What I Wish My Church Knew (About My Divorce)


November 7, 2008. Divorce finalized. That’s my anniversary now. And it’s a very lonely one marked by no one but me. Being part of church community after a divorce can be extremely hard and there are some things I wish I’d been able to say over the last seven years but could never quite find my voice. So these are the things I wish my church knew about my divorce.

I need you to believe me.

When I say that things were bad, I need you to know that what little I’m able to bring out words is a thousand times bigger and darker than what I can manage to express. When I come back to you after the divorce saying I need help to negotiate a way for myself and my children to be a part of the community because my ex has now decided to joined as well, I honestly need your help. It’s not a bid for your attention or some game to slam my ex. I don’t feel safe, whether that’s physically, emotionally, or spiritually doesn’t really matter. Church is meant to be a sanctuary, a safe place, and you are the one I’m trusting to help me find that space. I need practical, pragmatic solutions not platitudes or a lecture. I know it’s messy. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t need your help.

Sometimes I lie when I say I’m okay.

When you ask me how I am, look at me. Really look at me. See the circles under my eyes and the tear stains on my cheeks. Hear the strain in my voice. Because there are days when it’s just easier to say I’m okay than it is to explain why I’m not. I know you really don’t have the time after the service to listen about the umpteenth battle over child support or the way my kids have started talking to me the way their father used to or how much it hurts that the guy who I really enjoyed having coffee with will never call me again because dating a divorced woman with teenagers was more than he wanted to handle. I know you have a hundred other people to say hello to this morning so I’ll say I’m okay even when I’m not. And something as simple as hug or a reminder that you’re there if I need to talk goes a long, long way towards letting me know it’s okay to not be okay.

Just because I’m in pain doesn’t mean I’m bitter or unforgiving.

The pain of divorce doesn’t end when the ink is dry on the divorce decree. And that pain changes over time. But that doesn’t mean I’m bitter or unforgiving. I will celebrate a thousand little victories this year that you will never know about and I find great joy in those things that would be silly or mundane to anyone else. I will change my hair or wear that shade of nail polish or go out to dinner alone and it that will feel like I’ve conquered the whole world, because for me, I have. But you’ll never see that. You will see me flinch when you preach against divorce when we read Mark 10. You will see me cringe when you preach about marriage. You will see my tears when you preach about forgiveness. Yes, I am in pain. But that doesn’t mean I’m bitter. And forgiveness for me is everyday thing. Especially when, because of the kids, I still have to be in contact with the one who hurt me so deeply. Instead of assuming I need to let it go or to move on or that I’m resentful, ask me what hurts and then listen to my answer. Listen to what I don’t say and ask me about that too. I already have a lot of people who make assumptions about my life, so please, please don’t be another one.

I feel invisible.

I hear your sermons on marriage and against divorce. I hear your sermons about relationships, including the relationship with God and how you use a good marriage as your example. I feel left behind as I don’t know what that looks like and I don’t know that I ever will. I see happy couples renew their wedding vows during a service and it’s bittersweet for me. My marriage was real. It no longer exists, but it did once. I went into it with such huge hopes and dreams and when I took my vows, I meant them. Seeing couples who have stood the test of time gives me hope that such love is real and possible and I love that you hold them up and celebrate their love. But I wish the church that offers an annual service for all married couples to renew their vows would also hold an annual service of healing for those of us whose marriages imploded. Give me a litany of my defeats and my victories and let me celebrate that by the grace of God I have survived what I thought would destroy me. Acknowledge that I exist and that my situation is not so uncommon. I know a lifetime marriage is the ideal but show me that I’m not alone and that I still matter as much as I did when I was a married woman. Show my children that church is a place of healing for the broken times in life.

I am more than my grief.

I have been divorced now seven years and one day. I lost everything in my divorce, far more than mere property. I came away with my confidence destroyed, my reputation under attack and my dignity in shreds. But I have worked through my grief. I spent time in your support groups and made retreats with other divorced people. I have spent time in therapy and remain in spiritual direction. I have learned who my friends are and sadly, who they are not. I’ve grown and changed and I’m in a different place now. I’m looking for new ways to connect with people. I want room to grow and a channel for my pain. Give me a space to be constructive, beyond working with other divorced people. See that I am more than my divorce. Let my experiences help to improve your pre-marriage preparation program or your marriage ministry or both. I know where I made my mistakes. Let me share that wisdom. Ask me how my divorce has changed my relationship with God. My answers might surprise or inspire you.

These are only some of the things I wish my church knew. What little I’m able to bring out words is a thousand times bigger and darker than what I can manage to express. It’s a question no one has ever asked me but it’s an answer that needs to be heard. We’re all so many different people in so many different situations in life, sitting in your pews, seeking so many different things and in so many different ways. Maybe it would help if you would ask the question: What do you wish your church knew? And then, without judgment, listen to the answers.

Who Cares?

Who cares…

I wonder that some days. Actually, I wonder that a lot of days. I scroll through Twitter and Facebook. I interact with people I know very well and many I don’t know at all. For almost seven years now, I have kept this blog, not always as faithfully as I would have liked but I’m human and I do the best I can. I’ve shared my ups, my downs, my doubts, my fears, my hopes, my mountaintops, my valleys and my deserts. So what?  Who cares? I’m one woman. I’m no saint. I have no answers to life’s great questions.

And yet, I continue to write. I continue to share my life with not only with those I know well but with those I know not at all.  Why? Because to quote the poet Sylvia Path, “I write only because there is a voice inside me that will not be still.”  I continue to write and to share even when I come under attack.  Why? In the words of comedian Ron White, “I had the right to remain silent. I did not have the ability.”

No really, I don’t. I’m still sifting through my long Twitter exchange with Fr Paul last weekend.  Why not just shut the laptop and walk away?  Why get sucked into a debate with someone with far better credentials than my own?  Why continue to publicly argue about my personal life?  With someone who has no bearing on my life whatsoever?

Because it’s not just me.

I am not the only one.

And somebody needs to speak up.

The funny thing is I had spent last Friday and part of Saturday morning rereading my writings, both public and private, about my struggles over the past year or so. I was preparing to meet with my spiritual director that coming Monday and it has long been my habit to review where I am spiritually and emotionally before those sessions. So when the debate started, I already knew precisely where I stood. I know. I know. Fr Paul will be howling heresy and pride and God only knows what else.

But here’s the rub. I have heard privately from many other women over the past year or so. Some wholeheartedly disagree with me. Some have found peace and wish that I could as well. Some are deeply distressed over the Catholic Church’s teachings. Some consider leaving or already have left. Some stay and continue to struggle, feeling dishonest and disconnected. I don’t try to sway anyone to one way of thinking or another. That is not my place. We all have to wrestle with God in our own way. And let’s face it, He always wins in the end. But the thing that bothers me so deeply is when I hear women say they have no one to turn to, no one to have an honest, open, heartfelt, non-judgmental conversation with about this subject. That is because the attitude expressed by Fr Paul above is the attitude of many in the Catholic Church, ordained and laity.  Who cares? Church teaching is church teaching is church teaching is church teaching. So suck it up Buttercup. Tow the line and shut your yap. Or else…

It seems like someone should care. So I ask, and not for the first time, How do you shepherd women if you won’t hear them?  How do help them find healing when you won’t see the wounds? How do you know what their experiences are if you don’t listen, really, truly listen with a deep and honest empathy? How do you guide women who are too afraid to really say what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling and what they’re experiencing in their relationship with their God?

In many ways, the relationship between individuals and their church is like a marriage. Any marriage has many moving parts, but any good marriage has a solid foundation of trust and love. If one partner cannot speak honestly out of fear of repercussions, trust fades rapidly. As trust fades, the relationship begins to falter.

One cannot truly love without trust. Without trust and without love, the relationship will fail.

So who cares what one individual says?

Who cares if one woman leaves the Catholic Church?

Will you care when two women leave?

Will you care when five women leave?

Will you care when twenty women leave?

When will you care?

Because if there is going to be a real, loving relationship between the Catholic Church and her people, somebody has to care enough to have the conversation.

Will You Hear?


It started with a blog post entitled ‘Ringing Hollow’, which in a moment of sheer brazenness, I not only tweeted the link to but also tagged the Pope himself. The tweet lead to a response from some who saw it. The response lead to a conversation. And then in that one conversation, a nun told me she was seeking new ways to engage the unchurched and unbelievers. It was worded, to my sensitive eyes, as though they were one and the same. I replied with the tweet that started some incredible new connections:

Many unchurched strongly believe in God but not in the churches. Churches have become more about moral codes than love & mercy.

Since that made it’s way around the Twitterverse, I’ve found myself in some amazing conversations with Catholic priests, sisters, deacons and lay ministers and some of other Christian denominations as well. And I keep thinking to myself, these are the ones who should be running the churches. These are the ones who don’t dismiss what they don’t understand. They ask. They listen. I mean they really listen. And while we may not always agree in the end, we have found much common ground. I walk away feeling heard. They walk away understanding some of the issues facing those abandoning the pews. I can’t tell you how much it has eased my pain just to know someone cares enough to even make the effort to try to understand.

But sadly they’re not all like that and I have a few words for those who have only harsh admonitions for ones like me. For just five minutes, for the love of God, please just hear me. After that, go ahead and argue. Call me what you will. Disregard me if you dare. But make sure you’ve actually heard me. Not because I alone matter much, but because I am the voice of many who will never dare to speak up. They will drift quietly away and leave you wondering why your churches are empty.

An Open Letter To The Church:

You speak much but listen little. How can hear me if you don’t listen?
You say we have enough commonality in Jesus. On that I agree.
But if you really believe that, why must I be a cookie cutter of you?
His house is quite big enough for all of us.
I say I feel frustrated by the inconsistency between the total acceptance and love that Jesus taught and what has been cherry-picked to be crafted into strongly enforced laws.
You tell me I don’t see the big picture.
I say divorced people need to be openly welcomed, that not all marriages are sacramental and some needed to end. To find honest sacramental love after a divorce would be an incredible blessing but it shouldn’t be a choice between church and spouse.
You tell me you storm heaven to protect the institution of marriage.
I wonder if you know Jesus unlocked the gates of heaven 2000 years ago and hears my whispers just as much as He hears your racket.
I wonder too if you have forgotten that marriage is more than an institution. It is about very real human beings, and some of them happen to be gay.
I say as a woman I feel sidelined and rejected.
You tell me to go read books written by men that explain my place.
I say women should be ordained, not to be equals to men but to bring balance to them.
You call me a heretic before I can finish my sentence.
I say I feel hurt.
You say go elsewhere.
I say I’ll go elsewhere.
You say I’m sulking.
You say things are changing.
But I no longer listen to what you say.
Did you ever stop to think that maybe I didn’t want to go? That more than anything I only wanted to be accepted, loved and heard.
So now I’ll say this, and hope that you hear me:

I no longer feel safe or nurtured in that which was home. My wounds are too deep. I need time alone with the only One who can heal them. What lays beyond that, I don’t know. Please don’t say I’ve lost my way because I didn’t take your road home. My Shepherd knows the path He’s asked me to walk. You may not recognize it. You don’t have to. I do and little by little He shows me. Truly, it’s a blessing that He shows me so little. If I saw the whole road, I’d likely run screaming back into my assigned pew, duck my head and beg Him to choose someone else.

And if you don’t care what a nobody troublemaker like me has to say, that’s okay. But maybe listen to Fr. Mark who so wisely said,
‘People get lost when love gets trumped.’