How to Get Divorced

My kids are getting divorced; two people that I think should stay together are being permanently separated. I have no idea how to do this. My own marriage has lasted 42 years now—I don’t understand divorce. How do I get through this? Here are some questions I’m wrestling with:

Divorce is not about two people. The familiar maxim, “when you marry someone, you marry the whole family,” also applies in divorce. The problem is that no one tells the family just how to do it.

Parents, it seems, mostly hide their pain, perhaps especially in church families. I am hesitant to say the words, “We are divorcing.” But I need to say them. I need someone to look at me with pain and tear–filled eyes—then my own eyes would be free to flow like a river. I need to lament like a lost child; I need community to do it with, for I am also abandoned in this process.

Emily Dickinson described what I feel when she wrote, “A great hope fell, you heard no noisethe ruin was within. O cunning wreck that told no tale, and let no witness in.”

Divorce is everywhere; everything is being torn in two. I heard someone say once that because our world is so fractured, the work of healing is to notice where things that belong together are separated, and then put them back together. Does this mean putting together shoes and a purse? Builders and buyers? Or is this a deeper work of healing what seems impossible to heal. Can something be put back together here, even if a divorce becomes final? 

Some things I am learning (note, I did not say “have learned”):

  1. Divorce is a family affair. Everyone needs to be able to talk about it, grieve through it, and experience it in their own way. If it can’t be done as a family, we must find a friend.
  2. It is unfair to make anyone else responsible for my happiness. A friend asked me what I wished for Christmas and I said, “If my kids had one small crack of in-breaking love for each other, I would give up all my other joys.” That was the day I found out about the division of assets. Horrible words, division of assets. It is like the division of hearts is set into concrete. So I had to rethink what I wished for Christmas. “I want those who love me to give me small thoughtful gifts.” It is unfair and too much to make my kids responsible for my happiness.
  3. I cannot keep a new secret. Secrets slowly kill me. So what does this mean for me? I can’t tell my kid’s story—that is their sacred trust. But I can tell my own, where it is safe. Somewhere I have to be able to say the D-word.
  4. Divorce does not mean the end of the family. I told my grandkids that just because two people in our family can’t be together doesn’t mean we lose the family. We will stay close and keep communicating. We will love both parents fully and separately if we need to. In our case, no one gets cut out.
  5. The future can still be imagined as a beautiful and growing place. To lose all sense of hope is to lose life itself. I am allowing myself to imagine the lives of my kids unfolding differently than I had thought for two decades. The picture has different hues, shifting walls and faces, but love and life can still be imagined there.
  6. My wellness is always within my own grasp. I have been given the ability to live my own life beautifully, no matter what the situation. My capacity to do this depends entirely on what I am gazing at—and I will gaze at the Creator God who is the redeemer of every moment and whose grace extends beyond life itself.  

So, I (through my children’s dissolved marriage) will likely get divorced this year. The customary uncertainty of an upcoming year has even more shadows than usual. But I will look for the in-breaking rays of light that will certainly be present. Love, is after all.

Marilyn Elliott served as Vice President for Community Formation at Asbury Theological Seminary and has been a church leader in the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination since 1979. She has wide pastoral experience in partnership with her husband Steve. Together, they have lead three churches over 31 years, provided missionary member-care and pastoral retreats in Chile, Argentina and Venezuela since l985, and formation teaching during Field Conferences in Eastern Europe and Indonesia.


2 responses to “How to Get Divorced”

  1. Susan Clark says:

    Oh Marilyn, I’m so sorry. My heart is sad for you and Steve (and kids and grandkids even though I don’t know them.)
    Some of your questions were mine also when one of my sons divorced last October after a painful year and a half when I hoped for a miracle. I also questioned whether I had played a role. Did I not love my daughter-in-law enough to keep her in the family? Did I not teach my son well enough how to be a good husband?
    I will pray for you as you continue to struggle through your questions and find comfort in what you are learning.

  2. Jake Conway says:

    I’m sorry for you but also wanted to thank you for giving us courage. Life is hard, choices have to be mad but don’t always go as planned. Divorce is painful but there is hope at the end of the tunnel. Thank you for being a hero. Thank you for sharing your story.

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