Recently, I went on a powerful retreat put on by the Diocese of Arlington called “Recovering Origins: A Unique Healing Program for Adult Children of Divorce.”
While we are all indeed wounded, this retreat focuses on themes relevant specifically to adult children of divorce and attempts to isolate and work through the particular wounds associated with those who have divorced parents. Feeling ignored for many years due to societal pressures and shifting cultural norms, the group on this retreat seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief: “we are finally being seen.”
It would indeed take many pages to delve into the issues that we as adult children of divorce carry, and there has recently been quite a bit of literature on the subject. While this is not the forum to add to this literature, I will say that this retreat, and those participating, left an incredible impression on me.
This group of people were quite possibly the most sensitive, respectful, empathetic, faithful, and encouraging group of people I have ever encountered. In all of our discussions about the wounds we carry, there was an air of kindness, understanding, and respect. Had I met these people outside of this retreat, I never would have guessed the depths of the wounds they carry.
Through our discussions, one major thing I realized that was common among the group was that they did not recognize in themselves the profound goodness that I saw in them. Through the mess of their parents’ divorces, I sensed a loss of knowledge of their own inherent goodness.
What is important about the word inherent? It is important in that it calls on us to remember our divine filiation; that we are first and foremost adopted children of God and we receive our goodness, identity, and worth through this fact alone. God created us in His goodness, not because He needed us, but because He wanted us. This is what is inherent in each of us— this divine filiation, this belonging to the Creator of all creation. This, indeed, is our core identity—but it often gets lost in a child when their parents go through a divorce. This retreat, I believe, helped us to recover this important fact.
Don’t we all, in some way or another, feel this loss of our identity, of our inherent goodness? I suspect the answer is yes.
If so, how do we move forward?
First, I believe we start by recalling—daily if we have to—that our core identity, goodness, and worth is rooted in Jesus Christ through divine filiation. We can do this through spiritual practices such as quiet prayer, Gospel reading, or Adoration. Second, as I learned on the retreat, we must have mercy on ourselves for how we reacted or behaved during our most painful moments. We must not underestimate ourselves nor our feelings, but rather appropriately grieve through them by allowing the Father to walk with us as we do so. And lastly, it is important to allow the Father to gaze at us with His love, and let that love transform our wounds into strengths. In these ways, you will “recover the origin” of your identity as a son or daughter of God, and live fearless, bold, Christ-centered lives, regardless of whether you are an adult child of divorce or not.
For more information on the Recovering Origins Retreat and the Life-Giving Wounds ministry, please click here.
The Latin word for mercy is misericordia, which is formed from two other Latin words: “miseriae,” which means misery or suffering, and “cordia,” which means heart. One could thus say that the mercy of God draws misery out of a person’s heart. It is of the nature of mercy to therefore heal wounds. The mercy we are speaking about here is broader than the reception of forgiveness from God and granting forgiveness to others. It includes all of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, which are also aspects of God’s very own love for us. As Pope St. John Paul II once said, “Mercy is love’s second name.” However, in this brief post, I’m going to focus on that aspect of mercy we are the most familiar with – forgiving and receiving forgiveness.
I am an adult child of divorce, so I have seen first-hand what the lack of forgiveness can look like. I believe that divorce typically involves one or both parents withholding mercy. There are, of course, other complicating factors for the divorce, but I believe there is usually a failure of mercy somewhere in the relationship. I knew I did not want to repeat the mistakes of my parents, so I took a long look at mercy and examined how it might be a key to love and to healing wounds.
In terms of love, I have always been struck by the beautiful reality that Matthew 19, which is Christ’s strongest teaching about the indissolubility of marital love, is preceded by one of Christ’s strongest teachings on mercy in Matthew 18, where he exhorts his followers to forgive 77 x 7 times. This number is a symbolic way for saying, “infinitely and unconditionally.” The proximity of these two teachings in the Bible suggests that the form of indissolubility is merciful love. Merciful love is not optional in relationships, but the foundation for its long-term success. Offering forgiveness gives a new beginning to the one who offends and helps relationships build from injuries that inevitably arise in any relationship, even great ones. As Ruth Graham, the wife of the recently deceased protestant minister Billy Graham said, “Marriage is a union of two good forgivers.”
To offer forgiveness in the radical sense Christ is proposing here, we need to experience Divine Mercy ourselves. We can do this by going frequently to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and understanding what is occurring. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we receive unmerited forgiveness from Christ. He does not owe us forgiveness and yet he forgives. He also always forgives us despite the number of times we repeatedly fail at the same sin. “Christ never tires of mercy,” Pope Francis reminds us. And Christ forgave us while we were sinners before we were even repentant and able to receive that forgiveness. His cry on the Cross, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do,” is echoed down through the centuries.
When we experience this unmerited forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we are healed because we recognize that Christ loves us “just because.” He does not love us because we do not have sin, failures, or weaknesses. He loves us despite these things and the ugliness of our actions. He loves us “just because” we are always His beloved. Of course, Christ wants us to be repentant, to promise to be holy and sin no more, in order to be reconciled with Him and others. Yet at the same time, we must never forget that this divine forgiving love always remains unmerited because Christ loves unconditionally.
With the reception of this Divine Mercy, we can then live mercifully in our own relationships in the same way and not be afraid when we or our spouse, friends, or family make mistakes, have conflict, or sin. These things happen; we are not perfect. In such moments, it is always possible to forgive, to receive forgiveness, and to love if we draw continually upon God’s grace and forgiveness. By doing so, we’ll experience healing and a deeper unity again and again through mercy.
Questions for Reflection: When was the last time you received the Sacrament of Reconciliation? How have you experienced God’s mercy?
We are often our own harshest critics. This is the case in my own life, and sometimes I look up in exasperation at God and tell Him I’m tired…of myself. In our culture of busy-ness and perfectionism, high achievement and the constant thirst for more, it’s tempting to balk at our deficiencies, cringe at our weakness, run from our blemishes.
How could I have said that? Why did I fail at that again? How have I not learned?
These thoughts run through our defeated minds if we forget in this Jubilee of Mercy to be merciful to ourselves. So often, we turn to shame, annoyance and frustration when we fall, sin or come face-to-face with our humanity.
I imagine this is how the woman at the well felt as she went to get water at the hottest time of day. Divorced and remarried multiple times, she was seen as unclean by her Samaritan kinsmen. She avoided the other villagers at all costs in order to protect herself from their condemning gaze. There was one gaze, however, that she was powerless against: His. It was a gaze far more surprising than all others. A gaze not of condemnation, but piercing in its persistence and compassion—the gaze of love from God Himself.
What must it have felt like to look up in the noon day heat and meet His gaze? What must it have felt like to be seen, known, and loved by the Son of Man?
This is Christ’s eternal gaze upon all of us. If you’ve already experience it, you can relate to the Samaritan woman. If not, I invite you to look up from your well and meet Him there.
How He waits for us—the Christ! How He goes out to our man-made wells of sin and shame, of selfishness and pride, of indifference and bitterness to meet His children, to remind them that they are loved! He comes to you, to me. The Lover pursues His beloved. The Shepherd pursues His sheep. The Father pursues the prodigal son.
God desires us.
Encountering this love and mercy leaves no room for indifference or fear. We long to reciprocate this love, as the woman at the well did. She left her jar, the very reason she came to the well, in order to proclaim the Christ to her entire town—the town she had avoided at all costs (cf Jn 4:28-29). This is radical. This is the conversion that results from the beautiful and delicate balance of love and justice, mercy, and truth.
We are loved even when we have deemed ourselves unlovable. We are desired even when we remain indifferent. We are sought when we hide. And today we are being called and sent forth to bring His gaze to the nations.
Why? Because we were created for greatness, though we are pilgrims living in a fallen world. We were created for life with God Himself; to live blameless, spotless, white as snow. Yet we live in a world in which we are often warring against God, ourselves, one another, and nature.
In this Jubilee of Mercy, we are reminded that our scars or weaknesses should not scandalize us to the point of paralyzation or despair. We can no longer be imprisoned by our sin because we have a Savior—one who calls us to transfiguration and gives us the hope of the Resurrection, which we celebrate in 10 days. The piercing love of God elevates us to be salt of the earth, light to the nations. If we live in the certainty of being loved, we cannot refuse to be gentle and merciful to ourselves. Only in receiving His merciful love each day will we be able to love ourselves purely in the way that enables us to purely love our fallen brothers and sisters.
Rather than cower at our weakness, going to the well at noon, let us embrace it—giving ourselves fully and completely to the One who can transform our weakness for His glory! May we cling to Him, not to ourselves, surrendering our folly to His wisdom, our sin to His perfection, our indifference to His love, our brokenness to His wholeness.
Leave your jar at the well and go forth.
For more resources to guide you throughout this Jubilee of Mercy, click here.