Hey! Shhhhh. Can you hear that?
It’s the sound of family arriving, clinking glasses, children’s laughter, and cheerful music. It’s the sound of the holidays. Most people love this sound, but if you’ve experienced a great loss in your life, especially divorce, this sound can often bring with it a sense of dread.
It’s easy to feel lonely in the celebratory crowd and difficult to keep a sincere smile on your face if you’re divorced during the holidays. When I look back on the years I spent as a single divorced woman, I can still feel that familiar pain that accompanied me to every single holiday gathering. But fear not, because things change and healing does happen. Despite the memory of that pain, I also see how far I’ve come over the years and how much bearing that heavy, heavy cross has changed me for the better; made me stronger.
There were many things that helped me handle those emotions during that time such as regular spiritual direction, finding volunteer opportunities that would take the focus off myself and put it on other people, getting enough sleep and exercise, etc. But what helped me the most was this simple step: contemplating the fact that God didn’t create me to flounder in a mediocre life, he created me for a distinct purpose. The truth was there was so much more to my life than being divorced.
My divorce was only something that happened to me, it didn’t define me. God still had good things in store for me, and my job at that point in my life was to carry my cross with as much love as I could until a new chapter of my life would begin. It meant embracing the idea of being magnanimous.
Pope Francis has reminded us about the very same thing:
What does it mean to be magnanimous? It means to have a big heart, to have a great spirit; it means to have great ideals, the desire to do great things to respond to that which God asks of us, and exactly this doing of daily things well, all of the daily acts, obligations, encounters with people; doing everyday small things with a big heart open to God and to others. It is important, therefore, to tend to human formation aimed at magnanimity. – Pope Francis’ address to Italian and Albanian Students, June 5, 2013
For anyone whose heart has battled the discouragement of divorce, Pope Francis’ words offer hopeful consolation. He encourages us to do the everyday small things with a big heart open to God and to others. Yes, even divorce presents opportunities to practice the virtue of magnanimity.
Where Do You Begin?
So, how do you practice the virtue of magnanimity when you just don’t feel up to it or doubt you can be successful at it, because, let’s be honest, sometimes the little details in everyday life are precisely what is making you feel so angry, depressed or out-of-sorts. How can you live these with great love? First and foremost, ask God for His help because you don’t have to do it alone. He doesn’t want you to do it alone! Ask God for the courage to try, for the strength to make progress in this area. Then, think about some practical ways you can work on this.
For example, you might make a resolution to greet everyone with a smile despite the fact you are feeling sad, lonely, or stressed out. In doing something like this you have to remember that your emotions will still try to get the better of you and you may be tempted to become discouraged. But don’t allow yourself to do that. Just imagine the progress you can make if you at gave it your best try.
At family gatherings, you might place your own cares aside during conversations and listen intently to another person’s complaints and offer some supportive words or even a little friendly motivation. If you think about your own personal circumstances, there are many ways you can live these ordinary, everyday things with an open heart.
One very important way you can practice the virtue of magnanimity this holiday season is by asking God to bless you with the grace of detachment. Detachment from all the past hurts and painful memories and the grace to realize how precious a gift it is to be able to say, “I have loved,” and then pick up and move forward. Allow your experiences to shape you into a more compassionate person. When you live the virtue of magnanimity, you experience what true love is all about — selfless service of others.