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Divorced or Separated (or maybe just lonely)? Take These Four Truths Into Your Holiday Season

by | Nov 21, 2018 | Articles, Divorce, Emotional Abuse, Grieving | 21 comments

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:

  1. They grieved over not being with their children due to custody schedules.
  2. They dreaded being isolated and alone.
  3. They felt the sting of having little financial ability to purchase gifts for loved ones—especially children.
  4. They dreaded spending time with extended family and dealing with the stigma and shame of being separated/divorced.
  5. 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.

“Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
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.”
C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

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.

Divorced or Separated? Take These Four Truths Into Your Holiday Season

“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.)

21 Comments

  1. Linda

    Thank you! Do you have anything about helping children through this process?

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      I do within the Flying Free membership community. There are educational courses and monthly videos where we talk about children and helping them cope quite often. The group is closed right now but will open up again at the end of December.

      Reply
  2. SJ

    Great article, Natalie! Thanksgiving morning I was a little sad as I reminisced about holidays with an intact family. THEN my adult children came over, and I didn’t have to deal with my ex’s anger or temper tantrums when I sent the kids home with leftovers (he hated that), or when my grandson found a pen and colored on an ottoman (he would have flipped), or when I visited with my children instead of immediately cleaning the dishes. It’s easy to look back with rose colored glasses, but God graciously reminded me of my old reality of holidays. Because of His strength and faithfulness, I am truly flying free!

    Reply
  3. Natalie

    I think it is important as we move through our first holidays as a separated or divorced woman to remove the rose colored glasses and also allow ourselves to see the memories as they really were, not our glossed over version. I allowed myself to see that in 24 years, there was not one single holiday that was not damaged by my ex’s temper or snide comments or impossible demands. Never did we get through a drive to the family’s homes hours away without something negative happening. Now I can have peace during the holidays because I get to decide. I get to go low stress and not place impossible demands on myself and his demands are all gone. A simple, quiet, peaceful holiday is worth 1000 “perfect” glittery holidays where I am covertly abused while I try to make special memories for everyone around me.

    Reply
  4. MB

    The soon to be X who’s still living in the basement told my 19 year old tonight that women pretend to be in love in order to marry, but what they really want is to get pregnant and have kids. Once the kids are raised and they enter menopause, they decide that marriage is no longer convenient and they will seek a divorce. He told my son that to serve your wife selflessly is to serve God and even if she decides to end the marriage, he will do well to serve her. To be clear, my “husband” has never served me selflessly. I was the one who saw the family through sickness, stitches, childhood cancer, his deployments, his grad school, his promotions and increased time away from home, his porn addiction.. What was my reward? Mental, emotional, spiritual and threats of physical abuse. What he shared was sickening to me. He’s blaming his crap on me once again. It was the menopause, it was deception on my part. Oh, how a grieve for my kids. That they don’t have a real man to discuss weighty issues with. Divorce can’t come soon enough. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      Augh. This is disgusting behavior – and abusive to the kids. I’m so sorry. They do what they do, and they never change. Blaming others and refusing to take responsibility is their MO. 🙁

      Reply
  5. Linda Phillips

    Thank you!! This is the exact process my kind Lord is bringing me through (now nearly two years) and I am grateful. The verse you ended with has been my life verse for many years. For a long time I couldn’t get past the first long phrase, now I’m seeing the end shaping me. Blessings. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      Thank you – and Happy Thanksgiving to you, Linda!

      Reply
  6. Debby

    Perfect wisdom. Perfect timing. Thankful for my FF family!

    Reply
  7. Kristine

    Thank you again Natalie! I love your writing style, Amazing! I look forward to getting your book. I agree wholeheartedly to your words, and especially this quote:

    “Making friends with grief is one of the most important things you’ll ever do in life”

    What an important and beautiful lesson to learn. Pain and grief are also at work in me breaking off pride, rebellion, selfishness and many other negative attributes that I am happy to rid myself of, along with the unhealthy and abusive relationship. Continue your work in me Lord, and don’t stop! I want the finished work. Diamonds from dust? I love you Lord!!!

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      I pray you experience God’s peace today, Kristine.

      Reply
  8. Patti

    Oh…Natalie! I am grateful that you make the time in your life to soothe my soul, lift me up, give me hope and light my path through the brambles. Your gentle reminders to lean into the arms of God and let Him carry me when I need to rest from the painful journey are very much needed and appreciated.

    Feeling connected to my Flying Free Family and knowing I am not alone means the world to me!

    Thank you.

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      Patti, I pray you sense His nearness today. (((hugs)))

      Reply
  9. Shana

    Thank you so much Natalie!! I have cried for a few days now after doing so well…. experiencing my first break up after my divorce , we dated. 2 months. This is also my first Holiday without my disfunctional family included. The guy I was dating was wrong as well and I started to really like him… a lot!! Last night I cried as I prayed over how messed up my brain has been to allow people to essentially just step all over me my whole life…. thank heavens this new one took just 2 months, not 32 years …. I thought yesterday about how broken my heart is and would I ever heal, I journaled it, then I woke feeling a bit better and read this!! There have been 3 amazing beautiful women who have been in my life and their knowledge , care, gentleness and love has talked me off the ledge several times!! You are one sweet woman of Christ!! I am Thankful for you today!! Happy Thanksgiving!!

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      Shana, you caught it early! That’s huge. Throw yourself a party because you’re getting healthier. I know it sucks to be disappointed like that, but let this chapter end…and turn the page. 🙂 (((hugs)))

      Reply
  10. Jennifer Welch

    Thank you SO MUCH for this, Natalie! I will read and reread this! Exactly what I needed.

    Reply
  11. Cynthia

    Thank you.

    Reply
  12. Joy Forrest

    I love this Natalie! Thanks for sharing.

    Reply

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