I was married for 23 years. I never expected my marriage to end before “death do us part.”
I also never expected that my divorce would bring me closer to God.
It might not be the result that anyone expected, considering I barely went to church for nearly a year after my husband and I split. It wasn’t a conscious decision. I was working long hours starting my own business and would come home to a sixth-grader who needed my help navigating the drama of middle school and dealing with her own issues from the breakup of our family. By Sunday, I was tired.
A trip to the bathroom at 2 a.m. was what woke up my tired brain. I would lie awake for hours. On occasion, I’d glance at the clock and feel panic creep into my chest as I quickly figured out how little sleep I would get before the alarm would go off and the day would start.
By the weekend, I needed to emotionally recharge to face another week, and I wanted to do it in my pajamas. When I was in high school, my mom used to shake her head when I would come down dressed for church in jeans and a sweatshirt. There is no way I could pull off pajamas in church in my 40s. So I didn’t go. I cuddled in the morning with my daughter. I made big breakfasts and we talked. I got caught up on laundry and other life things I had neglected during the busy week.
The few times I did go, I would sit in the pew and cry. I’m not sure why. Sometimes it was just because I was sad. Sometimes it was because I felt God was with me, and I wasn’t sure what to do with that hope in the midst of the darkness. My daughter would put her hand on my back and her head on my shoulder. I can only imagine what other people in church thought.
Actually, what I imagined was probably worse than reality. Sitting there, surrounded by couples and smiling families, my anxieties bubbled over. It wasn’t that the congregation didn’t support me, it’s that I didn’t give them the chance. They didn’t know what was going on, and I didn’t know how to reach out, fearing the stigma of divorce as a Catholic.
To say it is overwhelming to face life as a single mother after being a wife for nearly two decades doesn’t adequately describe the massive uncertainty and responsibility that envelops you. When my marriage was in crisis, I prayed and asked God for guidance.
In North Carolina, you have to be separated for a year before you can file for divorce. During that time, I prayed for a miracle. I prayed my husband would have an aha moment and decide our marriage was worth saving. I prayed for the right words to help my daughter cope. I have always prayed. But this prayer was more raw and more important to me than any others I have ever spoken.
I kept my head above water by focusing on the next right thing in every moment. I worked hard to clear out the noise of the day, even the advice of friends and family, and just listen to the quiet voice deep inside my heart. As long as I can remember, my mom always called that the Holy Spirit. I used to roll my eyes when she said that, but now I felt it. She was right.
When my marriage ended, I was devastated. I grieved like it was a death. I was angry, but I never felt alone.
Faith comes easy when life is good. The harder life gets, the more faith is tested. My toughest test came when I was 46 years old. There I was, leaning on the foundation my parents had given me as a child: My parents always took us — all six children — to church on Sundays. I couldn’t whine or complain my way out of it. I don’t ever remember my mom saying she was too tired to go. With six kids, how could she not have been exhausted?
My divorce didn’t bring me to God. It reminded me of his grace. I have seen the way God walked my parents through their own struggles and how he protected my siblings in theirs. Now, in my own suffering, there he was again.
Suddenly, it struck me one morning that these months are as critical for my daughter’s soul as they are for mine. While I have been nursing my wounds, I may very well have been keeping her from what she needs.
As much as I’d like to think my daughter will never face heartbreak or struggle, she will. We all do at some point. When it’s her time to face a failed relationship, a lost job or a health issue, I want her to have the foundation that I had. I want her to know that God is with her when it feels like no one else is. I want her to believe that she is more than her circumstances. I want her to trust that His plan is better than any we can dream up ourselves. I want her to listen to the quiet voice inside for guidance.
So my daughter and I are going back to church. I may or may not cry, and I will likely be tired. But we will go.