Love is patient, love is kind. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things . 1 Cor 13:4, 7.
These verses from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians are frequently used for weddings, but what if we prayed these verses in our brokenness over a failed relationship?
It seems impossible, doesn’t it? I know.
My first marriage ended after many years of counseling, therapy, and countless highs & lows. Finding the courage to leave the marriage involved superhuman strength, lots of second-guessing, and agonizing soul-searching.
In the twenty years since the divorce I’ve learned a lot about myself, my failed marriage, the strength and weakness within a family, and love. This knowledge did not come to me quickly, nor did it come painlessly.
I had been married for twenty-five years. I cannot explain how hesitant I am to write that – twenty-five years is a long time. I remember the first time a new acquaintance, hearing that I had been married for twenty-five years, said to me, “Well, it couldn’t have been all bad!” That comment set me back for weeks, doubting myself. I know that she did not mean to hurt me with her words. Maybe she didn’t know that divorce is painful; she had not experienced a divorce herself. Maybe she was even under the illusion, as many people are, that because divorce is common it’s “easy.” But if you are divorced, or are currently struggling in a relationship, you know how torturous a break-up is for all the parties involved – husband, wife, and children.
Regardless of the circumstances, it is possible to not only survive a broken relationship but to come away stronger. For my situation, counseling and spiritual direction made all the difference. With prayer, and a spiritual director who helped me to notice where God was working in my life, I began to truly believe that God loved me in my brokenness. With this newfound unconditional love from God, I had the courage to broach the impossible. I decided to ask my ex-husband for forgiveness. I know that that desire did not come from me – it came from God. God had worked through others to reach me, and I would use that strength to find peace with my ex-husband. God was with me when I apologized to my ex-husband. It was an awkward meeting, but he accepted my apology and even apologized to me. Afterwards, I experienced a freedom that I had not felt for a very long time. Asking for forgiveness helped me to let go of the past.
I am grateful that God brought me to that place of reconciliation. To be clear, it didn’t take away the tension between my ex-husband and me, but I have accepted the tension for what it is rather than as a condemnation of myself. In the years since that day of reconciliation, I’ve wondered why the tension between us persists, and what I can do about it. My ex-husband and I see each other fairly frequently at our grandchildren’s birthday parties, school functions, and athletic events, but a disquieting feeling prevails when we share common space. After each encounter with him, I find myself mulling over this dilemma.
Much to my surprise, God gave me an answer through St. Paul’s words about love. I was able to see that I love my ex-husband (what a surprise that was!). The love that I feel for him is unconditional. It is patient, kind, not jealous, not inflated or rude. It does not brood over injury or rejoice over wrongdoing.
This love that I have for my ex-husband rejoices in truth. The truth that he is the father of my children, and I am so very blessed by our children and the joy of being grandparent to our children’s children. Love in this broken relationship does “bear all things” that come our way.
The love that I have for my former spouse does not impede or interfere with the love that I have for my husband, it has opened my heart to love my husband unconditionally, and it has reinforced for us the importance of open and honest communication in our marriage.
The conclusion of St. Paul’s letter convinces me that understanding how to love following a failed relationship will always present difficulties, but Paul’s words give us hope. St. Paul says, “At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known” (1 Cor 13:12).