This week’s reading is about a woman who went through a divorce. I can think of few words in the English language that bring as much pain as the D word. About half the families in this country have been affected by divorce. Many of us grew up with multiple parents and thus complicated family configurations, thanks to divorce and remarriage. Some of us—and some of our children—have avoided marriage or put it off for years because we found it hard to believe that such a union could thrive over the long haul.
I think it’s safe to say that society as a whole is plagued by a certain cynicism when it comes to topics such as faithfulness and commitment. Thus the breakup of marriage unions sets the tone in which all of us live, regardless of our personal beliefs, behavior, or situations. Even if your own marriage is strong, all around you relationships crumble and you must deal with the fall-out of divorce among friends, colleagues, extended family, even community leaders. Divorce is everybody’s problem.
As Christians, we practice mercy. We portray to the world God’s endless forgiveness. This means that we must welcome and love people no matter what their situations. As much as we’d like divorce not to exist in our faith communities, it does, and it’s our responsibility to show hospitality to those wounded by broken relationships. People find healing only when there is a safe place in which to heal. A safe place comes to exist in the presence of understanding, empathy, and hope. We create a safe place when we help a person imagine life beyond divorce and when we open our lives to her healing process.
As Christians, we also practice truthfulness. We have the courage and freedom to see reality for what it is. This means that when a husband has betrayed his wife, or vice-versa, we call it betrayal, and we help the one betrayed call it that. A person does not find healing by denying how bad things are or by forcing herself to “just have more faith.” She admits that she has been harmed deeply, and she brings to God her hurt, anger, confusion, and all the rest.
Even when divorce does not involve infidelity, the damage is pervasive. We must find language for how we feel and for how life has changed. Also, we must identify how this change has disappointed our long-held dreams and goals. If we have children, we must help them navigate their distinctive set of changes, hurts, and disappointments.
I like that Rebecca, the woman in this week’s story (“A Healing after Divorces” available at right and here.), found help in something as simple as gratitude. It does seem that gratitude will not share space with bitterness. If a person can begin a practice of gratitude for small, daily things, that gratitude will soon extend to the larger picture of her life. When we walk with her through a healing process, one thing we can offer is a sense of celebration—for every small triumph or move forward. Maybe we help her repaint the bedroom—and then invite a few people over for dessert. Maybe she gets through her first day without crying—so we congratulate her and mark the calendar with a symbol representing this noteworthy event.
If people of faith do not confront divorce with honesty and hope, what do we really have to offer our neighbor? If we do not face divorce in our own lives, uncovering the pain and developing gratitude, this tragedy will remain with us even as we try to relate to God—like the proverbial elephant in the room that no one dares mention.
Draw your family tree. Be sure to include the divorces and remarriages as well as the births, deaths, and original marriages. Take a highlighter and mark every branch of the tree affected by divorce. Then write out a prayer for this entire family of yours—a prayer for continued healing and also a prayer of thanksgiving for the love that has survived through so many changes.
To learn more about Lyn Doucet, author of A Healing Walk with St. Ignatius, or explore additional healing resources, click on the tabs at the top of the page.