Ever find yourself living a life that you didn’t really choose? If you’re divorced, I bet you would answer “yes” to that question. Your choice was to marry for life but it turned out to be very different than what you wanted. It’s times like these when you could sure use some wise words that go deeper than “You’ll get over it, just give it a few years,” or “Divorce is a journey into a new life.”
Emilio Estevez‘ 2010 movie, The Way, is a story about a son, Daniel (played by Estevez) who is estranged from his father and decides to walk the Camino de Santiago on pilgrimage. Daniel is killed early on in the trek, which brings his father, Tom (played by Emilio’s real life father, Martin Sheen) to France to bring Daniel’s body home. There is a great scene where Daniel imparts some very practical wisdom to Tom:
Tom says, “My life might not seem like much to you, but it’s the life I choose.”
Daniel answers, “You don’t choose a life, Dad, you live one.”
This practical wisdom is something everyone going through difficult times should hear and contemplate in light of their own circumstances. It’s important to understand what is really being said. Of course, each of us chooses our careers and our friends, but when life throws us a curve ball the choosing you do becomes a way of trying to control your circumstances. Trying to control anything but yourself typically ends in more misery.
The wisdom lies in the “living.” Since you can’t control natural disasters, terrorism, accidents or other people’s thoughts, words, and actions, you can only control yourself and live through whatever happened to you to the best of your ability. And since we’re all hopefully on the path to heaven, I believe the more difficult your circumstances and the more determined you are to live them well is what makes you a truly great example for the rest of us.
My marriage fell apart in July of 1993 and my divorce was finalized against my will in 1994. It wasn’t the life I chose but I was now faced with the question, “How will I get through this?”
During my marriage, it was detected that I had a severe impediment to carrying a baby to term that resulted in three miscarriages. Just a few months before my marriage ended, and shortly after invasive surgery, the doctors who treated me said I would never be able to conceive. I was heartbroken. I didn’t choose this cross, but I was again faced with the same issue: How to live my life well despite my problems.
The years that followed were difficult. All that I had been through led me down a path of renewed love for my Catholic faith which was wonderful, but at the same time frustrating because I could not have a romantic relationship with a man until I received a decree of nullity. I could only watch others have that from afar and hope. Again, I didn’t choose this part of my life. I wanted to be a wife and mother so badly but ended up instead, a divorced single. Changing those circumstances was out of my control and I needed to find a way to live this new reality well.
I am a sinner and far from perfect. The truth is it was God’s grace that got me through it all. I found the key to walking through that fire and making it to the other side of suffering was through my faith and my relationship with Christ. He worked all things for my good (cf. Romans 8:28). Now, almost 20 years later, my husband and I celebrated our 12th anniversary – no thanks to my doubts and worries. I have 3 beautiful children without any trouble or help at all, even though the doctors said it couldn’t happen.
The difference between choosing a life and living one lies in adopting less of a worldy view and more of a supernatural attitude. It’s accepting your circumstances and embracing your day-to-day events as blessings or crosses brought about by God’s hands. In doing so, you allow your life to enrich you as a person, not drag you into bitterness and cynicism.
Living, as opposed to choosing, means you trust God. You put one foot in front of the other. You make choices within your everyday life. But as you do, you leave an open door there for God to enter and work. And in giving him permission, you will find your dreams and aspirations pale considerably compared to the great things He wants to do for you.
I highly recommend the movie, The Way. It is an exceptional film with a great message. As always, please feel free to send me your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.