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?