As a contributor for the CatholicMatch Institute over the last three years, I’ve tried to bring you practical tools, information, and relevant stories through the articles I write. I’ve also shared with you many of the lessons I’ve learned over the years from trial and error in relationships, and the crosses I’ve carried. With that in mind, I want to share a very personal story with you in hopes that it will somehow help you in your relationships, especially in this final week of Lent.
Nearly 21 years ago, I went through a very bitter divorce. It was not something I wanted and I fought hard to save my marriage, but in the end, the no-fault divorce laws gave me no say in what happened. I was divorced. Several years later, I went through the annulment process and was given a decree of nullity. Thanks be to God, I’ve been happily remarried and we will be celebrating our 14th anniversary in June. But something extraordinary happened on this day, Monday of Holy Week, four years ago and this is the story I’d like to share with you.
It was 2 pm and I was checking email. A Facebook notification came in with the following message: ”Hi, Lisa! Bob (my ex-husband… we’ll call him Bob) wants to be friends on Facebook.” There was a picture of him with his wife and three children. His personal message read, “Lisa, I can’t believe it’s you! How have you been?” There had been 17 years of silence between us after a bitter divorce and he wanted to be friends on Facebook?
My first thought was, “Did you forget what happened 17 years ago? Because if you did, I can certainly remind you.” My hands began to shake with rage as all the terrible memories of what had happened flooded back. Was this some kind of joke? Later that evening when they were asleep, Jim and I discussed it all. He asked, “Do you think maybe he needs some closure or wants to say I’m sorry?” A volcano of emotion erupted inside me. “NO! The man is incapable of saying he’s sorry! You don’t know what he did to me…how he ruined my life! He doesn’t want to apologize. That’s impossible.” “OK,” Jim replied, “But you might want to think about that.”
My older brother asked the same question: “Do you think he wants to say he’s sorry?” Again, the volcano erupted. “NO! Doesn’t anyone remember what he did? How deliberately he did it? No, I don’t believe he’s capable of an apology.” He suggested sending him a benign sort of reply, you know something like, ‘Hi, Bob, I’m fine and it’s good to know you’re doing well.’” I followed his advice that morning and within 30 minutes of sending my response, Bob had messaged me again.
He wrote, “I’m sorry.”
What followed those words was an admission of the regret he felt and a request for me to forgive him. I can’t remember a time in my life when I was that stunned and amazed. I had always moved forward believing I had completely forgiven Bob, but apparently there was this final step I needed to take. I felt God’s grace pouring into my heart, bringing relief and joy. He admitted that on Palm Sunday, he was moved to tears and a deep sense of grief over what had happened between us. This prompted him the next day to try and find me and apologize.
The discussion, although productive, was extremely painful. I felt as if I was living a mini-version of my divorce all over again. Christ had given me the gift of Bob’s apology and at the same time seemed to be saying to me, “Come suffer with Me a little more. Pick up your cross and walk with Me to Calvary.” I spent the next several days in prayer, contemplating Jesus’ passion and death. I reflected on Him carrying His cross and falling under its weight, then each time getting back on His feet and forging ahead. I could hear Him saying, “Father, forgive them…” as He hung on the cross.
On Good Friday, the suffering was replaced with incredible sense of peace. There was not a sore spot in my heart to be found. I went down to my computer and emailed Bob for the last time. I told him I was truly glad he had made contact and that I would keep him and his family in my prayers for a wonderful life. And Easter 2010 became the most incredibly joyful Easter I had ever experienced.
There is great joy in carrying the cross. If you are burdened with trying to forgive someone, contemplate Christ’s suffering and crucifixion as intensely as you can, uniting your suffering to His. Walk beside Him on the road to Calvary and remain at His feet with Mary as He gasps His last words. Then trust in God’s grace and mercy, for He will turn your sorrows into joy.
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