This last week I had a meeting with one of my favorite moms. Her love for her daughter, for me, and for Jesus is palpable. And for a verity of reasons, due to long histories, and for things that I really have no idea about, this mom is in the middle of a divorce. While the ethics of divorce are complex and worthy of lengthy discussions full of truth and grace, this blog post is not about the ethics of divorce.
As the youth worker, no one is coming to me for marital advice, or trying to navigate a difficult situation, asking for prayers, or discernment for whether or not it is time to pull the plug on a marriage. No, I am the youth worker, my job, my calling, is to be the child's advocate, care for them, make space for them, and help them navigate this new landscape. I actually believe it is not the job of the youth worker to even take sides and spiritualize the landscape. Our students are only our students for a few more years, but they will always be the daughters and sons of their parents, whether or not they are divorced. To use our position of power and influence and pick sides will be disastrous for the long term health and reconciliation between all parties, and for all parties and the church.
With that being said, this conversation did help me realize that because all parents don't expect to be divorced, don't expect to have divided holidays, and now don't know how to navigate the holidays, specifically Christmas in-light of their new divorced situation. Here are a couple of helpful tips to navigate this new family rhythm:
1) Don't spiritualize your situation. Both parties are at fault in the breakup of a home. Just because one blinks first, doesn't mean that one is right and the other is wrong. It is an awful choice based on awful choices. Sometime parents see divorce as the only way out, the only way for freedom and happiness. Whether this is true or not, to spiritualize this choice diminishes the gospel. God hates divorce, so don't say he endorses your decision. In fact, I recommend taking the opposite position and admitting your place at rock bottom and needing Jesus' grace and mercy even more as you navigate this new landscape.
2) Don't do things as a "family." It will feel like you are helping your daughter or son by trying to keep some of your traditions going. Many recently divorced families will still decorate the house together. They will help, usually the dad, get a tree and stockings and spend a day together getting things together. There is also a desire to be together for Christmas morning or even for dinners. From this point on, your family and family traditions are toast. Having both parents together for anything from this point on only adds anxiety for the child. My parents have been divorced for over 35 years and whenever they are together, to this day, for a grandkids birthday, I still feel anxious. For these first few years at least, give space, let each new side establish new traditions.
3) NO SMACK TALK. For at least one of the parties involved, but usually for both there is deep hurt. And most people who hurt take that hurt out on other people. Many parents unintentionally use their kids as therapists or at least as mediators in dividing the holidays and life in the future. The other parent is still their parent and the daughter or son will always want to be in good relationship with their mom and dad and will want their parents love and approval. PLEASE DO NOT PUT THEM IN A POSITION OF TAKING SIDES! THIS NEVER ENDS WELL. Invest in a therapist, and maybe for the first time in your life, now that you are divorced you can speak highly of the kids other parent.
4) Time heals all wounds. It is amazing how the holidays seem to heighten the feelings of grief and despair. They are the annual reminder that the once held dream of the nuclear family holidays are shattered to the point of destruction. For newly divorced families this destruction leads to depression, and for some this depression seems like it will never let up. But when we think back over our entire lives from past break ups with high school sweethearts to the deaths of those closest to us, we know that life does go on. The grieving process happens and takes work. Know that this death and destruction that has overtaken your family this Christmas will be redeemed and God will make something new out of this mess. Every year the spiral of grief and healing will was up as you become more and more whole. Don't make discussions or use words that will set you and your family down roads that are even more difficult to recover from. As hopeless as things feel, we must remember that there is HOPE! We have experienced it in smaller ways due to life circumstances, we have experienced it in our own walks with Jesus at different points in our life, and now we must rely on these memories so we can make it through another day.
As we get ready to celebrate the incarnation of our loving Father, who, through the life, death, and resurrection of His son, has made a way to reconcile the entire world, no longer holding our sins against us, maybe we can extend a little extra mercy and grace into some of the most heartbreaking situations of this Christmas Season.
God is forever running after us, forever redeeming the carnage of our lives, and as ambassadors of this God, may we make wide on ramps back to the church and back to Jesus!