5 Steps to Prevent Losing Your Religion
So, you haven’t heard from me in a while. I’m guessing that you didn’t notice, or, if you did that it wasn’t anything you couldn’t handle. One thing I’ve come to know about my blog readers is that you’re a pretty resilient group.
I’ve just been through a process that had me writing (a lot!), just not blog posts. It wasn’t an entirely pleasant experience, but it was certainly well worth it. It was so emotionally charged, however, it didn’t leave me with any extra to give to the blog.
I decided to seek an annulment because I am getting remarried later this year. Any Catholic women out there?
This decision was a complete 180 for me as I had previously written off my identity as a Catholic. Actually, I’d written off being a believer at all. It seemed like God had answered my prayers to save my marriage so many times before- why not that last time? The nagging feeling that surely I had done something wrong and was being punished was hard to shake. It hurt too much to try to figure it all out, and besides, I was suddenly a real adult for the first time in my life, completely responsible for my own, well, everything. I didn’t have time to go there emotionally and I didn’t want to. My faith was shattered and I was sure that if I looked too deeply at myself that I wouldn’t like what I found. There must be some horrible flaw lurking and who wants to see that?
Ironically, at the beginning, I was fine with leaving my faith behind. Immediately after divorce, you have a lot on your plate. You might be moving, opening new accounts, getting a job, all while dealing with a rollercoaster of emotions. You’re almost on autopilot. You’ll be hearing a lot about “reinventing yourself” or creating the “new you.” It is pretty easy to shed parts of you that seem not to serve you anymore.
So here I am a couple of years later, in a completely different situation. Basically, to get the annulment process started, answering a few pages of questions was required. It looked like it would be a challenge, but I had no idea just how big. Once I finally finished, about three weeks later, I had 50 pages of answers written out. Hey, they want a lot of details. Some of the questions were easier than others. Because our courtship and marriage spanned 30 years, it was like a trip down memory lane. As you might guess, the good memories are far more painful to recall than the bad ones. Yes, you read that right.
Looking back at your 23 year old self with 53 year old eyes is probably never easy. Looking back at your 23 year old spouse with your own 23 year old eyes is probably even harder. The questions force you to relive practically every step that you took together. As the recently deceased Emily Webb poignantly asks in Thornton Wilder’s beautiful play, Our Town, “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute?”
No, apparently not. I didn’t and I don’t think X did either. This is the most crushing reality of the annulment process. Looking back at two people who had everything and lost their way was heart wrenching. If you’ve been through this, I applaud you.
Fortunately, in addition to canonically addressing your divorced status, the annulment process can be somewhat of a healing exercise, one which can bring some peace and closure. It isn’t a worksheet with which to point out everything that was wrong with your spouse, indeed, retelling the story of our marriage really showed me places where I fell woefully short. Too many places.
Oftentimes, I think, we don’t go there. We prefer to gloss over our own shortcomings, blaming our ex for all the troubles. Great excuse not to forgive someone if it was all their fault, right?
So, the current reality of my life is having a fiancé who made a choice to become Catholic all on his own. It was the farthest thing from my mind. Funny how God will reel you back in. There I was using my pain as an excuse to stay isolated and safely closed off from that part of me.
I know these feelings apply to whatever faith you practice, or once practiced. The goal of spirituality is openess to love and oneness; naturally when we feel rejected or abandoned it doesn't feel safe to go there. We adopt a gameplan of "letting people in" on a case by case basis. We are cautious. Same way with our faith- if we feel abandoned by God it is hard to open back up.
It has been painful and humbling to go back to the church I attended with X, where our kids went to school, where I prayed so many times for him and our marriage. Yet, at the same time, I’m now experiencing it in a new way with my fiancé. He is excited about his faith journey and inspires me to re-accept mine. I say re-accept because we never really leave our journey, sometimes we just don’t see it for what it is.
One of my shortcomings is a tendency to take the easy way out. Being completely honest with myself, I have to admit it was far easier to say, “Oh, boo hoo, God must have abandoned me so I guess I don’t have to go to church anymore,” than, “Oh hey, this is a really painful part of my life right now. I guess I could choose to trust that everything is going to work out for my good and just let go of the need to know every why.”
That is an oversimplification, yes, but if you think you are mad at God, confused, hurt, and have stopped practicing your faith because it is too painful, please reconsider. Yes, opening yourself up to faith again can be a scary process. It’s like feeling let down by a friend and you really really want to believe in them again, but letting your guard down is hard. And you know they didn’t really let you down, but it hurts all the same. Getting your mind and your heart aligned is not always easy, but in this case I know trusting the process is what I am called to do.
So, recalculating my faith journey to the place where I believe my power really comes from has been intense. More often than not, I sit in Mass with a lump in my throat, but with a lot of gratitude too. For me, seeing this through is necessary to live the truth of who I am, which is what I want to share with all of you. Feelings aren’t always pretty and life isn’t always about being perfect. This is ongoing and it is hard and I want to be as real as possible.
If you are struggling with your faith after divorce, feeling angry, confused or abandoned- you’re totally normal. Here are 5 things to consider:
1. Don’t rush yourself through your feelings. You’ve been through a lot and you’re grieving so give yourself time. Make a point to check in with yourself about this periodically, however. Don’t just write it off “forever.”
2. Talk with a trusted friend that will challenge you wisely. Someone who helps steer you to your purpose.
3. Some of the biggest biblical personalities went through times of isolation, ran away from God or suffered through some pretty major disappointments. Usually, these times preceded a big breakthrough. Think of Martha and Mary- they didn’t get why Jesus didn’t show up in time and they must have been devastated and kind of pissed. Think if you actually hung out with Jesus and He didn’t come through for you. Oh, but then… He did and it wasn’t in the way they expected. Here are a few more: Elijah, David, Moses, Esther… see? We’re in good company.
4. If anything, stick to the most basic- remember that love is what we are made from. My core message to everyone and my mission is to remind people that no matter how hurt or rejected we feel or how angry we are at our ex, staying in a space of love is the most powerful way to heal and stay at the right frequency to move our own lives forward. Shhh! For now just disregard the fact that God is love.
5. Cultivate gratitude for the now- for the learning and growing that you are doing in your desert time.
You’re living life! Realize it- every, every day.