Cydney Afton Hatch is a polka-dot-wearing business owner, photographer, cupcake enthusiast and recently turned writer, who through her work shares her personal experience to encourage others to rebuild their lives, redefine their relationship with God, and find peace after divorce.
I was born in Provo, Utah and raised my whole life in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I am an active member of the church trying on a daily basis to lead a Christ-centered life.
I have two loving parents who are examples of love, family, and LDS life.
Growing up, I sang songs about marriage, temple attendance, family, and mostly love. I had a beautiful, healthy childhood that nurtured me to be a good person and to plan for eternal marriage and family.
I colored many drawings of the temple in primary, visited the grounds frequently, and dreamed of the day I would covenant with a loving man to be my husband for time and all eternity. Everything that I had ever known about the temple and marriage was positive and so happy. That dream came in the summer of 2011, and I thought my life was complete.
Unfortunately, after three years it became clear that God had a different plan in mind for my life. Eternity, for my marriage, would not be forever this time…
I got divorced.
Over the span of three years, my world spiraled to a place I never fathomed. Something I wanted so much for my life shattered before my eyes. Temple marriage, the thing I believed with all my heart would bring my greatest joy, ended.
The deterioration of my marriage left me exhausted, shaken, and struggling.
Many questions flooded my mind, leaving the ultimate one unsolved: “Why?” I wondered how the promise of something so good and beautiful could disintegrate so quickly, hurt, and ultimately fail. I wondered why so many others found temple happiness but I did not. I ached. God intended marriage to be an eternal union commanding that a man and woman “shall be one flesh,” but my life was nowhere near that truth. I struggled. I felt that maybe I didn’t belong in the temple and in the Church.
Divorce is traumatic. A friend once told me that divorce is probably worse than death. In some cases, I believe this to be true. For me, surviving divorce meant surviving horrific, deep and painful emotional wounds that I believed could not be truly understood by those who have not suffered the same experience. I felt alone and truly wondered if I could make it through in one piece.
I quickly found that life would be different for me than my Relief Society friends whose temple marriages led to children, homes, and a life together with a loving priesthood holder. You quickly find that your life is different. The Church offered no recovery or long-term plan for divorce. Everything I knew about what was normal and what I wanted for my daily life changed, beginning with re-establishing new norms. Divorce is a reconstruction of a broken heart and life.
As I searched out scriptures and doctrinal books written by highly respected leaders, I found that LDS literature related to coping with a failed marriage was quite limited. These findings soon taught me that there needs to be more discussion about divorce in the LDS church.
I recently published my book, When Eternity is Not Forever, and am creating materials I wish I had during my divorce with the hope that in time there will be more open conversation on the topic to better support members during their process of spiritual and emotional healing.
From my personal experience, I wanted to share the top three things I would like church leaders to know about divorce.
Divorce: Lets Actually Talk About It
In a faith that centers almost exclusively around marriage and family, where the highest level of heaven is reserved for those married and where “singledom” carries both a social and spiritual stigma, it can be easy to feel like you have no place in the church after divorce.
So, why not talk about it?
Divorce within the Mormon church no longer needs to be viewed as the dirty “D” word. In the LDS culture, divorce is sometimes viewed as taboo where many don’t know how to address the topic, ultimately avoiding it altogether. The reality is that divorce needs to be discussed more in our community. Divorce is occurring more within our society and within the church. In fact, I think we can all think of someone we know who has been touched by broken families and divorce. That thought alone is why it’s important.
When we avoid talking about divorce it creates the impression that divorcees are “dented cans”, leaving people to fend for themselves in healing and making sense of the many spiritual relationships they need to redefine. It is bothersome as it implies you are damaged goods and not understood in the spiritual community, which is the first place you should turn for peace and direction. The negative stigma of divorce is fading and I commend leaders like Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf and his sweet wife mentioning divorce in their recent YSA fireside, but it’s still hard to shake that feeling that you are less of a person in the community when you are not recognized.
Divorce is a Norm and Needs Resources
The phrase “cookie cutter” describes something that epitomizes a conformist way of life or attitude. People unfairly label members of the church as a world filled with “cookie cutter” individuals who do not understand diversity, hardship or the world generally. I know a lot of my friends have left the church because of this false idea of having a “Mormon cookie cutter mold” identity. Many felt like they did not have a place in the church after divorce as their lives became very different than most Mormons. I have personally struggled with the idea of being the “black sheep” myself.
The reality is that many in and out of the faith are struggling and working through a lot of “non-cookie cutter” situations life has thrown at them. As a result, they need help and resources.
Within the church, we can find resources for pornography addiction, substance abuse, and other issues that are needed within our church community, but there are very limited resources for life vicissitudes like single parenting, broken families, and ultimately divorce. As these are issues that are becoming more common among members, I wonder why there are not as many resources to spiritually support and recognize these members and the spiritual trials they face.
Like anyone, many members experiencing these trials would like to see supportive materials reflecting their experience. It helps them feel included in a social community.
There are millions of ways to be a good member of God’s church and I would love to see more resources, portrayals, and inclusion for these types of situations because many families are not in the “ideal” family situation. That could mean firesides, printed materials, talks, and other devotionals from church leaders that directly discuss the many feelings and trials associated with divorced members of the church. Lesson plans could also be inclusive of covering topics relevant to those who are not in the ideal family situation.
If these types of materials are not provided within the church, where will LDS Church members turn? I would hope towards God and the church community but I can understand why people don’t.
As a church community, we need to give them a sense of belonging and recognition through resources made specifically for broken families.
Church Culture and Policy Regarding Divorced Members Needs Continued Progress
I want to commend church leadership for making positive changes for divorced members. The temple policy lifted on a “waiting period following a divorce” for men and women is a wonderful first step in recognizing the need for spiritual healing, not isolation. In a transitional time where many are searching for answers, peace, and understanding, the temple can be a place of inspiration and ultimately a place where divorced members can find meaningful peace.
During my experience with an unhealthy marriage, the temple changed for me. It became a place of disappointment and sadness. I tried to volunteer in the temple regardless of how I felt but the feelings did not fade, as marriage was a sad institution for me. It was a disconnected experience that made divorce that much harder.
The waiting period policy following my divorce did not help ease the feelings I had towards the temple as I was temple worthy but my marital status banned me from working in the temple.
To see this policy lifted after my divorce was thrilling. This is a step in the right direction to help members feel firm in their temple covenants and their relationship with their Heavenly Father during this transitional time in their lives.
I am grateful for that change and I hope that church leaders will look at other policies involving divorced and broken families showing more sensitivity to the messaging it sends to divorced members.
Let’s change the narrative around divorce in the LDS church.
Let’s be more inclusive of family and individual memberships to include those of us who had to make hard choices.
Let’s be more understanding of the needs they will have spiritually to redefine their place and relationships with the church community, temple, and God.
Embrace the families and individuals in transition who are looking to see their experience acknowledged in church doctrine, policy, and spoken word.
As church leaders, you can be the voice of recognition, love, and acceptance to those who feel lost in the shattered dreams of eternal families. The reality is that there are many good members of the church whose eternity was not forever. What can we do to help them know there is always a place for them in the church regardless of their marital status?
These are the questions I hope church leaders will be mindful of while reviewing future policy changes, building out new content and materials within the worldwide church and stakes, and interacting with divorced members and families in their wards and stakes.