“I am getting a divorce. My Marriage is crumbling. My children are being torn apart. I will be forced to “split custody” because that’s “fair” to whom I don’t know, but that’s what our courts tell me. Neither my children nor I have any say. My husband is leaving. My heart is breaking. Everyone is gossiping. I am divorced.”
The mantra ran in my head for a long time. I couldn’t go out without people questioning me. I couldn’t wake or sleep, blink or breath without inhaling the toxicity of what had been done to our family. Divorce was who I was.
In The Scarlet Letter, Hester is forced to wear the A signifying her as an adulteress. My husband had been the one cheating. His new wife had began the affair while I was pregnant, but somehow society had accepted this while I was left struggling to find a job, provide food, housing, and love for five hurting and sometimes ill or injured children, and come to grips with what had happened to the man I’d loved and the life we had built together.
People talked about there being two sides to every story. My faults were hung on the line for all to discuss. When you’re abandoned your faults become public, to be discussed at length, and somehow the abandoned spouse is usually made to wear the scarlet D.
How had this happened to us and the future we had planned? How he had taken our dreams and simply transferred them to another woman while I was left trying to find new dreams when I couldn’t remember how to dream or find a reason to risk dreaming again?!?
I was caught up in being divorced. Divorce defined me. It was who I was; the only thing I was sure of about myself was that I was divorced.
I became divorce.
People with intact, even unhappy, marriages don’t think much of the divorced. Divorce just happens nowadays. It’s part of life, and for the married, life goes on much as it always had. They may gossip and pity and even get angry for the wronged spouse, but life continues without much thought of the divorced and longterm affects. They don’t fully understand how the divorced person’s life has changed and assume friendships lost are simply a result of times changing rather than understanding how time and financial limits and daily stress places the married and divorced in very different worlds.
We’ve been conditioned to believe if a man pays support and a woman splits the kids, everything is normal after divorce. Yes, we know the statistics affecting children of divorce, but those are easily glossed over. If a child doesn’t do well in school or something happens to mess up the child’s life, we blame the child or the custodial parent rather than the one who cut the child’s family apart causing the child to become a statistic.
Most of the undivorced don’t realize what divorce is to those left to carry its burden or how divorce defines a person. The term divorce became synonymous with defeat, with being a loser, with being guilty. Somehow, if you were left by your husband, it is your fault. You failed him in some way. You are divorce.
It may be even more difficult for a Man to experience unwanted divorce. In many ways, we say men and women are equal, but still think a man should be the head of his household. When a woman walks out on a man, the devastation reaches far beyond finances. A man may be seen, wrongly, as having been weak or too controlling. His manhood may be diminished. In his eyes even if in nobody else’s, he is divorce.
When your marriage crumbles and you want it to remain intact, when you have read your Bible and gotten down on your knees night after night begging the Lord to restore your family, when you’ve gone to church by yourself and watched happy families exchanging the handshake of Peace and pray they mean it, when you have said the Rosary and aligned your suffering to the Sorrowful Mysteries knowing what you are going through is nothing compared to what others go through but you still can’t get over it as you are told to…
You are divorce.
You sit and examine every word you’ve ever said through the entire marriage and dating relationship. You replay, like a never ending video, every bad scene you ever created, you see yourself as ugly in ways that cut far beneath the skin.
You see happily married people around you and wonder “Why us?” You see friends who a few years ago confided in you about serious marriage troubles they faced, who overcame evil and found happiness within their marriage again, and you wonder what is so wrong with you. Why were you such a terrible sinner that this evil happened to you?
It is vital, not just after divorce, but after any situation to look back on our thoughts, words, and actions to discover how we could have handled the situation differently, better. Doing so is even more important after divorce and before entering a new relationship.
The Bible tells us to remove the plank from our own eyes first, but many of the divorced feel that is an impossible task. The plank of divorce and the wrongs we contributed are too deeply embedded or permanently wedged in our eyes, in our hearts, and in our minds. We are divorce.
In reality however, our actions may not have been much different, and were sometimes less sinful, than those in successful Marriages. Sometimes things happen in life that are beyond our control and of little reflection on us or on who we are meant to be.
In this Sunday’s Gospel, we see Jesus discussing this very idea.
A Call to Repentance.
At that time some people who were present there told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate* had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices.
He said to them in reply, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans?
By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!
Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them — do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem?
By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!
What if you read the word “divorced” where the word “Galileans” appears? Could Jesus have been talking about you? Could it be that you need to remove the plank from your eye, take note of what you did wrong in your marriage because, in truth, none of us is innocent, but then move on?
Could it be that Jesus is telling you that your suffering does not mean you were a greater sinner than others, but that divorce is just something that happened to you, that could happen to almost anyone? Could it be that Jesus is telling you that divorce does not define you, that you are not divorce anymore than a fallen tower is the people of Siloam?
Could it also be that Jesus is asking more of you? Could it be that at the very same time He is telling you not to define yourself as a greater sinner than all others, He is calling you to a higher standard? Could He be calling you to be a beacon for others in similar situations?
We often define ourselves in terms the devil wants us to use…fat, ugly, lazy, stupid, uneducated, slow, sloppy, chronically late, disorganized, divorced…These terms not only limit us, but extinguish the light we could provide to others.
There is a false sense of security when we have others join our camp. If we need to lose 50 pounds and are surrounded by fat people, being fat doesn’t bother us as much.
Divorce works the same way. If we are divorced and in a group of divorced people, divorce doesn’t bother us as much and so there is a temptation to subtly encourage divorce among those we know.
“He cheated on you? I’d leave him! You deserve better! What kind of role model is he anyway??”
“You’ve been unhappy with her for two/five/10/20/30 years? Get out! You deserve happiness!”
While the thoughts are understandable, they do not address the call to repent and do better. Instead, it draws others closer to the brink of divorce and forces them to face the cliff from which most will jump. It leads to the perish of the Marriage and family.
You are divorced. It happened to you. You bear some responsibility – yes. But that does not necessarily mean you are any more sinful than others.
On the other hand, it does mean you have a unique ability to provide light for hurting marriages and families. You have a position, not of weakness and defeat, but of strength having survived the battles and having seen the war for souls firsthand, to stand for Marriage, to be the one friend encouraging your friends to stick it out, to find Joy in their situation, in their family, and yes, even in their sinful spouses!
Divorce does not mean you are a greater sinner than others. Divorce does not have to define you unless you let it, but it can help define positive outcomes in yourself and in others.
Jesus defines the loving example. The Holy Spirit defines the healing strength. The Father defines the Judgment and the Forgiveness.
Cast aside the definitions the devil gives. Do not define yourself by the devil’s words but use the Trinity to define you, to allow you to overcome and be a light to others.
You are not divorce. You are defined by your Creator and can be Light and Hope instead!
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