Two gentlemen in a ward became single at about the same time, each after years of marriage to their wives. When the first man became single, the ward reached out frequently, provided meals, and found ways to make sure he didn’t feel so alone. For the second gentleman, this ministering did not take place, and he was left feeling isolated and unequal.
What was the difference between the two men? The first was widowed and the second divorced. As the divorced gentleman shared this experience with me, his plea was simple: can we help Church members better understand how to minister to those who are divorced and to recognize that they still have an equal, valued place in our wards and branches?
Many wards do a wonderful job of ministering to those experiencing the effects of divorce, yet this man’s plea can lead us all to ask if there’s still something we can do better. This need to feel welcomed and supported relates to an ongoing invitation from Church leaders—to love all within the fold of God and to help them feel welcome and safe in our stakes of Zion.1
“Anytime we lift someone else we are in essence creating places of security for them.”2 Our wards and branches should be among those places as we seek to keep the two great commandments to love God and to love others as ourselves (see Matthew 22:37–39). The following principles can help us know how to better support those in our wards and branches who have experienced or are experiencing divorce.
Remember That Divorce Involves Many Emotions
Because we know the fundamental doctrine of eternal marriage and the power of the sealing covenant in God’s plan of salvation, divorce can be heartbreaking. Yet not everyone may feel the same way about their divorce. President Dallin H. Oaks, First Counselor in the First Presidency, taught that divorce “is a sensitive subject because it evokes such strong emotions from persons it has touched in different ways. Some see themselves or their loved ones as the victims of divorce. Others see themselves as its beneficiaries. Some see divorce as evidence of failure. Others consider it an essential escape hatch from marriage.”3
Rather than assuming how someone experiencing divorce views their circumstances, lend a listening ear whenever and however the person is ready. Consider simply asking, “How can I be a support at this time?” or “In what ways can we support you through and even after your divorce?”
Questions to Consider:
· How might the individuals be experiencing a variety of feelings at different points each day, week, or month? How can I be thoughtful and supportive during each of those emotions?
· How can I keep myself receptive to revelation about how to help at different times?
· What assumptions am I making that I might need to let go of to better seek and act on revelation about how to help?
Focus on Loving Instead of Judging
In matters of divorce, we rarely, if ever, will know all the details that led to a couple’s divorce—and we don’t need to. “When divorce occurs, individuals have the obligation to forgive, lift, and help rather than to condemn”;4 this is true for both the couple and those around them. We must be cautious to focus on loving others, not judging them, regardless of which of the spouses we have a stronger relationship with.
Instead of focusing on judgment, we can focus on love and unity, as taught by Sister J. Anette Dennis, First Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency:
“How often do we judge others based on their outward appearance and actions, or lack of action, when, if we fully understood, we would instead react with compassion and a desire to help instead of adding to their burdens with our judgment? …
“We are commanded to love others, not to judge them. Let’s lay down that heavy burden; it isn’t ours to carry. Instead, we can pick up the Savior’s yoke of love and compassion. …
“… Everyone needs to feel that they really do belong and are needed in the body of Christ.”5
Questions to Consider:
· What can I do to focus more on loving others as Jesus Christ does?
· Are there ways I am judging someone, including finding or assigning fault, that might be holding me back from being able to provide needed support?
· What can I do to better feel the love of God for others?
Look for Ways to Include Them
Through divorce, individuals often lose friendships that originated through their ex-spouse’s friends or family. And what happens when friendships were formed during the marriage, and friends may no longer be able to invite both ex-spouses to activities at the same time?
One sister shared that she and her husband had often attended a weekly game night with friends in her ward. After the divorce, she was saddened when the invitations to game night stopped coming because it was only couples who had attended. Another sister shared that many ward members assumed that because she was now a single mother, she wouldn’t have time to attend activities with friends like she did before; therefore, they didn’t invite her so that she wouldn’t feel sad in not being able to come. However, this simply left her feeling more isolated and alone. This sister shared that it would have felt nice to simply continue to be invited (even if she couldn’t join)—to know that others wanted her there.
Every situation is different, but “we all need to feel the warm hand of friendship and hear the firm declaration of faith.”6
Questions to Consider:
· What adjustments to activities can I make to help members who are single feel equally as comfortable in attending as married couples do?
· How can our ward provide additional opportunities for inclusion with activities that fit the needs of members who are divorced?
· What activities might help my friend serve or contribute, especially if his or her confidence needs to be restored after a difficult relationship?
“First Observe, Then Serve”7
Those experiencing divorce are adjusting to changes in finances, schedules, emotions, daily and annual traditions, living arrangements, and more. This is true for adults as well as their children, who may also be taking on additional responsibilities in their homes.
Ward or branch councils can consider how to support each member of the family, including the children. As individuals, we also have many opportunities to see needs and then prayerfully act on personal revelation to help fulfill them.
One sister was blessed when a neighbor realized that her ex-husband had typically performed annual fall yard cleanup, including winterizing sprinklers, and offered to do it for her or show her what to do. A single father was blessed when neighbors provided ideas for reliable babysitters in his new area.
Here are other ways ward members have helped families:
· Ward, youth, and Primary leaders set examples of fatherly or motherly influences as appropriate in the children’s lives.
· Christmas gifts were donated, as was money to help with mission costs.
· Extra food from youth conferences or activities was sent home to the family.
· Ward members attended children’s sporting activities.
· Teacher councils discussed how to be mindful of children from a divorced home, especially with lessons about families or when the children attended the ward only every other week when they were with a specific parent.
· An older couple took the single-parent family under their wings.
We can also keep in mind that individuals and families will need time to adjust to their new situations. Be generous in letting them heal and progress on God’s and their timetable, not ours.
Questions to Consider:
· How can I strengthen an ongoing friendship so that those going through a divorce will feel comfortable receiving help when they need it, even if it’s not right now?
· What “firsts” may be especially difficult for the family, such as the first time children are not together with a parent on a holiday? How can I provide extra friendship during those times?
· What resources might the family need that I can assist with, or how might I foster a connection to others with skills to help?
As we prayerfully seek to better understand and minister to those who are divorced, along with their families, we can feel and share part of God’s love for all His children.
1.nullSee, for instance, Quentin L. Cook, “Hearts Knit in Righteousness and Unity,” Liahona, Nov. 2020, 18–22; D. Todd Christofferson, “The Doctrine of Belonging,” Liahona, Nov. 2022, 53–56; Gary E. Stevenson, “Hearts Knit Together,” Liahona, May 2021, 19–23.
2.nullVirginia U. Jensen, “Creating Places of Security,” Ensign, Nov. 1997, 91.
3.nullDallin H. Oaks, “Divorce,” Liahona, May 2007, 70.
4.nullGospel Topics, “Divorce,” topics.ChurchofJesusChrist.org.
5.nullJ. Anette Dennis, “His Yoke Is Easy and His Burden Is Light,” Liahona, Nov. 2022, 80, 81.
6.nullJeffrey R. Holland, “‘Be With and Strengthen Them,’” Liahona, May 2018, 102.
7.nullLinda K. Burton, “First Observe, Then Serve,” Liahona, Nov. 2012, 78.
8.nullJeffrey R. Holland, “Lord, I Believe,” Liahona, May 2013, 94.
9.nullSee Jackie Witzel, “Rebuilding My Life after Divorce,” Ensign, June 2000, 54–57.