Author note: Almost a decade ago I wrote this article about the struggle I went through after my divorce when I was trying to hang onto my hope that I was not cast off, though I felt adrift from all the “forever family” ideals I had grown up with. This subject is worthy of revisiting. In fact, I plan to write more articles aimed at those whose hearts have been shattered by divorce. We as a group need to reach out to each other with comfort, support and reassurance that eternal spiritual goals are still within our reach.
I approach the subject of divorce with great trepidation. Nothing has caused me greater distress, yet given me so many opportunities to learn and grow. Those of us who consider ourselves faithful members of the Church, yet have been divorced, face conflicts and emotional issues that I could never have imagined in my early life. Each divorce is unique in its causes and complications. No one can know what another person has been through or judge whether his or her divorce was “justified.” Although our paths to divorce may be individual and varied, we have one thing in common–emotional pain. Too often, because the pain is so great, we keep our feelings carefully hidden behind stout walls, and consequently cut ourselves off from the loving support and encouragement we could otherwise offer each other. I speak out now not to defend my own divorce but in an effort to break down those walls, reach out, and keep my baptismal covenant to mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort.
I was the Primary chorister when my first husband and I finally called it quits. The Sunday after the breakup of our 22-year temple marriage, I invited the Primary children to suggest favorite songs they would like to sing. My youngest son, ten at the time, raised his hand first. Without the slightest recognition of what he was doing to me, he requested “Families Can Be Together Forever.” This innocent child didn’t have a mean bone in his body; he simply loved that song. The implications of daddy leaving hadn’t even begun to register with him. Perhaps they hadn’t with me either because I made it through the song.
Earlier in the week after his daddy left, I found myself trembling because of the momentousness of what was happening. I numbly walked from room to room noting the absence of the things we had agreed he would take. I didn’t expect the feeling that swept over me as I completed my tour–absolute peace, the first I’d experienced in years. I sobbed with relief. It was a good thing I received that validation of the necessity of the decision, because the next few years brought one faith-testing challenge after another. And I was always second-guessing myself.
From my perception, this had been the main scenario of our marriage: me trying to get my husband to think and be more like me, and him trying to get me to think and be more like him. The status quo became unbearable yet neither of us could see any possibility of changing it. We had already tried everything we knew, and since neither of us had left the Church or been unfaithful, it seemed an unsolvable problem to figure out why we couldn’t make anything work between us. I came to the conclusion that we had nothing to lose by divorcing except the misery of being together. I could never have calculated the enormous loss I would feel of even the vaguest possibility of creating the “forever family.” That goal had been engraved on my heart; where could I turn once it was gone? Even if the “forever family” I had hung onto for so long had been a facade, how could I now reconcile my dearest dreams, my best and highest goals?
The hardest thing of all was the self-doubt my divorce created. Had I completely blown it? Was I now on the outside looking in–not just on a couples’ world or a family church, but on exaltation, celestial marriage, eternal families–all the doctrines that had become my ultimate goals? A sense of irrevocable failure hung over me. After all, “No success can compensate for failure in the home.” I spent many tearful hours on my knees, with the scriptures, or walking alone in early morning hours before the children were awake.
My Misplaced Focus
Years ago I had read the book The Divine Center by Stephen R. Covey. The author makes a strong case for the doctrine of Christ-centeredness. He clarifies that the commandment to “have no other Gods before me” includes anything we put before Him–including church and family. I thought I had accepted that truth, yet in retrospect, I see that with each passing decade I had pushed the “successful family” up the ladder of importance until in my mind it was THE most important thing. The more unreachable it became, the more important it became in my mind to attain it. That seemed unfair, because I couldn’t control it, couldn’t “make it happen.” Ironically, my inflated allegiance to the “forever family” played into Satan’s plan to get me to put myself down, to want to give up on myself. My deep discouragement with myself had its very foundation on my perceived failure in the family area. Even before the divorce I suspected I wasn’t good enough to live the high and lofty “family parts” of the gospel necessary for exaltation in the celestial kingdom.
Growing A New Perspective
When I remarried, I thought it was with maturity and seasoned expectations. However, I still was looking for “happy ever after” and had plenty to learn. I began to recognize how difficult a task we had accepted. Even though we were experiencing a lot of love and growth as a couple, the pieces of our two families were anything but “blended.” In my new ward my first calling was ward organist. During one fast and testimony meeting I was sitting behind the organ where I had a pretty good view of many families in the ward, but wasn’t conspicuous myself. As the meeting progressed I found myself looking at those seemingly perfect little families and getting into the mode of “Why couldn’t I have had that? What is wrong with me? Am I basically flawed or what?”
I found myself stuck–again–in the thought that if the eternal family is what matters most, then I had already failed at what matters most, and I might as well just give up. Shocked at that conclusion, I quickly realized where such thoughts must be coming from–certainly not from the Holy Ghost! I made a conscious decision to “change stations” and prayed with all my heart for the Lord to help me tune into His wavelength. The message I received then was hope and love. Tears streamed down my face as I felt the Lord’s assurance that I was still one of his priceless children, that he knew me and loved me, that all was not lost.
I began to regain my spiritual sanity as I recognized that I am in control of the one thing more primary, more important than family–my relationship with God and Christ.
As Brother Covey so beautifully taught, they must be the primary source of my security and support, not the family, and it is to God and Christ I owe my primary allegiance.
Yet in a matter of days or weeks or months, especially as I began to recognize more fully how many of my marriage problems I had contributed to (sometimes because I was re-creating them in my new marriage), the pain would resurface and I would go through the pleading process once more. I tried to reason myself out of my spiritual pain. If King Lamoni and many others in the Book of Mormon could be forgiven of multiple murders committed in ignorance, couldn’t I trust the mercy of the Lord that I could be forgiven of not knowing how to make a marriage work because of my foolishness and ignorance? Would a loving God damn me forever from my righteous desires when I was completely willing to repent? Could divorce be unforgivable? Was I really more powerful to mess up than Christ was to redeem?
I sometimes felt my house was “built upon the sand” because my deepest feelings of spiritual well-being could so easily be swept away when the storms of present difficulties pounded me. Some of the waves that swamped me were: a child making choices that broke my heart, challenges in my new marriage that felt insurmountable, seeing clearly my own sins and weaknesses, and always, always, comparing my situation to others who seemed to have the marriage, the family I had wanted. I find that only a daily commitment to “come unto Christ” keeps me building on The Rock. And every time I turn the eyes of my soul away from the waves and the storm and toward the Savior and His words, I hear “Peace Be Still.”
I Am Not Excluded from Christ’s Invitations
Time and time again when I need it most I have received comfort and affirmation that the Lord is mindful of me, that I am not cast off or condemned. Whenever I draw near to God, His voice, through the Spirit, is always encouraging, always validating. He never puts me down or tells me I’m not good enough. He always calls me to higher ground and assures me of His help for the climb. Through the scriptures he invites me to keep following Him, keep coming to Him, tells me I will not be left out. In one of my morning study times, 2 Nephi 26 reminded me that I could not exclude myself from Christ’s merciful invitations.
Verse: 24 “He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation.
Verse 25 Behold, doth he cry unto any saying: Depart from me? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; but he saith: Come unto me all ye ends of the earth . . .
There is no way He could be saying to me, “depart from me” because you couldn’t make your marriage work. I am certainly part of “all ye ends of the earth” that he was talking to.
I was so interested to note that in this chapter the Lord seemed to know how stubborn some of us would be in our tendency to exclude ourselves. Count how many time he notes that no-one is excluded from his invitation.
Verse 27: Hath he commanded any that they should not partake of his salvation? Behold, I saw unto you, Nay; but he hath given it free for all men; and he hath commanded his people that hey should persuade all men to repentance.
Verse 28 Behold, hath the Lord commanded any that they should not partake of his goodness? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but all men are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden.
Verse 33 He inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.”
I am not excluded. You are not excluded. We can all come to Christ and be healed of the sorrow of our past. I am like a starving child who must feast on the words of Christ daily for the spiritual nourishment I need to heal and continue trying. I rejoice in the promise of Alma 34:16 “And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety.”
Children of Christ
Another day, studying the scriptures, I came across a familiar verse that suddenly had new meaning. Mosiah 5:7 “And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters, for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you, for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.”
Slowly, silently, the Spirit confirmed a truth that had been growing in my heart: the family that mattered most was the eternal family of God. My place in that family could only be assured by my own repentance and acceptance of Christ and his atonement, by my own righteous desires and choices and ultimate ability to listen to the Spirit. Every Sunday when I take the Sacrament I covenant to take His name upon me–that means I agree to be part of His family! And I can choose to never be divorced from Him! If I am born again and can be called a child of Christ, I am truly his daughter eternally and I will be with any and all of those I love who also meet this criteria.
Christ is the Only Way
After years of pondering and praying and studying the Book of Mormon in regard to this whole issue, Colleen Harrison (who has also experienced divorce) wrote, “Christ is the only name, the only way to salvation. Let no one say he or she can’t return to God unless he or she has a successful family. A family is not a prerequisite to finding a living, loving, supportive relationships with God. God, however, is a prerequisite to having a true (truth-based) family unit.” In Mosiah 3:17 we read, “there shall be no other name given nor any other way not means whereby salvation can come unto the children men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.”
I know now that I can choose to repent and be healed emotionally and spiritually regardless of what any other person in my family chooses. The only condition is that I trust God and turn to Christ with full purpose of heart. My recovery, my spiritual quest, my efforts to be born again of the Spirit are not dependent on other people; they are dependent on my relationship with God. Yes, I am mindful of D&C 131:2-4 that tells me the new and everlasting covenant of marriage is required for the highest degree of the celestial kingdom.
I am totally aware of the importance of keeping that covenant. And I fully believe that a loving God has made provision for all those who truly come to Him to attain that state eventually. His unchanging love reassures me that there is a way, even yet, for me to learn and live the principles by which such covenants are made and kept. His love is the one thing I count on most.
Choosing the Divine Center
I have learned that any family “falling apart” is only temporary, because all who choose Christ will be restored into a family circle as sons and daughters of Christ along with all others who choose the same “center.”
Stephen R. Covey said, “It is not that Christ is just another center or object of worship. Rather it is that we view each life activity or space through the lens of this divine center and release the fulness of God’s powers and gifts into every one of these compartments of life in such a way that they are integrated, harmonized, and balanced. Then, literally, all things work together for our good.” (The Divine Center, p. 125)
As long as I make Christ my center I can claim the scriptural promise that all things will work together for my good–even my divorce. Christ IS the way, the truth and life, and I believe His first priority is saving souls, that saving marriages comes second. As I make him the center of my existence, I am brought out of the darkness into the light. He wipes away my tears and reminds me I have not lost my place as his child, or my possibilities to be part of His forever family. I do not doubt that President McKay’s well-known declaration “No success can compensate for failure in the home” was truly inspired, but I’ve changed my definition of “failure.” I now believe it means “No success can compensate for failure to come to Christ, truly love, forgive, and learn the spiritual lessons that are there for us in the home.” Success in my home is not an unreachable, impossible goal. Every day I “look to Christ and live” I truly succeed.
Note: To learn more about Darla and her books, Trust God No Matter What! and After My Son’s Suicide: An LDS Mother Finds Comfort in Christ and Strength to Go On, visit her website: darlaisackson.com