Learn how to handle the pain and brokenness that a divorce can cause yourself and your children.
How do I deal with the pain and brokenness of divorce? I’ll admit that I’ve made some bad choices in life. One of the worst was walking away from my family when my marriage got too tough to deal with. I realize now that my absence has not only brought me personal pain, but has had a negative impact on the lives of my kids. What’s done is done, and there is nothing that will undo the harm I’ve caused. I feel extremely guilty. Where do I go from here?
You’ve already taken a major step in the right direction by acknowledging and accepting responsibility for your poor choices. You’d be surprised how many people in your position never even get that far. It’s plain that you have a tender conscience and a repentant heart. For that you deserve to be commended. We’d like to begin, then, by offering you a word of encouragement. If you commit yourself, your kids, and your entire situation to the Lord in earnest prayer, we believe you can trust Him to guide you.
Where should you go from here? A great deal depends on where you are right now and where you want to go. Your goals will take shape in a particular way if your children are still relatively young. They will assume another form if they’re already grown or on the verge of entering adulthood. In either case, your aim is to do what you can to heal broken relationships and re-establish healthy connections. We want to urge you to pursue these goals with a whole heart. But be forewarned. This is an art, not a science. Unfortunately, it’s not a matter of implementing ten easy steps to success that will result in simple fixes or quick solutions.
As we see it, your first assignment is to get yourself healthy. In your role as a parent, your kids need you to be as solid and well-adjusted as you can possibly be. That won’t happen as long you’re “plagued by feelings of guilt.” To break this destructive pattern, you’ll have to accomplish three objectives. 1) Learn to discern the difference between true and false guilt. 2) Leave the false guilt behind. 3) Figure out what you can do (if anything) to deal with the true guilt. Only then will you be able to build bridges and move ahead with your life in a positive fashion.
False guilt is a hopeless dead-end. It locks you up inside your own bad feelings. It offers no way of escape. With true guilt, on the other hand, there’s always a door in the wall, a passage to the other side. There’s always something practical you can do to improve the situation. True guilt is a goad prodding you to accept responsibility for your own failures. It urges you to take appropriate action. It helps you distinguish between what you can do and what you can’t do. It motivates you to act. It enables you to seek, give, and receive forgiveness.
We’d advise you to make a list of all the people you’ve wronged. Begin with your former spouse and your kids. With that list of names in front of you, go to prayer. Ask the Lord to forgive you for the bad choices you’ve made. Open your Bible to I John 1:9. Read the words aloud and receive the forgiveness God has made available to you in Jesus Christ. Then go to each individual on your list and ask them to forgive you as well. If they respond positively, you’ve gained your objective. You’ve taken your first step toward some kind of workable and meaningful reconciliation. If they refuse, you have the consolation of knowing that you’ve done all you can do.
Remember, when speaking about your own faults and failings it’s crucial to be as specific, as honest, and as humble as possible. This is especially true when it comes to your relationships with your kids. In an age-appropriate manner, share with them the facts surrounding the breakup of your marriage. Be open and transparent. If they’re receptive, let your confession transition into a dialogue. Answer their questions to the best of your ability. Express sincere remorse by saying something like, “If I had the chance to do it all over again, things would be very different.” Give them an opportunity to share their feelings. Take time to listen. Help them to grieve with you over your shared losses and then move on.