When Life Gets Messy

How to cope with the storm of divorce
When Life Gets Messy

By age 35, my life was looking pretty good. I had been married for more than a decade to a man who checked all the “right” boxes. I had a top notch education, a job I enjoyed, a church home, and two precious children. It looked like a life to be proud of, and I was proud.

Right up until the day my marriage fell apart and I realized I had been living in a lie.

Just like that, so much changed. My first thought was to try to save my marriage, but when it became clear that reconciliation wasn’t possible, my focus shifted to the kids. I fought hard to protect and stabilize and love them fully, despite the waves of sadness, betrayal, and shame threatening to overtake me. There was a part of me that wanted very much to hide—to close the door, wrap my sweet children in my arms, and shut the rest of the world out.

Practically speaking, though, I didn’t have that option. Although the world felt broken, it didn’t actually stop moving. I had kids to feed and obligations to fulfill and a life to live. So I kept going to work. I kept going to church. I leaned heavily on good friends and family, and I was deeply, desperately dependent on God.

Experiencing adversity is not a sign of admonition or failure; it is a fact of life that happens to everyone.

Through it all I saw and felt firsthand that there is no pain and no trouble in life that God cannot redeem for his good.

Learning to Let Go

Actually signing and filing a divorce petition was one of the more surreal experiences of my life. It was absolutely not a part of my life plan. Slowly, shakily, I recalibrated my thinking and my expectations. I’d always been a hard worker who tried to do the right thing, and I’d been successful in lots of ways that tended to garner the approval and admiration of others. Frankly, I liked that. Now there I was on the other side, experiencing this dramatic and conspicuous failure.

I realized quickly that with so much to worry about, there were some things I would have to let go of, like other people’s approval. In order to keep putting one foot ahead of the other, I couldn’t afford to care about what people thought about me, or my marriage, or my career decisions. I focused instead on making my heart right with God and on providing for my children.

Leaning into the Blessing of Friendship

Not long after my divorce was final, my job took me from Tulsa, Oklahoma, to Dallas, Texas. I was grateful for the fresh start, but also very, very lonely. I knew some people in town, but they were mostly male friends I’d met through work or in business school. They weren’t the kind of friends I needed. I had found a good church, but as a professional woman, I sometimes felt like I wasn’t really seen or understood by the church community, and I wasn’t connecting with many of the women I met there. Officially, my workplace was family and faith friendly, but that didn’t always make it comfortable to be a single mom and a conservative Christian. There were so many areas of my life where I felt isolated; I needed badly to be known. I needed deep, raw, no-holds-barred, no-judgment-offered communion with some prayerful women who actually got me and where I was coming from, and I needed it fast.

Gradually, God brought the right women into my life in ways I never could have accomplished alone. First, there was Savannah, then Sue, Brenda, and Claire. We were all professional women, all Christians, and all experiencing motherhood and marriage or divorce (or both). God had brought us all together, but for our friendship to work, we each had to choose to trust in God’s provision. That meant pushing past those first awkward encounters and deciding to let down our guards and be vulnerable. We were all desperate, in our own way; and out of that desperation, a vibrant, faithful, life-sustaining friendship bloomed.

Learning to set boundaries and steward your resources will serve you well, but you’ll have to get very comfortable with the word no.

Practicing Saying No

I don’t mind admitting I’m glad I raised my children before the age of Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, and the like. All those communication tools can be useful and fun, but they’re also full of something that can be any woman’s undoing; something I think of as “the more.” No matter how much you have on your plate, there is always more you could be doing or buying or learning or praying for to improve your life, your kids, your career, your relationships, your community—the list goes on and on. The more represents everything you’re not doing. It’s all the networking events you don’t make it to, all the worthy fundraisers you sit out, all the adorable animal-shaped sandwiches you are not making for your children, all of the “top 10” Bible verses you don’t have memorized yet.

Learning to set boundaries and steward your resources will serve you well, but you’ll have to get very comfortable with the word no. Sometimes no will come easily, and sometimes it won’t. I never had any desire (or the necessary gifting!) to be a “room mom” in my kids’ classrooms, but I do genuinely enjoy cooking, and sometimes it hurt to have to say no and not help out with a potluck or a bake sale.

Because I love hard work and new challenges, I’m a natural-born over-committer, but for a time after my divorce, I said no to pretty much everything. I was in survival mode, and that meant God, family, work, and very little else. In that time I learned to pay close attention to what my gifts and priorities really were and to value the opportunity to slow down and truly focus on doing a few things well. Doing less is not as exciting, but it’s also more fulfilling. Once you get a taste of it, you won’t want to go back.

I saw and felt firsthand that there is no pain and no trouble in life that God cannot redeem for his good.

Incidentally, for a long time after my divorce, I also said no to quite a few dates. I didn’t know at that time whether God would ever lead me toward marriage again, but I knew I was broken and only God could make me whole. I took several years to focus fully on my relationship with him and on becoming the woman God made me to be, trusting he would move my heart if and when it was time. When God did bring my current husband Chris and me together, I was ready and able to move freely into a new relationship and to experience and appreciate what I now think of as “real” marriage: imperfect, and sometimes challenging, but joyful, sharpening, and affirming.

Understanding God’s Power and His Promise

I don’t wish the hurt I experienced in my first marriage on anyone. But I can’t regret it either because today the pain is so completely outweighed by the joy, love, and unspeakable blessings that have come from experiencing God’s redemptive power so clearly. Every person goes through a storm in his or her life, some very big and some small. Experiencing adversity is not a sign of admonition or failure; it is a fact of life that happens to everyone. Learning how to handle it—how to stay poised, focus on God, and weather the storm—is critical to proving to yourself your trust in God and to growing fully into the person he intends you to be.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

Diane Paddison

Diane Paddison is a business professional and founder of 4wordwomen.org, local groups of professional working women committed to faith, family, work, and each other.

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