There is a real feeling of abandonment for many who experience divorce. In previous articles I've spoken of how we loose family members and friendships in the midst of a divorce. And for many there is nothing more painful than loosing your faith community as well. When raised in a faith community we are told that no matter what, God forgives all sin, and loves us through all our difficulties. Why then do many people going through divorce experience shame and abandonment from their faith communities?
In our divorce recovery groups we discuss this strange phenomenon, and attempt to unfold the origins of it. A common theme shared is a family history of shame messages. For some this shame has been handed down for generations of what not to do. "You just don't get divorced", a female member of the group shares. "No one in our family has ever been divorced", another states. Or have you ever heard, "God hates divorce". Not very helpful statements to anyone suffering from the effects of divorce.
After experiencing two divorces myself I am very aware of the shame cast upon those who fail in their marriage relationship. I felt like an outcast by many including the parish community I grew up in. Compassion, it seems, is saved for those who loose a spouse to death but not to divorce. But I am going to say this, that the Church in all her infinite wisdom is not here to shame anyone, we do a perfect job of that on our own. Unfortunately adults who have not experienced divorce don't know how to talk to those who have. Divorced people are first judged, then a big scarlet "D" sticker is placed on their foreheads sounding an alarm for all to see and hear, "Divorced person approaching!! (Loud bell clanging) Warning! Warning! Smile awkwardly and don't engage in conversation!! Warning!"
So for those who don't know any better, they shame. I do believe that the church has failed those who are divorced, however, not everyone in the church does this. With that said, there are those of us who are working to correct that. Pope Francis is taking quite a bit of heat in statements made regarding the church's stand on marriage and divorce. I've included a couple articles below. https://cruxnow.com/vatican/2017/02/24/divorceremarriage-pope-says-keep-justice-mercy-together
His stand is one of love, forgiveness, justice and mercy. Christians are called to live a life of justice and mercy.
But some modern day Christians, as well as the ancients in scripture, are still taking the word of God and using it as a tool to control or manipulate others. Jesus was well aware of how the pharisees used the word of God to judge others, "You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." (Matt: 7:5 NASV)
Francis states in his article featured in CRUX that we need to focus on mercy and justice, which is what Jesus did. Jesus took his time answering questions, and redirected those questions back on those who's thinking was black and white, all or nothing. Which is a dangerous way to think.
Shame messages have been handed down by authority figures for many hundreds of years, this does not mean these messages come from God. Sadly, possibly due to poor teaching, many people leave their faith tradition when they need it the most. Self included. But I did need to leave in order to truly find my faith. I returned with a renewed sense of what faith means and that did not include shame. God was, is, and always will be present to us. We can ask ourselves this question; am I willing to slow down enough to trust a higher power (Some call God), to listen closely to that higher power, and to change how I live, how I love, and how I treat others? Ponder this for a few moments.
Some traps we can get caught in: (just a few, there are many)
1- Doing the right things at the right time
2- Comparing and Competition
3- Practicing a quasi faith
Doing The Right Things At The Right Time
Are you doing all the right things at the right time? I hope not. What I mean is, I hope you are not placing that kind of burden upon yourself. We can do our best by setting a moral compass to live by and then live the consequences of our choices. Choices that can range from a great choice to really bad choice. We may need to reset our moral compass from time to time based on what we experience in life, and, if we are growing spiritually, what we will hear from our inner voice will be the Holy Spirit guiding us.
My moral compass today is not the same as it was in my youth nor is it the moral compass of my neighbor or the family down the road or anyone else. It certainly is not the moral compass of society. Here in lies the challenge. Identifying how I am going to live? And what standards do I set for myself to measure that by? If I say I am living a life of faith then I need to include those guidelines into my everyday life. I cannot measure myself against others, I need to own my own choices.
Comparing and Competition
Don't get caught in the comparing trap. Conversation between parents seems to be very limited and competitive today. I am not good at small talk so I probably sound short or sarcastic when someone engages me in conversation that has no meaning. I usually don't say too much, give short answers and do not get sucked into, "so how are your kids?" That is a green flag to receive all the latest crap about their kids that I don't care to know. I'm not cold, I just don't care if your kid is in eight different extra curricular activities and you are so exhausted because all you do is run them from activity to activity. I don't know how to answer so I will look at you while you are telling me your story, zone out on half of what you say and listen for the deeper story you are trying to tell me. When someone talks on and on about their kids and every activity they are involved in this is what I hear, " I am really lonely, I don't know who I am and I feel like a chauffeur. My husband and I don't connect on an intimate level and our kids are the only glue holding it all together right now."
I can see the pain in parents faces as they put on the competing gloves. A bead of sweat starts to roll down one mom's forehead as she engages in the battle of comparisons. "Molly does, this and this and that and is on the honors list" says one mom. "Well our Jenny is doing this and this and THIS, and is on high honors!" exclaims another. "We are going to Disney for the 50th time", says the first mom. "And we are going to Paris this year before we take a world tour!" says mom #2. It is that silly. Who beats who at the numbers game. The old one-up! I simply can't or never could engage. And when did birthday parties get so out of control? I think I remember having one party growing up. ONE. And I never cried myself to sleep thinking I was deprived because I didn't get a party every year and a ton of gifts that I would forget about the next day. It's a game of who can one-up everyone at the party, one-up career, one-up husband, one-up house, one-up toys, etc. It never ends. When will the one-ups get tired?
We have become a society of human-doings. We've forgotten how to be human beings. We don't know how to just be present or how to be OK with simplicity, or silence. Every moment of every day needs to be full of activity. Divorce is on the rise and we wonder why. One of my mother's favorite scripture passages was, "be still and know that I am God." (Psalm 46: 10)
When she would recite this psalm out loud, and she did often, she would emphasize the "I am God" part. A closer translation of these words from the Hebrew into English is, "have no anxiety at all, and know that I am God" Isn't it interesting how God knows our inner being?
Are we too afraid of the quiet? Of slowing down enough to hear God? When I hear someone spewing their busy calendar I can't help but feel like it's a smoke screen for being too busy to attend church or attend to one's faith. I know I did. Is it possible that we ignore God because we are so broken, lost and afraid to hear what God has to say? The words fear not, or do not be afraid are in scripture more than 365 times. Not a coincidence. The constant comparing trap is easy to enter and difficult to exit from. Be careful.
Practicing a Quasi Faith
Are you practicing a new quasi faith whereby you can attend and serve at certain times of the year but the rest of the time God knows how busy you are so you get a pass? Either you have a faith practice or you don't. That choice is up to you, so get off the fence. I know, sounds a little harsh right? I'm not trying to be harsh but I was once in that place where I couldn't slow down enough to hear God's voice. I didn't want to. I had shame, guilt, and grief enough to last a lifetime and share with others! I wanted to blame something or someone so my second easy target (first being my ex spouse) was the church. All I heard were shame messages and I don't know if that was real or not. I remember carrying so much guilt for my failed marriage that I couldn't see past the guilt. I took the burden on and wouldn't let go, couldn't forgive. The church was a great place for me to dump my anger. And because no one in the church had answers, that made it even easier to dump on. I became a pharisee in my own non-church going way. And I found that it was not hard to find people to agree with me.
I spent the next twenty years finding ways to stay away from the church, at least the church I knew. And God, in all his infinite love and wisdom, waited quietly for me. Free will allowed me to fail, allowed me to keep busy, allowed me to make money and allowed me to be in a whole lot of pain. One day I knew my life had hit a wall and I couldn't ignore it or work my pain away any longer. I finally had to let go and allow a higher power to take over! My story isn't anything new, it's as old as the woman at the well or the people in the courtyard ready to stone a woman to death who was caught in adultery. (I wonder who she was caught with?)
We all will come to a point in our lives where we have to change something or everything! We can't keep motoring through and pointing our fingers at everyone else. When we start to own our pain, own our choices and take a solid inventory of what is messed up, then we can start a new path, a new life. My path happened to go toward God. And the more I heal, the closer I get to knowing, hearing and seeing God work in my life. Life is good now, really good! The work, however, is never done. I continue to heal, I continue to move forward, I reset the compass from time to time to make sure I am on a right course. The course God sets for me.
It is very easy to loose ourselves by trying to be someone we are not. When we go unhealed we can get caught in many traps that keep us "busy" and very popular busy traps are work and career. Constant achieving, and climbing the corporate ladder while commendable and somewhat healing will not heal us completely. Busyness will delay the healing process, and will exhaust your inner spirit by just by blocking what needs to come out.
There is an initial sense of satisfaction after a promotion, a raise or even a new career. But much like shopping this feeling is short lived and we will still be left with our pain. Meaningful volunteer work has been a life saver for many. If you don't have a parish home there are shelters of many kinds to serve in. Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCA, local community centers,etc. Helping those who have less is a humbling experience. It allowing you to see what you do have, and what is good in your life. My hope is that you can seek out a faith practice, or meditation practice that will help strengthen you and guide you to a place of healing and moving forward.