A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another (John 13:34). We should always do our best to live by all of Christ’s teachings, but I think this particular scripture should be the motivation behind everything each one of us does, even when you have been through a bitter and painful divorce.
Allow me to deconstruct the message a little to reveal my point. The bottom line regarding the way Christ loves us is He is always forgiving, always merciful, always gives us a second chance, and His desire is for us to spend eternity with Him in heaven. This should be the same way we love others, even our enemies: “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
That means the motivation behind the way you and I treat others, should be for their good coupled with the desire to help that person get to heaven. Yes, even your ex-spouse.
Treating your ex-spouse with love – and I’m speaking of love as an act of the will, not the emotion of love – can be very difficult to the point of seeming impossible. Praying for them is just as hard, if not harder, because you are asking God to bless them; you’re praying He will make things work out well for them. This is the point when the justifiable anger you feel steps in and makes the case for why you shouldn’t do something good for the one who’s hurt you. And it’s a pretty convincing argument. But as Christians, this is what we are called to do.
Do I propose this is easy? Am I saying these sentiments must be an automatic response? Not at all. But, the harder it is to do, the more you should do it.
I know many of you have endured physically and emotionally abusive relationships and my suggestions might make you angry or you might feel you are exempt from this idea. I am sorry for what you have been through. No one should have to endure an abusive relationship and my heart goes out to you. But this teaching of Christ applies to you, too.
Whether you have contact with your ex-spouse or not, you need to find a way to forgive that person, treat him /her mercifully, and pray for him/her. The same with the “other man” or the “other woman.” Maybe it’s your ex-in-laws that need your mercy and forgiveness?Whoever it is, they are the ones you need to love, whether it is in the form of praying for them from afar, or speaking charitably to them in person.
Examine Your Heart
A hardened and unforgiving heart looks at your ex-spouse and sees only the bad. You have nothing good to say about him/her and are content to leave them in the dust and remain unforgiving and resentful forever. But when you got married, you were bound from that moment to get each other to heaven… why should that be any different now?
A good heart looks at your ex-spouse and feels sorry for him/her because, you know their bad behavior was born likely out of some deeper hurt. Even so, your good heart doesn’t want to forgive, because of your own hurt. But that’s not the way Christ loves you.
A holy heart looks at your ex-spouse and feels sorry for him/her the same way the good heart does, but instead says, “Lord, spare this man. Spare this woman. Reveal your mercy, and forgiveness to them so they can change. May they experience the depths of your great love and know You are with them despite all that has happened.”
Your Ability to Love Will Change You
A good friend of mine who is an outstanding Catholic therapist told me once that she hears many of her clients complain about not seeing any results from the prayers they pray for their ex-spouses. They say things like, “I’ve prayed for my spouse every day for three years and it hasn’t changed him a bit!” And she always replies, “Well, I guess the wrong person got changed.”
Your prayers for those who have hurt you and your efforts to love them, especially when it’s so difficult, have a life-changing effect on you. It changes you and you become a more refined person, spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally. So the gift of prayer, forgiveness, mercy, and love that you give will actually pay you back and will store up treasure for yourself in heaven.
So, as we approach the Lenten season, look for the opportunities to love more and pray for those who have hurt you, and contemplate the words of Christ to you: “The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you, and still more will be given to you” (Mark 4:24).