Ever get to the point where you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired?
That’s right where I found myself in January of 1994, six months after my husband had asked for a divorce and left. All that time I was re-learning how to do the things I used to do with no problem… learning how to breathe, how to make it through a work day without falling apart, how to talk to God without sounding like a spoiled child throwing a fit because she didn’t get her way. The pain was still intense, but the difference between this point and the months leading up to it was now I needed to do something to help myself get a grip on things instead of allowing my emotions to steam roll over me.
I went to several different parishes in the Los Angeles Valley area where I lived and scoured their bulletins for information about support groups and found there was barely anything offered. The best I could find was a support group for separated, widowed and divorced Catholics that was about 20 miles away, but I decided that would be my stepping stone to the next phase of healing from this terrible divorce.
The night I first attended I sat in my car in the parkinglot watching people go into the church, hating this position I was in. I didn’t want to be a divorce statistic! I didn’t want to be a part of this group because I didn’t want to be divorced! So I had to push myself hard to get out of that car and into the meeting. I ended up attending four meetings in all, which was enough to realize two very important things. First, I was grateful to be with others who understood how devastating losing a spouse is. But second, that grieving a loss due to death and a loss due to divorce are two very different things, and yet the two were being lumped together into one group. I knew in time that was something I wanted to address.
In the years that followed I slowly healed and came to a point where I wanted to help others heal. When the time was right, I wrote a program called Journey of Hope, and led it for years in Atlanta area parishes with much success. It eventually became a two-book series, Divorced. Catholic. Now What? and the accompanying, Workbook. But the point of this article is not necessarily to promote these books, it’s to ask you an important question.
Pope Francis’ recent exhortation, Evangelii guadium (The Joy of the Gospel), calls us all to action to evangelize the world. If you have been through a divorce, you understand the great need there is for parish leaders to serve the separated and divorced community in the Church and so the question I pose to you is will you help care for these devastated, hurting men and women who feel so alone and forgotten?
If you wonder what if you are ready to lead a support group in a parish, here a few indicators that will help you determine that:
- Make sure you’re past the bitterness. Having been through a divorce already is good experience if you are to lead a group for the divorced, but you should be at a place where you can offer hope and you don’t speak negatively about your ex-spouse. You’re focused on moving forward and feel you can help others do this, too.
- You have a good understanding of what the Church teaches about divorce and at least a basic understanding of the annulment process.
- You have the patience and compassion to be a good listener.
If there’s one complaint I could say I hear the most, it’s the complaint of divorced people saying there is little offered to help divorced Catholics. This is not entirely true, because there are several other programs available besides mine. The real problem is there aren’t enough lay people stepping up to the plate to be parish leaders. Here is an opportunity for you to act on a great New Year’s resolution; get out there and make a difference for so many men and women who need your compassion and support.
On the evenings of January 9 and 23, 2014 I will be holding Google Hangout events for anyone interested in learning more about leading a parish support group for separated and divorced Catholics and I encourage you to attend. Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the words “Leader Hangout” in the subject box and I will send you information on attending. You can also visit my website to see my program at divorcerecoverytools.com.