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The following was originally published on the blog, For Such a Time. It has been republished here with permission.
It can be easy to succumb to feelings of bitterness and despair following a divorce. In my opinion, I think it’s healthy to feel those feelings, process them, and release them. But also, in the delicate and trying process, I believe it’s equally healthy to put oneself on a trajectory moving forward. With these four gifts, I have been able to do just that.
My relationship with God is a gift.
One thing I was not prepared for post-divorce was the aching loneliness I experienced. Most surprisingly what hurt the most in my loneliness was when, inevitably, happy memories from my marriage came to mind. I could handle bad memories. I processed and disposed of those with tools I’d learned from my therapist and others. But happy memories left me sad and confused. I wondered, were those times even real? They seemed genuine at the time. Were they all a joke or a waste? What should I do with those memories? Deny they ever existed?
Then, it came to me: The Triangle Theory. I don’t know if this is the generally-accepted term for it, but it’s that theory I learned in a marriage prep class that a marriage is a triangle with three points representing God, yourself, and your spouse. I realized that if this triangle theory is correct, then a happy memory was not just between me and my ex-husband; God was there too.
Strange though it may sound, this thought gave me incredible comfort. If a happy memory popped up, I could talk it over with God. He was there too! He knew how much it meant to me! Together, we could then let it go. Instead of feeling like those parts of my life were somehow wasted or a lie, I acknowledged them as pieces of my journey that God was witness to. By using this mind exercise, the memories had no power to make me feel lonely, sad, or confused.
I also spent a lot of time conversing with God, and not just in formal prayers. I used the time before falling asleep, when I used to talk to my then-husband, to talk to God. I talked to him about my job, my worries, and my fears. I felt He was listening, and most importantly, that He cared. Sometimes, I felt calming reassurances, and I knew I was loved. It reminded me of something a loved one once told me. She was sick with a terminal illness, and she knew no one wanted to listen to her complain late into the night about her physical pains, so she talked to her Heavenly Father. He did not shame her for being weary of the pain and talking to Him about it. She knew He listened and cared. While I do believe it’s important to share feelings and experiences with others (as I later mention), nothing can substitute conversing with our Heavenly Father.
The gift of empathy
As I was initially going through the process of divorce, I felt a lot of judgment, negativity, and overall ickiness. Empathy helped me not let these swirling forces bring me down. Empathy came in a couple different ways.
First, it came with my relationship with Christ. I believe that Christ is the master healer partly because he has perfect empathy for us in every situation and every emotion we ever experience. He knows exactly how we feel, and He knows how our minds and emotions work because He helped create us. Who better to heal our troubled minds and to take our sorrows than our Creator? From my Savior, I felt understanding and love with such power to overcome all the negative influences. I knew He walked with me.
The second source of empathy was my women’s 12-step group. This group changed my life, and I don’t say that lightly. Being in a group of women who were going through the same things I was and hearing their stories was empowering. There is something about camaraderie that heals aching and lonely souls. I remember the first time I shared in the group, I was literally shaking, but the women were compassionate and understanding. As I worked through the steps and met with the group each week, I learned amazing things from them and the program. They helped me learn to surrender to God, to move past blaming and shaming to a place of personal responsibility, and to trust God again.
The gift of peace
I read a quote with the idea that even though someone may be surrounded by a raging storm, she can experience peace. I realized that peace for me is the Spirit, and it’s one of the greatest gifts I have known.
I once attended a religious ceremony of another faith. One of the prayers simply said, “Come, Holy Spirit.” That prayer stuck in my mind, and since that time, I have recited it on many occasions. I know it works, if I believe that it will. I remember a specific time when I received an email which made my heart pound and my mind race, and I could feel the anger rising. I remembered this prayer and said it quietly in my head. I asked for His Spirit, reminding myself that it was a gift promised to me, and that it would come. I asked for His help to be calm, to not let emotions overcome me, and to know how to respond. I acknowledged that I needed his help to feel peace; I couldn’t do it alone. The peace came. I have used this gift many times when I’ve been scared, angry, frustrated, or sad. Peace is a gift. It has saved me from doing something I’d regret and from wasting my energy on negative thoughts or feelings. Knowing that this gift is mine and available to me has been incredibly healing.
The gift of life
The fourth gift is life. For me there are two parts to this gift. First, it means being deliberate in bringing things into my life that uplift and inspire me. This includes reading books, listening to music, taking a walk, writing poetry – whatever helps me feel like I’m learning, active, and alive! I cannot simply be passive and let things be brought into my world. I have to purposely seek out what to have in my life.
Second, I think it’s also being grateful for the gift of life. Some days I would struggle so hard and just remind myself, “I’m alive. I’m still going. I’m so grateful for that!” Then through that lens, little things suddenly had more meaning and purpose. A letter from a friend on a mission was an answer to prayer. Being outdoors was invigorating. Finding a job I liked was a miracle.
There was a time when I was still married that I didn’t view my life as a gift. I was at a terrible low. A few years later, after my divorce and much healing had taken place, I sat inside a temple witnessing its dedication with people I loved. It was a serene and blessed moment that a few years prior, I never would have imagined happening. An overwhelming feeling of gratitude and awe came over me as I thought of how far I had spiritually traveled and how grateful I was to be in the temple at that moment. I thanked God for His gift of life.
I feel it’s important to mention that in my experience, these gifts can only have healing properties if they are viewed as gifts. With acknowledgment comes healing power. There are many gifts I didn’t even mention, and I feel it’s important to recognize those too as gifts from God. James 1:17 reads, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights.” When people say to me things like, “You deserve to [find a good guy/ go on a vacation/ buy that thing/ etc.],” it makes me feel uncomfortable. I don’t like the idea of “deserving” something. Instead, I find greater comfort in recognizing every good thing in my life – my family, my friends, my health, even when something goes right at work – as gifts from God. I am certainly not perfect at this, not even close. But when I do check myself and acknowledge these things as gifts, I feel so much more at peace.
I should also mention that healing is not a destination. I have yet to wake up one morning and say, “I’m healed!” Rather, I feel like healing is a journey with God and my Savior. These gifts help me feel more whole, not instantaneously and permanently, but better with effort, day by day.