Saturday, August 30, 2014

Hope and Peace After Divorce

This morning I was reminded of this statement attributed to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience."

In the course of my daily walk through this mortal probation, I encounter many who are surfeited by the demands and challenges they face. Too often, they tell me, they became "lost" in the day to day routines of life without focusing on their spiritual well-being. Instead of keeping Chardin's perspective, their human experience overwhelmed them.

Many with whom I interact are the products of the divorce of their parents. Now in their own marriages, they are sometimes persuaded it might be easier to take the same course of their parents. They give up. They choose alternative lifestyles. What once began as a blissful knot-tying in sacred precincts where holy vows of allegiance to one another were pronounced, marriage for them descended into depths of sin, disobedience, indifference, abuse, addiction and anger.

Often what happens in these situations is mortal forgetfulness. We forget our spiritual identity as an eternal son or daughter of God. Of course, some of it is unavoidable because there is a veil of forgetfulness drawn across our minds and spirits when we are born. Brigham Young said in simplest terms of explanation the veil was our physical body shrouding our eternal spirit.

I am aware of three current cases of divorce. None is a happy outcome right now. The challenge before the individuals involved puts them on a path to choose - either they will become better for the experience, or they will become bitter.

The confusion when divorce of parents is the final outcome is palpable. "What will become of me if my parents divorce?" some ask. Can a child whose parents divorce still claim the blessings of the sealing? Are they still "born under the covenant?" To whom will they be sealed if both parents remarry? These are but a few of the questions that arise. And then when repentance is in evidence later on, the aftermath of the divorce presents opportunities to learn to forgive those who inflicted so much pain. Along the way there are hidden nuggets of gold waiting to be discovered for the earnest seeker of truth.

I am not an expert on divorce. Just the opposite. Mine has been a blissful marriage of harmony and shared goals through all the ups and downs of life. It has not been without challenges. It has been anything but smooth sailing. But who's complaining? It's what we signed up for, isn't it?

However, I found a statement by a woman who divorced after several years of marriage and went through eight years of litigation thereafter. She provides a valuable perspective. Said she: "When I told my family I was writing about peace after divorce, they laughed and said, 'Tell them there isn't any!' I'm not telling you that. There is peace. Peace after divorce comes in the process of living. It happens after learning hard lessons. It occurs over time alongside family, friends, and professionals who care. It happens privately but also with many others who share the experience and understand. Peace emerges from pain and accompanies healing. It comes from confronting and accepting truth, from being willing to live and love and forgive and move forward. Divorce is still hard to say, but it has not closed the gate on my own path to life, love, and peace." (Elaine Shaw Sorensen, "Peace After Divorce," in Women in the Covenant of Grace by Susette Fletcher Green and Dawn Hall Anderson, 50).

Detours in our mortal journey are inevitable, and they take many forms. No matter how long or difficult the road may seem, our past cannot hold us prisoner to our future unless we choose it. I have seen many who have overcome the oppression of the past and set their sails for the future voyage with satisfying results. In one case, a woman whose husband was plagued by alcohol addiction for years found a new job that supplied her with the income she needed to raise and support her four children. Life went on for her and her children, and they are happy today because of their choices.

Said another: "A marriage is a commitment between two people that is designed to last for eternity. One person cannot carry that commitment to fruition alone. When it is not being upheld by both parties, it ceases to be eternal. It requires dedication on both sides to make it valid. A hopeless marriage need not be forever; an abusive situation need not be tolerated. You can still have worth as a person with an unsuccessful marriage. My marriage ceased being eternal years before we entered the divorce courts." (Nedra Hardy, "When a Marriage Is Not Celestial," ibid., 55).

The antidote for dealing with the devastation of divorce is the same I would offer for all life's problems. My life took a detour financially a few years ago. I wish things had turned out differently than they did. Instead of financial security I was seeking, I was escorted back to square one to begin again. It was humbling. I've detailed it in previous posts. I am fortunate to have found a surprisingly fulfilling work life since the debacle of the world's financial meltdown in 2008. I am reminded of a talk title from Hugh Nibley, "Work we must, but the lunch is free." 

During that time I prayed, I fasted, I petitioned, and along the way there were undeniable moments of fears, doubts and frustrations. But those proved to be only punctuation marks in a chapter of my life filled with overwhelming love, assurances and support from my wife and children. Because we could call upon God, our eternal partner in our marriage, ours was a marriage that didn't break under the stress. He carried us and sustained us with grace and charity. I am grateful every day for that reality.

Don't get trapped for too long in your "pity party." Half the people out there don't care what happened to you, and the other half think you got what you deserved. Be happy, keep smiling through the pain. It will get better when you take action, even if it's only tiny baby steps to start in a new direction.

President Thomas S. Monson
Now, as I move along through life, I have discovered success comes from small and seemingly insignificant choices. We learn lessons, we grow, we mature in spiritual things, and what happens "in the thick of thin things" pales by comparison. We learn to love and serve others when we are afflicted. Turning outward to help others has long been the recipe President Thomas S. Monson recommends. We learn to love vegetables and fruit instead of a steady diet of Peanut M&Ms.

Each marriage is filled with tests. Whether marriage ends or goes on, what makes the difference is how we choose. And the choice is always ours. It really doesn't matter what our parents did before us, or our spouses who may choose poorly. We are free to make of our lives what we will. And with a little bit of work we can usually figure out how to do it better together than apart.

And we can be at peace with God's spirit, no matter what comes our way.

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