One of the most extraordinary experiences of my life was serving as a singles pastor at two different churches in the Phoenix area. From 1980 to 1982, I pastored at Grace Community Church in Tempe. We served 500-plus single people in our Sunday school classes.
Then, from 1982 to 1987, I pastored at Northwest Community Church in Phoenix. We started with 36 people. Soon, we grew up to 230-plus people in our Sunday school classes.
At Grace Community Church, I served the 30- to 45-year-old group. Most attendees in this group were “single again” and in a crisis of one type or another. Many were women, newly divorced with children, facing financial, legal, emotional, familial and relational giants they had never seen before. There were also men in the same situation, only in reverse.
When they joined our meetings, they had that “deer in headlights” look. They were “trust impaired.” Hopes and dreams shattered; the future looked bleak to them. Our singles ministry was designed to support them as they journeyed from calamity to peace. For most, recovery was going to be several years. After all, sometimes you need to give time “time.”
Let me share with you Phyllis, one of the attendees of my class. Phyllis strongly believed in the traditional style of marriage. The man works, the woman takes care of the children, etc. However, Phyllis’ marriage didn’t turn out how she expected. When she first came to our class, she was devastated, distraught, and every other “dis” word you can think of.
As she persevered through the process of healing in our ministry, she began to see that the light at the end of the tunnel is not a train. She slowly gained confidence, courage, trust, and her ability to cope with challenges. She discovered there really is a God worth trusting and people worth trusting. She found a different life but a better life worth living.
One Sunday, Phyllis gave me a poem written about her divorce experience. Please don’t try and psychoanalyze her or her then-husband. Please don’t project your current sensibility or issues onto her. Understand her feelings. She is a solid person, not chronically co-dependent, a pretty woman, intelligent and a good mother. Her poem is raw and authentic. Here is Phyllis’ poem:
“He walked out of my life after 16 years / Leaving me frightened and lonely, full of anger and tears. He gave me no reasons, no reasons or rhymes / He just said he needed to be ‘alone’ for a time. He needed to ‘think’ and stand all alone / Before he could be happy at home. ‘Separation’ it’s called; I called it ‘hell’ / I was a bundle of nerves, as my children will tell. Reconciliation I wanted, for him, I yearned / As I waited and prayed that he soon would return.
“Then, out of the blue, he appeared at my door / Saying, ‘Just sign these papers; we’ll be married no more.’ I asked, ‘What have I done? I love you so / I just cannot bear watching you go.’
“Out of my life and out of my dreams / Just what in the world does all of this mean? What did I do? What was the last straw? / What did he see that I never saw?
“I have my faults, as the human race goes / Of these, I’m aware more than anyone knows. But I accepted myself the way that I was / Why does he want a divorce? What was the cause? Was it my short temper? Did I snore in my sleep? / Was it the way that I walk or the way that I eat? Did I talk funny? Was I too serious about ‘stuff’? / Or was it reverse, not serious enough? Was it my laugh, my hair or my waist?/ Was it the way that I think? Was it opposite tastes?
“Oh, how I searched, tore myself all apart / Looking for answers to help heal my heart. ‘Darn you,’ I cried. ‘You’ve let me down so / And you give me no reasons. You just have to go.’
“Now that I know it’s over, finished, complete / Reality sets in, I must stand on my feet. That’s easily said; it’s much harder done / Especially since I’ve always leaned on someone. Step by step, each day I survive / Some days for my children staying alive. There’s so much to learn, soul searching to do / I’m determined to succeed, see my plans followed through.
“There are no easy answers, no secret of life / But I now accept myself, not being a wife. What’s important to me is being true to myself / Putting priorities first and him on the shelf. In a book full of memories, finished and done / He, just the dad to my children, my new life in Jesus has begun.”
Can you relate to Phyllis? She wrote this poem 40 years ago, but it is just as relevant today as it was then. Note the following. Phyllis faced reality. She escaped the blame and shame game. She chose to move from a victim to a doctor. Yes, the trial was great. Yes, bad things can happen to good people. Yes, if it’s going to be, it starts with me and God’s ability to heal. Spending today complaining about yesterday won’t make tomorrow any better. She moves from “Why me?” to “What’s next?”
Phyllis understood the feeling of being OK does not imply that she has risen above her faults or problems. It merely means she refuses to be paralyzed by them. Phyllis didn’t spend the rest of her life entangled in the “what” and the “why” of her predicament. She focused on the “who” and the “how.” The “who” was God. The “how” is learning how to let go to move on. When you do that, you will see the end is just a beginning in disguise.
If you are in a “Phyllis time” right now, know that God is with you, and God can make all grace abound to you. The way is yours, take it.