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Divorce & Annulments

In the early days of my divorce, I used to meet with a really great priest for spiritual direction. I was truly blessed with the time with this priest and I knew it. But, I was also hurting and trying to find my way through all of this pain that I never wanted and certainly didn’t ask for. It was a struggle not to be angry at God for allowing this divorce to happen to me and my children.

There were times when I would lash out at everyone around me—my spiritual director included. We developed a routine in our visits. He would ask how I was and I would tell him that I was fine—breathing for another day. He would ask about my prayer life and I would shrug. He would ask how I was handling relating to my former spouse and I would launch into a self-righteous dialogue about how happy I was that Hell existed because I knew without a doubt that any person who would put their family—their own children—through this much pain deserved to go there.

I write this out to you knowing full well that many of you may be fairly scandalized by how flippant this conversation with my spiritual director may sound. I honestly don’t know if anyone who has not been through the pain of divorce—especially one they did not want—can really fathom the way this devastates your spirit. In any case, if you have never felt this way, please pray for those who do. It is one of the most painful experiences you can imagine and your judgement is another knife to their soul. And if you have felt this way, trust in the Lord with all that you are—it too shall pass.

My spiritual director would frown at this self-righteous monologue and I would know he was disappointed, but I would say it anyway. I was overwhelmed by my circumstance and I just didn’t have it in me to be a better person or a better Catholic. I knew what I was called to do in my head, I just couldn’t feel it in my heart.

And then he would remind me—I was called by Jesus to pray for my enemies and those who persecuted me. This divorce was a form of persecution, he would remind me, and I needed to pray for my former spouse.

At the time of these initial conversations, I would leave my meetings and I would drive home and I would think it would be easier for someone to cut off my arm or my leg than it would be to pray for my former spouse. I wholeheartedly believed this to be true; it felt true.

As I said, I did know in my head the right thing to do and so, after some time, I finally asked my spiritual director how I was supposed to do this—pray for my former spouse, pray for the woman he left me for. My spiritual director told me to say a short prayer every day and every time I went to Mass: “Dear Lord, I pray to you for Ken and Gina—for their conversion.” My spiritual director assured me that this was enough.

I continued to balk at the idea that this would be sufficient. After all, I didn’t feel like I wanted to pray for them, I didn’t feel charity when I thought about the two people who hurt me most and I still struggled with the idea that they could have a conversion and everything would automatically be better for them.

The truth is, we don’t need to feel a certain way to do the right thing. This is how we practice virtue. The action of saying those words of prayer every day eventually melted the part of my heart that had grown cold. I can honestly say that when I pray those words today, and I still do, I don’t feel the anger and resentment that I felt before.

It took years, about five years in fact, for me to make peace with life after my divorce and to feel honest concern for the spiritual welfare of my former spouse and his girlfriend.

If you are struggling with the idea of praying for your former spouse or anyone else who has hurt you deeply, I encourage you to remember that we can make the conscious choice to do the right thing without feeling it.

Draft a short prayer for yourself and say it every day. It will change the part of your heart that has suffered the most. And if you have managed to walk this path, learning to pray for those who persecute you, how have you put this command into practice in your life?

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10 Comments

  1. Eric-1048086 March 28, 2014

    I am sorry for your pain Heather. I do understand the notion of getting into the groove of the behavior and having feelings follow. “Forgive those who trespass against us…” we say it so often but to truly do it is so very difficult. I had a good deal of resentment towards my ex-wife’s new spouse initially. It did take awhile but I do pray for him and for God to guide him and give him wisdom in helping raise my kids. In fact, when I do have my kids we pray for Mommy and for him. Our love of those trespassing against us is grounded in God’s unending love for us. On a more practical note – we never know the context of other people’s lives – the struggles or the hurts they have had. Reminding ourselves to have empathy for those who have hurt us is also a good way to love. Just my thoughts. God bless…

  2. Tara-916139 March 28, 2014

    Excellent post, Heather. Thank you for making the essential point that our feelings must not dictate our ability to forgive.

    “The truth is, we don’t need to feel a certain way to do the right thing.”

    I have realized that forgiveness is often a continual dance, a continual act of prayer and decision. It is something I need to begin anew each day, because as you described as well, it takes time and prayer (regardless of the emotions involved) to move past the hurt and to develop true empathy and concern for the welfare of the souls of those who’ve hurt us. This is so difficult to do, and I see it as only through the grace of God that we can get there.

    I am going to try your daily prayer suggestion, and I’d also recommend to others of us working to love and pray for those who’ve hurt us to look up Left to Tell and Led by Faith, two books by Rwandan holocaust survivor Immaculee Ilibagiza. Immaculee is a beautiful, modern day example of praying for and forgiving those who’ve hurt us the most.

  3. Gladys-1072478 March 29, 2014

    Heather,
    Thank you for this post. I agree it is so hard not to be angry with the former spouse. I am trying to find peace now that the truth of what really happened to end our marriage has been revealed. But, you are right we must make peace with what hurts so much and turns us into such horrible beings that God would not want.
    There were days when I and still are that I am so distraught and angry by what he did to me and our family. I am crying right now as I write this. It was such a picture perfect marriage, and then it all collapsed. But, I know in my heart that I must learn to forgive him so I can move forward. I will try that prayer for his conversion to God’s ways.
    God Bless you,
    Gladys

  4. Kathy-730470 March 29, 2014

    I am divorced and have an annulment. I had a conversation with a friend who was also divorced, annulled, remarried and widowed. She shared with me that when she was initially divorced she was soooooo angry at her ex husband. She told me she talked to our priest and he told her to make a list of all the things she is angry at her ex husband for. He said she must forgive him. He told her to work on a few things at a time and cross them off when she can forgive him. He said until she can forgive him she will never be able to move forward and on with her life. She told me it took a while but she was eventually able to do it. She forgave him for everything on the list. Time went on and she met and remarried and loved her husband very much. Unfortunately after being married for some time he got sick and is now deceased. Her ex husband however is still alive. She said they are friends and he talks to her often. She said it is hard to believe that this could be possible but they are now great friends. She said she will never remarry as she could never find a man that she could love as much as her second husband.

  5. Tom-1057212 March 30, 2014

    I am a divorced father of 3. It will be 4 years in August. I think about forgiveness of my ex-wife almost every day. How do you forgive someone who does not want it? I think purgatory would be a nice place for her. LOL. I can relate to be challenged to forgive by a Christian counselor. I fully admit to being a hypocrite about the issue. When someone cheats, it is a horrible thing to deal with. Divorce papers 2 weeks after you bury your mother. Compounding that was what this action did to my oldest – drug overdose – very difficult to forgive. I can also relate to Gladys. We had that family, or so I thought. Now I am alone in reference to a life partner. I have the kids but no life partner. 20 years up in smoke.. Tears still come out at various times. Even right now. I am still looking for that peace in my heart. Will it ever come? I have been told many times it is a process. I wish that process would help me to be at peace. I have my doubts. Heather, your point is well taken to write this down and try.

  6. Blanca-1058174 March 30, 2014

    Thank you for sharing your story and pain. I understand you completely. The most difficult part is not having someone who understands what you are going through. My family and friends know me and love me, but didn’t understand my pain. You don’t know me, but you do understand me, because we experienced the same hell. Tears still trickle down my face, although the pain is less. I am trying to forgive, but it is very difficult. I don’t wish him harm, ever. I just wish I didn’t feel so lonely. I can see you are in a better place; thank God! Everyone who replied to your post, seems to be working through the anger, except Tom. I will pray for you Tom. Although, I am not completely free of pain and anger, your pain seems to be consuming you. It wasn’t long ago, that every breath I took was a reminder of my pain. We all have to navigate through this very painful time in our lives, in a different way. I hope your way comes very soon. I wish every single one of you a blessed and positive Day.

  7. Heather Voccola March 30, 2014

    Hello All,

    I am humbled to know that some of you found some solace and kinship in the story that I shared about my experiences. I agree with you that the pain of divorce is unlike anything you can think of. It is often a struggle to get through every day. But keep walking – there is a plan – even if it is impossible to see right now. Trust in the Lord with all your heart.

    Tom, I will pray for you and for your family in a special way!

    And do try to remember to pray every day for God’s grace in your hearts, your children/family and your former spouse. It is true that when we continue to bring our petitions to God he can’t help but hear us. And the prayer we say for your former spouse is not just for them, but to thaw our own heart too. God will not turn away from that plea!

    I remain, sincerely yours in Christ,
    Heather

  8. Regina-911983 April 1, 2014

    Great article! Divorce – worse than death. A pain unlike any other…
    Divorce as a result of betrayal and abandonment strikes at the core of our capacity to trust and lov e again. This is the origin of most suicides.

    I was at my wits’ end until I found this book: ” Living & Loving after Betrayal.” (Steven Stosny) Listen to this: “Preoccupation with why he/she did it runs the risk of making you live inside his/her head at the cost of your own healing and growth. The pain is telling you to restore self-value now, through your own positive actions and that is the only thing that will eliminate it. Rather than speculating about what might have caused your partner to inflict this pain, it is far more to your benefit to concentrate your attention on the internal message of the pain, which is to HEAL, REPAIR AND IMPROVE. We can never know why someone betrays an intimate bond.”

    In his book he goes on to say what the secret of forgiveness is: “The secret of forgiveness, regardless of whether you want to use it as a method of detachment or as a way to fortify your relationship after repair, is to focus not on the offensive behavior, but on FREEING yourself of the emotional pain you experienced as a result of the behavior. The most severe aspect of emotional pain is the sense of powerlessness it engenders. Intentional forgiveness helps you to take BACK power over your emotional life.” Remember forgiveness is an act of LOVE that heals both the forgiver and forgiven. This is what Jesus stressed so often in his ministry of love.

    Keep praying. Ask God to help those you love. Ask God to be close to them. Ask God to allow you to see others the way God does. The way to Jesus is through his mother Mary. Say the rosary. Concentrate on Jesus’ life. Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I am so glad I lived to share and read this book.

  9. Mary-1011529 April 1, 2014

    My husband left me for a girl 16 years younger than we are. She knows nothing about living through a couple of wars with him. She knows nothing about raising children. He left me with a semi-recovering herion addict. I had just lost my father a few months earlier. We had been married for 34 years. Now she has convinced him to move a thousand miles away from his children and grandchildren. I understand that he was willing and able. That he could have said no to her advances and no to moving, and no to having next to no contact with his children for almost a year. I remember the countless affairs over the 34 years. I also remember that for better or for worse of our marriage vows. I lived with them. Now, six years and finally a divorce at my expense later, I try to pray for them, but I can tell you honestly, it is not any easier now than it was the first time the priest said I had to forgive them before I could move on. I have my I am fine face, and I still cry. Someday maybe it will get easier. Just not today.

  10. Bakateke-369564 April 29, 2014

    to sum it up I describe my experience as follows:
    ‘forgiving is an act of freeing oneself from anger and grief hence it is a powerful device that is elusive because it grips you with invisible arms and awakens the negativity within you to an extent that it enslaves you with its grasp, to this regard, one needs to gather courage through prayer and support available… to free oneself from it’
    how? FORGIVE the forgiving aspect can also be an act of shacking off the yoke of that “invincible arm” which produces sacks of negativism through anger and grief etc.
    it was like going to hell and back-alive but thank God I learned that it was not impossible after all – just the negativism that clouded my whole being in the first place and lingered till I found the courage and help.

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