- Gather those closest to you and get closer to some others
When we first broke the news of our situation to our closest friends, I was amazed by how many of them consistently got in touch with me to check in and see how I was doing. It very often brought tears to my eyes. One person spontaneously called me to see if I was up for meeting for a coffee, as he was in the area. I immediately accepted – and then leapt out of bed – it had been one of those mornings when I had woken up not feeling very positive and subsequently, was still lingering under the duvet, not wanting to face the day ahead. A call like that made a world of difference. Another time, I was walking along the footpath that runs parallel to the beach and a cyclist stopped next to me. I didn’t recognise him until he removed his helmet. We don’t even know each other very well but we had chatted many a time whilst watching our sons play tennis on Saturday mornings. He had heard from his wife what had happened to me and took the time to stop and ask how I was doing. Small thing maybe. Massive impact. Never forgotten gesture.
Something else I found myself doing was looking up old friends that I hadn’t spoken to for years. It was as if I needed to reconnect with some people, simply to feel like I was recalibrating my life. It didn’t matter if the old friend failed to take the initial exchange any further. There was some catharsis in simply catching up and letting them know what had been going on in my life – including all the unpleasant bits. These people can come from all walks of your old life – former work colleagues, business acquaintances. You would be amazed how encouraging this can prove to be. Some people may have done really well and hopefully, you will feel really happy for them. Other people may have had an even worse time than you and this will of course, or should at least, help you realise how blessed you are, despite everything. And whilst it may be tempting to some, former ‘non-business partners’ is probably not a good idea!
Getting involved in a small group at my local church – meeting every other week on a Tuesday was a huge help for me. I soon realised that my story was a source of immense encouragement to lots of people. This in turn, gave me a renewed sense of purpose and passion for pursuing life in all its fullness, knowing that I would eventually emerge on the other side, healed, whole and happy.
- Volunteer your Services
One of the really rewarding things I did for a season was to get involved in my church’s street community project called Safehaven. Every Saturday evening, the church opens its doors to typically 100 people who are sleeping rough and provides them with a hot, two course meal. There would be four or five rows of multiple trestle tables that results in the whole event resembling a medieval banquet! As volunteers, you can choose to be on the Friendship team, Hosting Team or Kitchen Team. I nearly always went for the Friendship team – being the natural people person that I am. Speaking with people who are much more obviously struggling than yourself will always cause you to be grateful for what you do have but even more importantly for me, was exercising a greater degree of compassion than I had experienced in the past.
In other areas of life, I found myself offering free coaching to some people – simply as a way to feel productive on the days when I had more time to offer. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry on the occasions when someone who desperately needed help in a certain area ended up turning down the offer of free coaching. During those days when business was slow, I would think to myself, “Wow, I can’t even GIVE this coaching away!”
- Do Something You’ve Never Done Before
The obvious downside of this idea is that it almost invariably costs money. And if like me, business is slow as it was for me back then – largely due to my daily challenge of digging up any motivation – then any extra expenditure was going to be difficult to justify. What I could do however, were simple things like going for a walk in a brand new location. If money is not an issue, then why not take a trip to somewhere you’ve never visited before? If you’re on your own, this could be either a massive challenge or a genuine thrill. Whatever your situation, don’t let fear control your decisions.
One significant thing I chose to do over two days between Christmas and New Year was to review my worst year ever and begin to plan and prepare for the next year. I spent a good deal of time in a favourite beach café not far from where I lived and really thought deeply about what I wanted to do. I had found a very spiritual take on reviewing the current year and how to chart your desires for the forthcoming year. Part of the process involved writing a letter to the current year. It may sound strange but this was in fact, extremely liberating. I found myself beginning my letter something like this, “Well, 2014, you certainly did your best to finish me off for good but sadly for you at least, I am NOT finished!”
The other thing I had never done before was literally draw a ‘roadmap’ of what I wanted the next year to look like. This included the possibility of meeting someone else. Along my meandering timeline, I plumped for May – not too early but not too late in the year either. It turned out to be September but before that could happen, I had to do something else I had never, ever done.
The biggest thing I decided to do that I had definitely never done before was to go online and begin the search for a new wife! A friend told me about the Christian dating website, Christian Connection. I remember him saying to me, “Look mate, let’s be realistic about this. You’re approaching fifty. She’s probably going to be divorced. With kids, and you can’t moan about that as you’ve got three yourself!” Thanks for the injection of faith I thought to myself.
I decided to write down a ‘profile of preferences’ for my ideal new partner for life. And guess what? She more than fulfilled the description! To give you the full story would take and deserve far more words than I have at my disposal here but suffice it to say, she is beautiful in every imaginable way and we have been happily married for almost three years. It took me a little while to find her – or so it felt like – and whilst I don’t believe in luck, I do believe in sprinklings of divine serendipity. So of all the names she could have, how do you think I felt when I discovered her name is Seren – short for Serendipity?!
(I’m still doing things I’ve never done before – I’m in there somewhere at the start of the Blenheim Triathlon 2017)
- Get help when you know you need it
When I eventually sat down with my vicar to tell him the details of why my marriage was breaking down, he was enormously compassionate. He asked if I would like to see someone on a one-to-one, regular basis. I said I probably would at some point but wasn’t quite ready at that moment in time. Later, I took him up on his offer and the way I met my ‘counsellor’ was simply wonderful.
Archie, the vicar sent me the contact details for another man called Doug on a Friday I seem to remember. I hadn’t made contact with Doug but was intending to do so during the next week or so. Two days later, on the Sunday, I went forward for some prayer towards the end of the service. St. Peter’s in Brighton is a wonderful church for many reasons and one of my favourites reasons is because every single Sunday, anyone can go forward to the front – without even a hint of shame – and receive personal prayer for anything.
I went forwards and soon afterwards, a very gentle, older man with a softly spoken voice put his hand on my shoulder and asked me for my name. I gave it and then he reciprocated with, “My name is Doug.” He prayed with me many, many times for probably a couple of years ever since that morning and I will be forever grateful for his wise words of counsel as well as his patient willingness to sit and listen as I poured out my broken heart and often complex situations to him. It was a wonderful thing indeed, to one day realise that I no longer needed to have those sessions with Doug – much as I enjoyed his warm company.
Some of us need professional help in the darkest of times, while others of us just need a friend like Doug who can listen and perhaps, offer some advice here and there. Whatever it is you think you need, just go and get it. The wonderful thing about a local church is that they often have the resources to offer without commanding the expense that such services often cost.