Continuing as a Whole Person
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“Continuing as a Whole Person,” Ensign, June 1975, 53–54

Continuing as a Whole Person

Of all the losses of life, divorce is certainly one of the greatest. A marriage, the most sacred of God’s institutions, dies; and those involved feel as though a part of themselves also dies. Although death in righteousness will be followed by an eventual reunion, divorce dissolves the marriage relationship; there is no hope for the future of the family unit as it once was.

Yet when we accepted the opportunity of coming to earth, we also accepted our participation in and responsibility for experiences that would bring us joy and experiences that would bring us sorrow. Our purpose in life is to grow, and I feel that Heavenly Father is more concerned with how we react to the experiences of our lives than that we simply have those experiences.

I have learned through my experience of divorce that I have a Heavenly Father who personally cares about me, and a Savior to take my hand as I have learned to walk on the water of faith. Perhaps because of these experiences, the things I share might help others going through the experience of divorce. The problems are serious; we all ask ourselves these questions after a divorce:

1. What is my responsibility to reach out to others?

The greatest service I can give another person is to put myself in the healthiest mental state I can. Anger, shame, and despair are normal feelings after negative experiences such as divorce. It is not wrong to feel this way, but it is wrong to hang onto these feelings and to let them fester and grow. It is a great service to ourselves and to others to face these feelings in the context of the gospel instead of withdrawing because we don’t feel worthy to serve or attend meetings. The best thing I did at these times was kneeling and honestly saying, “This is the way I feel. I don’t like it. How can we work together to overcome these feelings?” We are accustomed to using our prayers as a report of our good deeds so we can feel a “pat on the back”; but it is usually when we feel least like talking to our Heavenly Father that he wants us to come to him so he can help us. At no time are we alone unless we ask to be.

Getting ourselves back on firm ground is our responsibility to those dependent on us for their own feelings: our children and our families. We never go through a crisis alone. Others are involved, if only because they care for us. Children involved in a divorce feel confused feelings and carry more feelings of blame than we might suppose. They want to know whether they did something to cause the divorce, or whether they were not loved.

The greatest gift we can give our families at this time is to really learn the meaning of forgiveness. I have found that to forgive my ex-husband—to learn to love him as a son of my Heavenly Father and even as a friend, and to accept his forgiveness—has been an immeasurable service to my children and others as well as myself.

After I have been able to help myself and my own family feel healthy and good, then I can reach out to others with greater empathy. Death, illness, injury, unemployment—the lessons of suffering are very similar, and there is a greater love among those who have grown through these trials. Because of those who stood by me when I needed help, I feel a responsibility to help others, whether it is by stepping in to assist with children when a neighbor is ill or lending an ear to one who just needs someone to listen to them and care.

Sharing means giving insights more than it means reviewing sordid details. I was greatly helped with my own problems when one friend who lost her husband and another who lost a child shared the lessons they learned from their experiences.

2. How can I use the resources of the Church to help in the adjustment period?

Since others need the blessings of helping us, we need to tell them what our needs are. One thing we need is the blessing of the priesthood.

I have felt the priesthood in action and I’m sure I have often had its protection. During my divorce, I moved back to my home ward. Before I left, my bishop gave me some of the best counsel I’ve ever received: to get close to my new bishop and follow his advice. Since I am a convert and since the priesthood doesn’t preside over my home, I trust my bishop and home teachers.

Let me share one experience I had that showed me the priesthood in full operation. Following my divorce, the terror of facing the full responsibility of providing for my family was almost more than I could take. I had prayed about what direction to take, but lacked the courage to set out on my own. When I went to my bishop in Portland, he looked at me in that unmistakable way and said, “Sell your home. The Lord wants you to go to Utah and finish your education. You’ll be taken care of and we’ll help you get there in any way we can.” I struggled with that. It was mid-winter, and I knew no one in Utah. I had been away from college for 12 years and didn’t even know how we would eat. Two days after I said I’d go, my home was sold, the elders quorum packed my belongings, I found a place to live, two former missionaries looking for a ride to Utah volunteered to drive the truck, and my bishop was in contact with my new bishop in Utah.

This is one of the many miraculous in my life resulting from leaning on the priesthood. I know I need it as much as anyone ever could. I cannot rear my family alone. I honor the advice of my home teachers. My Relief Society presidents have been as mothers to me. I am not afraid to take the needs I might have to them after I’ve done all I can do, for I know they are servants of my Heavenly Father here to help me with my family until the priesthood occupies the place it should in our home.

One of the greatest resources the Church gives us is the opportunity to receive personal blessings for ourselves and our family. I have not been afraid to go for a blessing when I have felt the need. It has been direction, comfort, protection, and confirmation of my own inspiration from answered prayers.

3. What should I do in a new ward?

My bishop in Portland helped answer this question, both by discussing with me the feelings I might have in a new ward and by contacting my new bishop. Still, it helps to realize that other ward members might feel as uncertain as you do, and as a new neighbor, I’ve found that it’s nice to bake something and take it to my neighbors. Avoiding contact with others is a sure way to discover that people are unfriendly.

When I moved into a residential ward after attending a Brigham Young University student ward with a number of other single parents, I was nervous. When I attended my new ward for the first time, I went to the bishop, gave him my name, said I was divorced with two children, had been attending such-and-such a ward, had held such-and-such positions, and was ready to serve wherever I was needed. That evening my Relief Society president visited me and called me to be a visiting teacher; the following week my bishop and his first counselor came and appointed home teachers. I was at home.

There are many people who want to be friendly, but some don’t really know how. If someone doesn’t treat you as you wish to be treated, then you have the responsibility to set a better example.

Some people are hesitant to explain that they are divorced because it seems to strangle the conversation. I think of it this way: I’m a divorcee, but I’m many other things as well. I’m the mother of two adorable children, a musician, a teacher, a student, a homemaker, and, most importantly, a daughter of my Heavenly Father and active in his church. I have many more interesting topics of conversation than the negative circumstances that led to the one tragic event of divorce.

When questions bounce back and forth while we’re getting acquainted, I’m not uncomfortable to mention that I’m divorced—it’s background information. I’m not opposed to discussing it, either, if the conversation develops comfortably in that direction; everyone is interested in how they and others adjust to many problem situations.

4. How do I act around the opposite sex now?

Many divorces are caused by infidelity on the part of one mate, and frequently the other will want to get revenge in some way or prove that he/she is still desirable. This is a deadly attitude. When you have been faithful to your marriage vows, you can’t improve your self-esteem by being less moral now that you are released from those vows. You still have vows to yourself and your Heavenly Father.

However, even without the special problems caused by infidelity, dating after divorce is not easy. The habits of affection developed in marriage are no longer appropriate, even though they seem natural, and, consequently, there are special temptations. It’s most important to know your own goals, and to be able to discuss your feelings with your friend.

When two mature people are investing time in getting to know each other, they should be able to raise their relationship to a higher level than two teenagers playing romantic games with each other. I find that it can be a profitable time of learning to care for someone in an intellectual or spiritual way.

Since these are my goals, I know how important it is to stay away from any relationship—no matter how seemingly innocent—that cannot take me in the direction I want to go.

At times it seems unbearably lonely, and some would do anything to have someone else around. The time may seem long now, but our promise is that if we are obedient now, we need never fear being alone throughout eternity.

On the other hand, if those who are married do not use this life to build an eternal relationship, they may find themselves without a mate during eternity. Because of my professional work with family relationships and my personal experiences with divorce, I have been asked to discuss the subject with marriage classes. Once, after I had finished speaking, a young co-ed with tears in her eyes told me that the experience I had shared helped her make the difficult decision to break an engagement that she knew would not make a good marriage. Marriage never solved any problems by itself. I know now, more keenly than ever, how special it should be.

  • Joset Western is a graduate student in family life education at Brigham Young University and the mother of two children. She serves as special interest leader and Relief Society visiting teacher in the Orem 51st Ward, Orem Utah Sharon West Stake.