I was 30 years old when I went through my divorce.
I remember one particular Sunday when I was having a rough day. I felt overwhelmed by my feelings of sadness and fear how life would ever be beautiful again. I just wanted someone to see the pain in my eyes and reach out to me. I remember going to church — I just put my head on the pew in front of me and began to weep.
I wanted my Church to support me in what was the most painful experience of my life.
Honestly, there were times I felt forgotten and not cared for as a young Catholic going through a divorce.
Where would I find the resources to navigate this chapter in my life? Were there any support groups I could attend and find a community? What were the books to read that would both help me heal and take responsibility for my part in the marriage?
I am now four years past that chapter in my life and can offer some resources that I have found helpful in my own healing journey when I went through my divorce.
Find a support group
Shortly after I filed for divorce, I knew I was going to need all the support and encouragement I could find. My therapist had shared with me a local support group at her church that existed to minister to divorced Christians. While I was disappointed to see no nearby Catholic Church had a support group, I decided to check out DivorceCare at a local non-denominational church.
The group was such an unexpected blessing to me. I met men and women who uniquely understood the pain I experienced. I received lots of practical resources to help me in daily life. Each week we gathered for a video presentation and then had time in a small group to share and discuss.
Support groups like DivorceCare are so vital to have in parish ministry because divorced Catholics are still a part of the Church. Type in your zip code on the website to see what churches in your area are offering a DivorceCare group.
Read the right books
One of the things that most surprised me is how few books I could find about being divorced and Catholic. The ones that existed were written by older, now remarried women; there was nothing written by anyone younger who was close to my age.
My own search wasn’t any more complicated than searching on Amazon. Two works by Lisa Duffy stood out as being particularly helpful, though: Divorced. Catholic. Now What? Navigating Life After Divorce, and Mending the Heart: A Catholic Annulment Companion.
I found both of these books to be helpful in terms of practical skills and approaches to use in my life as I began my healing journey. I specifically appreciated the annulment companion book because I did have some anxiety and uncertainty about beginning the annulment process.
Go to counseling
On some level, I think all of us need to go to counseling at some point in life, but that is especially true after a divorce. Going to counseling helped me take responsibility for what I did wrong (and dragged with me!) in my marriage, while also giving me tools to deal with my emotions, triggers, and pain.
It is unfortunate we still have to break down this stigma around mental health and going to therapy. You are not bad or weak if you need help you work through painful things in your life. To say, “I need help and cannot do this on my own” is a brave and honorable thing to do. It’s actually a sign of strength because you are putting yourself in a position to be more resilient.
Do not allow anyone to make you feel weak about your need to go to counseling.
Seek to forgive
This was one of the most important healing lessons I learned through my own divorce: asking the Lord to give me the desire to forgive my former husband.
The amazing thing about forgiveness is we cannot do it on our own — it’s not something we can just push through and achieve. We can only forgive people who have wronged us with God’s grace and help. If it were up to me, I would have rather seen a semi-truck back over my former husband a few times. That’s a joke of course, but I know that I need God’s help to forgive when I’m still in so much pain.
I began to realize I was struggling with this concept, and so a priest friend encouraged me to start to ask Jesus each day to give me the desire to forgive, even if my heart was not fully there. Those were the first steps toward freedom for me.
Praying for the desire to forgive my former husband did not magically change things overnight. But in time, my heart softened and changed; and deep down, I did want to forgive and have peace in my heart about the situation.
One of my favorite quotes from Pope Francis is the analogy he gives of the Church as a field hospital after battle: The thing the Church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds…
There are many wounds today in our world, and divorce is a particularly painful one. If you or someone in your life is navigating life as a divorced Catholic, know that the Church is a home for the wounded and hurting, not a place for people who have it all together.