Two years ago, I was joyfully writing blog posts telling Nicholas Sparks to move over; confidently proclaiming that my real-life love story trumped anything Sparks had ever penned.
I planned a wedding fit for a fairytale. Friends traveled hundreds of miles to be there in support. They had walked with me through the challenges of widowhood, prayed with me as I pursued my dreams and launched Leave Nothing Unsaid, and then rejoiced with me as I experienced what I thought was God’s abundant blessing as I met and married “Prince Charming.”
Then, before our first wedding anniversary, I learned that my "knight in shining armor" wasn’t the hero I thought. He didn’t really mean those wedding vows about “forsaking all others.” I was shattered to learn of his unfaithfulness and deception.
Despite the betrayal, I was willing to forgive and try again. I probably jumped back in too quickly, desperate for the fairy tale to be saved. Sadly, after several months, it became very apparent that his heart had not really changed.
So, eighteen months after marrying the man I thought was God’s answer to my prayers, I was divorced. Devastated. Dreams destroyed. Heart crushed.
I moved to a small town to heal and begin this new and unwanted chapter of my life. I tried everything possible to move forward in a healthy way. Counseling. A divorce support group. Working with a ministry specializing in forgiveness. Reading, reading and more reading. Praying. Talking to trusted friends. I was impatient. Surely there was a way to speed this healing process. But my pain continued.
And finally, like buds coming forth again after a long, cold winter, I started to come back to life. For the first few months in my new community, I had no desire to meet anyone new. Tears were always close to the surface, and I dreaded the question “what brought you here?” But after a few months, just as the fresh, green leaves began emerging on the trees, I started to revive. I had a desire to write again. Words of encouragement about my return to blogging put a fresh wind in my sails.
Earlier this month, I shared the message of Leave Nothing Unsaid with groups for the first time in over a year. And despite my fears, I was quickly reminded of what an important and fulfilling calling this is. The encouragement was overwhelming. “Your message is life-changing” one host expressed.
Why do I share all of this? I have been reading Sheryl Sandberg’s excellent book Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. And I am reminded anew of how much I value authenticity. Sharing our pain allows others the freedom to do the same. Sharing our healing journey gives others hope.
Do I have all the answers of what went wrong? Not completely. Do I understand the purpose for all of this pain? No, not yet. (Might never, this side of Heaven.) Am I completely healed? No, but I’m making progress, day by day.
The best news is that I have already mined some treasures from this painful season. I hope they will help someone you love:
-When you’ve been rejected or betrayed by someone you trusted, it’s easy to assume that God will treat you the same way. That is a LIE. It’s insidious and can subtly cloud your thinking. Be aware. God is faithful even if a spouse or friend is not. He will NEVER leave you or forsake you. He is faithful. Always and forever.
As painful as this season has been for me, I have never been more aware of God’s presence and faithfulness, more grateful for Jesus’ love and kindness or more comforted and encouraged by the Holy Spirit. Immerse yourself in the truth of Scripture to keep your thinking on track.
-You can’t just ignore pain and move on. Just as an infection must be eliminated for true healing to occur, deep pain has to be faced. Hurt has to be admitted and processed. It’s not just what happened. It’s the impact the circumstances have made on your life.Yes, it’s important to forgive the behavior of the one who hurt you, but first, you need to uncover the hurt and pain.
-Friends are invaluable. They can help you see truth that you are too wounded to see. You might need to be reminded more than a few times of the truth for it to sink in. Different friends will bring a variety of helpful perspectives, too. Don’t put all of the burden of your healing on one person.
-A wise and godly counselor is also invaluable as you walk through the journey of hurt and grief to healing and restoration. It’s one of the best investments you can make.
-At some point, after healthy processing has taken place, we have a choice. Do we stay fixated with looking in the rear view mirror, reflecting on everything that happened? Or do we look ahead to our future? I don’t want to crash again, so I’m opting to look forward.
-Do things that feed your soul, whether it is being outdoors, listening to uplifting music, enjoying a special hobby, learning a new skill, traveling, whatever. Nurture yourself and don’t feel guilty. Self-care is vital.
-A dear friend assumed “you must be mad at God.” No, not for a moment. The person I’ve been angriest at is myself for ignoring what I now realize were blinking warning lights. God was trying to get my attention. Yet I wanted the “happily ever after” so much that I ignored reality.
-Self-flogging doesn’t accomplish anything either. Saying “how could I have been so stupid?” is futile. Asking “God, what do you want me to learn from this painful situation about myself, about you, about others?” is much more productive. And I have learned a LOT!
-Journaling, whether by hand or on a computer, is great therapy and helps bring clarity. Don’t worry about how well formed your sentences are. Just unload what’s on your heart.
-Laughter is great medicine. And I believe you can find humor in any situation, even the most painful.
-Keep a gratitude journal. For years, I have been recording 4 or 5 reasons to be grateful every day. And that practice has never been more important than this last year. Even amidst crushing disappointment, there are always reasons for gratitude.
-Just as recovery from a major accident or surgery takes time, so does healing from a broken heart. Give yourself grace and trust God’s work in the process.
-Fight the following impulses:
To become bitter. It’s like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.
To distrust everyone because of one person’s character flaws. More discerning, yes. But cynical and distrustful? No.
To be a victim. I made some bad choices, too, and I will own and learn from those.
To think the future is without hope because a dream has been destroyed.
-Get back in the game. You'll never feel ready. It took a huge step of courage for me to begin speaking again. But I knew it was time and that if I waited until I was "ready," I'd be waiting forever. I'm glad I took the plunge.
Hopefully, you will never find yourself in this situation. But someone you care about just might. I pray that the painful lessons I have learned will help you encourage someone who needs to know that they’re not alone and most importantly, that they, too, will survive, revive, and eventually, thrive.
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” Psalm 34:18
Photo Credit: Carolina Photosmith