If you or your family have been touched by divorce, I know you’ve felt it—the brokenness of this fallen world comes close. Anytime something that has been joined together is torn apart, it’s going to be painful and messy for all who are connected. For the girls you minister to, their parents’ divorce will likely be the hardest thing they’ve faced in their lives so far. Everything they know has been turned upside down, and things will never quite be the same. How can you come alongside these girls when their world has been rocked?
Your heart breaks for them, and you wish you could put the pieces back together, but you can’t fix it. Instead, you are invited to walk with them through the pain and the mess. You can offer the gift of being a safe place where they are welcome to come as they are—a neutral person who is willing and available to listen, understand and let them process their raw emotions. Some girls will not have a problem expressing their experience, but others may need your help to identify and give voice to what they are feeling:
- Sad, depressed, grieving
- Forgotten, rejected, unloved
- Guilt and shame
- Lonely and isolated
- Shaken, lacking security and stability
- Withdrawn, untrusting, self-protective
As you help her acknowledge and engage these emotions, you can lead her to connect with God, evaluate her emotions and shape them with truth, and choose responses that are loving and life-giving.
In addition to providing a sounding board for her emotional processing, consider some practical ways that you can walk with girls who are dealing with their parents’ divorce:
- Have her make a list of the hurts and losses she’s experiencing, and then think through what those mean and what impact they’ve had on her.
- Gather a group of girls to care for her together, or pair her up with one other girl who has walked through a similar situation. Sharing the burden with multiple people will take advantage of different perspectives and help protect you from getting burned out by doing this on your own. It also gives you the opportunity to teach the other girls how to do the work of ministering to someone who is struggling.
- Help her navigate the changes and transitions she may be faced with—moving, switching schools, splitting time between parents, increased responsibilities, relating to a parent who is struggling, financial constraints, etc.
- Since home may be a difficult place, provide opportunities for her to get out for a meal, activity or church event.
- If the family finances are tight, try to find outside support so that she is able to participate in youth trips and activities.
- Do what you can to be a bridge to help her connect with her parents in ways that are good and healthy.
- Encourage her to communicate and engage with others.
- Let her hear you pray. She may feel numb, confused, heartbroken or fearful; these feelings can make prayer challenging. But you can let her hear you praise God, call upon His promises and express your faith in Him to comfort, provide and redeem.
- Connect her to God and His Word, pointing to Him as her refuge and hope. The brokenness is real, but He is making all things new.
- Speak truth to her false beliefs and assumptions, such as guilt or shame that is not hers to bear.
- Teach her how to lament.
- Involve her in loving and serving others.
- Talk about forgiveness.
- Persevere in continuing to follow up and check on how she’s doing. Down the road, the shock will wear off and the initial support will dwindle. Reality will set in, and she will continue to need encouragement and community. This is another reason why having a team of caregivers is important.
Walking with your girls through pain and brokenness is not easy—it’s a long and messy road. But your presence and love can be a gift. As an instrument in the hands of our Savior, point to the One who heals and redeems even the most broken things.
Megan Burns is a biblical counselor in Virginia with experience counseling students and parents in the local church. She is married to Brian and enjoys writing about counseling, discipleship and missions on her blog, Remade Whole. Connect with Megan: Blog // Instagram