A little more than two years ago I experienced a pain unlike any other pain I’ve ever felt. The symptoms had been there for years leading up to this moment in time when my world went momentarily black and my knees bucked under me. The next 30 minutes was, quite literally, the most physically painful experience I have ever felt.
I tried to address the symptoms, but nothing worked. My wife at the time had no interest in remaining married and so, with nothing more than her signature, a court stamp and a bunch of money she absconded from our bank account, the divorce papers delivered by paid courier that dark morning were official.
It’s not just my pain that lingers. The ironic pain I feel when I read or hear stories of couples on the brink of divorce who, through a miracle of God, decided to work things out, or the pain of going home once again to an empty house with nothing more to do but maybe read, or simply stare into space. For the most part it’s not even the pain of seeing others happily married or the sappy affections of a young couple that hurts, though all these do hurt. If it were simply my own pain of lingering rejection that I had to contend with maybe I could bear it a little better. But it’s not. It’s the pain I see that has replaced the smile on the face of my 8-year-old daughter that hurts the most because I can’t seem to make that pain go away. It’s the absence of joy that once permeated from her very being that is most disturbing and worrisome.
I think the pain of rejection is far worse than any other pain a human being can experience. Rejection is a pain that says: “you’re not worthy,” or “you have no value.” It’s not merely that someone doesn’t like you anymore; to be rejected by a spouse is almost indescribable.
I also think that rejection causes an almost paranoid fear of it happening again; so much so that it causes one to fear situations where you could once again place yourself in the vulnerable position of trying to date again. It’s a terrible place to be because folks who’ve experienced divorce truly need someone just to talk to. They need another human being who will listen and not judge; they really need someone to validate their absent sense of self worth, not in a physical sort of way, but in a much more intimate and emotional context.
This morning my pastor read from a letter he said he received from a fellow pastor. The letter was written by a 31-year-old man who unsuccessfully fought against the divorce that his ex wife sought. In this letter the man describes the poverty of friendship he has, and the absence of another person with whom to share his pain, to cry with or simply to talk to when he goes to his empty house. In his frustration the man writes about spending the rest of his life “in the penalty box,” which in my own experience can be interpreted to mean that the dark place and loneliness that I now suffer through is part of that “penalty box” that I too have been sentenced to as a result of my own mistakes in life and particularly in my former marriage. While I know this bit of “theology” does not bear truth from what I know in God’s word it’s still a very real battle within my soul that I must wrestle with on a constant basis. This is more common than you’d think.
The following excerpt comes from the Web site: http://www.divorceinfo.com/suicide.htm#EffectOfDivorce. I find it poignant to the struggles that men go through post-divorce. If nothing else, it illustrates the vital role that a solid friendship can play in helping men recover from divorce and preventing them from becoming another suicide statistic.
“One recent study by the National Institute for Healthcare Research in Rockville, MD indicates that divorced people are three times as likely to commit suicide as people who are married. The Institute says that divorce now ranks as the number one factor linked with suicide rates in major U.S. cities, ranking above all other physical, financial, and psychological factors.
“A study of 13 European countries by the regional European office of the World Health Organization found that divorce was the only factor linked with suicide in every one of the 13 countries. The study showed that factors like poverty, unemployment, and disability were associated with divorce in some of the countries but that disruption of the family was the only factor linked with divorce in all 13.
“Anecdotally, the coroner of Butler County, Ohio told UPI in the late 80’s that he thought the high rate of suicide in that area was traceable to men’s inability to cope with divorce. Dr. Richard Burkhardt said he thought women were more likely to feel needed after divorce because they needed to take care of children. But men, he said, felt cut off from their role as head of the household and felt they had no reason to live.
“Statistically, women are more likely to attempt suicide, but men are more likely to succeed. Suicide is more likely among men over age 65, among young people, among disabled people, and among people in lower socio-economic groups.”
Again it’s why I believe church is such a vital place for people today. Not simply because we ought to be somewhere on Sunday morning worshipping God with songs and listen to the teachings of the pastor, but because we’re human beings, and human beings crave relationship with one another. You would think that the best place for people to find a Monday-Saturday kind of friendship would be on Sunday in their local church. However, such is not always the case. It’s sad when people can’t even find significant friends from within the church to be there and help them Monday through Saturday.
If you know someone going through divorce, or someone who’s been through one, my recommendation is to be purposeful, almost to the point of being pushy, in a very personal effort to befriend them. I say this cautiously though. Guys should not ever attempt to be that shoulder for a woman to cry on since she is obviously not going to be YOUR wife. Similarly, men should not seek out the comfort of a woman’s advice, even though women seem to be wired more effectively for emotional conversations. While this may be more difficult for men to find emotional support than women, men in this situation need to find a church where the pastor or someone leads a men’s group and can point you in the right direction to find the help you need.