The Kate Kelly media frenzy has abated since her excommunication, but while the memories are fresh I want to make a comparison. I believe that the temptations faced by persons who “divorce” themselves from the Church and any person who is divorced from a spouse are similar.
The most surprising thing to me in the whole Kate Kelly scenario were her words, “I havent done anything wrong.” She intimated that she wouldnt be seeking rebaptism anytime soon because she had nothing to repent of and no desire to make any changes. The white hat/black hat analogy I used in my last article about marriage fits both what Kate was doing and the subject of this article: what any person is inclined to do when divorce occurs. Kate grabbed the while hat. She said, in effect, “Im the good guy and Ive been wronged. Im the one wearing the white hat. All the blame for the problem should rightly be placed with the Church and the Church leaders who wont listen to me. They are the bad guys wearing the black hat.” With this stance she created polarization: a division between those who chose to be on her “side” and those who didnt.
Divorce and the Black Hat
Divorce typifies the white hat/black hat scenario. Ironically, no matter what the divorce situation, both spouses are tempted to see themselves as the wearer of the white hat. Each one is likely to find many reasons to assign the black hat to the other person. When Jim and Eleanor (not their real names) divorced, each gathered supporters who agreed with his or her assessment that the other person was totally to blame for the failure of the marriage. Such an assessment is never fair or accurate. Jim and Eleanor created great polarization among their friends, family, extended families, and even ward family as they insisted that people “take sides” with one or the other of them. Nobody won, and the children felt torn between the parents, always feeling they were betraying one or the other just by loving both parents.
Is it possible to avoid this “black hat” tendency? Is it ever realistic to say “Ive done nothing wrong; I have nothing to repent of; the fault is all in the other guy?” When we assign every bit of the fault to the other party in a divorce and refuse to see our own part in it, we are, in affect, apostatizing from the truth. (If you have a former spouse who betrayed or abused you or totally left the light of the gospel to choose an evil lifestyle, Im not in any way suggesting that you share the blame for those choices. Please stick with me and see if some of the principles Im suggesting cannot help even you.)
When I divorced more than 26 years ago, it was easy for me to see my spouses part in the problems, but hard for me to recognize my own part. Unfortunately, this tendency is the norm in divorce situations. Ive observed that even those who havent laid claim to the white hat previously, as I always had, may grab it when divorce occurs. The very nature of divorce seems to require gathering negative data about the other and suppressing positive. How else can the extreme decision of divorce seem “justified” in the mind of either spouse? The spiritual dangers of such a scenario abound. I would like to address only one of them in this article.
Choice and Consequences?
My divorce is ancient history, but in retrospect I can say that the most serious dilemma in regard to my divorce was spiritual. I believed I had paid the price and not gotten the rewards. I was crushed by my divorce partly because I was incredulous–how could this be happening to me–the good guy, the one who always tried to do what was right? When you do what is right, you are supposed to end up happy, right? I had tried my very best, but in the end my best wasnt good enough. Was I flawed in some unfixable way, or didnt the “reap what you sow” law really work? I determined for a time that there was no connection between effort and result because I had worn myself to a frazzle doing what I thought were all the “right” things, and what did it get me?
Peace came only when I let go of the “Ive done nothing wrong; it has to be his fault” position. I learned that one of the most damaging patterns of divorce is pointing the finger of blame. As long as I was determined to make him “wrong” I was unable to see my own faults or find any resolution spiritually. Since I couldnt repent of his sins or weaknesses, how could I make sense of what was happening or make anything better? My dilemma was increased because we both retained our temple recommends and stayed fully active in the Church. There was no easy explanation for our failure, and it was hard for each of us to find data to make the other the “bad guy.” But we still seemed to succeed at it in our own minds. On my part I could think of so many things I thought he should have been doing and did not do (most of which I was doing, or if not would have been willing to do if he had just cooperated!)
The Light Begins to Dawn
I was “seeing through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). I only began to see the light as I turned to the Lord with greater intensity and became more aware of my own weaknesses instead of focusing on his. (Ether 12:27) I found my need for the Savior–every hour–so much greater than I had suspected. Many sisters have told me of “ah hah! experiences” similar to mine. Let me share one with you.
One very religious woman confided in me that when she felt devastated to find herself on the brink of divorce, she prayed with all her heart for understanding.
She asked the Lord repeatedly, “What did I do to deserve this? Wasnt I the one trying to set a good example for the children, keeping all the commandments? Wasnt I the one going to the temple, reading my scriptures, never missing a meeting? Wasnt I the one willing to have Family Home Evening and family scripture study and family prayer? [Sounds a lot like the prayer of the Pharisee telling the Lord all his virtues, doesnt it?]
The Lords reply to her was simply: “Werent you the one judging your husband?”
The second verse of the hymn, “Lord, I would follow Thee” p. 220, came to her mind, “Who am I to judge another When I walk imperfectly? In the quiet heart is hidden Sorrow that the eye cant see. Who am I to judge another? Lord, I would follow thee.”
Little by little she began realizing that she had contributed to the problems by her self-righteous, judgmental attitude. Her heart was softened, and she was able to let go of her accusations and begin working to strengthen herself spiritually.
Relinquish the White Hat but Dont Grab the Black One
Taking a share of the responsibility for the outcome doesnt mean blaming ourselves for someone elses choices. Im not suggesting that we grab the black hat and think that everything would have been fine if we had only been more perfect. Remember, it is the codependent who says, “Its all my fault.” The humble follower of Christ says, “Lord, help me see what part is mine, what part is theirs.”
Another friend was reminded by the Lord through heart-felt prayers that she was accountable only for her own choices. She said, “When the Lord sits down with me at the judgment seat He is not going to say, ‘Did you do all you could to improve your husbands choices? No, He will ask me about my own choices.” From then on she was able to focus more on what she could control–improving her own spirituality so she could feel the Lords healing love.
The Relief of Sorting it All Out
Where did these conclusions about my own accountability leave me? With something definable to repent of. I am not a victim. I am where I am because of every choice I have made in the past. I chose to marry who I married. I either contributed to or allowed everything that went on in my marriage, even if I wasnt conscious of those choices at the time. The sum of those choices could take me nowhere else than where I am today. I can repent of the choices that were based on ignorance or pride and make better choices in the future. I dont have to stay stuck in self-contempt and disappointment. Appropriate guilt is like a smoke alarm that awakens me to danger so I can do what needs to be done. The alarm is not meant to go on and on and drown out all of lifes joys. It is the Lords desire that I turn and live–not that I endlessly suffer.
I have had my faith restored in definable connections between choice and consequences, effort and outcome. I suffered the combined consequences of my husbands less-than-perfect choices along with the consequences of my own less-than perfect choices, not some random fate. Ive recognized that I personally was buying into the checklist mentality and of thinking I could earn my way to the ideal, big-time. In my previous life I subconsciously believed that enough righteous striving could and should motivate everyone in our home to celestial-type living every moment and earn me the position of unruffled peace and joy in the ideal family right now. I recognize that much of what I wanted and still want is only available in the world to come when Satan is no longer allowed to create the opposition that makes choice meaningful here. It is frightening to think about the fact that it was Satans plan, not Gods to keep everyone making all the right choices all the time here in mortality.
I was really believing that I could escape much of the Lords law of opposition by good intent and righteous outward choices. I wasnt aware of the extent of my own inward self-righteousness and weakness, or how many “false traditions of the fathers” I was living by. I didnt recognize my total dependence on the Lords love and grace and mercy. I wasnt sufficiently aware of my own need to rely on His guiding light every moment. I am getting much closer to that awareness now!
Recognizing the Spiritual Dangers of Self-Righteousness
Any time we lack humility and clear vision of our own weakness and take anything remotely from the position of, “Ive done nothing wrong, I have nothing to repent of,” we are in effect apostatizing from the Spirit of truth. For, “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) We are all sinners, we are all in need of daily repentance, and the only sins we can repent of are our own!
We need to become more aware, too of selective memory that can lead us to bear false witness, a sin that Ive felt the sting of! Over the years the Spirit has taught me to be more and more careful of what I say about my former spouse. I have had the sobering experience of going back in journals that document actual happenings during my first marriage and finding in my own handwriting an entry that made me guilty of bearing false witness. For instance, I might have said, “He never supported me in having Family Home Evening.” Then I read in black and white where I wrote of times when he did. It is so easy to have selective memory when we are intent on making the other person the “bad guy,” and the Spirit will not support us in such an intent simply because it is not based on light and truth.
Any time we think we are better than the other person and that we dont need the Atonement nearly as much as they do we are divorcing ourselves from the mercy and grace of Christ. James Farrell, in his book Falling to Heaven gives the marvelous analogy that regardless of the size or number of holes (sins) in our individual lifeboats, “the terrible truth is that each of us is sinking . . . . This means that each of us needs the Savior as much as anyone else does.” (Chapter 7, p 48-49. I highly recommend a careful study of this book, currently being serialized on Meridian.) Brother Farrell explains so well that without the saving power of Christ, we are all lost, which means we are equally in need of Him. This truth rescues us from two debilitating temptations: thinking ourselves “better than” or “less than” anyone else. Either position is nothing more than a ploy by Satan to keep us from focusing on our own equally great need for the atoning power of the Savior of the world.
But what if we truly are the “innocent party” in a divorcethe one who is betrayed and abandoned by someone intent on leaving behind the good and virtuous principle we cherish? The principle still applies! Any time we are intent on keeping our focus on the sins of the other person and refuse to forgive, the greater sin lies with us: “Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.” (D&C 64:9)
How could that be? The reason is clear: the true and carefully marked path of leaving all judgment to the Lord and focusing on our own need for Him is the only path to freedom, peace, and happiness. Not forgiving even the most grievous sin could be the “greater sin” for me because it could distance me from God, result in me living in anger and bitterness, feeling justified for withholding love. That stance causes me to lose the Spirit, and makes it impossible for the Savior to forgive my own sins. Brother Farrell refers to the Apostle James words to further validate this concept: “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” His analogy of the lifeboats makes it clear that one “small” sin, un-confessed and un-repented of, can sink our boat just as surely as a hundred “big” ones. That principle seems especially clear if that one “small” sin is un-forgiveness.
James Farrell said, “”To forgive someone sounds like such a gallant acta favor dispensed upon another despite his or her despicable mistreatment or thoughtlessness.” However, he explains that “”when I as the harmed party respond to this request [to forgive] by giving up my resentment and my grudge, what I am doing is repentingrepenting of my failing to love. Forgiveness is simply the word we use to describe this kind of repentance.” (See Chapter 16 “Withholding Forgiveness” of Falling into Heaven. Quote is from page 118.)
Gift or Punishment: I Choose
In my idealistic youth I only wanted the happy, lovely side of life and thought I could get it by making good choices. I had to learn that mortality is to teach us about opposites–pleasure and pain, light and darkness, health and sickness. I cant have knowledge if I only know the one side. Gods plan is perfect, and Gods plan includes opposition. In aligning myself with the Savior in the pre-existence, I chose to grow; I chose to go through the trials and tribulations of mortality in order to have the opportunity to become more like God.
So is my divorce a punishment for my ignorant choices, or a gift of growth? I choose. “All things work together for good to them that love God” (Romans 8:28). I love Him, so I can choose to look for the gifts.
I am like a woman standing in a fertile field I have planted and sown. Under the obvious layers of dirt are nutrients needed to make good seeds grow. Those seeds represent limitless possibilities. There are so many things I can grow and I have only just begun.
Counselor Ed McCormack suggested that my life after divorce has been full of paradox and irony. It reminded him of Neal Maxwell’s remark that “Irony is the crust on the bread of adversity.” It is an irony and a paradox that divorce and the trials Ive experienced since have inspired my deepest spiritual yearnings, and so the whole of my experience has the potential of having a saving influence upon me.
Brother McCormack said, “Only the members of the Godhead are deep enough and wise enough to account for all these things. In the beginning, when all of this was foreknown to them, they did make a necessary and sufficient provision, which was, ‘We will provide a Savior for them, as we counseled in the beginning. So, though all is not yet finished, ‘All is well.”
Feeling the Saviors Love
All these years after my divorce how could I summarize what I have learned and continue to learn? Purpose in pain, trust in the Lord no matter what, the reality of the Atonement and the Lords love for us, the necessity of constant soul-searching and repentance, compassion and empathy for the pain of every other human being.
Would I give up all Ive learned if I could have the “intact family” instead? No. I wish I could have learned all these things an easier way, but they are the most valuable lessons of my life. My heart is full of gratitude for the hard times and for the lessons that have brought me to want bare-headed humility instead of hat wearing. God lives. The Saviors love is magnificently strong and His ability to reach and heal our hearts is beyond human comprehension.
Author note: Do you know someone whose life has been impacted by the suicide of a loved one? The common pattern is to avoid the subject and avoid processing the grief, but there is a better way. Help them find “the peace that surpasses understanding” by pointing them to one of the following: If they are LDS, direct them to After My Sons Suicide: An LDS Mother Finds Comfort in Christ and Faith to Go On. If they are not LDS, direct them to: Finding Hope while Grieving Suicide: Opening Your Heart to the Healing Only God Can Give. For more information go to my website: darlaisackson.com.