“How the Atonement Helped Me Survive Divorce,” Ensign, Apr. 1997, 28
“Last Saturday,” my husband’s letter began, “you asked, ‘Can you write what you’re feeling?’ So here goes.”
I had sensed that something was wrong with my husband’s affection for me, but I was not prepared for the devastating words of his letter, which included an admission of infidelity. As I agonized over the probable repercussions to our 15-year marriage, I felt desperately alone. I decided to go to the temple to seek strength from Heavenly Father.
In the celestial room, a woman approached me and handed me a tissue, saying she had noticed me during the session and wondered if she could do anything for me. I thanked her and said no, but inwardly I cried out: Can you give me back my hopes and dreams? Can you give me back eternity?
I continued to weep. A few minutes later, as more people entered the celestial room, a man sat in a chair near me and asked, “May I tell you something that might help you?”
I said yes.
He said, “I feel that loved ones on the other side of the veil are with you. Whatever it is you’re going through, you are not alone.” I felt the warmth of the Spirit as the man stood up and left.
I had been rejected by my husband, but the Savior did not leave me alone to suffer. He who “hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows” (Isa. 53:4) had strengthened me. I left the temple that day feeling the Savior’s peace.
As my marriage began to unravel, this extension of merciful love was one of the first lessons of the Atonement I learned. As the next four years progressed, I came to understand the blessings of the Atonement more intimately.
I was astonished at the variety of burdens that seemed to plague me and weigh me down as I struggled with my marriage. But through each hardship, I grew to comprehend the Lord’s perfect ability to understand what I suffered and to succor me.
On the evening of my husband’s Church disciplinary council, he returned home after our children were asleep and answered my questions about the action taken. Almost as an afterthought, he added: “By the way, some of my friends have died of AIDS. But don’t worry, I was tested and I’m negative.”
Although he had previously mentioned his youthful immoral practices, I was shocked by this new information. Feeling I could bear no more, I broke into tears and went to my room to pray for relief. Heavenly Father listened to my brokenhearted cries, and I felt a consoling, calming influence rest upon me. Strengthened, I was able to sleep that night, and later I was able to endure the humiliating clinical testing my doctor approved for me.
Because of this experience and many others, the teachings of the Atonement became more to me than just phrases; they became life-altering truths. Repentance, forgiveness, faith that our Savior understands our pain and knows how to lift our burdens—these truths became principles of action that brought much-needed blessings into my life. Through practical experience, I came to appreciate more fully the powerful reality of Jesus Christ’s ability to succor and heal.
The humbling experiences of the last year of my marriage were particularly difficult for me. Learning about my spouse’s infidelity, opening my private life to my bishop and stake president, dealing with my husband’s decision to leave me, beginning divorce proceedings, and watching my children suffer because their father was no longer in the home were only the beginning of what seemed to be a wave of challenges. I also lost the close relationship with my in-laws; had to seek financial assistance from my family, ward, and state; agonized over an injury to one of my daughters; endured a cancer scare of my own; recovered from a serious car accident; struggled to complete my bachelor’s degree; and suffered job-search disappointments. By the end of that year, I felt stripped of pride, unencumbered before the Lord. I felt humbled by a “sense of [my] nothingness” (Mosiah 4:5) and by my complete dependence on him as an anchor in my sea of change.
Yet instead of feeling despondent about my life, I was blessed to see my state as an opportunity for Heavenly Father to work his will in my life. I began to understand the relationship between adversity and spiritual refinement. During my troubles, I frequently asked myself, What would Heavenly Father want me to do in this situation? I sought specific answers through prayer, scripture study, pondering, and attending the temple. Through this process of seeking and receiving divine guidance, I acquired increased patience and deeper trust in Heavenly Father.
These words of Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles became my byword:
“It was for our sake that perfectly remarkable Jesus was perfectly consecrated. Jesus let His own will be totally ‘swallowed up in the will of the Father.’ If you and I would come unto Jesus, we must likewise yield to God, holding nothing back. Then other soaring promises await!” (Ensign, Nov. 1991, 32).
As I sought inspired direction and then submitted myself to Heavenly Father’s will, I saw more clearly how my experiences could become opportunities for growth.
The bitterness I felt about my former spouse and my circumstances seemed contradictory to the Atonement and its blessings. My efforts to draw closer to Heavenly Father helped me overcome my feelings of bitterness. Rejecting bitterness helped me deepen my relationship with God and better understand the character of his Son, our perfect example.
I placed the following quotation by Bruce C. Hafen, now a member of the Seventy, on my bedroom door and wept each time I read it: “If we were to let our thoughts be drawn out toward the heavens enough to transcend, even temporarily, the strains and limitations of daily life, we would be likely to hear the promptings of him who overcame all things, assuring us that the promise is true: He will, as an act of mercy, cause the circumstances of our lives to be for our ultimate blessing, if only we love him with all our hearts” (The Broken Heart , 106).
For reasons known only to himself, my husband left our marriage with little or no explanation to his family and friends. Perhaps in an attempt to make sense of it all, many of my in-laws came to incorrect conclusions without asking me any questions. Usually I heard their comments indirectly, which was frustrating because I did not have opportunities to respond with the truth. I felt hurt by these comments, and often I felt as though my integrity was in question. I wondered if these people I had been so close to had ever really known me.
Two years after the divorce, I was told that one of my former spouse’s relatives had made a comment that implied I was unforgiving. The remark began to fester inside me. I wanted to clear my name; I wanted to go to the man and tell him just how wrong he was. My bishop suggested that I could discuss the situation with the man to find out if he had said what I had heard. But as I counseled with my bishop, I realized that what was important to me was that Heavenly Father and I both knew the truth about my relationship with my former husband and my contribution to the marriage. I suddenly felt at peace. I knew I could talk to this man about his comment if I chose to, but I no longer felt it mattered as much. Because of the Atonement I could let the bad feelings go. I did not need to suffer because of this man’s—or anyone’s—opinion of me. I was comforted to know that the Savior had already suffered scoffs and scorns for me.
As the date of our divorce hearing drew near, my husband sent me a 16-page letter evaluating our marriage. For the first time since he left, I felt myself swaying toward fear of failure. Despite priesthood counsel to the contrary, I began to believe my husband’s assertions that the problems in our marriage were my fault, that I was even the cause of his infidelity.
I turned to the scriptures and found hope, strength, and understanding in the Savior’s words. I reflected on how his words had already blessed and lifted me. I wrote in my journal: “The tides of self-pity, self-reproach, and self-destruction rage against my shore. And at my shore the Savior is ever there, building—shoring up—protecting against the onslaught—telling me I have value—telling me to believe in myself. His is the voice I prefer to hear, the voice I must heed.”
Opportunities came to rebuild belief in myself. Priesthood counsel and blessings offered me divine comfort. Through the Savior’s great love, my strength and courage were bolstered.
My experiences have given me a desire to emulate the Savior’s ability to lift others. As I went through the divorce process, several people counseled me never to tear down my husband in front of our children. The wisdom of this advice was evident almost daily, as occasions to demean him arose frequently. I prayerfully sought the ability to withhold criticism and to emphasize his positive traits.
At first this was extremely difficult because he had hurt me deeply and made serious mistakes. But as I tried to help my children see his worth, my capacity to continue doing so increased. Each time I used words that would build him up truthfully and fairly, I felt closer to the Savior. I chose to allow—even foster—the tender feelings my children wanted to have for their father. When the Spirit prompted me to pray for him in family prayer, I was able to do so with compassion.
When my former spouse came back into full fellowship in the Church, one friend asked me how I felt about it. I honestly answered: “I am glad for him. I am relieved. I am thankful to Heavenly Father.”
My friend replied, “Do you understand how unusual that attitude is?”
But it didn’t feel unusual. It felt right. It felt good.
As I suffered from frustrating wounds inflicted upon me from sources outside my control, I discovered the adversity could help me be a better person. My understanding of the Atonement has led me to recognize my need to repent and purify my nature. I’ve seen how a difficult time in life can become an opportunity for growth that may not come in any other way. I’ve come to appreciate aspects of the Atonement that I’d not noticed or understood before. Certainly I have much more to learn, but through his Atonement the Savior makes up the difference between my efforts and Heavenly Father’s perfect standards.
I am forever grateful that the Savior, because of his great love for us, submitted perfectly to his Father’s will, “suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
“And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:11–12).
Indeed, that is what the Savior does for me.