Christmas is supposed to be filled with joy. Instead, for many divorced people, it's filled with emotional pain and loneliness. Perhaps you understand because you lie in bed at night and think about the things you used to do before the divorce: hanging the stockings, purchasing Christmas gifts for the kids and kissing under the mistletoe. Your heart desperately aches and you wonder what to do with that grief that will only intensify during Thanksgiving and Christmas. Maybe you feel like going to a deserted island during the holidays. But before you hop on the next plane, here are some ideas that you as a divorced person can do to lessen the emotional pain.
Do you remember the movie Mouse Trap? In the comedy, one tiny, pink, unsuspecting mouse gnaws his way through a mansion until it crumbles bit by bit into a pile of rubble. Lying to yourself about your emotional and spiritual condition after divorce is like allowing a little mouse to chew right through your emotional foundation. Eventually, your "house" will crumble and fall.
Therefore, a first step is to be honest about your emotional pain and give yourself permission to grieve. After all, losing a mate to divorce can be compared to losing one to death; after all, it is like a death in the family—and all deaths take recovery time. So don't expect to bounce back like a rubber ball. Instead, give way to your feelings by journaling about them or sharing them with a trusted confidant for support. And most of all, don't forget to talk to Christ. He knows how you feel and wants to give you comfort.
When Michael first divorced, he developed a loving community with fellow believers for support. "Community gives you an outlet for your feelings so that you aren't invalidated. Get a community of people you can trust and stay close to them," he says.
Today, Michael still meets once a week for support and prayer with a male friend he met during his divorce. You may want to develop a loving community by meeting with friends for a Bible study, connecting with others from work or church, becoming a member of an exercise club or a Divorce Recovery group.
When I was an elementary school teacher, I learned that I had many "buttons" that could be pushed by the little people that surrounded me every day. If one of my little ankle biters hit the right button, I could be pushed to the edge of insanity.
When you are facing the holidays alone after divorce, it's important to try to determine what kinds of "buttons" may cause you to become depressed, isolated from others or to feel hopeless.
One of Larry's buttons is television. "All they do is advertise holiday stuff," he says, which makes him feel the loneliness of the holidays even more. For this reason, he stays away from TV and instead focuses on his church family and celebrating Christ's birth.
Occasionally, one of Michael's buttons is his family. Dealing with loneliness could mean staying away from family members that cause additional stress. "If your relationship with your immediate family isn't strong, give yourself permission not to see them, because it can just add to the stress. Sometimes, your confidants in the community you have built are much safer. It just depends on the kind of family you've got," Michael says.
It's also important to realize that what works for one of your divorced friends to cope may not work for you. While your best divorced friend avoids one thing, that may be the very thing you'll need to embrace. Whatever works for you is what works the best.
When Sam's wife cheated on him several times, he was naturally devastated and felt betrayed. The first time it happened, he took his wife back. "Then, we got back together and she did it to me again. That was the real challenge. I had to deal with forgiveness a second time because God doesn't come back and say, ‘I forgave you, but. . . ‘"
Sadly, his wife's affairs still led to a divorce, but in the spirit of Christmas and the love of Christ, Sam has chosen not to say another word about them to her or to others. "I won't go around saying trash about what happened and what my spouse did. I choose to forgive. Even though she wronged me, I can't do that to her."
Not only has Sam's attitude blessed others who have watched him glorify Christ, but it has also blessed him. As a result, he says he'll be able to enjoy the holidays much more. "It [forgiveness] has really changed me."
Do you remember the last time you went to a really great movie? If it was like the one I recently saw, it had elements of suspense, sadness, joy, pain and anticipation before the happy ending. In the same way, remember that the pain you are currently experiencing as a part of divorce is just like one scene in a movie; it may look bad now, but things are going to get better.
God will redeem the pain of your divorce if you will allow Him to make you stronger and give you a greater hope. Eventually, your future holidays will be filled with more joy and a gratitude for what He has brought you through to the end of your "movie." Just remember that this today isn't the end of your story.
Also remember that it's not uncommon for intense feelings of sadness to last two years, three, four, five or six. "The grieving process is different for everyone," says Michael. "It could take two years for one person to start feeling better during the holidays and six for someone else. Just be encouraged and know that there will be an end [to your grief]."
Shana Schutte is a freelance writer, author and speaker living in Colorado Springs, Colo. (www.runtogodministries.org)
There are some things particularly painful for women: childbirth, mammograms and single parenting during the holidays. All three can cause physical exhaustion and make you feel like you want to hide in a closet. If you are a single mother, you know that's not an option. So, instead, try the following to make most of Christmas for you and your children.
I was once friends with a young woman who was an artist. When we met for lunch one day, I chuckled when I saw her shirt which read, “Go into your studio and make stuff.” During the holidays, there's no better time to go into the basement, the kitchen, the garage or the living room alone or with your kids and "make stuff."
When my grandmother was a single mother in the 1950s, she didn't have a lot of money to support my mother and aunt. But she didn't let that stop her from making the holidays special. Instead, she used her talents to make gifts for her daughters. She glued, sewed and knitted her way into the joy of Christmas.
The “let's make stuff” bug stuck because my mother caught it and then passed it on to me. Ever since I was old enough to write my own name, I've been making things, sometimes with just a few dollars. Without a doubt the gifts, I have made have been the gifts which I have enjoyed giving the most.
More than 10 years ago my family started a tradition of making ornaments for one another. I've been the happy recipient of many wonderful and delightful ornaments for my tree—and each of them is packed with love and memories because they come from those dearest to me. Of all the Christmas gifts I have received, I count these as the most valuable.
So don't let a lack of money stop you from celebrating the season with your kids. You can make things with them and it will create a special time of bonding, or you can make things for them, both of which will remind you that you don't need a lot of money to make Christmas meaningful.
During the holidays, it may become easy to focus on your limited time, limited resources and limited help. However, like my grandmother says, it's best to “do what you can where you are with what you have.” And one of the things you can do is make happy memories.
Ask your kids what kind of things they'd like to do during the holidays. Then ask yourself the same question. Finally, make a list of all your ideas and get started on doing things that your kids will remember into their adult years.
One of my single girlfriends, who is a single mother, always reaches out to the less fortunate during the holidays, and when she does, she always includes her son, Andy. When Sheryl and Andy visited an elderly friend, they walked around the woman's house while they prayed for her. On visits like these, Andy has offered ideas on how he can help, too. To Sheryl's joy, Andy is making Christmas memories with his mom that he'll never forget and he's developing into a very compassionate young man.
Another single mother friend of mine travels with her children to a town several hours from their own in Colorado every holiday season where they cut down their own 14-foot Christmas tree. When they get home, they make ornaments to decorate their beautiful pine.
Suggestions like these may seem like simple things, but when you make happy memories your children will remember them for years to come.
When I was in my mid-20s, I often visited my girlfriend, Sarah, during the holiday season. We baked cookies, shopped and made presents for Sarah's son. The time with Sarah was comforting for me because I was away from my family during the weeks before Christmas. And it was comforting for her, because, as a single mom, it provided someone to help her with the demands of Christmas preparations.
You can take some of the challenge out of being a single parent during the holidays by pairing up with another single mom and making Christmas for your children together. It will lighten the burden for both of you and make up for some of what a spouse would do for you.
As your kids get older, and the pressure to buy them what is “cool” gets stronger, it can be tempting to overuse credit. But too much credit is not the answer—especially when you'll have to pay for it later. Keep in mind that if you spend too much now, your kids will also pay for it later by possibly forfeiting something they really need during the New Year. Before the holiday season starts, determine how much money you will spend on gifts and keep within your budget.
As I was growing up, my parents had a minimum of 20 dollars that they spent on each of us—and that amount didn't change from 1967 until I left the house in 1987. And you know what? I don't regret it one bit. The result has been that I have grown into a non-materialistic adult who thinks that people are more important than things. You can give your kids this same gift by focusing on the gifts of family and Christ during the holidays.
My grandparents divorced when my mother and aunt were young. Because he was their stepfather, he sometimes sent a gifts, but most of the time he didn’t. Even so, my grandmother focused on the joys of Christmas by never mentioning negative things to her children about their father. After all, it wouldn't have done anything to help them. In fact, it could make them more insecure.
If your ex-spouse is not supportive during the holidays, and you cannot change that, don't focus on it. Instead, focus on what can be changed, which is gift-giving, memory-making and love.
Above all, keep Jesus at the center of season. Think of ways to share the true meaning of Christmas with your kids because a relationship with Jesus will not only make a difference during the holidays but during every day of your children's lives.
Every Christmas I visit my family for a week or more in my Southern Idaho hometown. In addition to opening presents, decorating the tree and eating entirely too much dessert, the days are crammed with chats with my mother over tea, observing my grandmother's latest quilting projects, learning about my brother’s latest building jobs and hanging out with my niece and nephew.
The last few times I’ve been home, I’ve wanted to savor more moments than I ever have before. Maybe it’s because I know that life is passing by faster than I’d like, and that I don’t get much time to share in my loved ones’ lives. So I’m taking little, mental snapshots of special moments when I’m with those I love and trying to burn them into my brain so I can recall them later when post-holiday loneliness sets in.
I sing songs with my niece, teach her to stand on her head, look into her young 6-year-old face and try to capture the look in her dancing green eyes. Click. Burn. I take note of how my nephew has grown and how much his voice has changed. I notice he tells me that he loves me and I throw up a silent prayer that God would help him to grow into His man. Click. Burn. I enjoy my mother and the talks we have over tea, a bag of popcorn, a bowl of jelly beans. We laugh. Argue. Tease. Tell jokes and talk about deep things and God. Click. Burn. I see my brother’s latest building project and I wish that he somehow knew how proud I am of him. Click. Burn. I watch my sister-in-law laugh when she tells a joke about my brother. I can’t believe how much I have grown to love her since she has become a part of our family. Click. Burn. I watch my sister as her eyes dance with excitement because she is taking a new college class that thrills her. My heart aches with joy for her joy. Click. Burn. I admire my grandmother as she tells me stories about her life and shares her courage and hope for the future. Click. Burn.
After all of my “mental picture taking” I board a plane to return to Colorado. As I walk down the runway, a sense of melancholy settles in to my heart like a cloud ready to rain. Now I really am all alone again. Thankfully, I’ve saved my “snapshots” for comfort when I’m without family, and when my only connection to anyone with my last name is through my cell phone.
When I arrive home, I turn the key in the door and I walk in. It’s entirely too quiet. The bed is just as I left it. An old jug of milk is still in the refrigerator, an empty cereal bowl in the sink. I think of my girlfriends who spent Christmas with their families and are still with those they love. My heart aches. I know that the restful sleep I enjoyed while I was under my mother’s roof will be replaced by tossing and turning as responsibilities go back to normal. I also know that for a few days my place will feel far too quiet until I get accustomed to being alone again.
I go to bed, roll over onto my right side and curl up into the fetal position. I stare through the blinds into the dark night and tell God that there is something wrong with a 40-year-old woman putting herself to bed without anyone to hold. A quiet tear trickles down my left cheek and lands silently in the dark. Suddenly, I am reminded of God and His presence that has been with me all along through every moment of my life.
Snapshots quickly fill my mind, one after another. No, not those of my family, but those of me with God, of things He has done, of moments when He has intervened in my life, protected me and blessed me. A quiet love envelopes me and I sense His presence. He has stored these pictures in my memory and brought them up to help me combat the post-holiday blues. It’s like He’s opened an album and is turning the pages. “See, Shana. These are the things that I have done. You have never been alone and you aren’t alone now.”
I see the face of an old friend who comforted me when my father died, myself in the late '80s in London, wandering the streets alone talking to God. I see Him heal my heart when someone I loved betrayed me. And there are many, many other “snapshots” of the memories God has made with me: me playing softball, shooting basketballs and hitting volleyballs. There are faces of many, many people who have loved me through the years and times when He rescued me from danger, financial trouble and desperation.
New tears wash my cheeks, but these are tears of gratitude that soak my pajama collar.
God, you have been so very good to me. How can I believe that I am ever alone? How I praise you.
Yes, He has been the best friend who never leaves and He has walked with me every step of the way. He has been with me every Christmas, New Year's and everything in-between. Lord, praise you that you are the God who always stays.
If you struggle with post-holiday loneliness, give God a chance to show you how you have never been alone. Then, praise Him for the gift of His presence.
Shana Schutte is a freelance writer, author and speaker living in Colorado Springs, Colo.. (www.runtogodministries.org)
I’d love to go to a Christmas dance this year and twirl under sparkly little lights. I’d love to sway in an elegant, shimmering red dress and watch as Mr. Right looks on in admiration. I’d like to have him smile, offer me his hand, his cheek and his heart while he pulls me in close to a Christmas melody. Yes, I’d love that.
But Mr. Right hasn’t shown up to invite me (yet), so I haven’t put any Christmas dances on my calendar. But I have decided that I’m still going to dance my way into Christmas anyway with Jesus as Giver, Emmanuel and Source of Life.
At Christmas time, it’s so easy to get hung up on the commercialism of the holidays. To remember the real reason for the season is to have the heart of Christ—a giving one that is focused on what really matters, like giving your life for those you love, rather than what really doesn’t, like the latest technological gadget or newest fashion trend.
If you’re tired of running like a rabid dog from one store to the next purchasing things for people you barely know who hardly like you, take a lesson from Simon Birch. He can help you dance into Christmas with Jesus as the true Giver.
In the 1998 movie Simon Birch, the main character, 12-year-old Simon, is unusually small because of a birth defect. Even though he is little, his confidence is big, and believes God created him to do great things--specifically to be a hero. Though his stature causes him heartache, his size is the reason he is able to save many children when a school bus crashes into a freezing river. Simon climbs through a bus window too narrow for anyone else to set his classmates free. When I saw the movie, my heart screamed in jubilation, Yes! Simon's dream came true! He got to be the hero! Then my heart sank when he died the next day.
I couldn't help but think about the parallel between Simon's life and mine. Many times I would like to be a hero for someone, (like purchase them a nice Christmas gift or take them some holiday cookies,) but that is as far as my sacrifice goes. I don’t want to have to die to be anyone’s hero. Of course, I'm not referring to physical death like Simon experienced, but dying to my own desires.
This Christmas, I want Jesus to teach me afresh that one paradox of His Kingdom is that death births life; losing means winning; and being the greatest means being the least--and sometimes that involves giving more than a gift but losing myself and dying to what I want to bring someone joy. It means serving, and letting go of the things that are really valuable to me, like my time, my talents and something that is not easily purchased at Target.
Will you join me in serving from the heart this year? You’ll look great dancing with Jesus as the true giver.
Last year I attended a candlelight Christmas Eve church service with my family. While there an ache filled my heart because I knew that a young man I had once loved had seen my mother there at the church the day before. As we sang our way through Silent Night, Away in a Manger and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing my eyes fell on a small cloth laying on the communion table. “Emmanuel” it read. Ah yes, God with us. Immediately the Holy Spirit lovingly placed his finger on my memories about the young man I had loved and revealed that in this “life spot” I had doubted that God was with me, that He was my Emmanuel even then.
Fresh tears filled my eyes. Jesus, you have been with me all of my days, even in every one during my singleness. Forgive me for not trusting you.
Why is it that we can be convinced of God’s care and presence in many areas of life, such as in our careers and friendships, but when it comes to our personal lives and romance, we wonder if He took a leave of absence? We can know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He is present in our friendships, but we doubt that He cares about our romantic loneliness. We can experience a kind of “schizophrenic faith”—believing on one hand, but being unbelieving on the other. To doubt His love and presence in one area and champion it in another is to live life with a divided heart.
Do you doubt that God is with you, that He has always been and will always be the Emmanuel of your single life? Are you not entirely convinced of His presence?
If you said yes, will you take the hand of Jesus this Christmas and dance with Him into the truth that you are never alone? You’ll be glad you did.
Do you remember the last time you had the post-holiday blues? Did you feel like you wanted to go hide in a closet and eat an entire bag of chocolate? Were you desperate for something you couldn’t quite put your finger on? Believe me, I can relate. Post-holiday blues have hit me many times. But this year, I know there is something I can do to combat the blues—desperation for Jesus.
When the world and all it has offered during Christmas (stuff, stuff and more stuff) doesn’t satisfy my hungry soul, this year I will choose to remember that all that Christ wants me to be desperate for is Himself, his presence, to know Him more, to hear His voice and to do His will. This kind of post-holiday desperation will lead me to the abundant life that He wants to grant me (John 10:10). All other objects of Christmas affection will receive second place on my list under Christ, because if they don’t, I’ll struggle with post-holiday blues more than necessary.
Don’t get me wrong, there can be a lot of fun in giving, getting, and the stuff of the holidays, but no matter how much my stocking has been filled, nothing in it will ever satisfy like Jesus, and nothing can make me more desperate than living without Him at the center of life. This is truly something to celebrate! It means that Christ so jealous for those he loves that He will not allow them to be completely satisfied in anything but him.
My prayer is that this year you’ll be desperate for Jesus like never before so you can dance with Him into Christmas and post-Christmas with a smile on your face and a joy in your heart. And I pray that you’ll discover or rediscover Him as Giver and Emmanuel.