My parents separated almost six years ago. I can’t believe it’s already been six years — it feels like it was just last year. Back then, it was too painful for me to process. I tried to go on with life, but the pain appeared in the form of screaming nightmares at night and a feeling of lostness during the day. I didn’t know how to explain it. At one point, I think I described it as feeling like death.
But for a long time, for reasons I’m only beginning to uncover, I felt like I lost a huge piece of myself. Like I was just a walking shadow or transparent person. I felt vulnerable, like someone had taken both a chainsaw and an x-ray to my heart and my home and split it down the middle, spilling all its contents for every passerby to inspect and judge.
God has worked tremendously in my family and in me since that time, but the residue remains. He isn’t finished yet.
Last month, I read Paul Maxwell’s article, To the Sons and Daughters of Divorce, as well as secular articles and books on this topic. Especially on the topic of adult children of separation or divorce. I appreciated these articles written by other children of divorce, because they put into words what I could not — or maybe would not.
Even though I was in my twenties when my parents separated, I felt just as lost. In God’s sovereignty, I met JE right after I moved out of my home, right before my parents separated. So while my first family was being torn apart, God was lovingly building me a new family. I still can’t believe JE stood by me during that time — a shaking, fearful, insecure girl with so much baggage. I could tell it overwhelmed him at times. Sometimes I couldn’t shake the darkness, the depression, the feelings of lostness.
I’m still not sure how to really write or talk about this, especially because my point is not to blame my parents or to drag our family issues into the limelight. I love my parents. But as I process more of this privately and prayerfully, I hope to write more in the future, especially for those who are walking along this precipice, because I haven’t read many resources on this topic from authors within the church. There are so many resources for divorcing parents but not many for the children who are deeply affected.
Currently I’m reading through Andrew Root’s The Children of Divorce: The Loss of Family As the Loss of Being and just finished Judith Wallerstein’s The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: The 25 Year Landmark Study. Still processing my thoughts about these, but these excerpts from Root’s book described exactly how I felt after the split and how I feel now:
Even in instances when divorce was a great gift to one or both parents, it was a silent nightmare to a child. When I am asserting is that divorce — all divorces — leave major marks on children, marks that reach all the way to the core of their being.
The grief consumed our lives. The loss of her parents’ marriage seemed to be affecting my fiancee from the inside out. At twenty-three, Kara found herself questioning who she was and where she belonged. These were not simply questions of social location–“Where will we spend Christmas? What about the house we grew up in?”–although those thoughts were painful in their own right. Her more distressing questions were existential; they seemed to come from the core of her being. In the middle of many nights she would call me, awakened from a deep sleep in a state of terror. Kara felt as if the split in her parents’ marriage had become a split in her own being. “I have to start all over again. I mean seriously, who am I?” she stated repeatedly.
The scars and regret of my parents’ divorce remain, but I no longer feel transparent or cut free. Rather, I have found a new community for my being, one created from love and shared suffering. It is my hope as a theologian that communities of faith can be such communities of love and suffering, created around the love and suffering of God in Jesus Christ.
I’m not reading all of these books to look for a solution — or even a balm — but to look for that proverbial “axe for the frozen sea within us,” a means of honestly describing my experience so that I can, over the years, apply God’s wisdom to this very real, raw, shattering experience.
I don’t think we should park at our experiences, but I think acknowledging them and unpacking them can help us to apply God’s Word skillfully to our wounds and our questions, not just spraying a number of trite sayings and verses like a blanket over our suffering.
As God works within me, I hope to eventually share what He’s teaching me. I’m not completely ready yet, but if you’re from a divorced family — or a de facto divorced family — and you feel like you can’t shake the brokenness out of your system, you’re not alone. ♥