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Divorce Recovery: Practical Strategies for Change
Living in the wake of divorce will push you to the limit. It can be terrifying, infuriating, sad, draining, and confusing. You’ll have good days and bad days—maybe for quite some time. Focusing on your relationship with God and dealing with your grief, fear, shame, bitterness, and guilt out of your relationship with God—can take an enormous amount of emotional and physical energy. You might feel like you don’t have the resources you need to move forward. If you feel this way, don’t try to make every decision about your life overnight. Start with small steps.
Only Try to Do the Next Thing
There are so many things you need to do and so many decisions you need to make, but how many of them have to be handled today? Perhaps your life will change and some of the things you are worrying about won’t even need to be done. So what do you do? Jesus has this advice on how to handle each day: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34).
Jesus is counseling you to resist the temptation to worry about the future and make plans and decisions based on things that haven’t yet happened. Do what you can to act responsibly right now, and then trust God to work in and through your efforts.
To help you do this, use the simple strategy of making two lists:
On list #1 write down all the things you are concerned about: all the decisions you have to make, all the details you need to take care of, and everything you are worried about.
On list #2 write down all of the items from the first list that you can and should do something about today. Pray over both lists, and put the first one away, entrusting it to God. Focus for today on the tasks on your second list. Once you’ve spent a reasonable amount of time working on your list, put it away, pray again, and trust God to be at work even when you’re not thinking or worrying. Do this each day. Keep rewriting both lists as you go forward. And keep praying over each list. Some things you will be able to cross off as God helps you to complete them, and some things you will be able to cross off as things change and you no longer need to do them.
How to Help Your Children
If you are a parent, you know that divorce can be as painful and damaging for children as it is for adults. Remember that, as much as you would like to shelter your children from the ugliness of life, it is impossible. Your children are experiencing the brokenness of the world much sooner than you’d like, but sooner or later, even if you didn’t get divorced, they would have to experience the pain of living in a sinful world.
Although you can’t prevent your children from experiencing brokenness, you do have a responsibility to help them interpret it and respond to it in faith. God’s promise to work good through all things applies to your children as well as you (Romans 8:28). What can you do to help them rather than simply worry over them?
1. Model your faith as you talk and listen to them. This is your opportunity to share your interpretation and model faith for them as you live with them through the basic struggles of life that come with divorce. Your children will wrestle with many of the same things you do. Just as you wrestle with fear, anger, shame, injustice, etc., they will too. Talk with them, at a level appropriate to their ages, about fear, anger, and disappointment. Teach them that it’s okay to be honest about how they feel.
2. Use the Psalms for guidance as you talk with them. The Psalms express many heartfelt emotions as the authors wrestle with painful realities in their own lives. But they wrestle in faith. They direct their cries to God because, even as they struggle to understand, they ultimately believe in his goodness and love for them. For instance, in Psalm 13 we hear the honest cry, “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart” (v. 2), balanced with determined trust in God: “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation” (v. 5). Faith doesn’t mean denying the pain of life in a fallen world or being paralyzed by that pain, but rather, drawing near to God, asking for help, and remembering your faith.
3. Don’t use your children as pawns. Resist the temptation to recruit your children as allies in your disagreements with your spouse. It is wrong to use them as pawns in your divorce; plus, they will notice and resent you.
4. Don’t try to hide your struggles from your children (they will notice anyway). Instead, be an example to them of how to struggle in the right direction. Be wise, though, in how you share with them your struggles with anger and bitterness. Remember that you are talking to them about their parent, and God has called them to honor both their parents (Ephesians 6:1–3).
5. Go with them to the Lord. Pray with and for them. Help them to learn to trust God in scary times. When God answers your prayers, be thankful together.
Excerpted from the booklet, Divorce Recover: Growing and Healing God's Way. Copyright (c) 2008 Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation. Used with permission of New Growth Press
Winston T. Smith, M. Div., is the director of counseling at CCEF and has extensive experience as a marriage and family counselor. He is the author of many counseling articles. The booklet Rest, and is currently writing a book on marriage.