This wasn’t what she wanted. To be that woman who tore down her home with her own two hands. Not in a million years did she dream she would be in this impossible position one day.
Holidays in the past had always been magical for her. The music, the smells, the lights, the energy in the atmosphere—but especially the family gatherings where everyone seemed to set their differences aside and enjoy one another. At least, it seemed that way to her. Maybe she had just idealized the whole thing. But whatever. She loved this season, and even more so after she had children.
Her greatest joy was to recreate that mysterious and joyous experience for them as they grew up. She decorated and baked and cooked. She organized Christmas caroling parties and cookie exchanges. They went to concerts and plays with holiday themes. This was the time for making family memories, and she took on her role with enthusiasm, warmth, and hope.
But now here she was. Sitting in a quiet house with the rubble of her existence pressing in on all sides, suffocating her in a loneliness so black and vast it took her breath away.
I recently asked my Facebook readers who were either divorced or separated what they dreaded the most about the upcoming holiday season. There were 74 comments at the time of this writing, and they fell into five main categories:
- They grieved over not being with their children due to custody schedules.
- They dreaded being isolated and alone.
- They felt the sting of having little financial ability to purchase gifts for loved ones—especially children.
- They dreaded spending time with extended family and dealing with the stigma and shame of being separated/divorced.
- They grieved the loss of past traditions with an intact family and the dream of future family gatherings and celebrations.
These are heavy burdens. And putting them in black and white doesn’t begin to do justice to the depth of the pain and the layers of complexity these women face in their corners of the world.
I can’t take away this kind of pain, and I’m not going to try. But I’m well acquainted with it, so we will just plop down in the middle of the muck together and remember four things.
1. This is not the end of your story.
In every story you’ve got a hero and a quest. You’ve also got a series of conflicts the hero has to overcome in order to achieve her goal. When you are staring at your Charlie Brown Christmas tree on a lonely night in December, remember who you are. You are a queen in the middle of your battle. Sometimes the most critical battles—the ones that ultimately win the war—are the most hidden. Unseen. Quiet. Fought alone. So lift your tear stained face and give your battle cry. There’s a victory waiting for you in the next chapter.
Or as my sister wryly says, “This too shall pass…like a gallstone.”
2. You aren’t in the war zone by yourself.
God never promised a life of lit up holidays strung together in a never-ending string of wonder. We’ve all learned by this point in our lives that life is a mixed bag of deep joy and happy surprise as well as loss and injustice and pain. When we were young and idealistic, we thought if we did everything by the Book, our story would be problem free, and it would end with us on our death bed peacefully slipping away—surrounded by a hundred loved ones who would never forget us. Ever.
God doesn’t promise that. And many of His most ardent soldiers and ambassadors throughout history never knew that kind of beginning, middle, or ending. What our Father does promise His daughters is to never, ever leave them alone. He promises that nothing will ever be able to separate us from Him. Nothing. And that includes separation and divorce.
So when you are window shopping, and everyone is buying something but you, remember Who not only sees you but knows every stab of wistful longing. He is as close as the clouds of breath that swirl out of your mouth and disappear in the frozen atmosphere. Close your eyes and know His nearness and His love.
3. It’s winter, but Aslan is on the move.
I remember the first two holiday seasons I was separated from my ex-husband. Actually, I don’t really remember all that much other than searing pain. I had nine hurting children, and I didn’t want them to hurt. I didn’t want to be the one who initiated the end of a 25-year-long marriage I had poured my life blood into from day one. I couldn’t see one good thing in that black pit.
C.S. Lewis wrote about a never-ending winter in which Christmas never came. How many times throughout history have people waited for God to come through. Waited for the long night to be over. Waited for the spring thaw. It comes. It takes forever, but just like an overdue baby…it comes.
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”
4. You can close your eyes and swing.
I went to Six Flags with my older kids one year, which was a huge sacrifice for me because I don’t like amusement parks. I’m scared of heights, and I don’t like rides all that much anymore. I promised myself and the kids that I would go on all the horrible, frightening rides with them. Every single one. And I did.
There was one ride in particular I was dreading. It was a huge swing that not only swung high, but it also swirled around and made loud swooshing noises. I decided to close my eyes, go into my brain, and surrender to all the invasive “feels” of that swing. I envisioned myself like a baby being held closely and swung and swirled by a giant human being. A safe one.
It was one of the most incredible feelings I’ve ever experienced. Instead of panic and anxiety, I felt calm and surrendered. I leaned into the movement and allowed it to carry me through time and space. And then it was over.
When I got off, I thought about my life and how terrifying it was at the time (I was still separated and contemplating divorce), and I realized I had no other choice but to close my eyes and let this horrible circumstance swing me out of my comfort zone and into something I couldn’t comprehend. I also discovered that my Father had His arms around me. Like a child, all I had to do was close my eyes and swing.
But none of this takes the pain away.
There is no book or article or pill or food or friend or experience or drink or Bible verse that will take the pain away. Your loss is huge and heavy, and part of healing is walking through a dark maze of grief. It takes a long time, and just when you think you’re almost out, you will bump into dead ends and have to circle back over paths you thought you were done with. But the only way out is through.
Making friends with grief is one of the most important things you’ll ever do in life.
Grief will take you from a caterpillar to a butterfly, and one day you will fly free.
“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” I Peter 5:10
(Pssssst…you can get the Kindle version of my new book, Is It Me? Making Sense of Your Confusing Marriage for only $2.99 through the end of December, 2019. It won’t take away your pain, but it will help you make sense of it.)