All seemed right with my little corner of the world. I was Mom to five fantastic little boys, including one I still carried inside me. We were building a home in a great little town and had made friends quickly when we moved in. I had just landed my ideal job as part-time youth minister of our small Catholic Church, and best of all, I had a husband whom I loved dearly.
Despite many ups and downs in our 14 years of marriage, life seemed headed toward smoother waters. Our love was confirmed in a second line on a stick, the gift of surprise pregnancy, in a special present he gave me that Christmas, in renewed vows on Valentine’s Day, in furniture we’d bought that Spring, in summer vacation plans we’d made, and in so many ways.
My husband and I shared corny jokes and private looks across crowded rooms. We laughed and teased and loved one another. My husband was my life. He was the one I told secrets to, the one I called when something happened with the boys, the one I looked forward to seeing at the end of frustrating days as a stay at home mom. He was the one whose burden I tried to lighten by doing everything for. He was the one I relied on. My husband was the one I loved above all. He was my rock and the cornerstone of our family.
Then my husband left and our world suddenly ended.
My husband told me he was leaving on Mother’s Day and moved out one week later. How do you go from living a nearly perfect life to having the cornerstone of that life ripped out from under you and not feel the effects?
This man who meant the world to me had a life I knew nothing about. Rumors were quickly confirmed as he moved in with a girlfriend who could provide him with something he’d trade all we had built together, including time with his children, for.
The man I loved instantly became a stranger and the man I most feared. I shook and I cried. I yelled and I screamed. I was silent and broken.
I didn’t understand what had happened. I was angry at God for not fixing things and at myself for not having been a better wife. I was angry with this other woman who stole into our family this way, who put her desires above God’s call to Marriage, who forced our children to be resilient and adaptive rather than secure and confident.
I tried to maintain togetherness around the boys but failed more often than not. I was worried about finances and employment and homelessness. I was overwhelmed with shopping and laundry and making meals for five boys. I was heartsick from hiring a lawyer and going to court for a divorce I didn’t want. I was hormonal and nursing a newborn and exhausted beyond measure.
I wanted to give up. I wanted my husband back. I wanted to love. I wanted to be loved. I wanted to be worthy. I wanted the man I’d married to be worthy too.
It seemed neither of us was.
My husband’s sudden abandonment was the greatest gift he could have given me.
That was seven years ago. I write of it now, not because I still live in that darkness of chaos and pain, but to show how quickly and drastically life can change. I went from thinking we had a nearly perfect life to being a pregnant, single mom of five boys with no job and no prospects in literally seven days. I went from having someone I relied on and whom I’d have done almost anything for to having someone who despised me on his best days and couldn’t care less on his worst.
I went from believing in a God who loved us to wondering if God cared at all. I wondered why He wasn’t listening to my cries for help and mercy and justice. I threw back at God the fact that we went to Church each Sunday, that we held hands as we prayed before dinner each night, that God Himself hates divorce and should be saving our marriage.
I was suddenly abandoned by my husband but I also felt abandoned by God.
In truth, God hadn’t abandoned me. He never abandons any of us. By allowing my husband to leave, God freed space to allow me to listen to His call and draw closer to Him.
I’d actually been feeling God’s call to come closer for a while but didn’t have time to respond. God knew how busy I was. All the housework, shopping, cooking, and lawn care fell on me so my husband could continue the job he loved. All the homework, school activities, driving back and forth, Cub Scouts, sports teams, Church activities, volunteer work, everything that comes with parenting four little boys fell on me. I was pregnant and sick from hyperemesis gravidarum with this latest little surprise. We were building our home with my husband as our cornerstone. He needed to be cared for first.
I had no extra time to build a better relationship with God. God would understand. I’d get to Him later, when the house was built, when the kids were older, when I went back to work, when…
And if something happened to me before I got to know God better…
I relied on God’s Mercy & forgot His Justice.
Shortly after that fifth little guy was born, I reached my breaking point. Some of that time is crystal clear while some is seen through a fun house mirror, distorted and misshapen. When and what triggered me to take every Cross from the walls of our home and hurl them across the backyard isn’t important; what is important is that I did.
Later that night however, I crawled on my hands and knees literally and figuratively in the dark searching for those Crosses. I finally realized how much I needed The Lord. I realized I needed to stop living a lukewarm faith and humble myself. I realized I would never see clearly in the darkness I’d unknowingly lived in. I needed to rely on God and nothing else.
I had made my husband my cornerstone. He had been made to bear much of the weight I carried. He had been given the prominent place in our home. He had been the most important part of the life we had built together.
And I thought I had been doing right by doing so. I thought that’s what God wanted in Marriage.
I didn’t realize God was supposed to be our cornerstone.
What I had asked my husband to bear was unfair to him, to our boys, to God and to me, and seven years later, I can look back on his leaving and thank God for it. I can look back at mistakes I made in preparing for Marriage, in justifying sins I’d engaged in, in values I’d compromised, and in what I looked for in a spouse. I can look back with gratitude on having been stripped of what weighed me down keeping me from being who I was created to be. I can give thanks for the sudden abandonment and for that night on my hands and knees in the dark searching for the Cross.
It is a lesson divorced men and women alike can attest to when they stop looking back and start looking up.
Today, about 50% of marriages end in divorce.
One half of all couples will break vows they give their word to keep, and yet, most of us think little of it. Many marriages will shatter quickly. Many more will be crack slowly under pressure caused by the drudgery of life as kids grow older and mid-life reality hits. Divorce is just part of life today.
50% is a scary statistic reminiscent of Sunday’s Gospel reading from the Book of Matthew Chapter 24: 37-44.
Two men will be out in the field;
one will be taken, and one will be left.
Two women will be grinding at the mill;
one will be taken, and one will be left.
One marriage out of every two will make it until, “death do us part,” and yet statistics also show something else. Statistics show that faith and weekly Church attendance drastically lowers those numbers of broken marriages. How much more would those statistics be lowered if deep faith was compared to lukewarm faith? How much could deep faith and drawing even closer to God lighten the load of those who cannot prevent a spouse’s betrayal?
The Gift of My Husband’s Abandonment
In one week I went from thinking I was the luckiest woman alive to wondering how God could allow me to be so hurt by a man again, to feeling completely unloved and worthless, to wondering what the point of my life was, and to feeling totally and completely alone. Abandonment, maybe especially sudden abandonment, is shocking, traumatizing, and agonizing.
And abandonment can be a huge gift.
As I crawled around in the dark, I heard God tell me there would be many others who would go through similar things and feel similar pain. I knew I’d not be the only one of my friends to go through this. I was simply the first.
God was giving me a choice. I could be miserable and continue to be upset about all I lost, all that should have been, and the way life is supposed to be, or I could find a way to reach others in similar situations. I certainly had a right to be angry. Few would blame me if I never managed to look up again, but what good would that do?
I also knew with a striking reality that I was catching a glimpse of Hell and its lack of Love, a glimpse of the burning desire to be loved contrasted with the cold indifference found there. I felt that icy indifference from my husband. I knew that if it hurt this badly to not receive my husband’s love, to not be close to him, it would be exponentially worse to not receive God’s Love, to not be close to Him.
Could We Be Left Behind When it Really Counts?
My husband’s sudden abandonment was a gift in part because it helped me see how easily I could be the woman grinding at the mill, left behind, abandoned. It helped me see how quickly my boys could become the men in the field. We would be again abandoned, not because of what we had done wrong, but because we hadn’t taken time to nurture and grow our relationship with God, because we hadn’t taken the time to recognize His voice or hear His gentle beckoning, because we hadn’t taken the time to notice His Blessings and calls to go deeper in our daily lives.
We would be left behind because we were so busy doing what we do every day that we had counted on God to understand that we didn’t have time for Him or were embarrassed by His request to honor Him or felt too weak to follow His demands for our Good. We would be left behind because we made other people or things our cornerstones and made God a brick somewhere unnoticeable.
What Happens in the Break Down of Marriages?
This happens so often in marriages too. A couple drifts apart because they get tied up in the daily grind. They assume they will have time together one day, but for now children and jobs, housework and activities take the place of time spent building husband and wife relationships. A husband jokes with friends about the “ball and chain” while his wife jokes about how incompetent her husband is. Neither realizes that a careless phrase spoken at the wrong time causes deep damage to the other’s heart. Caught up in their daily lives, they weakly flirty with a sympathetic member of the opposite sex and don’t realize they are setting themselves up to crash and burn. Suddenly the cornerstone that the family was built on isn’t as strong as assumed and the energy and desire to offer unconditional love evaporates resulting in a family that becomes just another statistic.
The end of November 27th’s Gospel Reading says:
Therefore, stay awake!
For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.
Be sure of this: if the master of the house
had known the hour of night when the thief was coming,
he would have stayed awake
and not let his house be broken into.
So too, you also must be prepared,
for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”
I thought about how this Gospel applies to the breakdown of Marriage and how it would apply to my marriage in particular. What role would each of us play and how might I have changed things if I’d understood better? If I’d recognized the other woman as the thief, could I have stopped her from breaking into our home? Could I have made a difference in my life, my husband’s life, and in the lives of our children? If I had stayed awake, would be sending out Christmas cards of the seven of us now?
It’s something I’ll never know. It may have staved off the discovery of his betrayal for a while, but if willpower and morals are underdeveloped betrayal happens eventually.
The other woman could be the thief in passage. She certainly stole our time together, our peace of mind, hope for our future, and many priceless things. The hardest to understand is what the other woman took from our children. She is a thief; however, she is not guilty of stealing away my husband. He had free will. He could have stopped the affair when those first small feelings arose. He was not stolen. He chose to be taken.
I was also a thief. I am most guilty of stealing time from myself, from my children, and from God. I am guilty of building my house around a man rather than around God. I am guilty of making my husband my cornerstone rather than making my Lord and Savior my cornerstone. I am guilty of robbing my own power by not recognizing the Holy Spirit resides in me and with Him I can do amazing things.
I am guilty, not just of continuing my daily life without noticing or giving thanks for the Blessings I receive every day, but for not wanting to be taken by God, for wanting to be left grinding at the mill rather than being swept away. I am guilty of not realizing that there was a better way than what I’d done day in and day out for years, better than what those around me consider normal, better than living the average life.
I am guilty of stealing so much from my boys and me and God, and yes, even from my husband, but I am not guilty anymore. I have confessed my sins. I have paid my penance (probably still am – God’s Justice is as powerful as His Mercy!). I have reconciled with God.
God is my cornerstone.
My foundation cannot be shaken.
If your world has been rocked by divorce, it may not be the curse you think it is. Yes, life is harder. Yes, you may wish to find someone special to love and laugh with. Yes, you may look at intact families and wish for things you will never have. Yes, your life may be very challenging. You may even be suffering greatly emotionally, spiritually, financially, and physically, but you have choices even in your suffering.
You can choose to see the pain or you can choose to use the pain.
You can choose to use the pain to realize this is a wake up call. In this season of Advent, we are called to look back and look ahead, to remember and anticipate Christ’s birth in the manger in Bethlehem but also to look forward to His second coming.
What will He find when He comes again? Who will He see when He looks at you? Will you be the man in the field, continuing on as before, unwilling or seemingly unable to change, to go deeper, to draw closer? Will you be the woman at the mill, grinding away in the hopes of eking out a meager living and surviving another miserable day?
Or will you choose now to be taken when God says its time?
Divorce is a wake up call. It is a tragedy that God can use for good of those who love Him. Recognize the difficulties you face today can free you from earthly pursuits and time wasted in unrequited love. Do not return God’s Love for you as your spouse returns your love for him. Build your relationship. Recognize gifts. Do life differently.
Do not be the man in the field or the woman at the mill who is left behind. If you think divorce hurts, beware of a greater pain and look for the second coming with Joy. Be swept up in faith. Be ready to go.
Make the Lord your cornerstone and then move out into the world ready for new relationships, new hope, and new joy.
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