Reg Christensen lives in the Midwest with his wife, Carol. They have seven children and sixteen grandchildren who live in seven states. They are both personally experienced in navigating the trial of divorce. As they do, they keep their eyes forward as they strive to walk the covenant path. Reg is the author of the book, Losing Everything in Divorce: Finding Healing through Christ, a book to help others navigate the trials of divorce. They have been blessed with many service opportunities as Pathway missionaries and service volunteers at the BYU Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies, to mention a few. While living in Jerusalem, they served in the Bethlehem branch, Carol as the Relief Society president and Reg as the branch president.
Before moving to the Midwest to marry Carol, I lived in Utah. Prior to my realization that my former spouse was choosing a course away from our marriage, I had taught full-time seminary for twenty-three years and was serving as bishop of my ward. My divorce ended both. After my marriage to Carol, I was reinstated into the Church Education System and spent the next fourteen years as coordinator of Seminaries and Institutes and Institute Director here in the Midwest.
Enabling healing from divorce is a team effort with many players. Here are some specific things leaders, friends, and family members can do to bless the lives of those suffering the trial of divorce.
“Trust Thou in God—and Thyself”
Emily Hill Woodmansee joined the Church in England, emigrated to the United States, and traveled to Utah with the ill-fated Willie Handcart Company. After all the trials of her journey, she married one of her rescuers who later abandoned and divorced her, leaving her and her child nearly destitute. She later said that all she had suffered in her travels was like “child’s play” compared to the trial of her divorce.
President Heber J. Grant was prompted to take $50 to Emily, and not wanting to offend by giving it outright, offered it as a loan not to be paid back until she was sure she could afford to do so. He recounts:
“With tears in her eyes Sister Emily confessed that she and her family were almost destitute. Twenty-five dollars of it was immediately spent for provisions and coal. With the remaining twenty-five dollars she took an option on a piece of property. In thirty days, she sold the property for $700. With this she bought and sold many other parcels of real estate, showing the keenest sagacity and wisdom in the business world. It is needless to say the $50 was returned with thanks to me, and praises to God, for a true friend in her hour of need.”
Emily continued as a self-reliant and successful businesswoman and from a heart of experience wrote the poem, Trust Thou in God! And Thyself and the hymn As Sisters in Zion.
As difficult as the sorrow of divorce and the disruption of family economy are, we do best to help all parties preserve their self-esteem and leverage their talents to become self-reliant.
When I was a young boy, my mother served on the ward council. Years later she told me how well our bishop had handled a sensitive matter. A young man in our ward had been serving a mission in a distant land and was released and sent home for transgression. My mother said the bishop instructed the ward council to quell all gossip and to love this young man back into full fellowship. The young elder returned to his mission field and there married a young lady. Years later, I heard that he was serving as bishop. Then later, I read in the Church News of his call as Stake President—then later as a Regional Representative. I believe his path to success and healing had its beginning with a wise bishop who gave proper direction to ward members.
We need to prevent gossip and protect the dignity of all parties.
Judge Righteous Judgment
We are not judges, unless we are the bishop. Bishops best exercise their role in patience and much seeking for guidance. From the Sermon on the Mount, we learn, “Judge not that ye be not judged.” Joseph Smith, in his inspired translation of the Bible, added needed perspectives, “Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged: but judge righteous judgment.” (JST Matt 7:1)
The Lord is the ultimate judge and “will, suiting his mercies according to the conditions of the children of men.” (Doctrine & Covenants 46:15) He, only, understands all factors. There is potential for harm if people side with one party over the other. We, as support team, do well to not jump to hasty conclusions. We should seek the ultimate healing of all parties, for that is what the Lord does.
Teach the Lord’s Law of Forgiveness
Shortly after moving to the Midwest, I met an incredible lady with such a remarkable story that I invited her to come and share with our institute students. Jackie had been visiting a friend. While the friend was at work, Jackie was accosted by two teenage boys who shot her point blank in the back of the head and left her for dead. Fortunately, her friend returned shortly after the incident and Jackie was life-flighted to the University hospital where she remained in a coma for 42 days. By faith and miracle, she recovered, with some handicaps. The most profound miracle is that she forgave the two boys who shot her. She developed a love for them and visits and ministers to them in prison.
Most every divorce brings heartache and bitterness at some level. We need to help those involved learn to forgive, others and self, as needed. The Lord’s law of forgiveness is simply taught, “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.” (Doctrine and Covenants 64:10) It is often less simply applied, but for true healing to occur, we must let the Lord fill His role, and we fill ours. To forgive all is the only path to true and lasting peace and healing. If Jackie can forgive, so can we.
Bless the Children
All children of divorce will suffer at some level. We demonstrate pure love as we act to help them feel included and help them understand that they are not at fault for the struggles of their parents. We need to do all we can to help them remain in a neutral position. We can perhaps help orchestrate professional counseling. We can invite them to our homes and family activities. We can model and encourage them to love, and if needed forgive, their parents. We can foster long-term relationships of love and trust with them. Their healing journey may be long term, we can use our talents and ministry to stick with them and help them through.
Teach Correct Doctrine – Practice Correct Principles
I have a friend whose divorce was imminent. A leader counseled him that there was no way he could divorce and remain faithful to his covenants. Fortunately, another leader helped course-correct the counsel of the first. We must not impose any pre-conceived personal notions on the lives of struggling saints. We work hard to learn and teach and apply correct principles.
Sometimes we take things out of context and misapply scriptural statements. In the New Testament, we read, “But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.” (Matthew 5:32)
I would guess that most people who divorce and contemplate remarriage will have some interaction with this scripture. Hopefully, we can help them understand that the Savior was addressing a specific culture of flippancy toward marriage—not making a general application to every person who gets divorced.
A guiding principle of my life is that current official Church practice always constitutes the correct interpretation of scripture. On Thursday April 10, 1990, President Howard W. Hunter, after many years as a widower, was married in the Salt Lake Temple to Inis Stanton, who had previously been divorced. “President Hinckley performed the sealing ceremony and pronounced them husband and wife.” Thus, the above cited scripture has been clarified.
Do Your Homework – Invest Your Time
During a personal time of dark struggle with one of my children, I sought an appointment for counsel and a blessing from my bishop. This was not a common practice for me, I had generally been on the other end of such matters. But I needed help and my bishop knew it. He took our appointment seriously and approached it with much prayer and fasting. He gave me counsel and a sweet blessing. He felt inspired to share the following quotation with me. Elder Richard G. Scott taught:
“If you are free of serious sin yourself, don’t suffer needlessly the consequence of another’s sins. As a wife, husband, parent, or loved one, you can feel compassion for one who is in the gall of bitterness from sin. Yet you should not take upon yourself a feeling of responsibility for those acts. When you have done what is reasonable to help one you love, lay the burden at the feet of the Savior. He has invited you to do that so that you can be free from pointless worry and depression. As you so act, not only will you find peace but will demonstrate your faith in the power of the Savior to lift the burden of sin from a loved one through his repentance and obedience.”
Leaders, family and friends, the time you spend to help, counsel, bless, and support those struggling from the consequences of divorce will pay eternal dividends that you cannot now imagine. Plus, the quote my bishop shared, that has become a life-guiding star for me, may be helpful for someone you know.
Keep in Remembrance
I believe that one of the most helpful things leaders and others can do is to help elevate the setting and spiritual tone of sacrament meetings. There are lots of helpful occasions for socializing and interacting one with another, but sacrament meeting is different. As you invite those struggling with divorce to sharpen their focus on the meeting and particularly the ordinance of the sacrament, you enable them to better receive the Lord’s promised blessing, the Spirit to always guide them. “Always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given them; that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.” Few things you do will have greater potential for long term comfort, direction, peace, and healing.
Gratitude – the Key to Obedience
While I served as a branch president at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, our constant quest was to help our sisters and elders learn and practice obedience. Our mission president made it his personal pursuit to figure out how to enhance our efforts to do so. Finally, after weeks of prayer, fasting, and study, he taught us that gratitude is a grand key to obedience. The more I have considered this teaching, the more profound it has become for me. My president was right, my gratitude promotes my obedience. Our obedience helps us access the Lord’s blessings in our lives. As we help those struggling through the dark abyss of divorce to become increasingly aware of all that they have to be grateful for, their obedience to sustaining principles of the gospel will help them better heal and serve themselves and those they are responsible for.
Unto My Holy Mountain
In the book of Isaiah, the Lord admonishes the eunuch, “Neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree.” Why would he not consider himself to be a dry tree, he has no apparent prospect of eternal posterity? As we divorce and our covenants are canceled, we may struggle with similar feelings.
The Lord then gives counsel to, “Keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant.” He then promises to bring them, “To my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer.” (Isaiah 56:3-4, 7)
“Holy mountain” is temple imagery. Through the ordinances and covenants of the temple, we secure eternal promise of the Lord’s rewards that may seem clouded in our current mortal struggles. But the Lord is true and faithful to His word. We can trust Him. We bless lives of those divorcing as we help them make and keep sacred covenants in the temple and return often to be taught and encouraged to continue the covenant path. Through my divorce, I kept my temple recommend current and used it often. This blessed my life and helped guide me forward.
Anxiously Engaged in a Good Cause
I have been blessed and encouraged in my journey by having worthwhile things to do. Making a living is worthwhile. Re-tooling for a career is worthwhile. Ministering to others is worthwhile. Caring for children is worthwhile. Now in hindsight, I am grateful for my trials because I have learned so much through my reinvention. I have a testimony of the principle the Lord taught, “Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness.” (Doctrine and Covenants 58:2 )
Some of the best service and help we can give to those divorced is to help them pursue good causes, particularly ministering to others. Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught:
“When, for the moment, we ourselves are not being stretched on a particular cross, we ought to be at the foot of someone else’s—full of empathy and proffering spiritual refreshment.”
Always Keep Your Eternal Perspective
At the time of my divorce, a general authority, friend, and former teacher of mine heard of my struggles and took the time to write me a brief, but much appreciated letter. He said, “I want to give you some counsel I heard a member of the Quorum of the Twelve give to someone recently who was struggling through a similar situation, Always keep your eternal perspective.” The advice was so simple that I should not have needed to even be reminded, but the fact that it came from him, couched in his love and concern for me, made it profound.
If we can leverage the love and trust we have for those divorcing to help them keep their eternal perspective, we bless them eternally, more than we can possibly now know.
I will conclude with a quote that I have taught, written about, and testified of, likely more than any other through my years of teaching and ministering. President Howard W. Hunter said:
“Please remember this one thing. If our lives and our faith are centered upon Jesus Christ and his restored gospel, nothing can ever go permanently wrong. On the other hand, if our lives are not centered on the Savior and his teachings, no other success can ever be permanently right.”