Category Archives: Christianity Divorce

Finishing God’s Sentences.

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When I take my dogs for their daily walk, they can tell twenty minutes before we leave.  (Unfortunately any time I bend down to put on my shoes they can also tell and get wildly excited – even though, most times, they’re not actually going anywhere.) All the signs are pointing – potentially – in the direction of bliss but, alas, there is more to it than me just putting on the right footgear.

When we arrive at the gorgeous common where we walk – the dogs having howled deafeningly and in unison at the sheer joy of it all en route – the three of them spring from the car and dash off in all directions at once. I corral them back (often having to put them on leads) before we can set out on our intended route.

How very true it is to say that dogs resemble their owners.

When I was at seminary twenty five years ago, I had a brilliant counsellor who helped  me process my journey. Almost every session, she said the same thing to me, “Stay the course.” When she first said it, I asked her what she meant. She replied,

“When God gives you a whiff of something, Josie, you’re all in.  You put your pedal to the metal and suddenly you’re going a million miles an hour and becoming a missionary in Africa. Just stay the course! Stay. The. Course.”

Blimey, how I struggle with this.  Just like my own children, I constantly jump ahead. I say to them:  “After dinner, we’ll…” They say: “Watch a movie?!”/”Get an ice cream?!”/Buy a new video game???!!!!” Sometimes they’re right, but not yet. And sometimes they’re just completely wrong.

As I come to the end of this particular season of transition – married to divorced, America to England – I can see so clearly how constantly I try to finish God’s sentences. “Oh yeah, OK, right Lord.  I can see how this goes…”

I think it’s the product of three things:

  1. My desire to get out of a situation I’m currently in.
  2. My passion to be in His will.
  3. My sometimes desperate need to know what on earth is really going on.

On occasion with my littlest dog, when I can’t get her to stay close to me on our walk, I just lift her off the ground and carry her. She squirms and wriggles, but I hold her tight until we reach a place where she can safely run.

So too with Jesus and me.  Looking back, I can see where He lifted my feet off the ground to stop me running all over the place.  In frustration and fury, my legs kept pumping and my fists landed more than a few good punches on Jesus’ chest meantime. How I hate not “going” anywhere (and how much He must love me when I can be so unpleasant.)

Of course, it’s not that I haven’t been going anywhere. He’s got me and He’s simply been moving me forward at a pace and in a way that I could handle.

How much I wish I would have rested in that and not struggled so hard.  It was exhausting and changed nothing.  How much I wish I would have enjoyed the ride a bit more! Trusting that Someone knew what was really going on, Someone knew where I was going next, and Someone was going to get me and my kids there safely.

How much I wish I had spent more time doing less.  Not striving, not fretting, not peering into a future I could not as yet see.

For, as tortuously hard as the last three years have been, they have only been matched and overcome by God’s kindness and faithfulness to me in the midst.  I have not struck my foot against a stone.  I have not lost my mind.  I still have two provenly robust, loving and remarkable children. And I am closer to my saviour than I have ever been.

If you are walking a path of transition, my recommendation to you is this: relax and recognise Jesus surrounding you. The people in your life, a great cup of coffee, escapist shows (some shows), fellowship, friendship, the outdoors, rain, sun, seasons reminding you of the cycle of life.  Breathe and let the road take you – don’t strive to take the road.  He’s already got it all laid out, certain of your every step. Keep laying your heart before Him and wait for Him to speak.

Where you stop, He’ll continue you forward. Where you stumble, He’ll pick you up and set you straight. Where you totally give up, you’ll discover it was Him who was getting you there anyway.

And if you don’t know Jesus, He’s walking beside you anyway.  Closer to you than breathing.  Because that’s just how He rolls. That’s just how much He loves you as much as He loves me. No matter what. You can just ask Him.

So what can I do now that I’m trying not to pre-empt God’s every next move in my life? Well, all I can say is this.  Since Christmas I have had a big eraser sitting at eye level above my desk:

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Last week, as I lay face down in worship pondering where God might lead me next, I distinctly heard Him say this:  “THINK BIGGER!

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Thank you so much to the tens of thousands of you who have read my blog over the past three years.  Your companionship has been a jewel in my pocket.

Bash on!

Steps

Regardless.

jsg/May 17

Judgment.

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‘Judge not that ye not be judged.’

This verse has always made me cringe.  Because I judge so easily.  Do you?

I “work out” who someone is within twenty seconds:

“No no, all teeth and tan.”

“Blimey, I wouldn’t like to be on the wrong side of that.”

“Homeless.  What happened to them?

It helps me to remember the immediate response to people I have in my own heart, when I feel hurt by the judgment of others.

Which I do.

One of the hardest things I find about divorce is feeling so constantly judged. Now I realise much of this is probably my own projection.  We worry about what others think of us when really they’re simply not thinking about us at all, they’re thinking about what people are thinking about them.

But forget other people.  As a divorced woman, as a Christian divorced woman, I judge myself.  I am constantly levelling judgment against myself.

It gets to that moment in the conversation when I have to say, “Actually I’m a single mum.  Yup.  My divorce was final this summer,” that judgment rears its head.  I gulp.  My stomach lurches forward a little.  My face takes on the pinched look of a hamster in pain plastered under a bright smile that’s meant to cover my shame and communicate, “I’m fine! I’m fine! I’m fine! Yes, I’m all squared away on this.  Yes, me and the Lord, we’re squared away on this. Yup. Yup.  Here I am.”

And then depending on how guilty/ashamed I feel on any particular day, I might stop there or sputter on about how I never expected to be divorced blah-blah-blahtyty-blah. As if that means that somehow I’m not?

I feel the need to justify myself even when there’s nothing I can say.

Because the thing is, even though it’s true that I am squared away with the Lord about it, I always wish I wasn’t divorced.  I wish I wasn’t a single mum.  I wish we could be a regular family unit.

But we couldn’t. It was not possible. So here I am.  I couldn’t have changed the course of action I ultimately had to take, I just wish my life hadn’t been that.  I wish I hadn’t had to take that course. I wish my children lived with two parents.  I wish we’d been functional.  I wish we’d managed to make it work.  I wish we’d got it sorted out.

But it wasn’t possible.  My head knows that but my heart still grieves it.  It probably always will.  And so my condemnation against myself – legitimate or otherwise – remains.

And then there are the moments when even the people who know my story, the people who know all its ins and outs and know me, display – unwittingly – their own judgment on my situation.  My single mother state. My divorced-Christian-woman state.

And it’s devastating.  It’s doubly devastating because even though they love me they – just like me – cannot ultimately conceal their own prejudice about where I am.  Judgement rises like a subtle mist out of an apparently innocent exchange.  Here’s a recent example.

In order to better understand my current circumstances and my depression, I asked someone very close to me to think through the following scenario:

“I’m 51. Where were you when you were my age?  What stage in your life had you reached by then?  Think about it for a moment.  Have you got it in your head?  Can you see yourself back then?  OK.  

Now think about how you felt about who you were at this life-stage.  What had you achieved work-wise?  How long had you been married?  How many homes had you created?  How many times had you moved?  How many children did you have?  How did you feel about yourself as a functioning adult?

Now, imagine this for a minute.  Imagine that everything you’d built up in your adult life gets ripped away from you.  Can you imagine that?  I really want you to try for a minute. Your home’s gone, your marriage is gone, your career’s gone.  You are now – despite all intention and expectation – the sole provider for your children. Who are traumatized and needing enormous amounts of emotional support.  Financially, the only responsible decision is to move back in with your parents.  

You can’t believe it.  Are you kidding?  Move back in with mum and dad?  Really?  Now?  At your age?  

Yes.  I want you to imagine what that would be like.

This is your situation and you now have to think extremely carefully about whatever capital you have left.  You must save, which makes the only responsible option to come back under your father’s roof.  At this stage in your life, now.  

Can you imagine that?

This means you will also have to come back under your mother’s way of doing things – not your own which you’ve developed over decades as an adult – but hers.  You love your mother, but you learned to do things your own way long ago.

You’ve had to leave all your possessions behind and so your parents – with massive generosity – have offered you rooms in their house until you can get back on your feet.  How does this make you feel?

You must – respectfully – find a way to make space in their house for you and your children. It is not actually your space, it is their home and their things.  So you must try and create boundaries tenderly, firmly, gratefully.  You buy a few essentials, but really you are cobbling together an existence with nothing that actually belongs to either you or your children. Yet you must try to make it your own recognisable home. Your own refuge.

And now as well as your home not being your own, your time is not your own. Your choices cannot be yours alone.  Everything must be gauged, weighed, measured, received.  For you are no longer an independent agent in any manner or by any means.  You, of necessity, are entirely reliant on the kindness of others.

Can you imagine all that?   Can you imagine what that must be like?

That’s my life right now.  Can you imagine it?”

There was a long pause, and then here it came.  The unbearably, unwittingly revealing response:

“No, to be honest, I can’t.  Because it’s just so totally improbable.”

My breath caught.  There it was.  Judgment lurking unspoken underneath even given all the facts.  Judgment that cannot help but eventually make itself known.  Because you know what they’re really saying?  “You see I can’t imagine it, Josie. Because I would never have let it happen to me.

They echo the thoughts I have toward myself.  And it guts me.

So next time I (for example) judge a homeless woman for being homeless?  I’m going to stop myself in my tracks and say this:

“You know what, Josie?  She could have made all the right decisions and still ended up homeless.  You know why?  Because she’s a human being and life happens.”

And maybe, just maybe, that will lessen the sting when I feel so judged myself.

 

jsg/oct 16