Dr. James Stillwell is a Lexington, Kentucky Baptist minister and Licensed Pastoral Counselor. He was previously on staff at Immanuel Baptist Church, but now serves as Interim Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in West Irvine. He has established Dr. James Stillwell Ministries which has offices in Lexington, Frankfort, and Louisville. He also runs divorce recovery workshops. He has advice for the newly divorced facing the hurdles of the season.
“Thankfully,” Stillwell says, “You probably have a better experience than those who experienced divorce during the time the Bible was written. In that day, women were considered property, only men could divorce, and the cultural debate was whether or not a man could divorce his wife ‘for any and every reason.’ (Matthew 19:3, NIV) The first point is to be thankful for how you have gotten through your experience so far. The promise of God’s presence in your life did not end when the divorce became final. God’s love and presence is still a comfort and promise.
“In our day, divorce signifies the tragedy of the end of a marriage; it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. For those who were in abusive relationships, it may be a time of relief and almost celebration. Still, we live in a culture that tends to celebrate family and marriage more than singleness, so it can be a difficult transition and can provide opportunities for potentially awkward moments. Here are a few suggestions:
* Be kind to yourself in your time of grief. It doesn’t help to “beat up on yourself” because of your marital status. God loves you. We all do well to think of what Jesus called ‘the great commandment’: love God with all you’ve got and love your neighbor as yourself. If you notice that sentence has three people for you to love. Loving yourself is required as well. That includes not keeping yourself forever in a cloud of self-condemnation.
* Be kind to your former spouse. Of course, if this was easy you might still be married! But the “neighbor” in the Great Commandment even includes even that person. So consider a spirit of generosity in regards to discussions regarding time each of you will have with children. The spirit of your relationship needs to be businesslike, with the business being the well-being of your children. Your children should not be pawns in a power game or the rope in a tug-of-war. Clear communication with your former spouse is essential. If it is not possible to do so by yourself, it can be done through your legal counsel. Confirm well in advance the schedule of parental supervision. Write that schedule out and post it in your home so that there is no confusion for your children. If new circumstances arise, be willing to adapt. Your flexibility and generosity toward the children’s other parent should be based on your flexibility and sensitivity to your children. Unless the other parent is abusive or unsafe, your children need a real relationship with both parents.
* Stay positive. It does no good to put down the children’s other parent. It does not help your children to use them for venting your anger or depression. Get help and take care of yourself, either through seeing a counselor or through being a part of a divorce recovery group. Don’t make your children the victims of your marriage dissolution by making your emotional state dependent on them.
* Be creative. It may be that you can best use part of the Holiday serving others through a homeless shelter or food bank. Find an inspiring worship service to attend, either by yourself or with others.
* When you sad or angry, do not make the problem worse through drugs or alcohol.
* Take care of yourself so you can be there for your children. As they say on airplanes, ‘put the oxygen mask on yourself first.’ Get a massage. Put on soothing music. Take a long bath. Do whatever it takes to be the best you you can be. Your children need you to be there for them and to be able to talk and especially to listen. They need to be able to process their experiences in age-appropriate ways.
* Remember, “family” takes many shapes and forms. And while your former spouse (or yourself) may not have been the best possible mate, you can do all you can to help them (and you) succeed as being a good parent. You can work together to make this happen, even during days that carry as much emotional weight as the Christmas holidays. Give yourself permission to celebrate in ways you have never done before. Give yourself quiet time if you need it. ‘Downsize’ your shopping in ways that fit your budget yet allow you still to be thoughtful toward others.
* Be prepared for the family gatherings. Anticipate conversations that might be uncomfortable. Focus on your children’s experience. Focus on the freedom you might be able to have as a single person to make choices that you might not have had before. Focus on the “reason for the season” and celebrate Jesus’ birthday. You will get through this. Begin planning now for ways you can do self-care as you approach the New Year.
To reach Dr. James Stillwell, see his website.