A friend of mine recently found herself in a terrible situation that was so urgent, she had to swallow her pride and reach out for help. She had to break down and spill the beans about how she landed in that awful place… and there were a lot of beans to be spilled. No one likes to be in that position but most, if not all of us, have been there at one time or another.
In explaining her situation and the events that brought her to that point, she said things like, “I’m deeply ashamed,” and “I’m so very embarrassed,” as if everyone else’s life was pristine and in perfect order, and she was the only one who had fallen short of the mark. But of course, she couldn’t be more wrong. Sure, there were a few choices that could have been made better, but what happened to her happens to a lot of people. Every day. Yet, she was singling herself out as a terrible person, when in fact, it just wasn’t true.
The Scarlet “D”
It often happens that people who get divorced, especially when it is forced upon them, tend to use this same kind of language. They talk about wearing “a scarlet ‘D'” on their chests as if they were outcasts of society, branded by shame and scandal. They often avoid places and events where they will be questioned by someone who isn’t divorced about their situation. Since I’ve been divorced in the past, I can completely understand this way of thinking and it can be especially devastating around the holidays.
Now, if we’re going to have an honest conversation, we have to admit that yes, divorce is scandalous, especially for a Catholic. We know without question that God intended marriage to be for life and I personally believe that knowledge is ingrained in our hearts, which is why when we hear about a couple we know getting divorced, it usually is a shock and disappointment. There is no purpose in getting married if it’s not assumed it will be a permanent and exclusive relationship. This is why the cross of divorce for people who did marry for life and did not want to divorce is so very heavy, and can carry with it a lot of shame.
But, let me tell you something… if you find yourself divorced and feeling this way, please… don’t look at other people you know who aren’t divorced and feel like less of a person because honestly, everyone has something they’re struggling with. Some dark secret, something they don’t want others to know about. As perfect as we try to be in the sight of others, we are all subject to the human condition.
Your cross happens to be divorce. For someone else, their cross is struggling secretly with alcoholism. For someone else, it’s an on-going, bitter battle with family members. For someone else, it’s complete financial ruin and bankruptcy. The list of struggles could go on and they are not necessarily all equal on the plain of morality, but my point is we all have something we feel ashamed about and would be embarrassed for others to know. These are things that can make us feel like less of a person, a failure. But truth be told, these things level the playing field. No one is exempt from struggles and carrying the cross.
The Reason For Our Hope
In those moments when we feel unloveable, unworthy, unredeemable, that’s when the very essence of Advent and Christmas hit home the most… that Christ was born to show us just how loved, how worthy, and how redeemable we actually are. The Creator of the universe deigned to become a helpless infant born to poor parents precisely so he could show you the depths of his love for you! That in and of itself is incredible! But what is even more mind-blowing is that helpless baby will in time willingly hand himself over to be tortured and crucified… for you.
If you are struggling this holiday season with thoughts of upcoming celebrations and family gatherings that make you feel like crawling under a rock until January, I encourage you to hold your head high instead, because the Savior has come for you. Yes, he loves you that much! It matters not what brand of cross you are bearing, or what type of sin you are struggling with; none of that matters. He is here for you.
This Advent and Christmas, leave your scarlet “D” behind and embrace the hope and joy that is real and present for all of us sinners.
Lisa Duffy is the author of many books, most recently A Road To Healing: Daily Reflections For Divorced Catholics, and The Catholic Guide To Dating After Divorce.