The command is clear: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5: 44). How do you do that when your enemy is the one who swore to love, honor, and cherish you all the days of your life? How do you do that when your enemy knows your vulnerabilities and uses them against you? How do you do that when your defenses are in shambles and you half hope your enemy breaks through his demons and learns to love you again and half enjoy when others say he should rot in Hell for what he’s done?
How do you love someone who has hurt you so deeply and who continues to inflict intentional suffering upon you and, worse, upon your beloved children? How???
Yet, that is what we are commanded to do.
We are commanded to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. It does not end there either. The chapter ends with another seemingly impossible command. We are told to in be perfect.
In a world that increasingly believes in an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, tells us to stay in our comfort zones, and says we should give up on the idea of perfection in favor of “good enough,” abandoned, divorced, neglected, even abused spouses are still commanded to live differently. How do we do that?
Understanding Your Ex’s Need for Mercy
Let me begin by saying, it is significantly easier for me to write this now, almost 14 years after my husband’s sudden abandonment. I remember the intense overwhelm and terror, confusion and anger, humiliation and defeat I felt in those early years. I remember the physical symptoms too: the intense shaking that lasted for months, the vomiting, the sleeplessness that lasted years, the days I literally could not pick myself up off the floor after my children left.
When I look back and retell some of my story to others, it seems impossible to believe the narrative is mine. Yet, I remember it well when I dare to.
I remember being caught speechless when friends said they were praying for my ex. I remember being baffled and wondering why they were praying for him. I remember being angry at times and thinking he did not deserve prayers.
I also remember being incredibly grateful for those prayers.
I was not yet in a place where I thought I could pray for my ex. It was all I could do to pray for our crushed little hearts. I did not have the energy, patience, or compassion to pray for this man who used his power to hurt and betray us.
On some level though, I knew he needed prayers. While we were suffering on Earth, I knew his suffering would be far worse in the afterlife. I am ashamed to say part of me got perverse pleasure when people said he should rot in Hell, but I did. At the same time, I knew I did not really want that to happen.
It was my husband’s abandonment that made me seriously confront the reality of Hell for the first time.
I do not want that for anyone, not even my worst enemy, not even when my worst enemy is the man who promised to provide and protect my children and me.
I also did not want my unforgiveness responsible for putting my husband and the other woman’s souls in jeopardy. As I thought of them facing the Lord’s Justice, I realized the Lord’s Justice would demand they atone for their crimes in Purgatory while the Purity of His Precious Blood would cleanse and renew them even more than He had done for the Saints. I wanted this more than wanting them damned for eternity.
I realized I just wanted them to go away and leave me in peace, but even more, I wanted to know I was worth something. I wanted to believe I was valuable. I wanted to know I could make it in this scary world. I wanted to know I was loveable,
When I slowly came to the realization that I did not have to destroy them to get what I wanted, things changed. I worked on myself. I made a lot of mistakes and harmful detours along the way, but instead of beating myself up for them, I learned to appreciate God’s Mercy and forgiveness.
I looked for examples of safe and good MEN and observed MEN who love their wives and children. From a respectful distance, I began to see what a MAN truly is: his strength used for good, his humility, intelligence, and willingness to grow, his fierceness in defense of who and what he loves, his tenderness when looks at those he protects and provides for.
I looked at these Men with detachment. There was never an instance I wished any of them were my husband. I strongly caution anyone in danger of making that mistake to not make such observations and avoid being led into temptation; however, for me, it was helpful. I began to see the masculine qualities my ex was missing and feel pity for him.
Research has shown that Men want respect above all else. A man who leaves his wife and children, may be a lot of fun, have more money, and seem to experience a great life, but he can never attain the same respect as the Man who sticks out the hard times, humbly sacrifices, and learns to love unconditionally. Through his own choices, a betraying man can never attain what he most hopes for. He has made himself perpetually angry and disillusioned and will seldom do the hard, internal work required to take responsibility for his decisions or change his trajectory. Like a rebellious teen, he prefers to point fingers and cast blame.
The trials of the betrayed spouse help her understand her need for Mercy, but the betraying spouse cannot identify that it is Mercy that he needs.
Loving Your Enemy When Your Enemy is Your Ex
Human love comes in stages. This is true in a dating relationship, in parenting, and in loving your ex.
SIDE NOTE: Moms may be excited or terrified about being pregnant but not all mothers LOVE their unborn babies in the first days after conception. It is often not until hearing the heartbeat, seeing the ultrasound, experiencing childbirth, or sometimes even later, that women feel their heart swell with love for their children. If you are in a crisis pregnancy and do not feel that love yet, do not worry! It will come. Please reach out to me or another who will support you and your little one.
Let’s begin by defining what love is not.
Love is Not…
Our society does not understand love. We use phrases like “love is love” to make love definitionless. We water down the meaning of love and mistake love for sex through phrases like “making love.” This is not “making love.” If we want to classify that action, we might more appropriately call it, “making babies” or, if birth control is used, it is called Russian Roulette.
Love is not definition-less love.
Love is not sex.
Love is not sunshine and roses, rainbows and chocolates, bellies of butterflies and sparks flying.
Love is not pure chemistry.
Love is also not putting yourself at risk. Love does not involve opening your heart to one who does not deserve entry. Love does not involve giving yourself away sexually or compromising in hopes of manipulating your ex. Love does not involve approaching one who wishes you harm. Love does not put yourself at risk of abuse.
Read the above paragraph again.
Love is not donning sack cloth and ashes and letting the world know you piously pray for your ex. It is not approaching your ex or his OW to let them know you pray for them. These actions are sure to reaffirm his reasons for leaving.
Loving Your Ex When He is Your Enemy
Love is not what the world tells us or what we condition ourselves to believe. Love comes in stages. Through each stage, you must understand the pressing need to beg God to give you the fortitude, discipline, and Grace to love and pray for your ex whether you feel like it or not. At all stages, you must humbly submit yourself to God’s Wisdom and Justice and seek to understand and offer His Mercy and Love.
This is not a once and done fix. With each wound of betrayal, you must seek God’s comfort and assistance in loving as He does. Do not be angered by that; be grateful for the opportunity to crawl back to the Lord. Change your internal dialogue from, “I can’t…” and “I have to…” to “I get to…”
Do not wait for the above to happen perfectly. It is a journey of ups and downs. You will circle back to start often. At times you will doubt whether it is worth it. It is!
You begin loving your ex by recognizing your mutual need for prayers. Yes, you and your children need prayers, but so does your ex and the OW. Thank others for praying for them. Seek one or two close friends and ask them to pray for your ex when you cannot. Do not gossip or spread rumors, but ask one or two close, trusted, faith-filled friends to pray in ways you have not yet learned.
Understand the power of yet. It is not that you can never pray for your ex; it is that you have not learned to pray for him yet. This shift in mindset opens you to the possibility of learning and growing. It avoids hardening your heart as Scripture us. This helps you avoid anger and bitterness. It helps you experience gratitude and see hope. This guarded but softened heart is vital to your eternity.
Praying for your ex does not come all at once. You learn to love in stages that require you to act. Like a child learning to walk, you must begin somewhere. It does not happen magically, overnight, or with consistent forward motion.
Prayer requires time in silence and solitude. It comes through seeing yourself in daily Bible reading and topic-focused journaling. It comes through pouring your heart out to God and letting Him heal your wounds. It comes through seeing your own imperfections when you would rather not. It comes from asking God to forgive you when you would rather point out the need for God to forgive your ex.
Never wait to love when you are “ready” to love because few feel “ready.” Instead, love when you recognize the command to love and realize you can do so through prayer.
Finding the Right Prayer to Love Your Ex
Finding the right prayer for your ex can be difficult. If so, do not pray for him but for yourself in a new way.
Pray to empty yourself.
Ask the Lord to remove prayers of retaliation or justification from your mind, soul, heart, and lips. Ask Him to eliminate bitterness, fear, and the desire to affirm your worth.
Understand Satan is not creative. He attacks men through lust, wealth, and power and women through emotions. Those emotions have no place in this humble time between you and your Lord.
Love and prayers for your ex should go deeper than material Blessings. Pray non-material Blessings upon him.
Pray for Wisdom and understanding in the ways of the Lord.
Pray he comprehends what he has done and seeks forgiveness, not from you but from your children and their Heavenly Father, not in your time but in his Father’s and before his final breath.
Pray for a humility and the ability to accept your new life and offer forgiveness and the Lord’s Love and Mercy.
Pray he does not reject eternal Love the way he rejected yours.
Pray he finds peace.
Pray knowing anger and turmoil he exposes reflect inner battles between his soul and his life.
Pray for the unseen war being waged for his soul.
Pray for his Guardian Angel and Saint Michael, Saint Joseph and the Blessed Virgin My Mary, and Jesus Himself.
Pray to the Holy Spirit who conquers all evil.
Pray to meet him in Heaven where there is no Marriage or divorce, where all sin and ugliness has been washed away so we even look different.
Pray without words on days you find no good ones.
Rise to Perfection through Love
After the command to love your enemy, Matthew 5:38-48 closes with the command to be perfect,
And so be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.
In an imperfect world, we must not accept imperfection as our goal as some are apt to do. Our imperfections are meant to bring us back to the Lord for His purification through Confession and Reconciliation. They are meant to help us recognize and work on the planks in our own eyes, not for us to walk around blinking. They are meant to give us compassion and allow us to show mercy to those in need as a reflection of the gratitude for compassion and Mercy shown to us.
The Lord never gives a command we cannot attain. While perfect perfection comes in Heaven, loving an ex offers the opportunity to be perfect in small moments and to rise in perfection. Rising only comes through challenge. Students, athletes, businessmen, all are made better through challenge. Learn to see loving your ex as the same type of challenge with far longer lasting results.
God is unchanging. He does not make or accept excuses. Loving your ex is unconditional. Change the world’s definition of love and use your heavenly Father to define Love and you will be refined, sharpened, softened, and made perfect.
Perfection through Love must always be our target. Although we will miss often, we must know what we are aiming for and seek help from the Lord who is the perfection of Love.
And always remember…you can love because you ARE Loved.
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2 thoughts on “Loving Your Enemy when Your Enemy is Your Ex”
Thank you Kerri~
I have absolutely no idea how your posts are always so spot on – at times, even prescient, to where I am or what I’m thinking about!! My friend calls these ‘GODinstances’ ?
I am 3 yrs out from the day my ex-husband walked out on our 27 year marriage. I’ve known for awhile now that I needed to forgive him – for my own heart and soul, as well as his! I’ve also heard it said that holding onto resentment is like ‘drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.’ However, this is easier said than done – esp when I still half expect to wake-up and realize this was all just a horrible nightmare! I can’t even look at my ex because my heart hurts so much (literally) and my stomach drops every time I do!!
I know that satan wants me to cultivate a heart full of bitterness and resentment – and it would be so easy to let that happen! But that is not what God wants! And it is not what would be best for me – and most especially, would not be best for our kids! But knowing that I need to forgive – and pray for – my ex-husband and actually making it happen are very, very….. different things entirely!
Sometimes when I pray I go through a litany of personal intentions asking God to ‘Please help me be: the Mom you are calling me to be, the daughter you are calling me to be, the sister…, the friend…, the Christian, the employee, etc.” And lately when I’ve prayed this personal litany, I’ve added (with a hard swallow), “and help me to be the ex-wife you’re calling me to be.” I admit to feeling proud – and even a little self-righteous and complacent – that I’ve asked God to be a better ex-wife (honestly I couldn’t have done this a year or two ago so I have made some progress). But in my mind feel like I’m saying, “There God. I did it. I’m being the bigger person. I asked you to help me be a better ex-wife so make it happen. Snap your fingers and flip the switch so I can please move on with my life and crawl out of this pit of despair and self-pity I’ve been in for 3 yrs now!
Yet, in my heart I know that God needs me to do more! I also know that I am not there yet and that’s alright. But I have a lot more work to do! I need to pray now – and pray often – for God to, not only heal the wounds of divorce that ripped through my family, but to also heal my ex-husband in body, mind and spirit! I also need to ask God for strength, fortitude and perseverance to help me forgive my ex-husband, as well as his siblings, for their part in those dark days leading up to and during the divorce proceedings. This thoughtful post has strengthened my resolve to do the ‘more’ God wants me to do.
Thank you Kerri for your poignant and insightful witness! I am truly in awe of all you’ve accomplished!
I am so glad my words had a positive impact on you. Your friend’s word, “God-instances” made me smile. I’ve heard that too but not in a long time and never referring to me as being an instrument in it. Thank you! God really is so good!
I am so sorry to hear about your husband’s weakness and failings and so thankful to know you recognize the need to forgive. Men are so under attack nowadays and women being angry, hateful, bitter or vengeful only make that worse. Yes, he definitely needs prayers and forgiveness.
Forgiving is hard (huge understatement there!). I find it comes in stages similar to love. I forgive little things and then work my way up to bigger ones. I pray for the desire to forgive when I can’t do it outright. I also find it’s circular and I sometimes come back to the same wound and have to forgive again what I’d already thought I’d forgiven.
One of my clearest encounters with Christ and the Holy Ghost was in Church alone one day moaning about something my husband had done. I heard Jesus say He was willing to hang on the Cross until I was willing to let it go, until I thought He had paid the price for the injuries inflicted on me. Every once in a while He’d ask if I was ready to let Him down yet. I’d say no. Finally I understood and stopped thinking He hadn’t understood. In that moment forgiveness washed over me and I got it!
That feeling of forgiveness has lasted but not perfectly. I still need to seek the Cross and forgive again and again and again! This is more true when new blows land on me and I have to work my way through them again. I promise though, the recovery time is MUCH quicker now! Life is good, and God is GREAT!!! 🙂
Your comment about the “Please help me be…” warmed my heart too. I’ve been thinking a lot this season about how in the past I’ve done Lent to “be a better person.” This year, I want to do it to be a better Mom and to be a better CATHOLIC. I’m not changing much about the type of thing I am giving up exactly, but that’s a whole different emphasis.
And ooof to the be the ex-wife you want me to be too. Thank you for saying that. I’ve added it in to my prayers today as well. That’s a tough one. It’s a good companion to the Litany of Humility that I love.
Jenny, I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your writing and how you are working on so many virtuous things. You are accepting yourself and your situation without falling prey to it. I see in you the beauty and strength of surrender that so few bless others with. Thank you for sharing with me. If you would ever like to share your story or a bit of Christian faith on Single Mom Smiling, please let me know.
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