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A friend loves at all times

A few years ago, I went through the most emotionally painful period of my life. My wife and I were getting a divorce. It was final four years ago next week, six days after our 20th anniversary.

I cannot stress enough how much I regret not working harder to make my marriage all it could be from my side, from day one, and before.

When we separated, I was facing living without all my children in one house, losing my job as a full-time pastor, searching for new employment and trying to hold myself together.

I sought out advice from people I respected, people who had either gone through divorce themselves and survived or who were professionally trained to offer sound counsel. Some fit into both categories.

The first professional Christian counselor I met with asked me if I wanted the divorce. I said absolutely not. He just looked at me for a few seconds and said, “Well, the two of you need to talk about how to divide the assets and who your minor children will live with.”

That was the full extent of his advice.

A friend recommended a pastor/counselor he knew who he said had helped him when his wife demanded a divorce.

I drove 30 miles and met the man at a steakhouse where he had invited me to eat lunch and to talk. We introduced ourselves, ordered and he asked me why I was getting a divorce.

As I was about to tell him what I thought the reasons were behind everything, he decided to go ahead and give me advice without hearing my answer. He pointed at me and said, “You’re the spiritual leader of the home, a pastor, and you failed. This is all your fault.”

He was right — I was a pastor and supposed to be the spiritual leader of my home. I winced at the “all your fault” comment, but I was willing to take it and listen to his advice as to what to do now.

So that’s what I asked him — what do I do now? His answer was, “It’s too late. This is all your fault.” Yep. He said it again.

That’s when our steaks and potatoes arrived. He prayed for the food and asked God to make me a better man. I couldn’t argue with him there. I certainly needed to be one.

He ate his food in silence. I ate mine staring at my plate through tears. As soon as the waitress came to check on us, this pastor who had been recommended as a wonderful, helpful counselor asked for the check, and told her to make sure mine was separate.

When we walked out of the restaurant, he waved at me and said he was glad he could help me and hoped I’d come visit with him at his office.

I was so surprised I just looked at him. He really thought he’d been helpful?

I have never felt more unloved and unwanted than I did on my drive back to the house that was soon to not be my home any longer.

Books failed to offer any helpful advice, either (except one — “Plan B: What Do You Do When God Doesn’t Show Up the Way You Thought He Would?” — which was convicting and helpful).

What really helped me through the worst time of my life was people.

People who had one thing on their mind — loving me and trying to help me with what I needed day by day. And most of what I needed was a friend.

Today I am happily remarried to the love of my life. My ex-wife and I get along better than we did through most of our marriage. My children are doing well and I have a job I enjoy and ministry opportunities.

I am so grateful for second, third, infinite chances.

I don’t recommend divorce. Far from it. What I do recommend, however, is surrounding yourself with people who will love you and stick with you.

They are people who will let you cry on their shoulder, sit quietly and just “be there,” try to get you to laugh or see a silver lining, and — when necessary — tell you it’s all your fault. But a friend won’t leave it at that.

So find those friends. Build those friendships. And it is just as important, if not more so, to be that kind of friend yourself.

News editor Brett Campbell can be reached at brett.campbell@dailyleader.com.