Regaining Emotional Clarity—Eight Steps to Healing (Part 6)

When people reach out to ask what the most helpful things have been for soul-healing, my brain does a spin while my heart pauses.

Healing was long, difficult, and multi-faceted with no assurance I was ever going to get there. Divorce and betrayal so deeply devastated me that I couldn’t know then what I know now.

My sister would tell me, “Sara, you won’t always feel this way. You won’t always be this sad.”

I could smile, yes. But I couldn’t shake that deep despair and dread threatening to engulf me with each waking morning. This lasted, much of the time, for a few years. So I can relate to the person whose spouse has cheated and he or she lives with debilitating despair.

Jesus Christ healed me as only He can do. It was not a simple fix after someone glibly quoted “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Don’t ever do that to a grieving person, by the way.) My healing was long, on-going, and needed to happen from every angle. It came bit by bit, and God was okay with that. But after 3.5 years, I knew it had happened.

The spirit of God touched me at a conference and I knew then that I was free. Weeping on a church floor does something to you. Staying there helplessly, like a child, letting God take your everything while filling you with SOMETHING (rather, SOMEONE), allows the tension to dissipate while your soul sinks into a peace not known by natural circumstances.

To those asking me about healing, I want you to know a few things:

1. God is okay with your process.

Others may think you’re not “spiritual enough” or “surrendered enough” if you continue grieving, but Jesus never said that.

When Lazarus died, Jesus didn’t rush to resurrect Him, though He knew that’s what He would do in the end. Get this, friend—Jesus stood there, weeping when He could have rushed to call Lazarus from the tomb. I believe Jesus wanted Mary and Martha to know He was engaging in their grief.

Isaiah 53:3 calls Him a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief”.

One of the first and most important steps to healing from grief is to first engage it honestly. This might look like a day in bed, months where you watch Netflix more than read the inspirational books you used to read, or anything else that helps. A traumatized soul means a weary brain. And a weary brain needs to rest in order to rebuild itself.

Accept your grief, accept your weakness—and be okay with staying there for awhile. Just make sure you invite Jesus to stay there with you. That makes all the difference because He won’t leave you there.

2. Do things you’ve always wanted to do.

Since my divorce I’ve been on my best and longest mountain hikes (with some of the best people), I’ve gone sky-diving and allowed my body to hurl out of a plane two miles in the air, I’ve jumped from 100 foot towers, and learned dancing (which I’ve wanted to do for years).

Stepping out for things you love is vital to healing because it removes trauma from your brain for a short while. Like a shocker, you’re reminded that there are other aspects to life than the part that makes you curl up in a ball, weeping. You get glimpses of hope even if you may not stay there. These small glimpses give you courage to keep going even if despair rolls back in.

Whatever it is that makes you come alive, do it and keep doing it.

3. Engage your anger, but don’t turn into an angry person.

My nature, I am not an angry person. But I had to accept that feeling angry over betrayal was a good thing. I tried various outlets including burning garbage and old furniture, cleaning out all the remaining belongings of the person I was hurt by, and I even tried breaking glass jars one day. Seeing my husband with a teen-aged child did something to me that I can’t describe and I needed outward outlets for the inner pressure. This is not wrong and can be helpful.

But after releasing anger, choose to forgive. Bitterness will only cage your own soul in. You deserve more than to turn into an ugly person because of the ugly someone else threw your way. And I have to say, there are few things as ugly as a bitter woman. I was determined not to turn into one, and I realized I didn’t have to. There was so much good to immerse my soul into, that was more powerful than the one bad thing I could have sunk into.

4. Immerse yourself in a culture of honor.

Simply put, you need people to surround you, be there for you, and call out the best in you during the worst time of your life. My community of friends saved me. They believed in me. They rallied for me. Before, during, and after the divorce they treated me the same—with more honor than I had ever received in my life.

Find yourself friends who lift your soul rather than drag you into more depression. Find friends who know your heart so well that they don’t even need to ask about anything else. Sit with them and let them love you. Go out to dinners with them as you’ve always done. Cry with them and let them weep with you. Whatever you do, make sure you have a community who lifts your soul.

5. Choose forgiveness.

I asked it for years, “God, what does forgiveness look like? What does it feel like? How do I know I’ve forgiven?”

When I realized how much Father God hated what was done to me, I realized how much I could trust Him to take care of what was done to me. Seeing God changes everything. God does not blithely pass by one of His daughters in distress. You will get to stand still and watch Him fight for you.

When you realize you can hand your offender into the hands of God, you realize you’re okay with however God chooses to handle that person.

At that point, any gaps in your feelings become less than the focal point. God has taken over. You’ve chosen forgiveness, you’ve chosen God, and as the years pass by He will take you deeper into that secret place where you know what forgiveness feels like. Until then, trust Him with your lesser feelings as you choose Him for His greater LOVE.

6. Repent and own your mistakes

I remember when a friend reached out with these words, “Sara, you don’t have to be perfect.”

At the time, she knew why she said that more than I knew. I was so devastated by the divorce that I felt like I had to be perfect. Slowly, I realized no one can possibly be perfect and it was not only okay for me to acknowledge my imperfections; it was also important. I owned my mistakes in life without taking ownership for the divorce.

This set my soul free from the bondage of needing to be a perfect woman. I realized it was impossible, and it was fully okay to be human and to verbalize areas of growth that needed to happen in my life while in no way agreeing to or owning the divorce. (Of course I agreed to it later as the affair became obvious and ongoing).

For everyone in every season of life, a God-awareness of personal need is a gift. I learned to bask in the love of Jesus and talk to Him about all of it, telling Him I was sorry for any and every failure, and asking Him to help me change. Here, I learned how very much He loved me and was with me even when I wasn’t perfect. What a gift this became to my soul!

7. Stay on track.

In times of grief it is easier to lose sight of who we are, but so important to stay on track. If you’re a faithful, God fearing woman, keep right on being one. If you have children, keep prioritizing them. Remind yourself that keeping your home clean, serving your children, getting out of bed when it’s hard to do so–all of it will pay off and will help you keep building your life even as parts of it crash. Wash your face, clean the toilets, cook dinner for the kids–do what you’ve always done to create a lovely atmosphere for your family.

Above all else, keep your morals. Be careful with men. Vulnerable women can still be faithful women. Don’t allow the devil to rob you of even more by giving him space in this area of your life. The rewards for faithfulness are great and it is a vital part of your healing.

8. Never stop seeking.

I promise you. You who are in the depths of despair—I promise you that if you seek Jesus, He will heal you. Perhaps not in your time or way, but He will—and that’s all that matters. And while you feel no hope, I speak hope over you, to you, for you, and into you.

Never give up. Sooner or later, your soul will rise to the Son of Man who has already risen with healing in His wings. (Malachi 4:2)

And if you want to talk, find me in the contact page and I will get back to you. I will weep with you, stand in the gap for you, speak things over you that you cannot yet believe for yourself.

I’m here for you.

Love,

Sara

Regaining Emotional Clarity by Moving On–and What That Really Means (Part 5)

Most people, when they mention moving on, are referring to a readiness to get into another romantic relationship.

But moving on can be so much more. I’m here to tell you that you can “move on” without moving into the arms of another man. For me, moving on means finding soul-freedom from my past more than it means finding human love.

Letting go of a person when he’s dead can be difficult, but letting go when he’s alive can be brutal. Death brings finality and closure that cannot be avoided; divorce brings rejection and betrayal that, by all means, could and should have been avoided.

Divorce brings the death of a dream. It wasn’t only a marriage, though that would be enough. For me, divorce also brought the death of my children’s security, my dream home, my friends, the mountains and sea that I loved with all my heart, and my church. My ex didn’t think the loss would be so great, and wanted me on good friendship terms while he slept with our daughter’s 16 year old friend five minutes away. In his mind, we could live a good “friendship’, co-parenting life style in close proximity with each other.

When I realized how his brain really worked, I realized how confused mine had become. Narcissists are good at that—love bombing while tearing you to shreds—and if you don’t enjoy it, they’ll tell you that something must be wrong with you for being so sad.

Divorce taught me to see God, but it also taught me to see a lot of other things. Facing my grief with God allowed me not only to see His hand move on my behalf, but also His Love so pure that it was nothing like the “love” I thought I had with my ex-husband.

Seeing God means you own up to what He’s saying about everything. You start seeing evil for what it really is while you see goodness in ways that take your breath away.

Yesterday when a friend asked me how I’ve moved on, I had to stop and think. How has all that not destroyed me?

By choice, I don’t have a boyfriend. So I can’t credit healing to finally being in a healthy relationship.

It sounds clique to say that it was God’s presence that allowed me to stay intact and learn how to thrive again, but it’s true. I learned how to live autonomously before Jesus Christ and see what He said over me, to me, and for me—completely apart from any other human being.

You can lose everything, yet still hold on to the most important thing. This is because Jesus’ death on the cross annihilated not only sin, but also the effects of sin. Salvation was not only meant to take your sin away, but also to remove the affects of another’s sin toward you.

I took years to process the fact that my husband would walk away. I took even longer to process the fact that he wouldn’t come visit his children, and my little boy hasn’t seen his father in almost two years. Trust me when I say the processing included many tears, more grief than anger, and that devastating realization hitting hard when I woke each morning not wanting to place my feet on the ground.

So I’m not offering you some magic formula of moving on. It’s more like a solid refusal to go under no matter what you might feel in a day. It looks a lot like reaching out for help, like processing long and hard, like talking to God through it all, about it all. It looks like owning your own faults, while recognizing that the divorce is not your fault.

Moving on takes some hard-knock-life stuff. Avoidance or oblivion may make you feel momentarily that you’re moving on, but in reality, you’re only shutting down. Be willing to engage every day, even if you have a few where you don’t get out of bed.

Some of that hard-as-hell stuff in life will knock you flat for life unless you get hold of the delight Jesus Christ has over you. He says to me, to you, “I loved you before marriage, I loved you during marriage, and I love you just as much after marriage.”

The purity culture has good to offer, but we often end up idolizing the perfect romantic relationship, thinking that our well being is tied up in another person. We are much less prepared than the world is, to be cheated on and discarded. We find our identity in serving and submitting to a man, and try to perfect ourselves and our relationships as much as we try to have a relationship with God.

Slowly and unawares, a man becomes God to us. We really don’t think we can be okay without a good man in our lives.

The best women can be wrecked the most when betrayal happens, or even when marriage is less than it should be. But I want to tell you that your man is not your God. Your man is not your Savior. And your man will never keep your heart full of pure, unadulterated joy before God.

Idolizing marriage puts you in a cage of your man’s perfection—which he will never attain to, and if you expect him to be perfect for you, you’ll spend each day griping about one thing or another.

I’ve seen women gripe daily over good, faithful men as if they cannot live autonomously before God and find soul satisfaction on their own. As if it takes their men seeing a need and fixing it before they can fix their own hearts. As if their entire well being is contingent on their men treating them perfectly.

Heaven help these men if they’re trying hard, yet aren’t filling the quota their wives place on them to fill.

Coming out of abuse and the worst kind of betrayal allowed me to see the idol marriage was to me. Surrendering that to the Lord allowed me to take hold of His love, plan, purpose, and design for my life. No man can wreck that up—the only person who will ever wreck God’s perfect design for your life is YOU.

Seeing God changes everything.

Moses knew there was a burning bush in his vicinity, but the Lord started speaking to Moses when He saw that Moses turned aside and looked.

Moving on doesn’t have to mean moving into another relationship. The best moving on comes when we turn to face what God is doing—first, in grief, sorrow, pain, and anger. We don’t run from these negative emotions, but process them facing Jesus.

As the Lord started speaking to Moses when He saw Moses turn aside to really look, so He will speak to you when you stop everything to look at His face.

If you really face everything with God, you’ll find more soul freedom than many find who never have trauma but live a relatively easy life.

Facing God with our emotions is the only way to heal properly. Denial is not healing; it is debilitating.

As we face God with our grief, we begin to see God do things to help us. We credit God for His works as we move aside to see God.

I knew it was God who helped me run a successful AirBnB.

I knew it was God when I paid for my car in cash.

I knew it was God when I craved chicken and a widow lady called me up to ask if I could help her eat a larger amount she didn’t need. Somedays, small things meant even more than big things. They showed me God was watching closely.

I knew it was God when I found a house online and moved within three weeks from one coast to another.

Friends, God is always doing things for us, yet we are not always turning aside to see God and give Him credit. Many times we are stopping in our tracks to gripe over what we don’t have, and missing out on the marvelous works of God on our behalf.

“And Moses said, ‘I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.

When the Lord saw that He turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’” (Exodus 3:3&4, ESV)

God spoke when Moses turned to see.

Friends, if you’re seeing devastation in your life, imperfections in your spouse that leave you empty and wanting, make sure you turn aside to see God and His works even more.

He will come to you.

He will work in you.

He will work for you.

Though your spouse may never change, remember that the gift of Life is autonomously given, no man can take it, and, just as importantly, no man can give it.

Seeing God changes everything.

Regaining Emotional Clarity by Finding Help (Part Two)

The day I walked into a professional counselor’s office started the change in my life.

It was hard, and I wanted to disappear. I had chosen an older, christian male counselor because I desperately wanted to know if I was wrong. He looked at me kindly and said, “So, you’re a strong woman, aren’t you?”

All I could do was whisper, “I hope so”, then cry for the next hour as years of pain surfaced and I shared the dilemna I was in with my husband’s repeated suggestion that perhaps marriage should be “open”. He’d promise me that he’d never live it out unless we were both okay with it, and he didn’t know where he stood on the matter as of yet. But it threw me into turmoil, and lots of it.

I remember asking myself if I was selfish for wanting to be the only woman in my husband’s life.

I wanted God’s will, I wanted to please my husband, but when it came to this topic I would have rather been alone than be in an open marriage.

For many years, I kept hearing things like “Maybe God designed men to have multiple women and that’s why they struggle with lust.”

Or, when seeing one man surrounded with three beautiful ladies at dinner, “See? Isn’t there something exemplary about that?”

I’d shake my head and want to gag. No, that didn’t look exemplary to me; that looked needy and sinful to me.

The pornography topic wasn’t even mentioned in our home as a problem until one night, out of nowhere, I was prompted to ask him about it. The answer I got put me in turmoil for many years.

“I’ve been looking at some to pray about whether or not it’s right to view. I can’t lie about that—and you shouldn’t have asked me about it.”

At that moment, my inner reality changed while my outer world kept spinning as if nothing happened.

Amish girls are raised with the three big S words: submit, serve, and silence.

So, though my stomach tied in knots, that is what I did. Obviously, with the three other S words, there came a fourth S word: SEX.

I absorbed blame in our relationship and took internal responsibility very quickly. Saying “I’m sorry” was much easier for me than learning how not to say “I’m sorry” while asking for what I needed and deserved in a relationship.”

Writing about all this sickens me because I see who I used to be. Pathetically naive and dependent, with no ability to see beyond the perceived safety I felt in marriage to a man who would confuse my brain, then leave me with four children to figure life out on my own.

I thought he was good. I idolized him as good. And I was determined that nothing in all the world would wreck our marriage.

I should have known, right after marriage, when he told me I wasn’t allowed to go home to see my parents and siblings “because you’re addicted to them”, that something was dreadfully wrong. But, I wasn’t raised to think—I was raised to obey and serve.

I don’t know if I had even heard the word narcissism.

I had watched little to no movies or television, so I operated with an incredibly small worldview. I had never traveled out of the country or lived on my own. From working hard to please my father (who is a good man), to working hard to being a good wife and mother, this is what I knew to do.

The Jesus I know now was more of a God to please, back then. I didn’t know I could trust Him fully to love me unconditionally. I had no idea of a relationship where I didn’t have to perform in order to be loved and accepted.

I had little autonomy, but even while married, I began to see that something was off balance. God used friends to show me what could be, and I embraced it eagerly. I was beyond excited that God had a beautiful balance for women, somewhere between the door mat thing I saw in one world, and the feministic attitudes I saw in another world. Slowly, I learned that it was ok to be myself, that my voice really mattered, that I could think, reason, and be alive with or without the approval of others.

The voice of God was strong enough to start changing me while I was still in an almost hopeless situation that only got worse with time. As with everything else, I started writing out what I was learning, so when my publisher asked me for a book, I hesitated, then gave her that file on my laptop. I have no regrets in letting her publish it, even though my marriage ended afterward.

The only thing any one of us can do is change ourselves. We have no responsibility or ability to change another person, but growing ourselves up is imperative.

I thank God for healing me, for loving me, for giving me a voice to use, for giving me life apart from any man on this earth. I thank God that I now know this one thing—I am as important to God as any man could ever be. He loves me, and I trust Him.

But many years ago, though my heart was crushed over the answer I received about the pornography issue (many years before my husband left), all I knew to do was pretend nothing happened. Hear me carefully—this brought fake peace while it allowed the problem to continue until one day, years later, I received an email telling me that we disagreed on this matter and I was free to leave him.

“I might come back to you in five years,” he’d tell me and others. The pain and confusion of it all rocked me.

I continued to fight for our marriage until he packed his bags six months later and told me that he doesn’t want to sleep with other women while he’s married to me, but after the divorce he’s not sure. In reality, it was only a very short time until he was sleeping with our daughter’s friend, a few long years before the divorce was final.

Do you see the confusion here? And you, men and women whose spouses are acting up in similar ways—- know that freedom comes when you no longer try to make sense of the mess. Evil is often confusing and doesn’t make sense. Give your brain a break.

Hear this carefully—for many years, I was too frightened of the trouble that would come if I didn’t “submit and be silent”. Are any of you in that place? Please know that you don’t have to stay there.

No one has to suffocate under a religious definition of “submission”.

The patriarchal system gives the picture of a perfectly loving man IF the woman does everything right. “If you give your husband lots of sex, he won’t be tempted to have an affair.”

“If you submit to him well, he will never raise his voice.”

I tried it, friends. I tried to be “perfect” so the end result would line up with what I was basically promised—a kind, loving husband who would adore me and treat me well.

That never happened. Outward, public chivalry, yes. Holding my hand, yes. But emotional healing, mutual respect, love in the places of my soul that were hurting, no.

Anyone can pull off decent outward behavior. Only some will wound your soul with moral issues while they hold your hand, pretending the problem doesn’t exist.

Before I go further, let me assure you that I’m a firm believer in the goodness of sex. What I’m calling our attention to is something different—and that is, either partner shutting down vital parts of their emotions in order to function well in the bedroom. Marriage should be a safe place for body, soul, and spirit together, with neither part of us shutting down but all aspects of us becoming better.

When either partner is breaking trust, it is not only right to discuss and work through the pain of it all; it is vital.

But many of us do the opposite. We shut down our brains so our bodies can comply with our inner false responsibility to give and enjoy sex while the other partner breaks trust. We do this out of fear and a desperation to connect on some level.

I was determined that if my husband was into pornography, it wouldn’t be my fault.

If he ever left me, he wouldn’t be able to say it was because I didn’t give him enough sex.

So, I did what it took with my emotions so that I could keep doing what I thought constituted a “good wife”.

I kept the house clean, home schooled the children, cut the grass, did the grocery shopping, laundry, packed his lunches and cooked his dinners.

But, I hurt my heart and soul by not validating the pain. I didn’t know how to live as if I was worth something, too.

Later, the truth met me that there were some things no one can fix, no matter what they do. That truth saved me.

“Am I selfish for not wanting to study open marriage with my husband?” Is he right that we should be able to discuss these things together?”

My husband ordered a book for us to study on the topic, which I agreed to study with him. I was desperate for his approval and reasoned that God could keep me in truth by His Spirit.

But when the book arrived, I could read one page before begging him to remove it from the house. My husband was disappointed and said that time was the best time of our marriage as he felt we could talk about everything.

Do you see the number this put on my dependent brain? He wasn’t mentioning SIN; he was talking God’s will, an open mind, best time of our marriage because we could communicate about everything.

He used everything I wanted most to pull me into the thing I wanted least. Hear me carefully on this—this is a very, very common tactic for narcissists to use.

I needed help to keep my head on straight. And whether or not your situation is as drastic as mine was, you need the same help. The kindness we get one day mixes with the abuse we get another day, until it is very difficult to think clearly on our own.

Keep your brain sharp. Keep your mind above the fog. Reach out for help. This is point number three. Please don’t do what so many men and women do—stay silent out of “respect” for their spouses. That, my friend, is not respect; that is fear.

Those who truly love you will assure you that you’re not selfish to want answers. They will tell you that you’re right on track. You need to hear truth verbally, whatever it is—and you need it now.

This time, don’t walk to a closet to cry it out–walk to a counselor’s office to find answers. Trust Jesus and His heart for your emotional healing and mental clarity, trust that others will surround you with love, trust that you can and should reach out.

Love,

Sara