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Divorce & Annulments

Some years ago, I visited a recently divorced friend, we’ll call her Gabriella. The holidays were approaching, and she and her two teenage daughters were struggling to find a way to celebrate knowing her husband would be spending that time with his new live-in girlfriend.

During my visit, Gabriella told me she was “church hunting” because she was ready to leave the Catholic Church. She had a long list of complaints, many related to the fact she was divorced. One in particular was waged against her pastor whom, in his homily, stated divorce created broken families and this was not what God had intended. Gabriella was incensed. How dare he say my girls and I are not a family! Just because my family doesn’t look like someone else’s doesn’t give him the right to label us “broken.” We are a modern family.

I understand her indignation to a degree. Gabriella wanted to be married forever, but her husband abandoned her and their girls. She was the one left to clean up the mess and it’s typical that the one who is left to put life back together has to work doubly hard for everything; money, parenting, security, possessions, etc. It takes perseverance, self-denial, and a lot of faith to succeed as a single parent.

But something very important is being overlooked—no, blatantly ignored: her pastor is absolutely correct. God did not intend for spouses to dump each other and throw away their marriages! That was not His plan for the family! And just because society has stamped it’s approval on every possible immoral lifestyle a person can think of and has declared those lifestyles “safe from criticism or you’ll be labeled a hater,” it doesn’t change the truth of the matter. God intended a family to be securely balanced with one father and one mother.

But wait… Debbie has two mothers, Jaden has two fathers. Hannah spends a week at her mom and step-dad’s house and the next at her dad and step-mom’s house. Susie has never met her dad and her mom has moved to Vegas for work so Susie lives with grandma. Billy’s dad has a girlfriend that sleeps over and takes him to school in the morning because his dad leaves too early for work. There may be lots of familial love and affection in these arrangements, but they are not the families God intended us to have (this does not include families who have lost a parent through death).

How did our society become this great dichotomy between the traditional family God designed and a mixed-up group of people living under the same roof? In my humble opinion, I believe it is the result of an indifference to God’s commandments and an improper handling of life’s hurts and disappointments.

When an individual encounters hurt or disappointment in life they either: a) approach it as an opportunity for growth, struggle through it, and emerge a better person for the experience, or b) Do nothing to address and heal their hurt and instead, proceed by lowering their standards and expectations.

When you lower your standards and expectations, accepting and acting on the truth becomes harder. The light of hope becomes dimmer. If you lower your standards and expectations every time you encounter hurt or disappointment, your capacity to deal truthfully with your life and hope in your future is almost zero. You will instead, spend your time and energy looking for ways to make yourself feel happy, loved and accepted.

Gabriella illustrates my point well. Although her family was Catholic, her parents were divorced, (second time for mom). Gabriella was never married to her eldest daughter’s father who was no where to be found at the time, and now, her younger daughter’s father was gone, too. Instead of embracing her Catholic faith for healing through the sacraments and a path to a new life through the annulment process, Gabriella was actively looking for another church that would simply affirm her modern family. And she was definitely anxious to date and find a new man, hopefully in time for Christmas.

Lowering standards and expectations seems to be the trend for all the social ills we suffer (or celebrate, depending upon your perspective). We don’t keep score at little league games, but hand out participation trophies. We ban school children from playing tag because someone might get their feelings hurt. We forcibly remove the honorable veterans who fought for this country and our freedom from their own memorials, but we allow drug addicts, bums and criminals to camp out in the public square for months on end. We treat law-abiding citizens like criminals and we treat criminals like heroes. We promote and encourage divorce, contraception, abortion and homosexuality in the name of freedom and expression, but paddle-lock the doors of the churches so our priests cannot say Mass for the soldiers who risk their lives for our freedom.

Stop the insanity!

If you want your family to be whole and your marriage blessed, if you want your streets to be safe, if you want your schools to be a place to learn and our country to be great… then get on your knees, thank God for your life, accept your truth, work through your hurts and come out the other side a better person for it all. Don’t lower your bar, raise it. It’s okay to struggle, God is with you and He wants you to succeed.

Feel free to send me your questions or comments at asklisa@catholicmatch.com.

 

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24 Comments

  1. Nicholas-976717 November 14, 2013

    My father left the household when I was 11 years old and my brother was 10 – he was a workaholic and also later proven to be unfaithful as well. Despite the hit that such a situation would be for anyone, my mom sat my brother and I down almost immediately and let us know that what happened would *not* be used as an excuse for bad grades, bad behavior, etc. We were to keep doing well in school, attend church services regularly and maintain our schedule of extra-curricular activities…and we did. She was set on our family not being a cliche, a stereotype or a statistic just because one parent was no longer present, and she will have my love and respect for that always. She provided an extremely positive example and we marched in lockstep right behind her. Our family is living proof that just because the sorrow of divorce descends, that a household isn’t necessarily “broken” or that it creates a “broken home”, a term that I have always loathed. That is not to say we didn’t face backlash from others from time to time in our church, which is where I can identify with your friend Gabriella to a degree. Here was one incident in particular:

    13 years ago, just prior to the Advent season, my mom, brother and I occupied our usual seats at our local church for mass. An older family friend of ours was one of the ushers, and arranged for us to bring up the gifts for consecration at that mass. But that decision was rescinded at the last moment by the chief usher, who saw the three of us and arbitrarily decided that were, quote, “not a real family”. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my mom so hurt or incensed in all her life…this was a lady who had served as a Eucharistic minister, CCD teacher and volunteer for many years, someone who took an active role in giving back to her parish. As did my brother and I…I was an altar server for nearly 6 years, and we both had participated in numerous church events. But apparently, none of that mattered. Just because my father wasn’t there deemed us, in his mind, “not a real family.” I will never forget the feeling that the three of us had at that moment.

    After mass, my mom sought out the pastor for a chat. The pastor claimed the usher didn’t speak for the parish and that his opinions were merely his own, but tried to defend him as a “good man” anyway. My mom insisted that the chief usher’s actions proved otherwise, and I believe she was correct. Just for the record, I don’t mean this post to be interpreted as a wholesale indictment of the Church on a grand scale – but merely as an indictment of the ignorance of some members of the flock, like the chief usher we encountered. Who, if he had bothered to ask around and learn more about us, would see we were one of the most devout and dedicated volunteer families in the parish…two parents or not.

    • Tom-995241 November 19, 2013

      Very well written Nicholas.

    • Carol L. November 24, 2013

      I too am going through very difficult time in my marriage. However I am blessed enough to belong to a Parish who I know, will, support me through this. Unfortunately we live in very judgemental times and there is an awful amount of ignorance out there. I am struggling with the comments that my husband has made about God and the church to my 8 year old son. I am Catholic, have been raised so and have been taking both of my son’s to mass since a very young age. As my husband is ignorant about religion and is athirst, he decided to tell my son that what he is being taught at his Catholic school and at mass, is a load of lies and rubbish. I have to now pick up the pieces, as my child is very confused. I know, however that my faith will guide me through this and make me stronger. Nothing in life is perfect, perhaps some of those people out there who should be supporting us, should realise that we are raising the future generation. It is our responsibility as parents to protect them, nourish and feed their minds, hearts and souls. If it means that one parent does this and the other fails, then divorce is inevitable. I would rather have my children raised in a happy and loving home and couldn’t care less how I am judged. It is only God himself who can do that!

      • Carol L. November 24, 2013

        excuse the spelling mistakes – lack of sleep!

  2. Mar-986248 November 14, 2013

    Well said Nicholas. I’ve been debating about answering this post and how to answer. Lisa, while I’m sure you meant to write an inspiring piece it did not come across that way. It came across as judgmental. It is tough enough for people to parent, let alone be a single parent, heal and care for your children, and still be healing themselves, just as your friend no doubt is working through all this is. You may not appreciate nor approve how she’s attempting to piece things together, but that type of attitude is exactly what she’s trying to get away from. I remember listening at a church how a wife must listen to her husband. Except they never placed any quantifiers on that husband, like the husband should not be an abuser, nor a drug addict, thief, etc…nor did they attempt to add in return how a husband should be towards his wife. I always wondered why they didn’t because marriage is two people, not just the wife appeasing the husband, nor the other way around. But Lisa by your article we should just all “assume” all nuclear family households will have good children and the schools and streets will be safe by the simple state of having the parents stay together in their marriage, right…. ? Through thick and thin, right? Uh huh.

    Yes, let’s stop the insanity. “….if you want your streets to be safe, if you want your schools to be a place to learn “…. Really? These are the results of a broken family who couldn’t raise the bar? What truly is a broken family anyways? A set of parents with drug problems but are still married? A dysfunctional family that looks all put together when they’re out in public but everything falls to piece relationship wise behind closed doors? A single parent where the kids work together to help each other out even though it means missing fun functions? The parent who is left behind and has no choice but to leave her child with grandma until he/she gets settled to provide a better life for the child, since the other parent left? Or the single parent who can’t cope since the death of his/her spouse and the child is left on their own to handle their own emotions….but does this scenario count because the spouse died – nevermind that the parent is struggling and not too well either. If you want to raise the bar, all these family situations need the bar raised in one way or another…..many ways to raise the bar.

    You want your friend “to raise the bar”? Or you just want to use her as an example of how “broken” her family is? For starters, raising the bar would require an extension of kindness and sincere thoughtfulness. Right now, what she needs is a community or group she can feel safe to talk with unjudged…. and hence stay in the Church not be driven away by attitudes that are unkind, unhelpful, unChristian, and devoids people from having to know and interact with the “broken” family members on a deeper level (as Nicholas pointed out). With all this pointing at her “broken family’s” state of course she’s hurrying to find someone.

    Let’s start by raising the bar with ourselves and how we view others…or not view them.

    By the way, I never viewed your friend as lowering her standards….she’s searching for calmer and safer waters.

    • Lisa-727959 November 14, 2013

      Hi, Mar,

      Why is saying that God did not intend for marriages to fall apart or that His design was one father and one mother unkind, unhelpful or unChristian? It’s the truth. I’ve been divorced myself, I know precisely how tough it is. I’m not passing judgement on anyone.

      We have these problems because people have lowered the bar through turning their backs on God. Dating after divorce without an annulment is – in Christ’s own words – adultery. “Gabriella” doesn’t care. That’s lowering the bar and inviting new problems, not searching for calmer and safer waters.

      And every family is dysfunctional in some way, some worse than others. The point is to, yes, stay together and help each other get better. That’s what we’re supposed to do… get each other to heaven. There’s nothing unChristian about that.

      The gospel that compels wives to obey their husbands includes how husbands are to act toward their wives:

      “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing[a] her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself” (Eph 5: 25-28).

      In the end, Mar, I’m sorry this came across to you as judgmental and it certainly wasn’t my intention. I would just like to prevent more heartache in the world and speaking the truth is one way to start.

      Sincerely – Lisa Duffy

  3. Amy-812495 November 14, 2013

    ‘Tis amazing the mess people can make of things when they do things differently then how God planned for them to be done!

    Nicholas, your mother sounds like an amazing, strong women. She has my admiration!

  4. Ann-1023144 November 15, 2013

    The article was good and I think realistic. The response has some good points also. Divorce is not what God intended…however, staying in an abusive marriage because you are Catholic and you took a vow ‘until death due us part’ and you intend to ‘stick it out, no matter what’……..is much more harmful than getting a divorce!!!!!!! Been there…done that!!!!! I still thought for like 10 or more years after becoming a divorcee that I was going to hell for geting a divorce…never mind I also had a church anullment, also. Never mind that my marriage was preety much a ‘hell on earth’, I stuck it out and had 3 children with this spouse who was a ‘married bacholar’ and the most self-centered and selfish individual, I suffered and my children suffered because I was trying to do what the Catholic church said was what God wanted…..no way out….no matter what!!!!! Finally, there came a point at which a decision to leave was not a decision…but a necessity….someone was going to get seriously injured. Either me, one of my children, or my spouse when I finally hit my ‘can take any more’ point.. The church is becoming (thank God) more understanding toward the party that was ‘forced’ to be divorced by their spouse. I hope more articles will be written about the plight of the person who tried their best but could not be a ‘physical and emotional’ slave to a spouse who wouldn’t keep their vows…but expects their partner to keep theirs….under ‘unholy circumstances and situations’. I don’t know the answers to how to understand what we should do and feel that we are following JESUS’S words in the bible on the marriage issue?????? I just know that the pain and suffering for an abused spouse and children that will follow them all through this earthly life cannot be what a merciful God could expect?!?!?!?!

    • Lisa-727959 November 15, 2013

      Hi, Ann,

      I’m so sorry to hear of your experience and suffering and getting out of that marriage was appropriate. The Church acknowledges that spouses in abusive relationship need to protect themselves, and I have said the same many, many times http://www.catholicmatch.com/institute/2013/01/23530/ The article above is not targeting abusive marriages. The point was to be a reminder that our actions have consequences and when we don’t follow the basic Christian principles, all of society suffers. The traditional family is sacred and important for society.

      Sincerely – Lisa Duffy

    • Marina-1024960 November 15, 2013

      Amen, Anne……..and I bet you know personally that abuse isn’t only physical. The abuse given out by the indifferent, unloving, uncaring spouse can be just as painful as blows. I also know this for a fact. It can be just as life-threatening and life-ending. None of this has a simple answer, however much we might want there to be one. Children in situations like this are not stupid – they have it figured out before any one else does. The damage done to them also hurts just as much. Sticking it out and suffering in silence don’t give the abuser the benefit of the consequences of his or her actions. I doubt that’s what God , as our Universal Parent, intended, either.

  5. Marc-21531 November 15, 2013

    It was interesting to read both the article and a few people’s response to it. It goes to show the complexity of certain situations that may arise within marriage and the need for God’s grace. Let us keep the family in our prayers that God may heal the hurt that some have suffered and are still suffering. Amen.

  6. Marina-1024960 November 15, 2013

    When I read these articles, mostly written by obviously very young people who are just beginning to have life experiences, I come away of two minds. The high ideals and straight lines are very noble and no one can say they are not goals worth achieving. They are hard work, like most things.
    I find that these can sometimes be easy answers to very hard questions and situations. You don’t understand what it’s like to be “dumped” by a spouse until it happens to you; you don’t really understand how difficult it is to be a divorced person in a church which is full of the praise and glory of the long-married; you don’t know how it feels to be a “second-class Catholic” until you are one. You don’t know how hard it is to walk the party line in these cases.
    While the advice doled out in these articles is full of energy and idealism, I find it a negating of the real-life situations ordinary people of all faiths experience. One can’t really find solutions to problems until one listens with empathy to the person experiencing the problem. This is what the concept of pastoral care is all about.
    Stand up for your values – yes. Develop empathy and the ability to listen first, however. This seems to be a quality that is disappearing in society, sadly.

    • Lisa-727959 November 15, 2013

      Hi, Marina,

      Thank you for your contribution to the conversation and I understand what you are saying. I actually have been through a divorce – a very devastating and bitter one. I went through the annulment process and have been remarried for over 13 years now. I lost 3 children in miscarriage, one at nearly six months along and have been blessed with 3 more miracle children. I recently turned 50 and, although I still feel young, I’ve encountered many crosses in my life as I’m sure you have, and it’s from these experiences I write.

      I am sorry to know you’ve been through a divorce, too, the pain is indescribable. I hope you’ve been able to come out the other side with hope for the future.

      Sincerely – Lisa Duffy

  7. Franco-1004935 November 16, 2013

    Thank you once again for a nice article. I liked reading the truth in your words. At first, I was a little hurt too and misunderstood what you were trying to say.
    Thank you for clarifying in your later comments.

    I never thought I would be divorced, I loved being a “family” then, but guess what now – I don’t see me and my kids any less than a family. When the kids are over and I say family prayers – I still give thanks for “keeping our family happy”.

    @Nicholas- the usher’s actions were his own, not the church and glad that you and your family recognized it. When I was married, the ushers would always pick us to take the offertory gifts. After my divorce, Sunday mass is not an option for the kids (or us the parents) – the same ushers still let me and my kids take the gifts.

    Do you know how the church can avoid divorces – force newly married couple go to marital counseling (christian) in the first two years of marriage :)

  8. Philip-886437 November 18, 2013

    Yes this article is indeed “judgemental” in that it reflects the truth of what in God’s judgment is the proper way for us to live according to His teaching which is based on eternal truth, wisdom, love and mercy. Why does He do this? He does this because He loves us and wants us to experience the fullness of our human dignity and the great joy and sense of fulfillment He offers us.

    We have to come to accept and acknowledge when we act against His truths, we do so not only at our own peril but to those we profess to love, like our children. These consequences place His desire for us, each of us, to spend eternity with Him but in the present, if affects the quality, tranquility, peace and delight He offers us in our earthly lives. Does this present challenges to us? Of course it does; first we have to realize we are here to be faithful to Him and disregard our wills in complete subservience to His. This is not always easy but it is always necessary; particularly in our present “culture” in which being self focused has replaced self awareness.

    During the course of my life in which I chose to live outside of His wisdom and truth the results speak for themselves. A broken marriage and family- yes it is broken ;my children suffer daily, inwardly and relentlessly in spite of their efforts to make it seem everything is okay, because it clearly isn’t. No matter what you here about “quality” time, kids are resilient etc. their pain is real and it will affect their adult relationships later in life. It doesn’t matter who’s fault it is the marriage failed the affect on them is the same. All the brokeness in this world is the direct result of our acceptancing distortions of God’s truth (as evident in divine revelation) and His church as being “normal” or acceptable. Today, to speak affirmatively in a loving way of God’s truth results in ridicule, more distortion and oh no-being called judgemental.

    If you had a brother, sister, son, daughter who was an alcoholic would it be judgmental to approach them in love to point out the truth to them of the consequences of their destructive behaviors? I suspect you would think not. Would it be judgmental to do so? I suspect not. It’s not that we judge others behaviors to make ourselves feel superior. To the contrary it is unpleasant to do so but it is also necessary because each of us reflects God’s image and are called to be brothers and sisters in Christ in a very real way.

    Until we are each willing to submit ourselves to Christ in all things, even in those areas where we would rather not, we work against ourselves and our God who has specific plans for each of us to become the person He created us to be. Let go of the illusion of control, step away from the hubris of humanistic arrogance which results in our looking for fulfillment in ourselves, detached from others, objectifying other human beings sexually, materially and in a utilitarian framework which diminishes the fullness of our own and all human dignity.

    Our risen Lord stands beside us in all things-our suffering never goes unnoticed since who knows more about suffering than He who endured all means of suffering and humiliation for each of us out of the sublime expression of fidelity and perfect love? God’s gift of faith allows us to transcend the limitations of our human capacities. He did this for all sinners, myself included, out of love which poured out of Him on the cross and continues to pour out of HIm for us today. Our passivity is our greatest obstacle. Open your hearts, and make them a proper place for Him to live in and the changes within us can be extended to those to whom we come in contact on a daily basis. So we too, must empty ourselves for and to each other, in all ways. Always with love, and always in truth. Then the healing we seek for ourselves and collectively for our world can begin to take root, grow and flourish.

    I encourage you to take the time to learn about why our church teaches what it does with an opened heart and mind. If you truly do this it will become so clearly evident God really knows what He is doing.

    • Lisa-727959 November 19, 2013

      Very nicely articulated, Phillip! Thanks for your comment.

      - Lisa Duffy

  9. Julie-631165 November 19, 2013

    Amen Phillip, Amen!!!!
    Until we are each willing to submit ourselves to Christ in all things, even in those areas where we would rather not, we work against ourselves and our God who has specific plans for each of us to become the person He created us to be.

  10. Rosanna-921185 November 19, 2013

    “…but we allow drug addicts, bums and criminals to camp out in the public square for months on end. ”

    You wrote a good article about how family should be in God’s vision and how people often aim for lower standards than that. But I also see some judgemental comments which are a bit problematic. Many of society’s problems are due to very complex factors, and the people in different situations cannot always help themselves to extricate themselves from these situations. They may need the help of other caring individuals to do so. I work with homeless people and disadvantaged youth, who often come from broken homes, and find that they often lacked the necessary upbringing to make certain choices and once they learned differently, they often changed their lives for the better. Others unfortunately are trapped in the circumstances and lose hope in finding change. But even they can eventually change for the better once their deep hurts are in the healing process.
    As Christians, it helps to remember that if Jesus were to come earth today instead of 2000 years ago, He would have sought these people out to help change their lives. The healthy do not need a doctor but the sick. It is one thing to label them as “drug addicts, bums and criminals” (which admittedly some would be that) and another to see them as hurting brothers and sisters in Christ. He gives us the opportunity to do His work by helping them.

    • Lisa-727959 November 19, 2013

      Rosanna,

      I am so sorry about that – I was not at all referring to homeless people, I was referring specifically to the Occupy crowd. I did this because of the blatant hypocrisy of the government to block honorable war veterans from memorials the very first day of the government shut down, but when the Occupy movement set up camp, they violated the laws in every American city they did this, but no one said a word.

      Sorry for the confusion!

      - Lisa Duffy

  11. Ele-962707 November 20, 2013

    Can we pleas stop equating Catholicism with conservative republicanism? And, can we do less judging and more loving? This is exactly why people are leaving the church in droves.

  12. Teresa-944496 November 20, 2013

    GREAT article! Its message is timeless and very needed in our current culture. When my daughters and I were dumped by an unfaithful husband, I was determined to handle my divorce and annulment situation much as Lisa describes, which turned out to be beneficial to my whole family. I still have not met Mr. Right, but in other ways I have done very well, as have my daughters, which brings joy beyond measure!

  13. Teresa-944496 November 21, 2013

    GREAT article! Its message is timeless and very needed in our current culture. When my daughters and I were dumped by an unfaithful husband, I was determined to handle my divorce and annulment situation much as Lisa describes–with high standards–which turned out to be beneficial to my whole family. I still have not met Mr. Right, but in other ways I have done very well, as have my daughters, which brings joy beyond measure!

  14. Jay-768643 November 23, 2013

    The conclusion I’ve drawn for myself based on my own experience is that I know neither how to approach relationships or marriage, but am attempting to learn now and to pass on what I learn to my kids so that they don’t repeat my mistakes.

    What I’m finding in my quest is that the Church has a great deal to teach us, with two thousand years of perspective.

    I’m a divorced dad of two, very involved in my children’s lives [primary care giver], with only two years of Catholic education shortly after Vatican II. I think there was a vacuum left by the church leadership just expecting the average church member to pick up the slack; that is where I think things fell apart, and with the “sexual revolution” at full rage, timing was poor. I see a reawakening happening, with more people becoming interested in learning more about their faith, probably the result of new forms of communication directly related to the web [we're no longer stuck waiting behind a priest, waiting for him to do something we should be doing ourselves].

  15. Gerri-1034607 December 24, 2013

    Thank you Philip and Lisa for the engaging and truthful articles and comments. We don’t happily sing I love you you love me were a happy family while we escort our brothers and sisters on their path to Hell. We loving tell them the truth, this is not hating or judging. There is right and wrong whether we like it or not. My husband of 22 years abused and abandoned us. Lisa’s article only told the truth. This is not how we scare people away from the Church the Truth attracts. Those who are locked in and imprisoned by their sins are the ones who run. The charitable thing to do is call them back by telling them about God’s ideal. I do not feel “judged” by people in the Church. I am saddened over my circumstances and wish they were different but that does nothing to diminish from the beauty in God’s intended plan.

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