Victim of Divorce

I once read the title on a movie poster that caught my attention. It said, Girl, Interrupted. I’ve never seen the film but the title struck me as very descriptive of many women today and of my own personal story.

Of all the things that can “interrupt” the emotional and spiritual development of a young woman, there’s one that often goes unnoticed because of its indirect nature: the termination of your parent’s marriage covenant. I am the daughter of divorced parents.

I vividly remember the day my father moved out of our home. My mother took my sisters and me to the county fair. My parent’s plan was to have my father pack-up and leave before we returned. Before we left, I found my dad and said, “Dad, I want to stay home with you.” I normally would never pass up an opportunity to ride on “The Octopus” but sensed something was not right. My dad insisted that I go. I felt more determined to stay and moved closer to him. He looked really distressed and backed away so I couldn’t touch him. Suddenly, it felt like something was unraveling within me and a bizarre sense of confusion stepped in between us. No more was said and I was off to the fair to have a good time--feeling sad, rejected and confused.

When we returned home that afternoon, my mom dropped the bomb. “Your father and I are getting a divorce.” My heart sank, and felt numb. My twelve year old sensibilities were unable to process this unfolding tragedy. Even though it was essentially the death of our family, no one cried. I just remember feeling a great sadness descend on my heart and seeking solitude to relieve the pain.

Our family seemed nearly idyllic. Perhaps that’s why I felt the loss so profoundly. Neither of my parents thought this would happen to them, but the enemy was cunning. Choices were made and the damage was done. It was not in vogue to seek counseling for a troubled marriage in the 1970’s, let alone speak of it. Divorce seemed the only solution for betrayed trust and broken hearts.

I’m sure my mom had her times of private tears, but she put on a brave face, determined to keep everything as normal as possible. “You’ll still see your father,” she assured us, “he just won’t be living here anymore.” Simple, right? I think everyone hoped it would be. But, covenants can’t be broken without consequences. In the case of divorce, the damage to the children is unavoidable and yet not immediately recognizable. My maturing process basically broke down. I was at an age when my father’s influence should have been increasing in my life. Now it was relegated to “visits”–often uncomfortable ones because of unspoken feelings of regret and sorrow. My budding womanhood needed a father’s consistent affection, protection and confidence in who I was becoming. My father tried to give all those things, but the divorce reduced the flow to a trickle. He couldn’t freely delight in me as his daughter anymore. His love felt ambivalent. Looking back, I see that ambivalent love was at the heart of my emotional problems.

For years, I was unconscious of the emotional wound I carried. Confusion in relationships (particularly with men), battles with self-acceptance and a lingering sadness in my heart were the new normal. Thankfully, I had become a Christian in my early teens. Though this largely filled my love deficit, God waited until I reached adult age to begin the real healing. First, He had to expose the wound. During a college mission trip to Mexico City, I lived with a very poor and wonderful Mexican family. Being dependent on them for everything, we quickly bonded. When it came time to say goodbye, I was caught unaware. I found myself weeping uncontrollably. The warmth and closeness of this family exposed the brokenness of my own. I returned to the U.S. an emotional basket case. With a broken and needy heart, I sought counsel from godly mentors and professionals who all helped me identify my underlying need: to acknowledge the truth of the divorce’s effects on me and to grieve my losses.

I began to ask my parents a lot of questions. This was not easy. It meant digging up painful memories. Yet, it was necessary to look at what happened with adult eyes. As I honestly faced the past, huge emotions surfaced, including anger. This scared me at first, but I learned not to deny what I was really feeling, no matter how ugly it was. Alienation from my father’s family, splitting holidays between both parents, and the pain of watching my mother date and break up with several men were just some of the secondary consequences that made me really angry. After the anger subsided, tears began to flow. Each time I allowed myself to feel and put voice to these emotions, healing occurred deep in my soul. The maturing process rebooted and worked itself through my entire being. I even noticed changes in my physical body. I was unburdening my heart and maturing simultaneously, feeling lighter and more alive! As John 8:32 says, knowing the truth was setting me free. As for my parents, I think it was important for them to see my struggle and for me to gain perspective on theirs. By revisiting the past and gaining greater insight into what happened, I learned what I needed to forgive. This led to relationships with my parents that were far more meaningful.

I think I understand why God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). It pulls apart the very unit he has designed to shape and build our character and personality. And this affects the next generation, our communities and nation. Destinies are at stake. I recently took part in a study on covenants. We looked at Malachi 2:15, “Has not the Lord made them one? And why one? Because He was seeking godly offspring”. My notes explained, “This breaking of faith leaves the children’s souls wandering in confusion, seeking an oneness that has been broken and lost.” God detests divorce because broken families disrupt His ultimate goal: our oneness with Him.

Even though divorce is so prevalent and widely accepted, let us not forget the burden it has laid on the children. I often think of the effects divorce has had on our nations. So few have seen the sacrifice it takes to overcome relational hardships and we’ve cheapened the very institution God intended to bless us. We desperately need to be learning how to pass covenantal love on to the next generation. As for me, the effects of going through a parental divorce still haunt my journey on earth. If it wasn’t for God in my life, the effects would have been much worse.

I’ve learned He can heal the unique wounds of a girl interrupted. But what a long and twisting detour I’ve traveled.

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