We are ankle-deep in the Lenten season, and if you are divorced, you may be having a difficult time getting your feet wet because of the “sacrificial” element of Lent. It’s easy to look at the circumstances of your life and say, I’m already sacrificing enough! Everyday without my spouse, every day having to bear the pain and hardships that come from being divorced should be enough suffering for everyone! Maybe you’ve lost your children in the court battle, your home, your job, even your friends because of the divorce. It makes sense you might be feeling as if you should be exempt from making more sacrifices. Who can blame you for wanting to boycott Lent? Certainly, not I.
Yet, the dilemma remains.
So, how can you live Lent in a positive, transformative way despite the circumstances of your divorce? First of all, let’s remember a Lenten sacrifice isn’t always giving up something. Sometimes, it’s adopting a virtuous behavior. Before you make a decision, my suggestion is to begin with this little reflection to help you make up your mind…
In the gospel of John, we read that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb on Easter Sunday and found it empty. Her love for Jesus was so great and her suffering over his death was so intense that when she saw his body was gone, she wept, much like the weeping you’ve done over the loss of your spouse and marriage relationship. Mary’s grief was so powerful, she did not recognize Jesus. But, when Jesus approached Mary, he said, “Woman, why do you weep? (John 20:15)”
Jesus is also speaking to you in this passage: “Why do you weep?”
You weep, of course, for what you have lost just as Mary Magdalene did. You weep for the loss of your marriage and for all the suffering that has come with it. But, remember Mary’s grief was turned into joy when she recognized Jesus, and you can have this experience, too, through drawing close to Jesus in your suffering and keeping in mind what he said in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 9: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”Those are powerful words. Who in your life needs mercy from you the most? Your ex-spouse. So, instead of giving up coffee, or chocolate, or Facebook, why not live this Lent by showing acts of mercy and kindness to your ex-spouse? I know the desire for justice in a situation where you’ve been unjustly hurt can make my suggestion seem like an outlandish idea, but you’d be amazed at how your life can change for the better when you treat your offender with mercy and kindness.
For example, there was a time in the months that followed my own separation and divorce from my spouse where he and I could not hold a civil conversation in person or on the phone. There was so much anger and bitterness between us and every time we had to talk, it was 0 to 60 in a split second; yelling and shouting, finger pointing and accusations, and many hurtful words. My participation in these emotional firestorms was just as much to blame as his instigation of them, so I made a conscious decision to change. I resolved not to raise my voice, not to use hurtful words, but to discuss the issue at hand with a calm and level-headed tone.
It might seem like a small step to some, but it was the best way for me to show mercy in a situation where I craved justice. I had to pray hard for the grace to do this and can honestly say, it was the last thing in the world I wanted to do. It was all God’s grace that made it possible and like all of God’s gifts, it had a profound change on the foundation of our brittle and bitter relationship. Conversations became civil. Tensions subsided. Words became productive again.
There are numerous ways to show mercy to your ex-spouse, and you might benefit from my example. But remember, anything you decide to do should be something that affects a change in your own heart; something that will help to bring about true repentance so you can be blessed with the joy and the peace you are seeking. And by the time Easter rolls around, you will be able to experience that deep joy Mary Magdalene did when she recognized Jesus because your heart will be transformed through your simple acts of mercy.