Could your ex be a more grateful believer than you are? When you think of your ex, what comes to mind? For many, it’s the way he treats you now. Words like, jerk, idiot, and worse come to mind. The phrase, “My spouse is…” is rarely follow the phrase, “a strong and grateful Catholic, a Good Christian.”
The idea that an abandoning spouse may be a more grateful believer than the faithful spouse is almost hard to imagine, and asking such a questions seems ludicrous! Memories of things he’s done to you and your children, of friendships torn apart, and of hardships you’ve been forced to face alone play across our minds like tired, old home video from the 70’s without the sweet nostalgic touch.
When we think of an ex, we are tempted to cry out to the Lord for vengeance as so many in the Old Testament did. It’s tempting to want to tell God about the horrors this person’s actions have brought down upon our hearts, our minds, our bodies, and, worst of all, our children – as if God didn’t already know! We pray for the conversion of our spouses and of their cheating partners, but we don’t really believe that conversion will ever happen.
At some point in the midst of our lives being ripped apart, we realize we have two choices. We can continue to be torn apart and broken by someone else’s choices. This eventually sends us spiraling down a path of anger and bitterness, or we can choose to hand our brokenness over to God. We can look back at wrongs we’ve committed and seek forgiveness from those we have harmed and from God. We can give God full control over rebuilding who He Created us to be before we went down our own paths. Those who choose to allow God to rebuild their lives emerge more grateful than ever imagined possible.
Sure, life has ups and downs and gratitude doesn’t mean we are never touched by anger, loss, or sadness. Having an affair, even when the affair is “justified” by a later marriage, is wrong, and the pain that affair brings is real and right. Pain of divorce tells you divorce was not meant to happen just as pain from touching a hot stove tells you that touch was not meant to happen. You may have temporary moments of backslides experienced in shaken confidence and self-doubt for years to come, but overall, you realize how much better off you are now with God close by your side than you ever were with a cheating spouse in your bed.
You realize that you would never take your spouse back the way he is now. You realize that the person he has become is totally unattractive in every possible way. You realize that, although you would never have chosen the path of divorce, part of you is selfishly grateful for the free will that allowed him to choose his sin over God’s Love because, before he was dragging you down with him and you just didn’t see it while now his leaving freed you to run in the opposite direction, the direction your soul has always longed to go.
When you’ve accepted your divorce and moved on in God’s Love and Grace, life just looks different, and it’s hard to imagine being more grateful than you are for the Love of God. It’s hard to imagine anyone, much less your ex being more grateful than you are, but with God all things are possible.
A person leaves his Marriage not just because of his inability to love completely and sacrificially, but also because of his inability to use his God-given imagination. An abandoning spouse cannot imagine life getting better. He lives for himself and the moment and sees only his misery. He cannot accurately predict the future and so sees nothing but the hardships he currently perceives. He cannot imagine a time when children are not so needy. He cannot imagine a time when the two of you reconnect on a deeper level without exhaustion and financial burdens. He cannot imagine anyone else ever went through what he feels and overcame those feelings by finding Joy within his Marriage. He cannot imagine he is strong enough to do so.
While some think imagination is just imagination. I see imagination used for Good as Hope, and it is imagination and Hope that allows us to question whether our ex spouses may one day be more grateful than we are. We know through God all things are possible but we have difficulty imagining our spouses ever genuinely admitting they were wrong, facing the harm they inflicted, or seeking genuine forgiveness. Their sins are so great, we might have a hard time forgiving them in part because we have a hard time imagining (Hoping) the forgiveness they seek is True. We have a hard time because their sins are so great and the harm they’ve inflicted is so long-lasting that it affects not just them but generations that follow.
And yet, that is precisely what makes it possible for them to become more grateful Catholics, more grateful Christians than even the loyal spouse.
In Sunday’s Mass readings, we see the sinful woman greeted by Jesus at the pharisee’s table. We see her clean Jesus’ feet with her tears and dry them with her hair, and we see the pharisee thinking that Jesus could not possibly be a prophet since He greeted the sinful woman so kindly (Luke 7:36-8:3).
In our gratitude, we must be careful not to become the pharisee. When we cry out for vengeance, we must be careful not to think Jesus doesn’t already know the sins of our spouses. We must be careful not to mistake Jesus for our friends or former in-laws who don’t understand or who embrace the sinner living with sin because it makes the sinner “happy.” Jesus already knows the sin and its evil affects, just as He knew the sins of the woman at the pharisee’s table.
We must also be careful not to fall to the same issues that caused our spouses to leave their Marriages, abandoning their families but also their word and their God. We must not lose our imagination, our Hope. We must remember that God works in His own timing and that we don’t need to be privy to what He is doing behind the scenes in the lives of our exes and their new partners. We must hold onto imagination, hold onto Hope that it is possible for our spouses to seek genuine forgiveness. We must remember that genuine forgiveness doesn’t need to be sought from us as much as it needs to be sought from God. We must Hope that our exes choose to imagine a day when they live without their burden of choosing sin. We must Hope they pursue that dream.
We must remember that Love, true Love, is sacrificial and unconditional and has little to do with how we are treated and everything to do with what Jesus did on the Cross. We must remember that no matter how grave the sins committed against us and against our children are, they are not bigger than Jesus.
The sins committed by an adulterous, abandoning spouse are horrific and damage him more than anyone else. If we are to truly claim to Love our spouses ’til death do us part, we must find a way to Love unconditionally and sacrificially even after the Marriage is abandoned. We must live believing there will be a day our spouses turn to Jesus, broken, crying, drying the Lord’s feet with whatever they have, and we must know that He will forgive them. We must live with the Hope that they will feel, gratitude even beyond what our sins have gifted us with. We must Hope our exes feel the gratitude of the sinful woman because the alternative is just unthinkable.
We must pray our spouses are even more grateful than we are. That takes God-given imagination. That takes Hope. That takes Truth. That takes Jesus.
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