Ignoring divorce within the LDS church is not doing anyone any favors
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 be the best I can be to lead a Christ centered life.
I have two loving parents who are examples of love, family, and living an 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 the good person I am 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 and family shattered before my eyes and 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 is 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 am currently publishing my book 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 leadership to know about divorce.
Divorce, Lets Actually Talk About It
In a faith thats 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 whereby many don't know how to address or talk about the issue ultimately avoiding the topic altogether. Divorce does not have to be a the shunned topic, it actually needs to be discussed more in our community. Divorce is occurring more and more within our society and within the church. Sadly we all seem to know someone that is going through a divorce, it is apparent in many facets of our lives.
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 define. 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 their relief society sisters.
I have personally struggled with the idea of being the “black sheep” of the family and my ward.
The reality is, 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 addition, 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 amongst members, I wonder why there are not as many set materials to spiritually support and recognize these members and the spiritual trials they face.
Like anyone, many would like to see 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 because many families are not the “ideal” family situation, I would love to see more resources, portrayals and inclusion for these types of trials. That could mean firesides, printed materials, talks and other devotionals from church leadership 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? As a church community we need to give them a sense of belonging and recognition through resources made specifically for broken families.
Divorce Needs Continued Progress
I want to commend the 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 for me.
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.
Thank you for that change and I hope that church leadership will look at other policies involving divorced and broken families showing more sensitivity to 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 in church doctrine, policy and spoken word acknowledged. As church leadership, 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, there are many good members of the church who’s eternity was not forever… what can we do to help them know there is a place for them always in the church regardless of their marital status?
These are the questions I hope you will be mindful of while reviewing future policy changes and as you build out new content and materials.
About the Author
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 to find peace after divorce.
As a lifelong member of the Mormon church, and always having a gift for finding and creating beauty, her biggest challenge was finding beauty in the aftermath of her divorce. Through her faith in Christ, she has found that even in the challenges of life, there is beauty in the struggle. Turning to faith with patience, many tears, a big dose of laughter and creativity, Cydney embraced her unexpected life and found beauty even in her struggles.
Raised in the Nation’s Capital of Washington D.C., Cydney owns Afton Photography where her work has been featured in major publications including Cosmopolitan, The Hill, The Washington Post, and Minted. She received a bachelors of History from Brigham Young University- Idaho, has worked with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and currently works for Disruptive Advertising. She currently resides in Utah.
Visit her website: wheneternityisnotforever.com