I got divorced. I marked my children for life. I threw away eleven years of marriage, and all because of being selfish…. Now my ex-wife says that I abandoned them and ruined her life (even though technically the divorce was by mutual consent), and that I marked and ruined the lives of my children. I don’t respond; I just keep quiet….

I got married again two years after my divorce. I have now been married for seven years and have a son…. But I carry guilt that makes me miserable and punishes me every day…. Now the communication with my children is very distant. I have not been the father that I should have been in any sense of the word. I don’t feel right about it. Every day I am tormented by guilt… but I don’t know what to do. I think that if I do anything, I will lose my wife and son, and cause more pain…

Dear Friend,

There are two steps you need to take to get rid of your guilt: ask forgiveness and make restitution. Have you asked your children to forgive you? Have you asked your ex-wife to forgive you? It takes a strong man to be humble enough to ask for forgiveness. Are you strong enough?

Unless your ex-wife and children are followers of Christ and understand forgiveness, they will probably not be ready to forgive you. Unfortunately for them, their pain may cause them to want to make you suffer, and by refusing to forgive you they may believe that you will suffer. They have no way of knowing that you are already suffering and plagued with guilt. And they may not understand that refusing to forgive you will hurt them more than it will hurt you. Unwillingness to forgive, bitterness, and resentment lead to more unhappiness and more emotional pain.

However, whether they will forgive you or not, it is your responsibility to ask them to do so. They may respond with unkind words and accusations. So it may be very uncomfortable for you. But the first step in getting rid of your guilt is asking them to forgive you.

The second step, restitution, will take you the rest of your life. It is not a one-time task; it is an ongoing change in your attitude and actions toward the people that you have harmed. If you must see your ex-wife to have access to your children, then adopt a kind and respectful attitude with her. Don’t answer back when she criticizes or complains.

Your children have distanced themselves because of their emotional pain. It is your responsibility to continue to make it up to them by being interested in their lives, attending their important celebrations and events, and communicating frequently. Again, it doesn’t matter whether or not they respond positively right away. If one of them is playing in a baseball game, go to the game and cheer for him. If there is a school event, be there. If one of them has a financial need, contribute what you can. Continue to do the right thing, and they will come around eventually.

Have a discussion with your current wife and tell her about your guilt. Explain that those children didn’t deserve to be abandoned by you, and that they were your responsibility before you ever met her. Assure her that there is no reason for her to feel threatened by your care for your children, and that she is invited to any event you may attend. If she loves you, she will care enough about your feelings to support you emotionally.

God is different than we are because He always forgives us when we ask. He doesn’t hold grudges or remind us of our past. But He does expect us to change our attitudes and actions so that we don’t continue to repeat our destructive behavior.

We wish you well,