How the Atonement Helped Me Survive Divorce

“How the Atonement Helped Me Survive Divorce,” Liahona, Sept. 1999, 14

How the Atonement Helped Me Survive Divorce

As I struggled with my marriage, I grew to comprehend the Lord’s perfect ability to understand my suffering and to succor me.

“Last Saturday,” my husband’s letter began, “you asked, ‘Can you write what you’re feeling?’ So here goes.”

I had sensed 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 seek strength from Heavenly Father in the temple.

In the celestial room, a woman handed me a tissue, saying she had noticed me and wondered if she could help. 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?”

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 and left.

I had been rejected by my husband, but the Savior had not left me alone. He who “hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows” (Isa. 53:4) strengthened me. I left the temple that day feeling the Savior’s peace.

As my marriage began to unravel, this extension of His merciful love tutored me in the power of the Atonement. During the next four years, I came to understand the blessings of the Atonement more intimately.

Finding the Power to Be Healed

I was astonished at the variety of burdens that weighed me down as I struggled with my marriage. But through each hardship, I grew to comprehend the Lord’s perfect ability to understand my suffering 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 behavior, I was shocked by this new information. Feeling I could bear no more, I broke into tears and went to my room to pray. 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 prescribed.

Because of this experience and many others, teachings about the Atonement became more to me than just phrases and ideas; they became life-altering truths. Repentance, forgiveness, faith in our Savior—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.

Submitting to Heavenly Father’s Will

The humbling experiences of the last year of my marriage were particularly difficult. Learning about my spouse’s infidelity, opening my private life to my bishop and stake president, dealing with my husband’s decision to leave, 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 wave after wave of challenges. I also lost the close relationship I had enjoyed 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 was stripped of pride. I felt unencumbered before the Lord—humbled by a “sense of [my] nothingness” (Mosiah 4:5) and by a complete dependence on Him as my only anchor in a sea of change.

Yet instead of feeling despondent, I saw 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 temple attendance. 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 came to have great meaning for me: “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!” (“Repentance,” Ensign, November 1991, 32).

Rejecting Bitterness

As I sought inspired direction and then submitted myself to Heavenly Father’s will, I saw more clearly how my experiences were opportunities for growth.

For example, the bitterness I felt about my former spouse and my present circumstances seemed contradictory to the blessings of the Atonement. My efforts to draw closer to Heavenly Father helped me reject the bitterness—and that helped me deepen my relationship with God. I was better able to understand the character of Jesus Christ, our perfect example.

I placed a quotation by Bruce C. Hafen, now 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 [1989], 106).

Forgoing Vindication

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 his decisions, many of my in-laws made assumptions without asking me any questions. They came to some incorrect conclusions. Usually I heard their comments indirectly, which was frustrating because I had no opportunity to respond with the truth. These comments hurt me, and I often felt my integrity was in question. I wondered if these people I had been so close to had ever really known me.

Two years after my divorce, I was told that one of my former spouse’s relatives had made a comment implying I was unforgiving. The remark began to fester inside me. I wanted to clear my name; I wanted to tell that man just how wrong he was. As I counseled with my bishop on the matter, I realized that what was important 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 much. Because of the Atonement I could let the hurt feelings go. I did not need to suffer because of this man’s—or anyone’s—opinion of me.

Restoring Confidence

As the date of our divorce hearing drew near, my husband sent me a 16-page letter evaluating our marriage. 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.

Torn with doubts, I turned to the scriptures. There I found hope 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.”

I was blessed with opportunities to rebuild belief in myself. Priesthood counsel and blessings offered me divine comfort. Through the Savior’s great love, strength and courage returned.

Exercising Compassion

My experiences have made me desire to emulate the Savior’s lifting of 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 had 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 built him up truthfully and fairly, I felt closer to the Savior. I chose to allow—even foster—the tender feelings my children 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. I answered honestly: “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 wounds inflicted upon me from sources outside my control, I discovered that adversity helps me be a better person. My increased understanding of the Atonement has led me to recognize my need to repent and purify my nature. I’ve seen how difficulties can become opportunities for growth that may come in no other way. I’ve come to appreciate aspects of the Atonement I’d not noticed or understood before. Certainly I have much more to learn, but I do know that 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 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.

Photography by Steve Bunderson, posed by model

Illustrated by Cary Henrie

Stilling the Storm, by Ted Henninger

Jesus Christ, by Harry Anderson