I have run from writing this blog post. I’ve written pieces of it in my private journal, and I’ve written it several times over inside my head. Mostly in the wee hours of the dark morning when my body wants more sleep but my brain won’t quiet down and cooperate.
My self-preservation instinct tells me to not to write this part of my story. But I know that this blog has always been about my unlearning of performance and learning the way of grace. My story here, on this blog, has been the story of a woman learning and growing and changing and always, always, always trusting in God’s goodness and grace. And I believe that one of the most powerful gifts we can offer each other is a Me Too! So I am writing this in case you have found yourself in a similar situation. Or maybe you haven’t, but you want to lean in and listen and glean some understanding. Maybe this will help us all know how to respond to unexpected news.
Glennon Doyle Melton wrote,
“we have to choose carefully where we do our truth-telling. One thing I remind people is something my friend, Nadia Bolz-Weber, told me: If you’re going to share widely – make sure you’re sharing from your scars, not your open wounds. . . . When we truth-tell widely in real time, it’s alarming to people because it can feel more like a cry for help than an act of service. You have to be still with your pain before you can offer it up and use it to serve and connect with people you don’t know.”
I am not writing this from my open wounds. This story has been working itself out for a long while now. But I am not writing from complete scars yet either. Let’s say I’m writing from some pretty strong scabs. A lot of healing is going on, but please don’t give it a good yank or you’ll slow down the process.
In November, Patrick and I announced to our family and friends and all of Facebook that we are divorcing. We had been quietly living separately in the same house for a full year. Before that, we had struggled for a long while in our marriage. For a long time, we struggled mostly privately. Then for a while, some of our closest friends knew and prayed for us and with us. Twice, we tried to work through our issues with marriage counselors.
Though I truly owe you no justification or explanation, I will assure you that neither of us woke up one day and flippantly decided, I think I’ll get a divorce! This final decision was made after years of wrestling and pleading and praying and weeping and working and crying out for God’s guidance and intervention and mercy.
Throughout the past several months, our goal has been to provide as much stability and peace and love for our children as is possible in this situation. And though it certainly hasn’t been easy and all of us have grieved, the children are adjusting and adapting. And I believe God will use this part of their stories to grow beauty and strength and a deeper faith in Him. Because that’s what He does in all things.
I don’t intend to make this sound completely neat and tidy and easy. Obviously, it hasn’t been. There has been a lot of private pain and struggle for all of us. I am a recovering people-pleaser. I hate to disappoint people. But I am learning and growing. I am so much better about remembering my Audience of One than I used to be. God is the only One Whose opinion matters. And He loves me lavishly and unconditionally. He knows my heart and my love for Him. He listens to every one of my prayers, even the ones my heart cries out that my brain can not formulate into words. And in His tender mercy, He has made it obvious to me within the past few months that He heard the exact words of prayers I whispered years ago that I was sure had gone ignored.
Since we announced the divorce, the response has been overwhelmingly loving and kind. The majority of people said some variation of I’m sorry or I’m praying for all of you. Many, many people assured me of their love for me. I did not take these assurances lightly. Each word of encouragement and assurance of love was a salve to my wounds, a binding up of the brokenness.
If someone you know and love announces a divorce, allow me to kindly suggest that you respond with love. A simple, I love you so much! goes a long way.
Some friends shared honestly and kindly that our news broke their hearts or made them sad. I understand that. Some even acknowledged that we must have gone through a lot to get to this point. That’s wise and discerning. One friend who had been divorced said it hurt him when people only said they were sorry because they had made the decision they believed best for them, so he simply said, I understand. I hope you will be happier. I thought that showed some keen insight and tenderness.
A remarkable number of people thought our announcement was some sort of odd joke. I am not sure exactly what that says about the reputation of my sense of humor, but I may need to work on toning down my sarcasm and twisted sense of humor.
Though I think all of our Facebook friends and people in our community had good intentions and pure motives, not every response was helpful. Some people – knowing exactly zero amount of our story or what brought us to this point – publicly and privately expressed the wish that we would reconcile. Though I completely get where these people were coming from, I found this inappropriate and insensitive. When you know nothing of someone’s marriage, strongly offering any advice is not wise. Some people I haven’t seen in years and am not especially close to reminded me that God hates divorce. Obviously, I didn’t think that was helpful or appropriate. I also think that yanks one sentence completely out of context of the whole of scripture, but I won’t get into that now.
A surprising number of people responded in ways that would have deeply hurt had God not whispered to me immediately that their response was about them, not about me. Some came right out and said, If you two can’t make it, what hope is there for the rest of us? And truthfully, five or seven years ago, that would have crushed me. But now, I know that that isn’t my concern. I am not responsible for anyone else’s marriage. And if your response to my divorce is to be devastated and wonder what that means for you rather than to reach out in love and ask how I am, if I need anything, then that says something.
Some people who aren’t close friends, with every good intention I am sure, offered to connect us to a marriage counselor or marriage retreat or send books or meet with us and counsel us. This only reinforced the truth that these people aren’t close to me — because if they really knew me, they would know we had already been down that road. I’m not convinced it is ever helpful to offer this sort of assistance or advice to people whose lives and stories you don’t know.
A handful of people sent messages fishing for information. Some straight-up asked for a detailed explanation they felt they deserved. They didn’t deserve it, and they didn’t get it. Some, of course, gossiped and asked friends for the details. I determined from the very beginning that gossip was not my concern. People will say whatever they want and believe whatever they want, and it’s none of my business. I have asked God every day to keep my mind focused on my Audience of One. Remember – He is the only One Whose opinion matters.
If you are reading this and you responded in any of those hurtful ways, please know that I am not angry with you, and I am not writing this to shame you or hurt you. I understand that sometimes we don’t know how to react to big news. I have responded to surprise announcements in less-than-ideal ways before. I have already wrapped these negative responses in grace, chalked it up to surprise and discomfort and not knowing what to say.
So what responses did I find most helpful and loving?
When people responded from a place of genuine love and concern for me or my kids, I appreciated that. That doesn’t mean anyone was celebrating the divorce. Nobody was. That doesn’t mean all these people knew the back-story and the reasons and agreed. Many of the people who responded with pure love knew no details and didn’t ask for any. They didn’t fall for some lie that says showing me love meant they were endorsing divorce. They simply loved without agenda.
I appreciated the friends who reached out to help meet practical needs. Nearly all of these people had no real knowledge of the details or back-story of the divorce. They just looked for needs and met them. In absolutely astounding ways. I was blown away by the thoughtfulness of people. And humbled – so humbled. Every act of service and generosity was the grace of God wrapped in human skin.
Some friends texted or called often to check on me and encourage me. One friend sent me motivating, uplifting, or funny memes — text after text after text of memes for weeks, each one a reminder that someone cares. Some dear friends drove hours to have lunch with me and ask what they could do to help.
My family showed unconditional love and support. I had worried most about disappointing them in some way, and they completely showered me with love and grace. So much that I can’t even type this out without tears of gratefulness filling my eyes.
Two different people said very similar things. I think their response was the most helpful, most loving thing — I know your heart, Jenn. You are a woman who loves God and has a heart that seeks Him out. This decision must have been the hardest decision of your life. I am praying for you every day.
My very closest friends listened to me and prayed for me and assured me of God’s love during all the hard days, both before and after the decision was made. Wisely, they didn’t tell me what to do. They just loved me and were my pillars of support. They continue to be.
As I told someone the other day, my divorce announcement can be a reminder that we never truly know what is going on in anyone else’s homes or relationships. I believe that we best respond to news of a divorce with that strongly in mind — we don’t know what has brought them to this point, so we should tread very cautiously when it comes to advice or admonitions or reproach.
As a rule of thumb, I think it’s safe to say that if we haven’t seen or had regular personal contact with the person for a time measurable in years, it isn’t our place to offer any advice. It is also best to remember their news isn’t about us, so we shouldn’t take their divorce personally — especially if we are not a very close friend and not a regular part of their lives.
The decision to divorce was difficult. This certainly wasn’t my initial plan for my life. But I am grateful for the people who trust God at work in my life, the people who love me without agenda, the people who love me unconditionally, the people who understand they are not the Holy Spirit. I am grateful that my God is a God who brings beauty from ashes, that He can take the hurts of a broken marriage and bring healing to my heart (and to Patrick’s heart and my children’s hearts) and grow us and teach us so that we emerge stronger and filled with hope for a bright future. I am grateful that God’s plans for me are always, always good. And I am grateful that my story of growth and grace and God’s goodness continues on.