With this post, I continue a series I am calling “God Works in Difficult Places.” Each one of these posts consists of an interview with a special friend. The following conversation is with a young husband and father (who I will refer to as "John") in his 20s whose parents went through a divorce when he was in junior high school.
John, tell me something about your background. What was your home like?
Growing up I had what some would consider a model family. I thought our life was perfect. I loved my friends, school, sports, and especially my family. Most of our family friends went to church with us or worked with my father. He was a vice-president of a bank and a deacon at our church. He was a very respected member of the community and church. My mother stayed home and took care of us. She taught in the church and spent a lot of time helping with women’s functions. We were very close and were taught to love each other and live as God directs us through the Bible. I have a brother and sister, and we felt there were no parents we would rather have than ours. The only really rough time I can remember was moving from our hometown. My father had a bad wreck, and the driver of the other car died. My dad told us he had been drinking at the time of the accident. This was the only time I had ever known him to do anything wrong. I was not aware of any other problems. I loved my home life and felt safe, secure, and loved.
Then, as I understand it, your parents divorced. What happened and what was that like?
I honestly feel like I had two lives. The one before the divorce and the one I now have after the divorce. I come from a long line of non-confrontational people, which often leads to burying problems instead of dealing with them. My parents kept their struggles from us. I figured out that we had moved because of my father’s wreck, even though I was never told that. I was only 11 at the time, but I knew something was wrong. My parents never let on that there were any serious problems until they had made the decision to separate.
The night my parents told us they were getting a divorce was the worst night of my life. I remember my brother and I crying and asking questions: Why? What is wrong with you? Haven’t you thought about us? My sister was only six at the time, and I remember she was confused and started crying, mostly because we were. I can remember being so angry that I wanted to leave home. I wanted to live with friends I felt I could trust.
What an awful time of life for you. How did you cope with that situation?
I coped with my parents’ divorce in a number of ways. The first thing was that I withdrew from my family. I became so upset with my parents that I looked to my friends for guidance. When you are a teenager, your friends are usually not the best influences. My behavior changed from that point forward. I became rebellious to authority. I refused to fully trust my parents, coaches, and teachers.
I also coped by choosing to make my own decisions and live how I saw fit. I never lost faith in God, but because of the lack of trust I had in others, I put more faith in myself. If I made a mistake, I knew I could live with the consequences or at least blame my behavior on my parents’ divorce. I didn’t want to believe that God was fully capable of helping me, and I felt I was smart enough to take care of myself.
No matter what any parent thinks, every child will be extremely affected by a divorce. I cannot explain how much confidence I lost in myself, the times I battle with anger, and how I still struggle with self-esteem today. I coped with these feelings by keeping busy and engrossing myself in sports. Later in high school, I coped by partying and spending time doing anything to avoid thinking about my past. Had it not been for God placing some great people in my life throughout high school and college, I would be engulfed in a life full of sin.
How has that experience in your past impacted your relationship with God?
Initially, the experience of my parents’ divorce affected my relationship with God in a negative manner. As I mentioned, I started to rely on myself to take care of my needs and not on God. My behavior helped keep God on the back burner since our relationship was not a top priority to me. Even so, I was lucky that God continued to watch over me and placed great Christian influences in my life to keep me going. I kept going to church, and I had a great relationship with my youth minister. In college, I had a roommate, who had been my best friend for years, who influenced me to go to church and keep my life together.
Toward the end of college, I looked to God to help me when I realized how far down my list of priorities He was. He brought my wife to me and blessed me with a relationship I had hoped for since I experienced a broken marriage in my childhood. My relationship with God became much stronger because of her. Even before meeting her, my past had caused me to want to be a better father and husband than my own father had been. I wanted to make sure I was committed to making a family last before I said, “I do.”
In this way my relationship has been strengthened. I had to trust in someone other than myself to make a marriage work. To do that, I knew I needed God. I learned that God is the only one who will be by my side every day. Whether I am struggling or everything is going my way, he will love and care for me. I know that all people will fail at some point, but God has never failed me. My relationship with God continues to grow because I am allowing it to move forward, and I no longer live for my own satisfaction.