Posted on June 1, 2015
When the Wheels Fall Off Your Life
An Island Family, By Grace
Up until now, I have mentioned that we are a family, by God’s grace, but I have not explained what I meant by this. In fact the reason that I chose the name An Island Family By Grace is because 7 years ago, our family went through a very dark time indeed. The fact that we are still a family at all is, we believe, due to God’s grace alone.
I am not going to go into a huge amount of detail about what happened, as I do not believe it would be helpful to anyone involved, least of all our children, but I hope that in sharing part of our experience, and how I coped, that it might be of some help or comfort to others who are going through a particularly difficult period in their life .
Let me add here that in saying that our family has been restored by God’s grace, I am not judging or condemning those whose marriages and families remain separated, or single parents, whom I think are some of the strongest people I know. I also do not presume to know what it is like to go through the specifics of other dark times, such as losing a child after birth, or a spouse, or personally enduring a chronic or terminal illness. However, it is my sincere hope that this post might be of encouragement to someone who needs it, no matter what specific trials they may be facing.
When the Wheels Fell Off My Life
Around the time I became pregnant with our fourth child, my husband began a series of choices and actions which led to him turning his back on God, and ultimately leaving me and our children a month after our daughter was born. The hardening of his heart had obviously begun before this, but it was soon worked out in ways that had devastating and lasting consequences for our whole family. What I did not know at the time, was that though I hoped our separation would last only briefly, it would not be until over 2 years had passed that my husband would return to live with us, and we would be reconciled as husband and wife.
Frankly, they were the worst 3 years of my life, our children’s lives, and in fact, my husband’s life. But God’s Word is true, and we can already see as a family that He has used that awful time for good, just as He said that He ‘works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose’ (Romans 8:28). He has already allowed us to use our experiences and what we learned to help others in a similar position, our marriage is stronger and closer than it was before, and though I would never have chosen this path, I am glad that some good can come from it all.
I am not a naturally strong or resilient person. When my husband first left, I wanted some way to escape, to pretend it was not real- maybe I could move far away, or bring it all to an end, I thought, on really dark days. But those would not have been real solutions at all, and would only have caused more pain, especially for our children. What God did over the following 2 years was to show His strength through my weakness. I really believe it was Him alone who enabled me to go on and not give up, though the pain did not go away, and in fact increased, leading up to the time when my husband finally returned home.
7 Strategies for Coping When the Wheels Fall Off Your Life
So if you are going through something so painful, whether it be severe marriage problems or any other serious trial, what can you do to cope? The following are things that helped me. They are not really new or original but they made such a big difference in how I coped.
1. Stay in the Word
When this happened to us, I had been a Christian for about 9 years. I had gradually been learning more and more about what the Bible actually said- before accepting Jesus as my Saviour I had had very little knowledge of what was really in there, other than parables and what I had heard secondhand from people who did not believe the Bible themselves. God used this time in my life to learn more about who He was and what He had done on the cross. Other than reading the Bible for myself in a daily ‘quiet time’, (which for me was easiest to do when the children were out playing mid-morning and our youngest was usually having a nap), and the children’s ‘Bible Time’, there were lots of other ways that I could be encouraged by God’s Word throughout the day. For example:
- A dear friend gave me a daily scripture calendar, which I kept on my kitchen window sill to read when I was doing the dishes
- I kept a transparent plastic card holder on our fridge which held cards with quotes from Stormie Omartian’s Just Enough Light For The Step I’m On
- I downloaded Scripture quotes to set as the desktop background on my laptop
- My parents kindly looked after the older children one morning a week so that I could go to a women’s Bible study.
- In the evenings, I watched or listened to sermons or Christian teaching for women, for example from OnePlace , Revive Our Hearts, or Sermon Audio.
2. Pray, pray, pray
People who say that hard times drive you to your knees are right, in my case anyway. At times I felt like a broken record, praying the same things over and over again for my husband, for myself, for our children, but I was encouraged by Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18), where that lady just will not give up. I found that praying scripture was really helpful, and I would insert the name of the person for whom I was praying into the verse that was appropriate. Stormie Omartian’s book The Power of a Praying Wife and Charlene Steinkamp’s book The Spiritual Journey Towards a Healed Marriage were helpful in finding ideas for this.
I prayed throughout the day, not because I am a super holy person, but because it was the only way I knew I could speak to the One who knows the beginning from the end, while everything was so out of control.
Related to prayer, is gratitude. In our dark times, it really helped me to thank God for what was good in my life, despite all that was not good at the time. I wrote down anything I could think of that I was thankful for, often at the end of the day, and this was a way of ending the day on a positive note, and seeing that there was much that I could be grateful for, even though that didn’t fix the negative stuff.
I also cannot tell you how much it encouraged me when people told me that they were praying for me and our family, in some cases every day. Some of these people didn’t even know me very well. If you are not going through dark times yourself, but want to offer support to someone who is, letting them know that you are praying for them, (and doing it!), is so important.
3. Have 1 or 2 Close Godly Friends that you Share with/ Get Support From
I had several close friends at this time who were very helpful in allowing me to talk about what was happening, one of whom prayed with me in person once a week, and often sent texts to encourage and uplift me.
I must add a caution that over sharing about some situations will not be helpful. In some cases over-sharing will just cause you to feel more depressed because you are spending so much time focusing on the problem, or if it involves a situation that involves your relationship with another person (which obviously applied to me), and you have bad-mouthed them all over your community, (or worse, blasted it on Facebook), it will make reconciliation harder. Yes, even though it might be their fault.
4. Seek Out Biblical Ministries to Get Support/ Learn From
Ministries and organisations which have been set up to help people deal with their particular situation in a biblical way can be such a help. For me, Rejoice Marriage Ministries were a massive help. They have real life experience to draw on, and offer daily emails, books and audio teachings which were a great encouragement and help to me. I also found some encouragement on the Focus on the Family website, which has support for people going through all manner of different trials.
5. Listen to Good Counsel But Don’t Let Others Tell You What You Should Be Doing
It is good to listen to wise counsel, but you should not allow others to control you into doing what they want. At any time in life we should check what others tell us against God’s Word- if it does not match up it is certainly not from Him- and this is even more important to check when you are very vulnerable due to trying circumstances.
As an example, during my husband’s absence, I had various people tell me that I should not be standing for the reconciliation of my marriage, or that I should put my children back into school. These were all extremely discouraging conversations for me, and it took an effort to remember what I already knew and had decided, both with regards to my marriage, and our children’s education. The people who said these things to me were trying to be helpful, but they had not thought about what I was already trying to do before they spoke.
6. Keep Doing the Basics
This was not a season of my life when I took on new responsibilities, or did any extra major schoolwork projects with the children. Focusing on our ‘normal’ routine- making sure the children were fed and cared-for, basic homeschooling each day and getting to things like swimming lessons and Church- was enough to be getting on with.
Something I did not do well at the time, despite the advice of wise older friends, was to make sure that I got enough sleep myself. The children already had a reasonable bedtime routine, and our baby daughter eventually got there, but I was not careful at all in looking after myself sleep-wise. I did not like going to bed alone, and for some reason I found it easier to be up on my own than in bed. If you are currently going through an awful time, learn from my mistake and go to bed when you know you should- it makes it so much easier to cope when you have had a decent rest.
7. Don’t Expect Yourself (Or Your Children) to be Perfect
In terms of personality, I am not a perfectionist. (Real life friends, stop laughing!) I naturally tend towards messiness, laziness and procrastination. But I know that some people are really hard on themselves if they are not able to maintain the standards of cleanliness, organisation, cooking or level of activities that they normally have, when they are facing a crisis. If this is you, please give yourself some grace. God will give grace and strength for whatever He does want you to do, even though it seems impossible from your human eyes. Perhaps you need to lay some other things aside for the time being, while you deal with your current situation. Sometimes when we accept that we cannot carry on a certain activity or ministry, our current circumstances allow someone else to step in, where they may not otherwise have done.
Dark times in families are very hard on our children, and they also need to be given grace. Despite the assertion by many that children are ‘resilient’ and ‘stronger than you think’, our children were hugely impacted by my husband’s actions. This pain was very evident in their attitudes and behaviour, and of course I, being the one at home with them, was the one who bore the brunt of it. I still tried to maintain strong boundaries and high expectations for them, but also constantly reminded myself that any extremes of ‘acting out’ or anger was a symptom of something much deeper than misbehaviour or disobedience. It was important for our children, particularly the older ones, to be able to talk to me about what was happening and to know how much they were loved, in the midst of all that was going on.
Further Resources That May Be Helpful:
The following are some links to resources which deal with differing trials.
Amy Roberts offers a free ebook for grieving mothers, in the Grieving Mother section on her website, and also has a section in her Large Family Homeschooling ebook on homeschooling though difficult times.
Kathy Brodock at Teaching Good Things has a post for mothers for whom Not Every Mothers Day is Happy.
Kelly Crawford at Generation Cedar has an excellent series of posts on how her family coped when their house was destroyed by a tornado.
Sandi Queen of Queen Homeschool has a book on her family’s journey through her son’s cancer treatment.
How Things Have Turned Out for Us
In our specific situation, as I have already made clear, God in His grace and mercy has reunited and healed our family, and continues to do so. It was not an overnight turnaround- my husband ‘tried’ to come home for months before he finally repented and we were reconciled for good. The first months together again were particularly difficult for all of us, but gradually what was destroyed has been rebuilt. My husband is now a loving and godly leader of our family, and although his return has not meant the end of difficult times for our family, we have now been able to face things together.
I have made free printable sheets of Scriptures to Pray or Memorise When the Wheels Fall Off Your Life. Please go ahead and print them out for personal use, or to give away to someone you think would benefit from them.
Do you have any other good advice for when the wheels fall off your life? What has helped you cope when you have gone through a very difficult time? Please let me know in a comment below.
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