Navigating a disappointing and painful relationship is something we all have to do. And though you can bounce back quickly from some of these strained relationships, others require more work. In the article, I am responding to a person who went through an unwanted divorce and is struggling with forgiving his ex-wife.
You may want to read:
- How to Take Every Thought Captive
- Memories: Forgetting Past Relationship Thoughts
- Six Keys for Enduring An Unwanted Divorce
Member Question – I just want to say how much I appreciate your articles. I have been receiving your emails and have benefited from them. God has undoubtedly and wonderfully used you. My heart broke when I read your bio and the things that have happened to you. I do have a question if you do not mind.
How long did it take you to forgive your ex-wife and find a new normal? I have been going through a divorce for the past few years. I did not want this and still do not want this. As I continue to get beat up in this process, I find it harder to forgive my wife and a few others, who wanted her to divorce me.
The Bad News
I have said many times that an unwanted divorce is one of the worst things to happen to anyone. It is even worse when there are children involved. Divorce is endless pain. If I could extract one item from the narrative of my life, it would be my divorce in 1990.
In this article, I am speaking to those who did not want a divorce while realizing there are others, who do not see dissolving their marriage as a bad thing, but a necessary result. Their narrative is different from what I am describing here and from what you are experiencing.
There is nothing you can do to make it better, other than riding the emotional and mental “wave of time” until you learn how to conquer the spiritual battle that waging against your soul. That victory will come through Christ, it will cost you dearly, and it will take time.
There is no medication. It is painful, and the only way to survive well is to persevere in your suffering. You cannot make the pain of divorce go away quickly. And even after you get back to normalcy, you’ll walk with a “limp,” as the memories come spontaneously, randomly, and unannounced.
Your greatest enemy is time. As I looked at the second hand on the clock, it seemed as though it was stuck. Time dragged as I tried to distance myself from my problems. I distinctly remember the six-month mark after my wife left with our two little children. I told the Lord that if the next six months are going to be like the past six, I will not make it.
The pain was too high, and the grief was too deep. Ironically, I could not figure out where to locate the hurt. I felt for it, but could not find it. I believed if I could locate it, I could do something about it. But the location was elusive.
Then one day, it dawned on me where to find the pain. It was in my chest; it was my heart. I had a broken heart. That was when I realized there was no quick solution for what was ailing me. When I breathed out, it hurt. When I breathed in, it hurt. Every breath I took was painful. There was no escape, and suicide was not an option.
What I have described to you is the hard part. I doubt I have said anything that you have not already experienced or thought. People who go through unwanted divorces resonate with my experience. They also know that they can’t manipulate God or speed up the process. Sadly, too many of them make it worse by not perceiving, processing, or practicalizing a God-centered view of this problem, whether it’s an unwanted divorce or another painful relationship malfunction.
The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all (Psalm 34:18-19).
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds (Psalm 147:3).
As for the good news, there is no doubt that my divorce was the most transformative and life-changing event in my life, excluding regeneration, of course. This acknowledgment is more than thirty years later. And I am speaking of that uncomfortable tension between, “I would never want to repeat this, but I have come to see God’s favor on my life through breaking me this way.”
Though you may be able to perceive this truth intellectually, it will take a few years to live in the goodness of it practically. The redemptive benefits of divorce should far surpass the negative experience of it—if you hope to survive your divorce well.
I did not say you can survive divorce flawlessly because you will not do that. You will make many mistakes. I imagine that you have already made a few. You will say and do regretful things. You will have episodes of failure, too. Correctly navigating a divorce is like walking through a car wash without getting wet.
Trust the Instruments
To my recollection, I “quit God” 487 times. I walked away from my faith, at least in my mind, over and over again. I was up, and then I was down, and when I was not up or down, I was sideways. Divorce is total disorientation of the mind to where there are times when it seems as though the good Lord has also left you.
Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his seat! Behold, I go forward, but he is not there, and backward, but I do not perceive him; on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him; he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him (Job 23:3, 8-9).
For me, it was a triple loss. I lost my wife and our children, and the Lord seemed to be gone too. As one of my favorite country artists, Hank Williams, said, “I’m so lonesome I could cry.” But in time, the Lord did reorient my thinking. Though He was always there and always working in ways that were too deep for me to sense, I was not feeling it. I was lost but God was not. He was guiding me while crushing me at the same time.
Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him (Isaiah 53:10).
But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold (Job 23:10).
You may not perceive the Lord’s guiding hand in your life too. You may be snow blind, or like a pilot in a fog, which is why you must trust your instrumentation, not what you can see or feel.
For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).
The Main Thing
You must guard your heart because your mind will try to deceive you. If you do not capture your thoughts by thinking rightly about what you need to do, you will go down a slippery slope from which it could take years to recover. There will be strongholds developing, and bad habituations will control your life. Here are a few of those captivating strongholds.
- Hatred (other forms of anger)
The Unforgiving Victim
I will speak to the last one, which is unforgiveness because it’s the biggest of all. It is also the one you highlighted in your question. If you do work through unforgiveness by coming to “practical peace” about your divorce, the other sin patterns that I’ve listed here will not have as much (if any) power over you.
An unforgiving person is an entitled person who does not understand the gospel. Unforgiveness creeps into our hearts when we see other people as bigger sinners than we are (Luke 18:11). Or you don’t see them receiving a just penalty for their actions. This trap is easy to fall into when you compare yourself with them. The unforgiving person does not factor in how we’re all equally guilty before God, regardless of our sin lists.
It was easy to compare my wife’s adultery and subsequent pursuit of divorce as worse offenses than my sinful contributions to the marriage. It was this self-righteous stance of my heart that perpetuated my misery, though I did not realize it initially.
Playing the Victim Card
I thought my chief misery was because of what she did to me. My main difficulty was how I played the victim card: her sin was worse than mine, and I’m suffering more than her. At the core of my being, I believed I was more right (righteous) than she was, and to make things worse, she was (apparently) doing better than I was.
From a “practical sin comparison perspective,” it was easy to make a case as to who was more righteous. And that was how I spun things (in my mind). Though our sins may be different, consequentially, that is not the whole truth that I had to consider. There was another truth to factor into my mess. We all are equally guilty before God, regardless of the length of our sin list or the consequential impact of our sins on others.
But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).
As long as you see your ex-spouse as a worse or bigger sinner than you are, the more you will be resisting the Lord’s empowering grace in your life. This truth, for me, was the hardest of all. Honestly, I did not want to let go of my rightness (self-righteousness).
Let’s assume you and your ex-wife are in heaven at some future date. Would you be able to tell the Lord Jesus that she was a bigger sinner than you were? Of course not. As much as we want to compare ourselves to others, it is an unwise play, or as Paul said, it is without understanding.
Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding (2 Corinthians 10:12).
To Be Set Free
And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you (Matthew 18:33)?
The Lord took away everything dear to me. Except for one thing. There was something He did not take, and I was not going to let it go. It was my righteousness. I spun it as me being less guilty than she was, and I made an airtight case for who the biggest sinner was in our relationship. Meanwhile, she moved on while I chose to wallow in my righteous victimhood.
It took me a long time to figure out how that kind of thinking was perpetuating the other seven deadly sins in the list above while keeping me in spiritual bondage. It like a self-inflicted gunshot. Repeatedly.
And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends (Job 42:10).
Finally, four years later, I called my ex-wife and asked her to forgive me for being a jerk in our marriage. I was not perfect, and I knew it. Consequentially, her sins were worse than mine, but when we both stand before the Lord, that will not be the issue or my argument.
Though she did not ask me to forgive her, the Lord did unlock my heart and released me from the self-imposed bondage that I had placed myself in because of my lack of attitudinal forgiveness. (Attitudinal forgiveness is between you and the Lord, not between you and her.)
Your ex-spouse may never ask you for forgiveness for what she did to you, but you can still be free from what she did to you if the Lord changes your attitude toward her. But if you choose to fixate on the unfairness and raw deal, no matter how true it is, you will not imitate a forgiving Jesus, but deteriorate into a person who believes you deserve better. It’s a well-worn cliche, but you and I are all doing better than we deserve.
He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:22-23).
As you move past what she did to you, there will be empowering favor on your life. You will experience a more in-depth work that the Lord wants to do in you. God is for you (Romans 8:31). He is working on your behalf. Ask Him to release you from her actions toward you.
Call to Action
This article applies to every person who has been on the losing end of a disappointing and painful relationship. Regardless of the relational disappointment, it’s an arduous and soul-wrenching process to work through the aftermath. Please consider my questions below and find someone to walk with you.
- Is there someone in your life that you see as a worse sinner than you are? Are you bitter about where you are and where they are, as you compare your life to theirs?
- Though their sins may be different or darker, how should you view and respond to them in light of the gospel? Similarly, though the consequences are more painful for you, what has been the deteriorating effect of being the judge in this matter?
- What is a practical and specific way for you to respond to this article? Will you share it with a friend, and ask them to walk with you through this? You will not be able to shake off the hurt like a person brushing the dust off their shoes.