There’s a gradual uncoupling that occurs when a marriage comes to an end. Coworkers may notice the woman who begins more sentences with “I” than “We.” Invitations once accepted are now turned down. Churchgoers may notice that a previously coupled person now attends services alone. Chances are that by the time such things are noticed, life is already complicated and painful for those involved.

People think of the big issues when imagining how someone copes with being newly divorced: sleeping alone, loss of income, and for most people, co-parenting. Those are the “expected” pitfalls. Anticipating them doesn’t make it any easier to see the empty pillow, to budget for all the bills on a single income, or to navigate painful aspects of custody. But at least they rarely come as a surprise.

For me, it was the seemingly small things that undid me. Repairs that were once easily taken care of now required me to hire someone, which then triggered anxiety for my personal safety. Never having feared my neighborhood, I became frightened of every noise I heard and every person I saw. If someone rang the doorbell I went so far as to yell, “I’ll get it, (insert-any-male-name)” before opening the door, just to give the illusion that I wasn’t alone.

When I wasn’t timid and anxious, I was angry and vengeful. I came to cycle through those emotions many times in a day until I became completely mired in them. Weeks earlier, we had agreed to a trial separation, after which he left and I didn’t hear from him or know where he was for weeks. Those weeks would later turn into more than two years of living in limbo.

From Limbo to Lifeline

Making the phone call wasn’t hard. I knew that just about every aspect of my life had become unmanageable, so I made an appointment to see a therapist. During my first visit, I sobbed through every sentence I could get out. After 40 minutes, she sat forward and very gently said, “You know, I don’t often recommend this on the first visit,” and her voice got even quieter as she leaned in and said, “but I think maybe you could benefit from some medication.”

I instinctively did the first thing that had felt genuine in months. I burst out laughing. The entire scenario was so ridiculous I couldn’t fathom that it was my life. When I finally controlled my laughter, I said more snarkily than I had intended, “You think?”

“Fine, Thanks”

Outwardly, I was still pseudo coping. I went to work every day, saw family, attended church—although that might be where I felt most polarized.

The church doesn’t always know what to do with divorced people. (I have yet to be able to use the term divorcée, as my mind goes straight to nighttime dramas with big-haired women and sports-car-driving men.)

Oftentimes the church tries to pray away the messy truth of a separation or divorce. Chipper platitudes to keep the faith, while well-meaning, offer little help. Acknowledging that all marriages have their rough spots isn’t helpful to someone on the brink of divorce. By then, their rough spots have already abrasively scraped them to the bone.

The most common reaction—silence—offers even less in the way of support. We rationalize reasons for keeping our distance from the messy reality of connecting with someone in the middle of divorce. We don’t want to pry. We’re sure they don’t want to talk about it. It would probably be upsetting to them if we bring it up. They know we’re here if they need anything; after all, we told them to ask.

I believe most people avoid engaging in difficult conversations because it’s uncomfortable for them, not for fear of it being hard for the other person. Trust me, it’s already hard for the person going through divorce. Avoiding him or her under the guise of “giving space” only adds to feelings of isolation, guilt, and shame.

Faking It Without Making It

I didn’t help matters by feigning wellness week after week. Outwardly, it wasn’t easy to tell that I was in crisis, but that hour on Sunday morning proved to be among the most difficult of my week.

I knew I needed the body of Christ around me, but I still couldn’t interact with others, so I took to bailing as quickly as I could. The space between the sanctuary and the car became an emotional landmine: my friends, his friends, our friends, mostly coupled, many with kids. Conversations of lunch with the in-laws, or a family outing blended with the squeals of children who’d been shushed long enough.

Every time I maneuvered through the chattering crowd, I was conflicted. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to get away from all the people; I wanted to get away from all the people who were so connected that it felt impossible to enter in.

Week after week, I felt both completely invisible—and incredibly noticed—for the same reason:  I was alone.

I was fortunate to have the support of the women in my small group who prayed for me and held space for my needs, even when I could rarely articulate them. Mostly what I needed was a sense of normalcy where I could focus on God with the added safety net of people who cared about me and could speak truth into my life.

I never questioned God’s love for me, but I was so steeped in shame and embarrassment that I was pretty sure he was utterly disappointed in me. After all, I had failed at the very thing I had literally vowed never to give up on.

Left to my own broken devices, my prayer life devolved into fragments of little substance. In her book, Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, Anne Lamott writes, “Prayer is taking a chance that against all odds and past history, we are loved and chosen, and do not have to get it together before we show up.”

I finally stopped waiting to get my head straight and I began taking my highest truths to God—truths he already knew, but in telling him, I also had to acknowledge them myself. I felt hurt, and betrayed, and incredibly angry. It was too much to carry and I wanted to set it down, but I didn’t know how. Again, and again, I gave it to God, asking him to release me from my bitterness and help me to move on. I’d like to say that, like the phone call to the therapist, I remember exactly when I turned a corner, but the healing was gradual, imperceptible, and continues to this day.

Once Again, It’s Not About Me

It began with the simple—but in my stubbornness, difficult—practice of praying not for myself, but for my husband.

Matthew 5:44 became my mantra: “But here is what I tell you. Love your enemies. Pray for those who hurt you.”

I confess that at first, my prayers were not at all sincere and sometimes offered through gritted teeth. I didn’t want to forgive him; he hadn’t even asked for my forgiveness. I routinely told God that I thought his command was just ridiculous. In return, he accepted my petulance and loved me anyway.

It eventually became easier as I continued to pray peace, strength, favor, and wisdom for my now-former husband, as well as speaking all of God’s promises into his life. In time, God showed me that it is impossible to remain angry with someone for whom you pray life’s richest blessings and grace.

I’d like to say that I’m done, that forgiveness is checked off my to-do list. But I’m clearly ensconced in the seventy times seven camp. I must continue to pray blessings into the lives of those who hurt me, as it is the only way of preventing bitterness from again taking root in my heart.

Thankfully, God’s grace is far greater than I can comprehend, and the forgiveness he allowed to flow through me is but a fraction of the forgiveness he bestows upon his beloved, of which I am one.

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