Answer to: "What to Say to a Friend Going Through a Divorce?"
[Note: I've not only had to answer this question frequently in ministry to people of all backgrounds which I knew personally at various levels, I also have had to answer this question for the benefit of most of my very closest friends (both men and women). My friends have since found healing and meaning in their lives to a higher degree than even before the divorce. This reflection includes my actual words used to help others respond the best way during this unavoidably-painful time.]
Lean upon Me.
You may be asking: 'How should I continue? Why should I continue?' What's worse is that these may be your most coherent thoughts in the seeming internal chaos you feel right now in your mind. For example, one of our greatest fears is of feeling rejection, but you're likely feeling the pain of that now more than ever before! That's why, now more than ever before you need to express everything you need to express, but in the safest way possible. You will never shock me. You will never disappoint me. You will only be loved by me at this most painful time, and always. Thank you for turning to me at this time. This is a time when the temptation to shut others out can be overwhelming. This is a time that, at best, going to feel like a roller coaster. Just when you think the worst is over you get slammed by another drop from pain. But I promise that you will be able to get off this ride and lean upon everything you need to lean upon ... now more than ever before.
Lean upon Reality (as Painful as it Is in the Moment).
Yet I realize that leaning on me is not the same as leaning upon a spouse. I can't be there for you in the same way you had hoped your spouse would be there for you. I can never fully grasp the depths of agony you feel right now in so many ways, and the added dimension of loneliness that gives. This must be most-pervasively, most-deeply impacting you, especially because you realize that your marriage, what you considered the most important aspect of your life, didn’t go the way you had hoped ... the way you had longed, worked, sacrificed, and trusted in so many countless and significant ways for so long (hoping that the other saw things the same way). It doesn't help that some things are just beyond comprehension. This pain you feel compounds the pressures, challenges, difficulties, and responsibilities you still have to face as you go through this process. Yet all the while please trust that healing will simultaneously occur when you incorporate several strategies. There will likely be days where all you can do is literally force yourself to get up, put one foot in front of the other, and continue about your responsibilities. One moment at a time is all that will ever be expected of you, or anyone--even as it feels the knife is being turned at the worst, and least-expected, moments. It will get easier in time as you strive to give your best through it all.
This difficult time may also trigger profound wounds, scars or other brokenness from your past. This may tempt you to worry that you'll make the remaining areas of life and relationships worse because of the difficulty to know at times which direction is up. This is why renouncing the fears by leaning upon the realities you can count upon is so critically important at this moment.
Lean upon Immediate Consolations (but NOT "Reliefs").
Nothing can take away the sting of the moment, but some blessing you still have can not only make it bearable, but they also can renew your hope in the possibility that the best days of your life could still be ahead of you. You are already proving that now simply by taking time to be with me when there is more pulling at you in every painful direction than ever before. First and foremost, you can make sure that you are not suffering any more pain than you have to, any pain beyond the suffering that you are already experiencing from externals which are beyond your control. What will always be in your control, however, will be your internal response to these uncontrollable externals.
I realize that it feels truly overwhelming right now, but an immediate, and necessary, response is not giving into the temptations to use things that may provide immediate, but temporary, relief but will also certainly make things even worse than they undeniably are. Things which ultimately make the sting worse in many ways. I'm talking about temptations for such activities as overeating, overdrinking, misusing drugs and media, and holding onto toxic relationships which do not pick you up but keep you down and out. Also please beware of rushing into another romantic relationship the other may be well-intentioned, but now is your time for healing ... in-part to ensure all relationships go as well as possible in the future. If nothing else, please remember that the wrong decisions waste the most-valuable irreplaceable gift of time. I cannot stress this enough: please do not do anything rash, big, and abrupt for that matter; the most important thing to do in times of turmoil is patiently stay the course, that's a spiritual approach that has worked for millions for nearly a thousand years!
Especially during this time (but always as often as possible) turn towards the real consolations you still have right now (& never have to lose): prayer, recreational activities, good foods, good books, good entertainment, exercise, hobbies, ... and true friends.
Lean upon Others.
One of the greatest consolations can be, now more than ever, the gifts found in others, the people in your life who will unconditionally love you, the people who want to do whatever they can for you always, but especially right now. Maybe that help is with moving to a new physical address, or having a relaxing night-out, or having an extra voice of counsel and reassurance, or having a shoulder to literally cry on available 24/7 ... or having all of the above. Don't worry about imposing above the other priorities these great people may have. Loving you during this time as much as possible is their priority. Just knowing of this unconditional love can sustain you through anything, and everything.
Lean upon the Lessons Learned.
True friends help ensure that, in spite of the past, you are striving to be your best in every way at every moment. The fact that, "Hindsight is 20/20" should never be a reason to obsess over trying to make sense of everything, wallowing in self-pity or beating yourself up. Although you can't change the past, you can learn from its painful lessons in order to ensure the present and future go as well as possible.
One conclusion I've made from my mistakes and misfortunes is simply this: the worst things that happen to you can also become the best things that ever happen to you. This is the single most important thing I've learned and this lesson has never failed me once. When tempted to make the same mistake again, I look back upon the time I made that mistake and the deep pain which resulted. I also resolve to never feel that type of sharp pain again. From this, I never repeat the same mistake. This whole process, when developed, only takes a moment to complete in the heat of any moment.
This is just one example. The priceless lessons which will spare you so much future grief are going to be unique to you, which is why I encourage you to have some form of a journal to write-down, organize, and connect your thoughts--which will lead to your gifted insights!
Lean upon God.
Most importantly, realizing this is too difficult to handle on your own, I ask you to lean upon God like never before. It may have not always felt like it, and it may not always feel like it going forward, but God is always watching over and caring for each of us. Nothing or no one can change that reality. God loves us, in spite of anything from the past, more than we can ever know. Regardless of the past, and because God loves you, God wants you to have the absolute best, happiest, most fulfilling life possible now and forever. And the more we strive to live our unique, unrepeatable identity, the more this happiness can be realized, even though it feels at the moment to be impossible. But with God all things are possible (Mt. 19:26). And I'm so happy, honored, and grateful to remind you of this reality at this moment.
One powerful way in which God can help is to bring about forgiveness--forgiveness of the other, forgiveness of yourself. Forgiveness does not mean that, "everything's instantly OK." It does, in-part, mean that you are stopping the bleeding, that you are loving in a very profound way, and that you hope that everyone is on the path that they were always meant to be on. Again, the past can't be changed but forgiveness is critical for sparing everyone from unnecessary pain in the future. Withholding forgiveness in any way obstructs our vision from seeing which direction to take in each moment.
Lean upon the Signs which Already Surround You.
Road signs provide parameters which keep us from hurting ourselves and others on the road. Good signs are meant to do the same in each moment of life. Please keep your eyes open to the unexpected ways God is helping you through every moment. Through these signs you will continue to strive to use each moment, each event, each situation, each encounter as a stepping stone to where you were always meant to be. Please never dismiss anything just because it comes in the least expected way. Something you may have been tempted to dismiss as insignificant may be offering some of the most insightful help ever. For example, some of the deepest truest expressions of God's love have come from children, words that have helped me help others.
There's a great truth to the phrase "follow your gut." Your gut can be a great compass moment to moment. If something doesn't feel quite right, do not pursue it. If there seems to be tranquility about another option, pursue that. This does not mean every choice will be the easiest. Quite the opposite is frequently the case. But once you make the right choice you will have this internal peace that will sustain, and empower, you through the actions that decision requires. If you don't always get it right, do not hesitate to pick yourself up and try again. The worst case scenario is a constantly-refining vision regarding what not to do! The signs will always offer insight on how to respond each moment (Mat 10:19)
Lean upon the Hope of God's Future Plans for You.
By virtue of you still being here is a proof that God is not done with you yet. I know that you know this, and I know this doesn't take away the sting of the moment ... in part because we want everything made right in this present moment. Yet God still has great, unique plans for you at this moment, and God never lets anything go to waste if you are open to God’s help. Hope that the best things are yet to come, as God reminds us directly that our hope will not be in vain (Rom 8:24). The future will sort itself out so long as you take care of what needs to be taken care of today. Even though this may seem like the furthest impossibility (because you previously thought you were meant to be with this one person forever), God's ultimate plans may include leading you to the person you were meant to belong to all along in marriage, the person who will also reciprocate and recognize the importance of leaning upon the vows throughout all of the challenges of life as the precise means of not merely surviving, but growing closer and more deeply in love than you had ever thought possible from your earliest memories of life.
Lean upon Your Convictions.
This can all give you the conviction that things will be better than they had ever been before. I have never been wrong when blessed with that feeling of conviction. It will empower you to get through this. I promise you; conviction will not let you down. I look forward to celebrating with you when you arrive at the peace, freedom and happiness you never thought possible yet longed for throughout your life. In the meantime, I will be with you, supporting you, and praying for you as much as possible to help remind you that you will never be truly alone.
Rev. Martin L. Dunne III