionally as a sounding board for adult drama that their fragile minds were never intended to endure. The following is meant to minimize some of that pain.
“The fire” will probably include court room litigation and having both you and your spouse’s lives exposed and restructured by individuals who have no personal stake in your well-being. So before you march down to the courthouse convinced of the righteousness of your cause let me tell you from experience the only people who win in extended litigation in divorce and custody matters are the attorneys, the judges and magistrates, the expert consultants, and the family court system. The people who lose however will be you and your spouse, your children (if you have them), and everyone in your circle of life extending outward concentric circles from your closest friends and family members to coworkers and yes even high school acquaintances.
So here’s my first bit of advice… rethink the “righteousness of your cause.”
Listen… I get it. Some of you have a right to be very angry with the situation. I’ve heard some doozies! I’ve lived some doozies! My goal is to get you out of the fire so that you can get to the business of healing faster and by the way there’s no shortcut for it. You cannot deal with anger or resentment while perpetrating self-righteousness. It doesn’t work when your boss calls you to the mat when you mess up at work and it won’t won’t work if you try it in the most difficult seasons of your life. Bitterness has a self-defeating way about it making it difficult to make informed thoughtful decisions when the stakes are high. It also seems to be very good at producing impulsive decisions on top of one another for which we look back on and regret!
Now I know very well that we can’t just drop our emotionally charged state of mind overnight and begin making great decisions that protect the interest of everyone involved. So start small, particularly in regards to relating to your spouse or possible soon-to-be ex-spouse. Accept the reality that both of you are in pain, people wear pain differently, and neither of you planned to get a divorce at the time you got married, and no matter what “they” did my experience has shown the breakup of a marriage is never a singular event and one person does not bear total responsibility for what’s transpiring. Quite often, the one who is perceived to be the victim years later will realize their own complacency in confronting issues that were going bad which actually helped set the inevitable in motion. I know that’s tough to hear right now and perhaps you’re not ready to hear it but it’s the true, you are 100% of the time.
So don’t respond or react (men in particular) to the seemingly irrational emotion of your partner’s pain. You’ll find the wisest thing you can do in most circumstances when an argument is escalating is to let it go, that’s right in case you missed it… Let it go, walk away from this one. Try to refrain from the temptation of making a big deal about an inanimate object as a negotiating point in a property dispute. Things can always be replaced but your children’s mother, if you destroy her, who’s going to raise your children?
And you women don’t get frustrated by your partner’s seemingly emotional disconnect and apathy towards the chaos that’s befalling your children and your dreams. Yes, he might be moving on to the next relationship too fast. Men process pain in isolation. Let it go, don’t keep trying to punish him for the pain you’re experiencing. I’ve seen countless women in the process of divorce unnecessarily escalate the situation for a few minutes of satisfaction that “I made him pay.” Consider the proverb “a brother or sister offended is harder to win than a strong city, and contentions are like the bars of a castle” Proverbs 18:19.
Now here’s my second bit of advice… find a confidant
This might be the single most important thing you do. And by a confident I don’t mean everyone who will agree with your perspective you’ll get plenty of those from friends and family. I’m talking about someone with enough grace and common sense to give very little advice but a lot of time listening to you as your sounding board until some of the darkness starts lifting. By the way your attorney is not your confidant, your therapist may not even be your confidant as I found many therapists get emotionally wrapped up in the drama of their clients and are unable to give objective advice when you need it. And for heaven’s sake literally, don’t use the church membership as a sounding board for your personal problems and keep in mind non-seminary trained pastors have little too no experience in professional counseling. Even most seminary trained pastors have had only one course in pastoral counseling. If you feel like you really need a professional ear, secure a therapist that’s removed from your circle of friends and family.
For those of you who may not be associated with a local faith group or a church don’t use your coworkers unless you want to be the subject of discussion around the water cooler when your back is turned. Find a confidant. If you think your nerves are to the point where you need professional counseling, you’ll know it or the people close to you will let you know you need it.
So what does a confidant look like?
For both churched and non-churched people find someone who knows you well enough to understand your temperaments and personality quirks to know how you act. This is someone who knows you well enough that you appear “reasonably predictable” to them. Now it’s quite possible some of you have been in isolated marriages where your circle of potential confidants is very small. Obtain a professional counselor or therapist and if you absolutely can’t afford one try the links at the website which have a couple good resources. Stay away from anyone who’s life is messier than yours and avoid someone who’s recently gone through a divorce or breakup unless they come as part of an invitation to a support group of experienced individuals who have navigated the waters. Your confidant should have a life that resembles something you might like to pursue or someone you could learn from.
Stay away from the opposite sex as a confidant. This should be obvious. You run the risk as well as the other person of being the victim of an “emotional predator”.
Arrange a time to meet with your confidant and tell them specifically how you would like them to help. If it’s a simple as just being a sounding board and a friend in this difficult time specify that. If you don’t want their advice tell them you’re not looking for someone to give them advice. If you are open to receiving their advice let them know you would appreciate it if they see you heading into a potential trouble area and you want them to share it.
Have an idea of how often you might like to meet. Is it weekly? Every 2 weeks? Do you want them to respond to telephone calls spontaneously? Don’t put your confidant in the role of trying to read your mind. But if two weeks is gone by and you haven’t heard from them regardless of your parameters you probably chosen the wrong person.
Now if you’d let me for a moment share from a window in Jesus life (after all there’s a reason why we are called Sentinels for Christ!) I’d like you to consider the following. On the night that Jesus was arrested he took some time to go to one of his favorite places, a particularly beautiful garden he frequented (you would know this is the Garden of Gethsemane). Jesus knew what was facing him, the Bible tells us this. And in deep anguish he asked his 3 best friends to accompany him while he prayed, while he grieved, and while he suffered. He didn’t ask them for their advice he just wanted their company. Yes, even the Son of God experienced loneliness, despair and fear. So if Jesus was wise enough to seek companionship, what’s stopping you?
Now it wouldn’t do any good to give you a bunch of the advice without some resources to help you in here and now. Here are a couple resources that will help you:
The 1st resource is Divorce Care which is a Christian organization specifically designed to help those with little or no resources. They have support groups for themselves and cut children. It is a great repository of fellowship and tools that may help you navigate some of the difficult times ahead. You can find a local group by going to the main website and typing in your ZIP Code.
The 2nd resource is also a Christian organization called Celebrate Recovery. Celebrate Recovery uses a 12 step model but almost every one of them has a support group for those who are going through or have experienced divorce. You can access Celebrate Recovery and find a local group by typing in your ZIP Code here:
Over the next several weeks we will be continuing to discuss topics related to single parent impact including blended parenting, going it alone, and raising kids in a divided household and more. Keep on the lookout for our special podcast series as one of our Sentinels will share about the journey from isolation to hope and how to be an engaged in the lives of your children, even in the midst of difficult circumstances. One last share from one of my favorite Bible verses “God is near the brokenhearted and saves those crushed in spirit” Psalm 34:18
J.P Grier is a writer and developer at SentinelforChrist com – Sentinel-For-Christ is a network of Christian men helping each other to press deeper in Christ.