Divorced Catholics often experience a feeling of isolation, isolation from family and friends as well as from the Catholic Church. Even among those who want to help, there can be a painful disconnect between the busy intact family’s life and the fundamentally broken life of a divorced family.
Recently, I spoke of my experiences to show how deeply I empathize with the isolation divorced Catholics can experience. I understand the temptation to turn away from the Catholic faith. Looking at things from a different angle may help divorced Catholics understand the basis for our disappointment and feelings of isolation. It may help divorced Catholics understand their vital roles in the Catholic church community. It is easy to point fingers when we are hurting, but before casting blame, maybe we should examine things from all angles.
Why Are Divorced Catholics So Disappointed in the Catholic Church Family?
- Life Has Changed – For years we picture our children as altar servers, lectors, and members of the teen group. We imagined them solemnly learning about the value of life, prayerfully attending the Shadow Stations of the Cross during Lent, and joyfully chasing (or being chased by!) small children at vacation Bible camp. Half the number of weekends does not allow them to do many of the activities we had hoped they would do especially when the absent parent is not supportive of our faith.There is such disappointment, genuine sadness even, in having lost these dreams, but that sadness lies in the death of the hopes and dreams we had for our children and for the way we saw their lives unfolding. This is a sadness born at the severing of our marital bonds and resulting change of our children’s way of life; it is not caused by the Catholic church’s neglecting to provide programs. It is too easy to point fingers when we are hurt, blaming the church for not having programs that meet our needs and our schedules; however, most church programs are run by volunteers with their own families. Asking them to accommodate our schedules may put strain on their families, and that is something we would never want to do.
A better choice would be to begin your own program that is held at a time convenient for you. Churches need outreach programs in many areas. Why not start a kitting group for children, a women’s Christian book study, a floral design class, or a bike riding club? Step up, even when you’re exhausted or think you have nothing to offer. This can be one of the best ways to defeat the feeling of worthlessness that so often accompanies divorce. You may find that, in reaching out to others, you become lifted in unexpected ways!
- Our Friends’ Inability to Relate – Intact families cannot understand the total devastation divorce brings to the heart, soul, and mind of the divorced family. It is fundamentally impossible to “put yourself in another’s shoes.” Just as many of us cannot imagine, nor do we want to imagine, having a sick child, an intact family cannot imagine a broken household divorce leaves behind, and we wouldn’t wish that on them.<brDivorced Catholics must recognize this inability as the inability to empathize and not the inability to sympathize compassionately. The inability to fully comprehend is a a far cry from the inability to care. We must meet our happily married Catholic friends where they are and not allow our hurt or their shortfalls to override the gifts they are capable of offering us. A favorite Christmas song, The Little Drummer Boy, shows us how Jesus accepted the beauty of the drummer boy’s gift without comparing it to what the three wise men offered. Jesus accepts us where we are. Divorced Catholics want our married friends to accept us where we are. We must be willing to do the same with them.
Rather than shutting out happily married couples, we can learn valuable lessons from studying them and applying what we learn to our future relationships. Proverbs 13:20 tells us, “Walk with wise men and you will become wise, but the companion of fools fares badly.” Hanging around with those who live the lives we want to live can help us build wisdom, confidence, and spiritual strength to build successful lives ourselves.
This is the first of a three part series. This post speaks of the plans we, as married Catholics, had made to participate in church activities compared to what we, as divorced Catholics, can now do. It also speaks of our relationships with married lay members and intact families of the Catholic church family. The second part of this series, which will be published at a later date, speaks of my thoughts on the church itself, particularly how divorced Catholics relate to priests and deal with the annulment process. The third post will address the draw other Christian churches have for divorced Catholics.