Quick Reads and Practical Helps: ‘Experiencing Divorce’ by H. Norman Wright

In a perfect world, everyone going through the painful, trauma-filled experience of divorce would set aside time to attend a local DivorceCare support group.

But, of course, the world we live in is far from perfect, and many people who could benefit from the excellent information offered as part of those weekly meetings may not be able (or willing) to attend. Given that reality, I’d like to humbly suggest that perhaps the second-best option for every Christian going through divorce would be to pick up a copy of H. Norman Wright’s 85-page, quick-read booklet, “Experiencing Divorce.”

'Experiencing Divorce' by H. Norman WrightMy wife Shelly and I have been facilitating DivorceCare at The Crossing since Jan. of 2009. In the intervening years, we more-or-less have been compelled to review dozens of books and other materials, some of them suggested to us by pastoral staff while others show up tucked underneath the arm of a class participant. So while our “research” in this area can hardly be considered exhaustive, all of the evidence to date suggests that this booklet by Wright might be the best bet for people who can’t attend meetings and (for whatever reason) may not be willing to read the latest full-length book on the topic.

Wright has helpfully broken down his booklet by chapters and made the material easy to skim. Even after eight years of study, I was pleasantly surprised by a few practical ideas I had not adequately considered before, both for their common-sense approach and for how well these ideas seem to jive with what we hear from class participants over and over again. While these suggestions are not in any sense groundbreaking or revelatory, Wright’s compassionate-but-no-nonsense approach helps the reader approach these exercises with a clear perspective on how he or she can actively participate in bringing about deep, soul-level healing.

Three of Wright’s suggestions in particular would have done me a world of good back in 1997, when my first marriage fell apart.

Write a “General Letter” for Family, Friends and Acquaintances. One of several “plagues” that an individual going through divorce will face is the necessity of Telling the Story over and over again as various family members, friends and co-workers naturally ask the dreaded question, “So…what happened?” While many folks asking this question mean well, not all do; some people ask this sort of question with the same sort of gawker mentality that causes us to slow down traffic to view an accident on the side of the road. These encounters, endlessly repeated, drain whatever small amount of energy a divorcing person has on hand. Wright says it better:

Many have found that writing a general letter to friends is helpful, describing what is going on and what you’re feeling. This gives you a chance to suggest to them the best way to respond, rather than just leaving you subject to unsolicited, undesired, inappropriate advice – which is not what you need. As you meet with friends or fellow employees who want to help, give them this letter instead of having to repeat your story again and again. They will be appreciative, since they often don’t know how to act or what to say, and you’ll likely receive a greater amount of healthy support as a result. (Page 16)

To this, I would simply add that everyone should use discernment when deciding 1) what to put in the letter, 2) what to leave out, and 3) who they give it to. For the sake of safety, do not post your letter to social media. It might also help to imagine that the contents are being reviewed by Jesus (since that’s true) and that, even against your desires, a copy of this letter might show up in a courtroom at some future date. Keep it brief, factual and non-slanderous. If your account cannot include a request for prayer for both you and your ex, your heart may not be quite right; have another trustworthy, mature Christian check over your work before you start handing it out to others.

Carry a Self-Prompting “Flash Card.” I actually employed this technique several years ago, not in the context of my divorce but a few years later, when I suffered another significant loss of relationship. On a single piece of paper, I wrote out four or five key verses of Scripture, along with an admonishment – “Notes to Self” – that forced me to confront my sane-and-grounded self whenever an urge would strike to jump in and fix a situation that had clearly shown itself to be entirely outside my ability to control. Wright simply suggests using a flashcard with the word STOP in big letters on one side and the Amplified Bible-Classic Edition of Philippians 4:6-9 on the other:

Philippians 4:6-9 (AMPC)
Do not fret or have any anxiety about anything, but in every circumstance and in everything, by prayer and petition (definite requests), with thanksgiving, continue to make your wants known to God. And God’s peace [shall be yours, that tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and being content with its earthly lot of whatever sort that is, that peace] which transcends all understanding shall garrison and mount guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. For the rest, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of reverence and is honorable and seemly, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely and lovable, whatever is kind and winsome and gracious, if there is any virtue and excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on and weigh and take account of these things [fix your minds on them]. Practice what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and model your way of living on it, and the God of peace (of untroubled, undisturbed well-being) will be with you.

Build a “Bank Book” of Emotions and Questions. Divorce brings with it a ton of confusion; sometimes it gets so bad that we temporarily forget how to use the coffee maker. That being the case, it just makes sense to start unloading at least a few of the persistent thoughts that block our ability to function in the midst of day-to-day realities:

Another way of taking control of your thoughts has been called the bank book. This is simply a notebook where you write down whatever comes to mind that you might want to say to your ex-spouse so you don’t have to carry these thoughts around in your mind…By writing these down, you may end up deciding it’s a good idea (or not a good idea) to share what you’ve written. But writing them down gets them out of your head so you at least don’t have to remember them. It helps you take control of your thoughts. It helps you eliminate rash comments and impulsive responses. It provides a cooling-off period. (Page 32)

In his booklet, Wright also takes time to point out that we do, in fact, heal more rapidly within the context of community.

Again, not everyone can sacrifice a couple hours on Wednesday evenings for 12 weeks in a row, but those unable to attend can at least get a copy of Wright’s booklet and maybe begin to process its contents with other mature, trusted Christians, perhaps even in a small group setting. In short, “Don’t forget to add some form of Christian community to the healing equation.”

The next 12-week session of DivorceCare begins at The Crossing in Columbia, Mo., on Wednesday, Aug. 30th. Childcare is provided for infants through 5th grade, if you register your children. Pizza is provided as well. Sign up online beginning Aug. 5th.

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