Pain. It’s the package God often uses to prepare us for His call on our lives, to order our steps down His path (Proverbs 19:21), and to reveal His true nature, character, and love. Without pain, we may not get to where God wants us to be. Sometimes, we must experience darkness and carry it in our souls to find true freedom.
I have suffered deep pain, but none like what emerged from my failed marriage to my best friend. I never knew that someone I loved and trusted and who I believed God had given me could create such feelings of abuse, rejection, hatred, depression, and a deep sense of failure and sadness. The mental anguish was staggering, and it almost destroyed me and others. I felt like a prisoner in my home, heart, and soul.
It wasn’t until I gave God the keys to my broken heart that I was finally free. He healed me and made everything new (2 Corinthians 3:17, 5:17). He gave purpose to the divorce and my struggles as a single mom and used them to reveal hidden resentment and hurt. He also helped me discover my true self and true love.
None of us enjoy pain. Let’s face it: misery doesn’t feel good. But if we process and journey through the pain with God, it can benefit us. It can even make us whole.
Many dark nights helped me learn who I was and discover hidden strength. More importantly, they helped me know who God is and who He has been my whole life. The Lord used every bit of pain to prepare me to be His beloved daughter and bride (Revelation 21:9).
I have been fascinated with God for as long as I can remember. My mom took my sister and me to church, and the things of God were implanted in my heart. I don’t recall my dad going with us.
Home life wasn’t bad, but Mom seemed unhappy. We had all the necessities, went on family vacations, spent many summers in Florida visiting my grandparents, and celebrated the holidays. I don’t, however, remember witnessing expressions of love in our home. I often longed for the warmth and comfort of a loving family.
In my early 20s, I learned that my dad had had multiple affairs while I was growing up. I finally understood the source of Mom’s unhappiness and depression. Before she died in August of 1990, I told her I would never get married or have children. I didn’t want the misery she had experienced being betrayed by the man she loved. But deep down, I still longed for family, closeness, and love.
I had big dreams as a little girl. I was smart, loved school, and read books of all kinds. I wanted to be a doctor. I’m not sure why, other than it’s what my dad wanted. He reminded me often to be independent, strong, and able to provide for myself. He warned me never to depend on a man. His words would become painfully true later in life.
I first met my husband in high school. There was something beautiful about him, and he became my best friend. We didn’t date; I wasn’t allowed to date. But we sure did talk on the phone, sometimes all night long. We had a deep connection, but after graduation, we went to separate colleges and grew apart.
I never considered that I would marry him. I didn’t want a family, remember? But God had other plans, as did my friend. He told me that God had told him I would be his wife when he first saw me in the ninth grade.
God, the marvelous worker of His plan for us, began to chip away at my lack of interest in marriage. One day in college, while lying across my twin bed, I heard someone utter these words clear and crisp, “I just want to be a housewife and a mom.”
I sat up, shocked, realizing that I was the one who had spoken, and with those words, I was suddenly filled with the desire to be a wife and mother. God had dropped it inside my soul.
I finished my college studies, and then, during the first Gulf War, I reconnected with my high school friend. I tell the love story of how God reconnected us through a series of dreams and events and the lessons He taught me through our journey in my book, Tomorrow Is Not Promised: A Personal Journey of Submission to Holy Spirit.
On a beautiful summer day in 1992, I married my friend, the man of my dreams. It was the happiest day of my life. Our marriage was a dream fulfilled by the word of the Lord, and we both knew God had put us together.
Our love story was so sweet and miraculous that I assumed our journey together would be blissful. I would have the family I wanted with the man I loved and live happily ever after. He would not do what my dad had done to my mom. No way. My man would honor our covenant and love me as he vowed.
We were married only six years, though, before the cheating started. Our first son was almost three when God revealed my husband’s actions to me. I was home in my bedroom when the Lord told me my husband was in a hotel room with another woman. I was in disbelief.
Not my husband, Lord, he loves me. He loves You. I asked God to change him.
But God didn’t work on my husband or fix him. Instead, He worked on me and told me to stand for my marriage. I didn’t even know what that meant! He also told me to forgive him.
For years, I refused to forgive. I was hurt and angry. My disdain for my husband increased as more affairs came. And then, when I discovered a mistress was pregnant, hatred roused in untold ways for him, the other woman, and God. I blamed Him.
God, You could have prevented this mess, but You didn’t. How am I to live with this revelation of a baby? What about our two sons? Do something, Lord! You gave this man to me. He was your gift. Fix this!
I became more confused, bitter, angry, and caged in by the day. I wanted to run, and several times I did. But God kept saying, “Go back home; I will deliver you in the fire.”
I don’t want to walk back into those flames, Lord. They hurt. I want You to fix my situation and my husband, to stop this nonsense and make it right. My sons and I don’t deserve this.
But the cheating went on for 12 years, and I, like my mother, sank into deep depression. I curled up in my bedroom closet, daily hiding from the world and fighting suicidal thoughts. My husband was causing the most excruciating emotional pain and didn’t care. Who was this man? What had happened to my best friend?
There was no hiding from God, though. He climbed into the closet with me, helped me endure years of pain, and gave me the strength to stand. Day by day, He exposed the hurt I had been carrying since childhood and my feelings of being unloved by my father. God used my husband’s rejection to crush my heart so He could give me a new one.
On April 11, 2010, in the middle of the night, things came to a head with my husband. I watched him drive away from our home and leave behind me and our two sons, then 14 and 8, to be with his pregnant mistress, who was in labor.
No words can describe the loneliness and horror I felt as I kept the birth of my husband’s child a secret from our sons. I vacillated between guilt and anger and hatred to repentance. I often begged God to kill me.
I was devastated. God was my only hope of survival. I clung to God’s Word and kept reading His promises of making my life beautiful in His time.
When will that be, Lord? Pain crushed my heart.
“Forgive them,” the Lord kept saying. “Forgive and be free” (Matthew 6:14–15).
But why should I have to forgive? I hadn’t cheated. I wasn’t the one breaking up our family. I wanted the mistress dead and my husband to suffer. They had purposely hurt me and my children. I was convinced that the blood of Jesus and His forgiveness should not reach them. They needed to pay!
My hatred often led me to drive in my van for hours, looking for them. I fully intended to harm my husband and kill his mistress. God wasn’t moving fast enough for me. I would fix this situation myself.
The pain was unbearable and clouding my judgment. God’s grace kept me from finding them, or I would be serving a life sentence right now.
With time, God helped me forgive both of them from my heart (Matthew 18:35). And when I released my husband and his mistress from the debt I felt they owed me, God’s forgiveness released me. Jesus opened the door of my prison and set me free.
Today, on the other side of the pain, I know that, but for this journey of suffering, I never would have come to know God in the deep and intimate way I do now. God revealed Himself to me as father, husband, and friend. He was everything and everyone I needed. He still is. My painful divorce led me to know the One who loves me perfectly.
Through all the depression, suicidal and murderous thoughts, feelings of failure, and deep sadness, I learned to trust God’s unconditional and never-ending love. Through it all, despite my accusations otherwise, He repeatedly proved that He is a loving Father who jumps into our mess and helps us. I saw tangible expressions of my heavenly Father’s love and understood this important truth: I am His beloved.
My love remains strong despite the pain my husband caused our family. And even after all these years, I’m still standing and trusting God.
Being a single mom and divorcee wasn’t my dream, but as we all know, life is filled with unpleasant surprises. I’m sure you can name many painful experiences that have felt like nightmares for you.
I want to encourage you to forgive those who’ve wronged you. Give your anger to God and let go. Don’t become a prisoner to hatred and bitterness.
While you’re being honest with God, let go of your anger toward Him too. Give Him a chance to work in and through you. He will make all things beautiful in His time (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
I wish I could say that forgiveness erases or explains a person’s harmful action toward you. It doesn’t. Nor does it make it right. But it will set you free and make you right. Forgiveness will give you a new life with the Beloved. I am living proof.
Dr. Stephanie M. Carter is an author and the host of her podcast Reveal. Her heart is to help hurting and broken women learn who they are in Christ. To learn more, visit her websites at revealedgrace.com and stephaniemcarter.com.