The Desert of Estrangement
About the Guest
The earthquake of divorce doesn't just affect the spouses involved. Shock waves are felt by everyone who knows the couple, especially their children. Sharon Hersh, author of "Begin Again, Believe Again," talks about the divide that came between her and her daughter as her daughter reached adulthood. It culminated with them not speaking to each other for a year. Sharon explains how she began to rest in the notion that God was in the circumstances and would work it out in His own time. And to her delight and awe, He did.
Sharon HershSharon Hersh is a licensed professional counselor, an adjunct professor in graduate counseling programs, a sought-after speaker, and the author of several books, including the acclaimed The Last Addiction: Why Self Help Is Not Enough, the popular Bravehearts: Unlocking the Courage to Love With Abandon, and the award-winning Mothering Without Guilt. Sharon lives in Lone Tree, Colorado and is finding freedom and adventure in the empty nest years. Sharon’s latest bo...more
The earthquake of divorce doesn’t just affect the spouses involved.
The Desert of Estrangement
Bob: When Sharon Hersh’s marriage ended, it had an impact, not only on Sharon, but on her relationship with her daughter. Ultimately, Sharon found she had to take the initiative for that relationship to be healed.
Sharon: For me, I had to surrender first of all. “Okay, God, maybe, maybe, You intended this for good in my life, and that this is more than just a fight between mother and daughter.” I think that’s when redemptive possibilities occur, when we begin to see that there is more going on than meets the eye.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, September 7th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. When we start to see the fingerprints of God in the midst of difficult situations, we can see a lot of things start to change.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us.
I don’t know how many of our listeners have ever stopped to think about this, but any time there is a relational break between two people, it’s not just between two people. There’s collateral damage in any relational break. You may think, “Well, this is just between you and me,” but our lives are so interconnected that if it’s you and me, there are people around us who are going to get some shrapnel from our battle.
Dennis: Yes, you are right, Bob. I think when a person goes through a divorce, they may think it’s just the separating of two that have become one—at least, in theory—but it’s a domino effect. It has an impact on children, obviously, that are in the family—if there are any. It also has an impact on other family members—
Dennis: —and the church and the community.
We have someone who understands that both from a therapist viewpoint, because she is a therapist, but also from personal experience. Sharon Hersh joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Sharon, welcome back.
Sharon: It’s good to be with you.
I often say that divorce is the gift that keeps on giving. That certainly is true, as you just alluded to, in children or extended family members. I just read a statistic last month that, right now, in the United States, there are more adult children estranged from their parents than ever; and they really do equate it to the toll that divorce has taken on our culture.
Bob: You and your husband were divorced in 2001, and there was a period of estrangement that happened between you and your daughter following that divorce, right?
Sharon: Yes, and I don’t know how much the divorce contributed to it, but divorce does plant a seed in the minds of children of divorce that when relationships get difficult, get out.
Dennis: Yes, in fact, let me read Webster’s definition from the dictionary of what estrangement means. I started thinking about the word “estrangement” in preparation for our conversation today, and I thought, “That’s kind of an interesting word, ‘estrangement.’” Webster defines it this way: “To turn a person from an affectionate or friendly attitude to an indifferent or hostile one.”
Sharon: That describes it.
Dennis: So, now, just take it back to the application Bob was just making, you’ve taken two who used to be affectionate toward each other, husband and wife, and you’ve created a hostile situation there and think that somehow that poison is not going to spill over to the children—
Sharon: Absolutely, it does. In fact, in the Old Testament, they talk about making a covenant. When two people come together around a lamb, they slaughter it in half; and then they say, “If anything comes between us, let it also be done to me.”
What I can tell you about divorce is that it is much less like going to the court house and signing a bunch of papers and handing them over in a sterile environment. It is much more like splitting an animal in two and blood and guts go everywhere, and there is a lot of pain and gnashing of teeth, and that does trickle down to the children.
So, a few years ago—so maybe ten years after the divorce, my daughter who we had been extremely close—and I’m going to say this here, Probably too close, because what often happens in a marriage, when the marriage is not good, especially a mom will bond with her children rather than do the work to bond with her husband, which was true in my case.
My daughter and I had some difficulties arise between us as she came into adulthood, and our relationship became more hostile. So, over the course of a few events, she decided to cut me out of her life, probably one of the more painful things I’ve ever experienced.
I know in writing this book in the chapter in the book about estrangement, I have received hundreds of letters and e-mails from families saying, “This is the first time we’ve ever heard somebody talk about this reality, and we’re experiencing it with our son or with our daughter or with both of our children.” I know it is a topic that touches many families.
Bob: Would you call this a prodigal situation? I mean was she kind of wandering off, and when you tried to uphold a godly standard, she said, “I don’t want to hear it?” Or was it deeper than that?
Sharon: It was deeper than that.
I think without telling her story, which is really hers to tell—there was a deep wound that really came from watching her mom and dad fall apart, in watching her mom fall apart. I think she had a lot of anger and bitterness and resentment that she never dealt with, never expressed, never got help with. So, there we’re back to the theme of getting help even for your children when things are going on in the family. And it all culminated in an estrangement that lasted for over a year.
Dennis: I’m thinking of a family member right now that I’m estranged from; and as a Christian, how do you process the Bible—
Dennis: —and its commands to be at peace with all men as much as it depends upon you? How do you go through that process, and what is your responsibility as a follower of Christ? You had to go through that as a mom as you experienced the loneliness and the loss of what had been a very deep relationship.
Sharon: I think one of the reasons we don’t talk about it in public is because there’s also shame. You feel like “What kind of mother must I be?” So, another reason to kind of hide—by this point in my life, I had surrendered enough that I knew I couldn’t hide, and I talked to everyone about it.
Certainly, woke up many mornings, already with tears streaming down my face as I plotted and thought and had those conversations in my head of what I would say to her and how I would justify my position and tell her all the things that I have done for her all of her life and point out what she was doing and how foolish it was or how wrong she was.
I was sitting on an airplane on the way to Seattle one day, and I feel like the Holy Spirit stopped me and said, “Sharon, just be quiet. Listen to what I have for you.” So, there’s that theme again of being honest and open and willing; and led me to a search in the Scriptures, really, to understand exactly what you just asked, Dennis, “What are you supposed to do when you can’t resolve something?”
I do believe there are conflicts that we have in human relationships that we cannot sometimes resolve. I felt the Holy Spirit just saying, “Take care of your own life, do what I want you to do in your daily life, and this will be okay.”
If you’ve been in an estranged relationship that is hostile, words are said that you never dreamed would be said, and you really do feel the pain of that relationship piercing through to the very core of you, it will not surprise you to hear that I really did compare this estrangement with a crucifixion. It felt like I was being crucified, that I was being assaulted and insulted and talked badly about and left hung out to dry, humiliated before all my friends and my church.
If you do not see estrangement in relationship as a crucifixion, it will just be a series of ugly incidents between people. But as you begin to see that this might be something that God has authored to destroy something, which is what crucifixion does, destroyed the power of sin and death when Christ was crucified, then you can start to ask, “What does God want to destroy here?”
Dennis: As you were talking about the crucifixion, I couldn’t help but think about your book, Begin Again, Believe Again, and chapter five that is entitled The Desert of Estrangement. In that chapter, you begin by quoting Gene Edwards in a book, Exquisite Agony.
Listen to what he says: “Every crucifixion contains certain characteristics common to all crucifixions: rejection, pain, unfairness, rumor, innuendos, more pain, misunderstanding, demeaning, belittling, loss of reputation, loss of friends. Often there is excommunication, the loss of all things.”
Sharon: If you’re listening and in the middle of an estrangement, those words are familiar to you. They do; they hurt; they cut. So, for me, I had to surrender, first of all, “Okay, God, maybe, maybe, You intended this for good in my life and that this is more than just a fight between mother and daughter.” I think that’s when redemptive possibilities occur, when we begin to see that there is more going on than meets the eye.
As I began to think about a crucifixion and how God uses it to destroy the power of sin and death, I began to examine my relationship with my daughter and knew there were some things that needed to be destroyed.
Bob: I want to make sure our listeners understand, you’re not in any way trying to trivialize the agony Christ experienced on the cross.
Sharon: No, I think this is merely a taste of that; but certainly, leads us to a process of fellowship with Him.
Bob: The fellowship of His suffering—
Bob: —is what you’re talking about. What did you find in this process that needed to be nailed to the cross and put to death that you hadn’t seen in your own heart before?
Sharon: Well, I suspect anyone listening to this program will get this because you listen to FamilyLife because family is important; but for many of us, family becomes an idol. In my life, certainly, after my marriage fell apart, then, my kids were going to work.
Bob: They’re going to turn out right.
Sharon: Yes. I’m going to have a relationship with them where I am everything to them, and they are everything to me. Do you hear that? That’s idolatry. I think I am a tough woman to get through to sometimes; and God had to take maybe my most vulnerable place, my relationship with my daughter, for me once again to surrender—to surrender to this work in my life. Because it’s only as we surrender to crucifixion that we are open to the possibilities of resurrection.
So, how do you begin again and believe again when you have been in relationships that have shattered you, broken you, pierced you, ruined you—whatever other word you might want to put to it? It’s realizing that the whole purpose of relationships, whether they are good or bad, is to lead us into a relationship with the One who will not fail us, Who will not leave us or forsake us, Who has said, “We are bones of His bones, flesh of His flesh, we are made one with Him,” and nothing can ever sever that relationship.
Bob: So, do I hear you saying this was God’s mercy to strip away the idolatry in your life and say, “You’ll only find what you’re looking for in your relationship with Me?”
Sharon: I used to—yes, Bob—I used to think that the strangest verse in the Bible was in the New Testament where Jesus said, “If you want to follow me, you need to leave your mother, your father, your family.” I thought, “Surely, He doesn’t mean that!”
What I’ve come to understand is that, once again, God’s law to us is about loving us and protecting us; because if we follow relationships, if we find our salvation, our purpose in them, we are surely going to be let down and left empty and bitter. But if we do follow after Him first and find our life in Him, then relationships can find their proper place.
You see, I think what the enemy wants to do is take our broken, estranged, confusing relationships and make them the reference point; so that’s what we look at, that’s what we focus on, that’s what we’re clamoring about to try to control or manage. When, if we make our relationship with Christ the reference point, then those broken, confused, estranged relationships have a different meaning.
Bob: Well, here is where, I think, we’ve got to be careful because somebody listening to this might think, “Okay, so, what you’re saying is if I can just get the orbit back in order, if I can get Christ at the center, then, everything will be back to normal; and I can have everything the way I want it,” which is just the idolatry perpetuating itself.
Sharon: It is.
Bob: “I’ll jump through whatever hoops you want me to jump through, so I can get back to my idol.”
Sharon: It’s the equation that we love: If I do this and this, then, it equals that. When the only equation that God is interested in is when we find our life in Christ and allow His life to permeate through us. Then, we find meaning, purpose, stability.
Dennis: Let me just illustrate it personally at this point. The family member that I’m thinking of is an extended family member. It’s not one of my own children. But when I realize that I had done all I could do, that I needed to open my hand from the relationship and stop trying and release that other person from my grip and from orbiting back to-- your illustration of orbiting around that person--and put God back at the center and say, “If that never gets healed, am I going to be okay with that?”
It’s not the desire of my heart, but I need to do that. When it comes to mind, I continue to open my hand and release that and keep on forgiving. It’s interesting how forgiveness is not just a one-time event.
Sharon: It’s not.
Dennis: It’s a continual giving up of the right to punish another person.
Bob: I think this is helpful too because you’re still estranged today from that family member, right?
Bob: And Sharon, you and your daughter have had a reconciliation from that estrangement, haven’t you?
Sharon: We have, but we have a very different relationship where I’m no longer trying to always make everything great for her and be god to her; and she’s not relying on me to be god to her. So, we have a more healthy relationship. But I think that comes out of what Dennis just described, this sense of powerlessness, that we can’t do anything about it.
It’s that powerlessness that converts us and that really—I mean as I look back on my journey these past 11, 12 years, I can see along the way that God was lovingly taking my failures, the sins of others, my sins, the places where I was most powerless or most hurt to take me to the relationship that matters most, which is a relationship with Him.
We’re kind of back to where we started with the surrender idea. When I really surrender, that I want Him more than I want a great marriage, I want Him more than I want healing in this estranged relationship, then He begins to do the work in our lives that puts us in the best position to be in healthy relationships.
Bob: That’s where I want to come back to the title of your book. It’s Begin Again, Believe Again. Did you have a crisis of faith over the last 12 years—your marriage crumbles, estranged relationship with your daughter, hard path? Did you come to a point where you thought, “I’m not even sure there is a God; or if there is, He may be disconnected from life?”
Sharon: I certainly had many crises of faith where I wondered if He cared, if He understood, if He was going to do anything about what felt so out of my control. Once again, I can look back and see that every crisis of faith was an opportunity to surrender, to make an exchange—an exchange of doing it my way for His way.
A few years ago, I was speaking in Alabama at an event that was a cake buffet. I think they only have those in the South. (Laughter)
Bob: I’ve never been to one, but I’d like to be invited if there’s one coming up.
Sharon: One of the sweet women who greeted me when I first got there had read the book that I wrote 12 years ago on relationships. She said, “Oh, honey, we are so happy to have you, and we just—we can’t wait to hear what’s happened next.” My heart kind of sunk for a moment as I thought, “Wow.” She said, “I hope that nothing has changed.”
I don’t know exactly why she said that, but my response was, “Oh, it has changed, but all for the better.” I really do believe that sitting here today -- that the things that God has allowed in my life have been for something better, something—I think relationships, human relationships, are wonderful; and we are made for them. That’s what I wrote that first book about, but they’re to give us a taste for a relationship that will not fail, that is always faithful, that loves us when we are the most unlovely.
That’s why I don’t regret any of the chapters that we have discussed because it is bringing me to Him.
Dennis: I just finished reading a book where there were two themes in the book. One was that there is a big story taking place of God’s redemption. The other theme was that there is our story of what God’s doing in us to redeem us. So, there’s the big story—
Dennis: —and the little story. It’s taking place in all of us.
What you’ve really highlighted here is how if we will move away from the little story—
Dennis: —and realize there is something bigger taking place in life than our needs met and everything being perfect, but that God really does long for our attention, our worship, our love, our adoration, our surrender; and that as we come to that conclusion, that’s where we can begin again and we can believe again—back to the title of your book.
Sharon, you’ve been away from our broadcast too many years. I hope that you’ll come back again and join us and share with us more about what God’s doing in your life. Thanks for joining us.
Sharon: Thank you so much for having me.
Bob: Well, I know it’s been helpful for listeners to get your perspective on the journey that God’s had you on and to hear how you have processed that here on air and in the book, Begin Again, Believe Again; which by the way, we have copies of in our FamilyLifeToday Resource Center, as you might expect. You can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about Sharon’s book.
Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com, or call us toll-free if you’d like to order a copy of Sharon Hersh’s book, Begin Again, Believe Again. Our toll-free number is 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.
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We hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend, and I hope you can join us back on Monday. Phil Vischer is going to join us. You know Phil from VeggieTales, right? We’re going to talk about a project he’s involved with right now to try to teach kids the whole story of the Bible starting in Genesis all the way through, touching every book of the Bible. We’ll talk about what’s in the Bible coming up Monday. Hope you can be here for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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