Helping a Friend Through Divorce
By Linda C. Davis, MATh, MAPC
We had just sat down for a late dinner when we heard the knocking. Someone was at the front door and they sounded desperate. Encouraging my husband to continue with his meal I went, somewhat apprehensively, toward the loud pounding. When I opened the door my best friend, Alexa, fell into a crumpled heap at my feet.
“Rob! Come help us!” I shouted to my husband.
With a mouthful of food and a napkin at his lips he came running from the kitchen and was as stunned as I to see our good friend collapsed in the entrance hall. This normally articulate, well-mannered woman with an act that seemed ‘together’ to the rest of the world was incoherent and trembling.
Dropping down onto the floor with Alexa, I cradled her in my arms like any mother would while my husband went for an afghan and a glass of water. Instinctively I knew that Alexa had finally acted on the divorce she had contemplated for many years. This would be a long night and my friend would need the shelter of our home and the support of the friendship we had shared with both her and her husband for more than 25 years. Over the next six to eight weeks my husband and I would learn more about domestic law than we ever wanted to know and we would each grow in our understanding of what it really means to be a friend in need.
Where to Start
As Bible-believing Christians, my husband and I had our opinions about the subject of divorce, but the subject of divorce and the reality of divorce when it touches the life of someone you care about are two very different things. One thing is certain: your loved one does not need a judge; she needs a friend. Alexa and I spent many hours together; she did most of the talking and I did a lot of listening. As she opened her wounded heart to me I opened my caring heart to the Holy Spirit asking for wisdom and guidance. We two were sisters in Christ with a long history of friendship and I knew that Alexa was as familiar with what the Bible had to say about divorce as I was. It would have been the height of arrogance and condescension to preach to my friend. The Holy Spirit made it clear to me that there was and is one judge appointed for all humankind and I was not that judge. It was a relief to realize that I wasn't responsible for Alexa’s actions or for her continued growth spiritually. My job was to offer her unconditional love and acceptance. I focused my energy on her words and emotions and on intercessory prayer for her entire family.
It wasn't long after Alexa came to us that her husband, John, called. John and Rob were golfing buddies, so we were not surprised to hear from him. The pain was evident in John's voice as he spoke; he choked back sobs as he inquired about his wife's well-being. I assured him that she was well cared for, but hesitated to offer much more in the way of details. This was no amicable parting and emotions were running high on both sides. John’s prominence as a successful businessman in the community meant that this breakup went public as soon as Alexa moved out of the home they shared. Their two grown children lived in nearby towns and of course there were in-laws, cousins, and aunts and uncles who would all be touched by the ripple effect of this separation.
Court appearances followed. Alexa dreaded standing before a judge with the details of her private life on display. We offered to drive her to the courthouse and go into the courtroom with her or simply wait in the corridor and be there to take her hand as she walked away from her thirty-year marriage. My husband and I did not want to take sides; we cared deeply about both of these people as well as their children who had grown up and gone to school with our four daughters.
However, after much prayer and deliberation we made a very difficult decision. Because Alexa and I were such intimate friends and since she had come to us first, we opted to stand with her. A fencepost makes a very uncomfortable sitting place. We knew we could not realistically remain neutral. While there were two sides to the issues, we knew we could only listen to one and maintain our sanity. The ground rules were fairly simple:
- We would refrain from any criticism of either Alexa or John.
- We would not discuss the details of the situation with John or anyone else.
- We would not try to be counselors; just supportive friends.
- We covenanted to pray together for Alexa, John, and the whole family.
Put Kindness into Action
After Alexa was able to move out of our home into her own place I touched base with her every few days. Along with continued moral support, I made sure my friend still had some fun in her life. A favorite restaurant made a good meeting place for lunch. If we had Alexa over for a meal I always offered to run a load of her personal laundry while she was here. Movies provided a distraction from the serious issues, which consumed most of Alexa’s hours. We watched rip snortin’ funny shows as well as some tearjerkers. From the privacy of our den my friend felt free to give vent to pent up emotions and the tears were cathartic. I kept a great big box of tissues near the sofa and also some over-the-counter headache medications along with a bottle of Pepto Bismol for those particularly difficult days.
During the process of separation we were aware of the reality that money was very tight for Alexa despite the fact that she and her husband were very wealthy. Her financial situation underwent dramatic and often unpredictable changes: joint checking accounts locked down left her with only the cash in her pocket. One evening while Alexa and I were watching a movie at our house, my husband took her car and filled it up with gas, even running it through the car wash while he was there. Another friend gave Alexa a book of stamps and a box of business envelopes and offered to run things to the post office for her if need be. Someone else gave her a gift certificate for a massage. We gave Alexa a key to our door so that while we were at work she could slip into a quiet safe place to nap or make some private phone calls. An anonymous caregiver sent her a paid phone card and slipped a twenty-dollar bill into the envelope. The signature? “With love from Jesus.”
More than five years have now passed since Alexa and John’s divorce. As I reflect on our involvement with my friend, I am at peace. I believe the Lord used our willingness to love Alexa right where she was to comfort and sustain her.
In his book Growing Through Divorce, Jim Smoke writes:
In a society that has a pill or a prescription for almost any human ill, very little is being done to help the person struggling through the hurricane of divorce. Even though there are thousands of divorce support groups across America, many hurting men and women find themselves aching and alone when divorce shatters their dreams and tears apart their families.
Our home was the eye of the storm that hit our friends. We could not completely eradicate the pain, but we were able to offer the soothing balm of unconditional love to our friend’s raw, bleeding heart. We could not affect the ultimate outcome of the divorce, but with our words and actions we could say to one: “You are not alone.”
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