The low point in my divorce came on Christmas Day, 2000. My attorney (he is Jewish) called me to explain the latest legal strategy my former spouse was using in our very contentious custody battle. (Aren’t they all?!) It was bad enough that I was emotionally shattered from going through a divorce with three small children, at the time, ages 8, 6, and 3, but now I had to deal with the terrifying prospect of losing custody of my children. I was filled with anxiety and fear. Hope was very hard to muster.
Even after a divorce, the FUD factor (fear, uncertainty and doubt) tends to reign supreme. My biggest struggles were raising three kids on my own while running a full-time business, maintaining a chaste lifestyle, and helping my kids deal with the trauma of divorce. It is easy to slip into the attitude that life will always be this way: DIFFICULT! It is hard to imagine that life will return to being joyful and filled with promise and potential—and with good reason.
You see, divorce tends to sensitize us to pain and anxiety. Enduring the suffering of a difficult experience makes us realize just how vulnerable we are. We can take the attitude that around each corner lies the next trap or pitfall. This is understandable, especially considering what a divorced person deals with on an on-going basis: raising kids as a single parent, having to deal with a difficult ex-spouse, financial trials, feeling out of place at church, loneliness, and anxieties about developing future relationships, just to name a few.
St. Therese of Lisieux had a very refreshing approach to dealing with despair and suffering: live in the moment. She said, “I only suffer for one moment. It is because people think about the past and the future that they become discouraged and despair.” She understood that anticipating the suffering is what is so difficult—far more difficult then the actual suffering itself. In other words, the anticipation is far worse than the participation.
We are our own worst enemy by taking all of our past and projecting it into the future, creating a sense of dread and despair. The way to avoid this is to focus only on the problems of today. Christ himself underscores this in Matthew’s Gospel: “Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.” (Matthew 6:34)
Easier said then done, for sure. But it is so important to practice developing a sense of living in the moment, for the only place where God is present is in the here and now. To fixate on the past tends to make us lack trust in the infinite mercy and love of God, who always wants to give us a new chance to become holy, regardless of our past.
You may be saying to yourself: “Okay, I can understand the importance of not letting my past rule my present, but are you telling me not to consider and plan for the future?” Of course not. To be responsible adults, we need to plan for the future, but not worry about it. Worry robs us of the grace of the present moment. Being consumed with anxiety about tomorrow desensitizes us to how God is working in our life, and what He is calling us to do, today. The best way to prepare for the future is to put everything we have into today. The present is God’s workshop.
Six Ways to Restore a More Hopeful Attitude
Now what? How can we actually begin living more in today by dwelling less on the past and worrying less about the future? Good question. Here are some tips:
#1 Accept It: When we accept the fact that life during and after divorce can be very difficult it makes the suffering easier to bear. I didn’t say go away—just easier to deal with. The ex is still going to be difficult, the bills still need to be paid, and life is still going to be lonely at times. Putting yourself in a posture of acceptance, instead of denial, is the ticket.
I remember vividly the day that I accepted that I would have to live a chaste life after my divorce. It was the last thing I wanted, and the time leading up to that decision was filled with anxiety. Yet, once I made the decision to embrace a chaste life, the anxiety disappeared. I had this incredible sense of freedom. The burden had been lifted.
This surprised me because accepting the fact that I might never be married again, and having to be celibate the rest of my life (something I thought only priests did), should have caused me even more anxiety and suffering. But it didn’t—just the opposite. Christ had taken this burden from me once I surrender it completely to Him. Believe it or not, enduring our suffering each day is our path to Heaven, and more peace and joy during this life: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)
#2 First Things First: It is hard to restore peace and hope into the present moment when it is in chaos. When you were married, you had a partner to help you with the daily tasks of living. When you are divorced, or separated, you suddenly find yourself responsible for everything. This can be really overwhelming, especially for single parents. Things you didn’t have to worry about like paying the monthly bills, getting the oil changed in the car, or taking kids to the doctor, are now suddenly all on your shoulders. Talk about creating anxiety!
Managing your time becomes essential to restoring a sense of peace into your life. And peace is the breeding ground for hope. Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, is an excellent resource for learning how to better manage your time and your life. Read it. The chapter, Habit 3: Putting First Things First, provides an excellent system for managing your time. I have been using it for over 20 years. It has been absolutely invaluable to me, especially when I was a single parent raising my three kids on my own. People used to ask me all the time how I was able to juggle everything in my life. I would smile and say, “Prayer and Stephen Covey.”
#3 Push Yourself: If you have ever been through physical therapy, you know that the therapist’s main job is to push you beyond what you think are your limits. You heal faster that way. Well, the same is true when healing spiritually and emotionally. If you confine yourself to living in your comfort zone, you rob yourself of the opportunity to heal.
What does pushing yourself look like? It means availing yourself of the Sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation more often (when was the last time you went to confession, anyway?). It means participating in your parish’s divorce support group. It means going out with friends on a Friday or Saturday night instead of sitting at home watching NetFlix. In short, it means living today to the fullest, even if you don’t necessarily feel like it. Remember: feeling follows action.
#4 Carpe Diem: Seize the moment more. Hug your kids and be thankful that they are healthy and in your arms. Don’t have any kids? Hug your mom, your dad, your brother or sister, your best friend, or your dog. They are all gifts that God has given you in this present moment. When we are consumed with fear and anxiety, we tend to forget that.
Go for a walk and really look around. God has created all the nature you see—for you! Dig into your hobbies and interests. (Strumming away on my guitar brought me peace…even if it was for just a moment.) These are all ways of giving yourself a little gift-the gift of now.
#5 The Eucharist: Don’t forget to throw yourself on your knees in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Christ is fully, totally and completely present to you there. Really! No kidding. Trust that He wants so much to love you and pour His mercy over you. Let Him hug you by being present to Him.
#6 Serve Others: It’s very hard to be thinking about yourself when you are helping others. Plus, it makes you realize just how fortunate you are.
Never forget that your faith is the key to unlocking the door to a life filled with hope. It is through faith that we come to trust more fully in the truth that God is real, God loves the heck out of you, and that God will never abandon you-no matter what!
 St. Therese of Lisieux, “Yellow Notebook,” August 19.
 Rev. Jacques Philippe, “Interior Freedom”, p. 86.
 Ibid, p. 88
© 2015, Vince Frese