I’ll always remember the night my first husband informed me that he wanted a divorce. I had moved across the country to marry him, where I had few friends outside of his and no family, and had taken a few steps backward in my own career to accommodate his. I felt like a pile of bricks was crushing my chest as I faced the prospect of life after divorce. As I was physically struggling to breathe under the weight of it all, his father called me.
He shared his own experience with divorce, battling depression and drug addiction. And he told me that it was a choice. I could allow divorce to drive me to a dark place. Or I could say, “Well, that’s not what I was expecting, but I’m going to trust God with this new direction my life is taking.” That moment stuck with me. It was when I chose to embrace my new life. But to begin feeling alive again, I had to make five very intentional choices.
First, I chose to roll with the punches. A week or two after I left my broken life in Philadelphia to move in with my parents in Des Moines, my youngest brother started getting into trouble at school. My dad started having chest pain from all of the stress. A constant tension hung heavy in the house. I was searching Craigslist for a new job when my mom walked up to look over my shoulder at the computer screen.
Mom: Where are you looking for jobs?
Me: Des Moines. [Insert cricket-chirping, awkward silence.]
Me: Where should I be looking?
Mom: We just bought that house in San Antonio to move to in five or ten years, but we’re actually going to move there for good this weekend, get your brother away from here. You can come with us, or you can stay here until we sell this house [More crickets, followed by my own short laugh.]
Me to my dog: Petey, have you ever been to San Antonio before?
I immediately updated my Craigslist location to San Antonio and continued my job search. At that point, it had become almost comical. What else could possibly happen?! I realized that lamenting over trouble wouldn’t solve any of it. So I chose to accept the circumstances and keep moving forward, keep living.
Second, I chose to identify the true root of my feelings and actions. Thanks to social media, I could monitor my ex’s new dating life from states away. Who can resist, seriously? But after the understandable stalking period had ended, I had to ask myself why I still cared. After some brutally honest soul-searching and prayer, I discovered the root cause of my actions. He called me suffocating, immature, and distrusting. He told me I would be married again within a year of our divorce because I was needy. At the root of it all, I wanted to confirm that he was wrong about me, and to see that he eventually realized that. Identifying that root cause helped me to more effectively attack it. For me, this meant learning that my value wasn’t dependent on his or any other person’s assessment. Take the time to think and pray. Narrow your feelings down to your most basic needs, so that you can understand what you need to do to move forward.
Third, I chose to learn from it. Dale Carnegie said, “The successful man will profit from his mistakes and try again in a different way.” Among other things, my divorce taught me that being in love and actually loving someone are very different things. I also learned that if you don’t share values – you want to save and invest money, he wants to spend it, you want to start a family, he’s not ready or sure – you’ll struggle from day one. When I started dating again, I assessed prospective relationships using what I’d learned. My husband now is in love with me, but also truly loves me. He has similar values and goals, and a trustworthiness I can count on for a lifetime.
Fourth, I chose to forgive. This wasn’t for him, but for me. Unforgiveness was nothing but dead weight, like trying-to-shift-my-dog’s-position-in-bed-in-the-middle-of-the-night dead weight. It made it very challenging to move forward. Every time something jogged my memory of my ex, my unforgiveness caused me to step into the role of judge and jury. I was reliving the old emotions all over again. Lewis B. Smedes said it best:“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
Finally, I chose to let go. I had to stop reliving the past and start living. When the old thoughts and emotions crept up, I chose to let them go immediately. My toddler used to cherish scraps she found on the floor–tiny corners of paper, thread, little crumbs. The second I would try to wrestle one of those crumbs from her fist . . . THIS IS SPARTAAAAA! But if she understood I was taking her crumb to free her hands for a better toy, she’d let go. God wants to give us good things in life after divorce. But He can’t if our hands are still tightly clenching the past. I had to open my hands to be able to accept life after divorce.
Learning to embrace life after divorce is never easy. This is mostly because it requires that you make several challenging choices. You have to choose to roll with the punches, and to identify the true root of your feelings and actions. Choose to learn from it, forgive, and let go. If you don’t actively choose life, someone else will make the choice for you. Of course there’s a season to grieve over loss, but then you must choose to keep living. You must choose life.
Originally published on the author’s blog