Divorce is so ordinary we sometimes forget the extraordinary pain it causes.

Yesterday on my flight, a 13-year-old boy who was traveling alone sat next to me. Before we took off he lowered the tray table in front of him, put his head in his arms and started sobbing. Big tears covered the tray as he wept in his seat.

I asked him, “Are you alright buddy?” He told me he had spent 3 months with his mother for the summer and was flying back to another state to live with his dad.

Sometimes the frequency of divorce makes us forget the heartache of it. It’s such an ordinary thing these days that we tend to rush right by the extraordinary pain it causes.

If you grew up with divorced parents, are going through a divorce or are divorced, I’m sorry for all the times that I didn’t understand how hard that experience can be. It might be common, but it’s never easy.

I wrote those four paragraphs on my Facebook page a few days ago.

Four hours after I did, the mother of that little boy messaged me. A friend who follows me sent her the post. After confirming the details of the flight and his name to make sure it was actually her son, she thanked me.

It had been a hard day for both of them. The division of family, whether for the school year after a summer with mom, or the weekend after a few days with dad, is never easy. I started to cry in the airport while I read her message and had to pretend the tears were falling because I was eating a really transcendent airport food court burrito. You know the kind, no rip down the middle, great structural integrity, bite after bite? Burritos, is there anything they can’t do?

But then a strange thing happened, people started commenting on the post. They started sharing their stories. About dads who did their best and moms who carried homes through storms and hurt that hasn’t disappeared but has healed. The Internet reminded me for the thousandth time that we’re not in this alone as people started to share their stories. (You can read the comments on Facebook right here.)

If you see someone on an airplane crying, ask if he’s OK. If he’s not, talk to him about his favorite football team so he’ll forget he’s sad for a minute. You might think you’re flying to Dallas because you’re supposed to talk to 10,000 people at an event, but there might be just be one person who needs a few words of encouragement even more.

  • Nancy Zugschwert
    Posted at 06:34h, 24 August Reply

    Thanks for sharing this, Jon. I have lost brothers- and sisters-in-law to divorce and still miss them at times. Marriage weaves together a web of relationships and when the marriage ends the kids feel it the most but the ripple effect on all those other relationships is real. You’ve shared an important reminder and it’s good for all of us to remember that everyone we meet is walking around with a story that has shaped them. I appreciate the reminder that we are called to care when we see anyone—even a stranger—hurting.

  • Nadan M. Petri
    Posted at 07:11h, 24 August Reply

    If parents, or just one of them, would know how much horrible pain a divorce causes to everybody; first and foremost to the kids, mothers, fathers, grandparents; they (he/she) would never, never divorce. Now, I think that is better to stay together even with problems than to divorce. Years ago I had another opinion. Even today, more than 20 years after my divorce, I still and very much regret what I did and am very much ashamed because of that. Sometimes I could cry my heart out but it is too late now, and it does not make me feel much easier.

  • Rachel
    Posted at 07:22h, 24 August Reply

    Thank you for posting this! I am 19, and my parents are going through a divorce. People definitely forget the pain that goes with it. Being older when your parents split up is a different kind of extraordinary pain. I am a counselor, friend, mediator, and 3rd parent for my little sister. I think daughter gets caught between the cracks more than it should… Anyway, thanks for posting this, and talking to that boy

  • susanna
    Posted at 09:24h, 24 August Reply

    seriously, thank you for writing this. as an adult child of divorce, the last three years have been hell, it is often uncertainty that is the worst of the unknown future.

  • Gloria
    Posted at 09:30h, 24 August Reply

    I was one of those kids. Your post (the first one and today’s) made me cry crocodile tears all over again, but in a good way. I love how you wrote that even though the hurt may have healed, it doesn’t disappear. Thank you – as always – for your thoughtful attention to where God is calling you to be, what God is calling you to do, and who God is calling you to be for others.

    • Kristin S
      Posted at 20:25h, 24 August Reply

      Gloria, I cried too! So many memories.

  • Lisa Brady
    Posted at 09:37h, 24 August Reply

    I have had my grandchildren and their mother this summer. Her oldest daughter is not my biological grand daughter but she calls me Mimi and knows me as such. She goes back to her Dad in 2 weeks. She has already started crying and dreading September 6. We take them to meet the Dad at the designated meeting place. Halfway throughout the trip, we start hearing tears, first, from the daughter and then the Mom. It is heart wrenching. Just typing this it makes me cry. This summer, I realized how much confusion is in this little girl’s life. Her need for love and approval. Her need for acceptance. Her deep, deep sense of loss every time she leaves a parent. It has changed me! I love more deeply and breathe in the gift of today. We have the privilege to be the hands and feet of Jesus to these kids- no matter the age. Jon…no doubt…you were given a divine assignment.

  • Chad Jones
    Posted at 10:08h, 24 August Reply

    I’m forty-six now, and my parents’ divorce is over thirty years in the past. But for many years, my brother and I were that kid–flying somewhere that we didn’t feel truly wanted. Because if he’d wanted us, had loved us, why did he leave? Dad’s new wife didn’t like us, and sure didn’t do anything to make us feel welcome…

    Every time I’ve tried to build relationship with the man in the ensuing three decades, it’s been disastrous. I’ve never felt his approval, never felt like a beloved son, never heard “I’m proud of you, son.” And people tell me, “Call your father. He’s old. He has regrets.” For what? For more rejection? I still struggle daily with feelings of inadequacy, of being unknown and uncared for. It’s a terrible, terrible treadmill I can’t seem to get off of. I just can’t shake the feeling that there’s something wrong with me. It’s just easier to shut down, not let anyone in, than risk the pain again. And then I wonder why no one seems to care…

    I don’t have answers. Only questions.

    • Dennis Hochstetler
      Posted at 14:03h, 24 August Reply

      Chad I’m very sorry for what you’re going through still today. I can’t say I know what you’re going through because my parents never divorced, but I can relate to not feeling loved or wanted. I don’t know if you’re a Christian or not but I want to tell you Chad that you have a Father God who loves you and cares deeply about you and the pain that you have in your heart. He wants to have a deep relationship with you and heal your pain.
      Kind Regards,

      • Chad Jones
        Posted at 16:28h, 25 August Reply

        Thank-you for your kind words. I do know Jesus. Like anyone else, some days are better than others. Facts and truth are great, but I’ve had to give myself permission to feel, rather than just think through, things. This makes life both harder, an yet somehow more rewarding. Truth is still there waiting on the other side.

    • Dess
      Posted at 06:49h, 25 August Reply

      Chad I know exactly how u feel but for me it was not just one parent it was both. They both remarried and started new lives that had no room for me i was a only child..My Grandparents raised me because they had to I always felt unwanted when growing up..still struggle a lot of days with the how can anyone love when my own parents could not..I’m lucky to have a wonderful husband and 3 great kids that I know truly loves me for who I am..I know that my kids will never feel that hurt.

      • Chad Jones
        Posted at 16:29h, 25 August Reply

        I’m so sorry you went through that, felt the sting of not being wanted. I’m so glad that you have that wonderful husband and kids to remind you of how loved you are.

    • Kathleen
      Posted at 07:35h, 25 August Reply

      Chad, not getting the approval of parent(s) is difficult to maneuver. It makes life hard, complicated. That fear of rejection, that you’re not good enough (for anything) can be overpowering. I know in my life overcoming is a daily process but became much better when I realized I actually wasn’t the problem. The parent was the problem. I had to come to the realization that my identity didn’t lie in what my parent thought about me or that my parent didn’t want me. Or what anyone else thought about me (my parent told me I wasn’t wanted by her or anyone else when I was 5). God created me, loves me, knows the very intricate workings of my body. My peace has to come from him and him alone. My acceptance is in him. Let’s face it, we will never please anyone all of the time and there are those we will never please. And that’s ok. It just hurts more when that person we can’t please is a parent – the one who is supposed to love us the most. Sometimes we forget that God created us just to be in relationship with him and that his love will never fail us. He walks us through everything in this life. Our walk may not always be pleasant, but he is with us none the less, loving us through it all. I hope you know our Lord. I hope you can forgive your dad because it is the absolute basis to healing. It doesn’t mean you have to have a relationship with him if he is bent on tearing you apart. It just means you can move forward in your own life and have honest, healthy relationships with others – and I hope and pray that includes God. I’m so sorry you’ve had to go through the pain of not feeling accepted. I know it hurts.

      • Chad Jones
        Posted at 16:35h, 25 August Reply

        Thank-you! You’re so right–who we are is not ultimately determined by what others think, or say, about us; however, it feels that way because we so often define ourselves in relation to others. Ultimately, God is the Father Who never rejects, or casts us aside. It’s that our view of Him is skewed by our experiences with our earthly fathers. Sometimes perception feels like reality–when nothing could be further from the truth.

        I guess the hardest thing to do, really, is to love onself. Else how can we believe that God loves us?

    • H R McVeigh
      Posted at 18:28h, 25 August Reply

      Thank you for your post! I have two sons experiencing this now and I am so heartbroken for them. I don’t know why Dads do this…maybe avoidance and maybe that’s the reason your parents marriage didn’t work. I pray my son’s will understand i left hoping they can have a better life because their Dad was never really present when he was physically in the home either

  • Nicole
    Posted at 12:52h, 24 August Reply

    Jon… thank you for being that man who was willing to talk to a crying 13-year-old on a plane. And thank you for reminding me that everyone, EVERYONE, is finding a tough battle, and sometimes they can’t help crying about it.

    I pray that if I’m ever in that situation, I’ll be willing to ask them if they’re okay, too. And listen to their answer.

    To those of you who have already commented as children of divorce, or as divorced parents, I wish I could give all of you a hug right now. My heart aches for you. Please know that you are very much loved.

    Posted at 14:11h, 24 August Reply

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  • D
    Posted at 14:48h, 24 August Reply

    The effects of divorce on children are life long. As adults, their relationships lack complete trust. Many of their actions are controlled by fear. These adults have children and the insecurities are passed. Children of divorce have some the best defense mechanisms and use them to soften the pain. As a parent, there is a lot of guilt. Marriage is a commitment that many are not willing to make. Our society makes it easier to end a marriage than it does to tie the knot. I bet if you ask children from divorce, most would tell you that they would rather their parents be together no matter what the circumstances. Thanks for sharing and encouraging discussion about a painful topic.

    • Kristin S
      Posted at 20:24h, 24 August Reply

      And that’s my adult-child-of-divorce life. I struggle with trust and fear on a daily basis. I don’t blame but there are consequences.

  • Kelly Combs
    Posted at 16:29h, 24 August Reply

    Thank you for taking time to notice and help a young boy, instead of practicing your talk, or asking to be moved, or feeling annoyed.

    “You might think you’re flying to Dallas because you’re supposed to talk to 10,000 people at an event, but there might be just be one person who needs a few words of encouragement even more.”

    That is how you change lives. Well done.

  • Marianne
    Posted at 16:52h, 24 August Reply

    I was twenty seven years old when my folks broke up, after nearly twenty six years of marriage. My poor mom suspected my dad of having an affair with his secretary, whom he ended up marrying a few years later. It was just horrible for me because the secretary had been a really good friend of mine before all this crap started. I was constantly being put into the role of taking sides. My sister moved out of the country to get away from it. My poor brother moved to the east coast. I thought I could stay and maybe soften the blow between them or try to keep them together. Didn’t work. Divorce is horrible even when you are older.

    • Jerry
      Posted at 23:25h, 24 August Reply

      Do the math in your scenario! Not good for you to begin with!!! Don’t dwell on it and make something of yourself. Seriously!!!

  • Erica H
    Posted at 16:58h, 24 August Reply

    This is so true. As a child who grew up since the age of 4 with divorced parents. I used to cry when I’d have to leave my mom and cry when I had to leave my dad. Those feelings always confused me. Even as an adult when my sister suddenly divorced it was as though I had to go through a grieving process. Divorce affects so many more people than we’d like to think. So when I married (too young) I vowed I was NEVER doing that to my kids. Here we are 24 years later still happily married, but not without some “bumps and bruises” but ironically I think that’s what makes a marriage stronger.

  • Ariel Gilbertson
    Posted at 19:52h, 24 August Reply

    I’ve followed you for a long time and you and your hustle Facebook page been a lifeline this last 10 months or so.
    I was scrolling down through my email looking for emails from my divorce attorney when I saw an email for this post.
    I left my husband last October. I left a few hours after my children revealed to me that my husband had been physically, sexually, spiritually and emotionally torturing them behind my back. They thought I knew. He told them I did. No way in hell I knew. I threw up when they told me. I am still in shock. My husband says he doesn’t remember harming them.
    People have told me, “Encourage your kids to have a relationship with their dad. Don’t poison them against him. They will all get past this and learn to trust him again.”
    The truth is my children have effectively ‘poisoned’ me against my husband. They hate him with a passion which has been excruciating for me to discover. My husband is a very angry person, but I kept believing him when he said that he was working on it. What he was working on was hiding what he was doing with that rage behind my back.
    My children are scared for life. They are in counseling and will recover, but I don’t know if I ever will because I am their mother and I never caught on to what he was actually doing to them. I have 11 children ages 28 down to 2, and was married for 22 years.
    My children are so happy that I left my husband. They love their life now.
    My hustle for the last year has been to make a new, safe, happy, joyful, God-filled life for them. I am still hustling. I moved them from Colorado to Kansas and am hustling for find a job in case my husband has criminal charges filed against him at some point and we have no support from him.
    God is good, He is faithful, my strength comes from him. And from encouragement from people like you. Divorce can be painful, but sometimes it’s just not.

    • Robin
      Posted at 21:31h, 24 August Reply

      I am going through a divorce right now for the same reason. My husband was hiding the fact that he was abusing my son. We’ve only been married a few years, but he had adopted both of my children. This is horrifying. I’m sorry you feel that kind of pain too.

      People that are advising you to encourage your children to have a relationship with an abuser really have no idea. There are times in life when a relationship with a parent is not in the best interest of the child. Him saying that he doesn’t remember harming them is so manipulative; I can imagine how deceitful he was all those years!

      I’m so glad to hear God is giving you strength. Stay strong, sister!!

  • Kristin S
    Posted at 20:22h, 24 August Reply

    I love that you cared enough to ask.

    That was me. Flying back and forth. Divorce = suffering kids. No matter how much the parents thing it’s fine. I thought I was totally unaffected by my parents’ divorce until I was 20 and realized that was just so not true. One of my best friends STILL deals with it since her parents live in the same city. She comes to town all grown, married, and a mom and there is stress over who to stay with and equal time. Joint custody sucks. (I’m not allowed to say that word even at age 44.)

    I lived through it. It still stinks. My dad remarried and they divorced. My brother lived through sheer nasty, selfishness of his parents and he doesn’t speak to his mother. It’s horrible. I pray that someday he will come to Christ but also reconcile with his mom.

    Divorce is so stinkin’ hard! Even if it’s biblical.

  • Kimberly
    Posted at 21:47h, 24 August Reply

    Jon, thanks for reaching out to that boy. I’m a child of divorce, and even at 50 I still recall how much pain and turmoil I was in as a child.

    What you did is something that boy will always remember. The kindness of a stranger is never forgotten.

  • Fayth
    Posted at 00:43h, 25 August Reply

    Your email grabbed my attention. I believe there is always a greater purpose to us being somewhere than for what our original goal is and it is very important to always keep an open mind to that.
    Another note, some families are not best together, but so long as the child(ren) are thought of first & foremost, that, I feel, is what matters the most. I speak from personal experience. Thank you for sharing your story.

  • Kelly
    Posted at 02:12h, 25 August Reply

    Yes. I am there. One of the most painful things you can go through. Worst is watching your kids suffer and knowing there is nothing you can do to make it better. I’m so glad you were there.

  • Donna Smith
    Posted at 06:20h, 25 August Reply

    When I was in elementary school in the 70s. I was that odd kid in my class whose parents were divorced. Every other kid still lived with both their parents and they didn’t understand what I was going through. When my daughter started Kindergarten in the early 90s, she was one of only a few kids who lived with both their parents. I don’t think the kids I grew up with all lived in happy homes. It was just a time when married for life meant just that. Now, it is so easy and accepted to get a divorce that too many people take that way out. That is really sad for the children.

  • Nancy
    Posted at 06:21h, 25 August Reply

    i am the patent that divorced when my kids were 19. I cannot say the heartache I feel everyday for hurting my kids. I was going thru empty nest mid life crisis but didn’t realize it at the time. 10 years later and I can never forgive myself and don’t know how to make it up to my kids. I tried to fix it with my ex but he was too angry. I took my kids happiness and I’m ashamed.

  • Michelle T
    Posted at 08:23h, 25 August Reply

    Thank you for bringing this topic to discussion.

    My parents divorced when I (and my siblings) were in our teens. We knew the why’s and how’s and thankfully, our parents divorce wasn’t contentious. They respected one another and did what was right and fair to one another in the following years. Never have my parents used us as tools to better themselves or belittle the other. They were certainly my model when I went thru my divorce 20 years later. My son freely goes between my home and his fathers. Regardless of the divorce, I still consider his father a part of the family. My daughters from my (current)marriage know exactly who my son’s father is and interact with him often. We agreed to a divorce, not a destruction of our sons life. I know that I am fortunate that we have always been amicable and caring about our positions in our sons life. At 16, he is a well balanced young man that does not struggle with a division of family. And I am thankful.

    • jonathan
      Posted at 09:54h, 29 August Reply


      I’ve been following your work since SCL. I had a copy at a coffee shop I owned and it was a great topic of conversation. I had customers from all walks of life who found great appreciation for the humor and it spurred even more serious conversations.

      This story of your experience on the plane, caused me to well up. I’m in the middle of a divorce, and we have a five year old son. I see him struggle at his young age, while adjusting to two different homes. I struggle with knowing that his parents’ decisions will effect him for the rest of his life.

      This isn’t a reality I had ever imagined. We were both raised pretty conservative. My parents were in the ministry, and I was also in the ministry for a significant part of my early adulthood. At church is where my soon-to-be ex and I met. I thought we had similar ideals. While I recognize my own imperfection and humanity, I can say that I have worked hard to make things work, but it takes two. I certainly never thought I would’ve experienced this in my lifetime.

      It rips my heart out to see what this is doing to my son. We live in a small community and during my time in the ministry, I had the opportunity to officiate multiple marriage ceremonies. Many of the youth I once pastored are now married and have families of their own. I can’t help but think of how our dysfunction may be causing doubt in their eyes and hearts. This also grieves me deeply.

      Words cannot express the pain.

      I appreciate your willingness to introduce the subject, because there isn’t a person today who hasn’t been affected by divorce, even if indirectly. The Christian community is not exempt, but little seems to be done to address it in a non shame motivated way. We hear things, like, “God hates divorce”. But when it happens, the church seems to work harder at covering things up than calling it what it is and being a source of healing and restoration.

      Divorce is like a death, and for some, even worse. It seems we walk around folks awkwardly, rather than surrounding them as you would someone who has experienced the loss of the death of someone. As common as divorce is, it doesn’t seem to be talked about as much, leaving those who are in the midst to feel incredible isolation and shame.

      Anyway, thank you for sharing this post. Hopefully more conversations like this can take place in the faith community in a way that promotes less shame and more vulnerability and healing.

  • liz
    Posted at 17:14h, 25 August Reply

    Very profound article. I have 2 sons. One 22 & one 12. I know that it is difficult at times for my youngest son. His father is doing his best.

  • renee
    Posted at 06:33h, 26 August Reply

    And this is why you are so beloved, Jon.

  • Heidi H
    Posted at 07:50h, 26 August Reply

    Thank you…
    I find myself worried about the effects of the divorce on my children and at times too busy staying strong for them that I forget to be aware of their feelings and struggles.
    I still find myself blaming me, my ex, and others for my hurt but then remind myself the hurt we caused our kids and family.
    This article was a good reminder. Thank you

  • Tony Tellez
    Posted at 08:09h, 26 August Reply


    I stumbled onto this post as someone shared it on my Facebook, and I wanted to let you know it brought tears to my eyes, just reading the recap alone. I am a divorced father of four, and luckily, my ex-wife and I are separated by just a mile and a half, so there is plenty of time for she and I to relate with our children. BUT, I still see the pain in their eyes every now and again. Distance is all relative. We have to realize that 50% of all marriages end in divorce, and in a majority of these marriages, there are children involved. I have been in relationships since my divorce with women who are also divorced, and because I am still friends with my ex, they tell me my relationship with her is “weird” or “not normal”. Hell yes, its weird and not normal. Why? Because somewhere there is an unwritten rule that you have to hate the person you chose NOT to spend the rest of your life with. So you must bicker, and you must snap, and you must talk every bit of sh$t you can about this other person, because they ruined your life. Wait? Ruined your life? She gave me the four best things in my life. Not a moment of their lives would I take back, and not a moment of their existence do I regret. So I look at them every opportunity that I can, and I thank their mother for working over the past few years, to perfect a friendship that allows our children to understand that, while life may not be easy at times, we, as their parents will always have a united front in their support.

    Thank you for sharing, I don’t know if my pointless meandering mind vomit that I have spewed here makes sense, but it just came out, and its a real expression of gratitude for the role you got to play in this childs life. Albeit a small moment, but a very real one.

  • Tammy
    Posted at 08:55h, 02 September Reply

    A little belated, but I wanted to comment on this (as well as the many others familiar with this topic).

    I’ve been divorced 5 years and have a 10 year old daughter. The divorce wasn’t easy on any of is, as they just aren’t. I think a HUGE part of how well your child copes with it however is based directly on how you and your ex cope with it. Co-parenting needs to be a priority over any hurt feelings. It’s a deliberate choice to put your children’s feelings over your own, no matter the reason for the divorce. Luckily, my ex and I were on the same page with this, and our daughter is pretty well adjusted now. Single parents, just remember not to vent to your kids about your ex. They are still their mother or father and the kids still love them, even if you don’t anymore.

  • tiffany
    Posted at 13:36h, 03 September Reply

    loved this! thank you for writing and sharing this. my parents didn’t divorce until I was over 18 – while it was still challenging it was ok and I understood completely. I had to make the difficult decision to divorce and have full custody of my children. They don’t see their dad often or for very long periods of time – I know its hard on them, i know they love him and miss him – I also know how much better we all are now – in so many ways – unhealthly marriages/home life are not good for anyone. I am blessed that my children have a wonderful community and family to help us and friends who step in to help with areas I am just not adept at.
    The pain is always there – divorce means somone is always without someone they love – but grace – thank God for grace! And kind strangers on airplanes 😉

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