The last year of my life has been crazy. So much has changed. I’ve moved, changed jobs, changed churches, lost friends, lost family, gained friends, gained family. The biggest change, though, has been my divorce and its consequences. Part of me wanted to ignore that here; to begin writing again without acknowledging the reality of that difference. To choose a topic from the news or a thought that I’ve been wrestling with and begin a conversation, as has been my modus operandi. But, I knew I couldn’t. I knew that this was too big to ignore, too significant to avoid. So, I began to think about what this process has meant for me and what I’ve learned along the way. My hope in sharing is that someone else might benefit. Maybe this will give someone who’s going through a divorce the permission they need to feel the things they’re feeling. Maybe it will be a source of hope to someone who’s been through a nasty breakup. Maybe it will be a reminder to a couple in a healthy relationship to take time for maintenance. Whatever the case may be, if you’re reading this, I hope it helps. This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list, but below are some key lessons I’ve learned from my divorce.
1. People need other people.
I’ve said these words countless times. I’ve admonished others about the benefits of community. I’ve preached about how important relationships are. Heck, if you’ve read anything else I’ve written, you know how important this topic is to me. Still, this lesson has taken on a whole new weight in the aftermath of my divorce. Life is best lived within the context of community. But, it’s not easy. As an introverted melancholy, my default is to isolate to myself or to a really small group of close friends. The benefits of community (like accountability and inspiration for change and growth), though, are only gained when I make a commitment to doing life with other people in significant ways. For me, this now includes my immediate family, a growing circle of friends, an incredible church family, an accountability group for guys like me, and a counselor on occasion.
2. You can’t rush this.
Grief is a process. Loss is a process. Divorce is both of these things. In many ways, it’s a loss that someone else chose for you; a death that someone else chose to die – which is maybe the worst kind of death. As much as I’ve wanted to rush things along – to heal quickly – I’ve come to know that you can’t rush this. I’m learning that it’s okay to feel the weight of this. It’s okay that not every day is okay. It’s okay to give myself grace and time; grace and time to feel and to heal. I’ve noticed a tendency in myself and in others to wish this thing over. For the last year, lots of well-intentioned folks have told me that things are going to be okay. And, they’re right. Things will be okay. In many ways, things are already okay. But, I won’t rob myself of this process. I won’t ignore the aching or wish away the sadness. I’ll wrestle with the hurt. I’ll uncover its meaning. I’ll reshape the thoughts and beliefs at the core of my pain, and I’ll learn who I am. And, I’ll give myself grace and time in the process. Grace and time.
3. Music is more than music.
Songs that speak to someone else’s journey through pain and into happiness invite me to hope.
This point may seem a bit out of place in this list, but it has been essential to my healing in more ways that one. Often songs function as a safe place to say the things that would be much harder to say without melody. A safe place to ask the questions that keep me up at night. A reminder that I’m not the only one to ever need to say those things, to ask those questions. Brutally honest lyrics about pain and struggle can even help to clarify underdeveloped thoughts that have been swirling around in my head. Songs that speak to someone else’s journey through pain and into happiness invite me to hope. Voices that I knew and loved before have become even more important to me now, and new (to me) voices have made themselves known and have become familiar. As a musician, though, music means more than just listening. It’s also means playing it, making it. I feel so lucky to have been given a chance to play with the band at UNITED Church. Sundays have quickly become my favorite days – and so much of that is because I get to make music with such a talented crew.
4. Healthy isn’t happenstance.
Healthy doesn’t just happen. You don’t get to coast. Healthy is intentional. Living life with a bent for holistic health – physical, emotional, relational, spiritual – requires hard work. It means caring enough about myself to get the rest, the exercise, and the nutrition that I need; and, it’s paying off. (To date, I’m down close to 70 pounds from my heaviest, and I’m getting closer and closer to my personal goals.) It means taking the time I need to wrestle with and process my feelings in healthy ways. It means engaging with healthy others – supporting and being supported. And, it means uncovering what spirituality means to me and finding ways to engage a part of myself that hasn’t always been authentic.
5. Family over everything.
I’ve always known that I have a great family. But, I’ve often taken the people that have always been there for me for granted. Watching how my family came together and rallied to support me through the crisis of my separation and divorce was one of the greatest blessings I’ve ever been afforded. I’d always thought that family was chosen for you by some kind of cosmic cast of the die – but that’s not true. Family chooses to be family. And there have been a number of people, some of them blood-relatives some of them not, that have chosen to do life with me. These people are my family. And, I’m working to not take them for granted.
6. Not everything happens for a reason.
I can’t tell you how many times – especially early on in the process – people told me, “Everything happens for a reason”. These people meant well, and they were trying to offer hope. But, I’m calling bull. Not everything happens for a reason. There are a lot of awful things that happen in this world. Cancer, the loss of a child, freak accidents, premature death. Those aren’t the result of God’s button-pushing in an effort to make us better people by causing terrible things to happen to us. Those things just happen. So, no, I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason. I do, however, believe that everything that happens provides us with an opportunity to learn, to grow, to become. I don’t see my divorce as part of a divine plan, but I do see it as an opportunity. An opportunity to face some of my demons. To learn about who I am and what I want. To become the best possible version of myself.
7. This wasn’t all my fault.
Healthy perspective is about balance; and I’m learning to do it better all the time.
I made huge mistakes in my marriage. I came well short of deserving the “Best Husband Award”. And, I have to take responsibility for all of my actions and all of my inaction. I messed up big time, and I’m dealing with the consequences. My initial reaction, however, was to assume all of the responsibility for our failed marriage. But, just like it wouldn’t be fair to blame my ex-wife for my shortcomings, the inverse is not fair either. I have to take responsibility for my own behaviors, but I can’t take responsibility for anyone else’s. Healthy perspective is about balance; and I’m learning to do it better all the time.
8. Forgiveness is not a one-time decision; it’s a constant choice.
Because of what I said above, and because I refuse to live a joyless life (having been robbed by bitterness), forgiveness became an important part of this journey. And, I’ll be honest, I had no idea how to forgive something like this. I tried different techniques – praying, writing a letter, visualizing, an empty chair exercise – but I started to become really frustrated with myself. If I’ve already forgiven her, why does seeing this picture make me feel so angry? Why do I still feel so hurt? But, over time, I came to learn that forgiveness isn’t a one-time decision; it’s a constant choice. So, I’ll keep forgiving. When faced with new hurts, or unexpected emotions, I’ll choose to forgive again. I’ll choose life.
9. I still have a lot to learn.
There’s still time. I don’t have to have tomorrow’s answers today.
Of all the lessons I’ve learned, this may be the greatest: I’m still learning, and I still have a lot to learn. And, that’s okay. I haven’t arrived yet. I’m not perfect yet. I still don’t know all the answers. I’m still figuring things out. I’ve got big questions. Like, Will I remarry? How will my plans to work as a counselor be impacted by my divorce? Will I be able to trust again? Will I settle down somewhere long-term? And, I have smaller questions. Like, how soon is too soon to date? What does dating even look like? Does my belt always have to match my shoes?
I have no idea what the future looks like. But, all of these things are okay. All of these questions are okay. There’s still time. I don’t have to have tomorrow’s answers today. I’ll take this thing one day at a time, and I’ll learn as I go. I know that my past doesn’t have to determine my future. I get to do that. I get to choose to live a healthy, happy life. And, I get to choose to learn along the way.