When a couple feel that they must get divorced or separate they may turn to those who care for them most. Sadly, experience shows instead that family and friends become divided, or often unable to process the situation leaving those at the heart of the storm bereft and alone. It is not a lack of care, but rather an incapacity to help.
In life we can easily fall into the temptation of doing nothing, as we might either be afraid of the consequences, think that our actions might conflict with Church teaching or simply because we do not know what to do. We can then get ourselves so tied up in knots or an internal debate that the problem never gets addressed. Now, if the problem is purely theoretical, then it might not matter, but when it involves a person, what might be the implications of noticing and then choosing to do nothing?
The fear of commitment, or anxiety at being judged, can lead to a cul-de-sac of inaction, with the result that, whilst a need has been noticed, it goes unaddressed. It is in this context of a dilemma of inaction that the much-needed ministry to the divorced and separated seems to fall. We want to help; we know we need to help and then we are fearful of helping, either because we think we lack the skills, or fear that we are treading into choppy waters.
If this is the case, perhaps the Parable of the Good Samaritan might provide a useful guide. We can choose to notice and walk away, or we can notice and simply react. I doubt whether the Good Samaritan had a clip-board of questions to assess whether the injured traveller was deserving of assistance, or met a particular criterion. No, instead he engaged with the situation he was given, helped restore the individual and then moved on. There are times when we are simply asked to accompany someone on the journey and to remember that the continuation of their journey rests with God, not us.
All of us will know someone who has experienced either divorce or separation, whether directly in a family setting, through work or amongst our friends. It is not a contagious condition, which can spread like a virus, but is a situation that harms the individuals concerned, stunts other relationships and frequently goes unhealed. It is into this reality that Familias (the cover organisation for Marriage and Family Life Coordinators and co-workers) chose to invite the organisation, Restored Lives, https://www.restoredlives.org to provide a training day in the ministry they provide to those in need of restoration.
Divorce and separation affect individuals in different ways, but when listening to, or reading about how harrowing and destructive this reality is to a person’s sense of self, then we must be willing to respond. The current provisions for the divorced and separated in our diocese is small, with one provider the Beginning Experience. Therefore, the Restored Lives resource, adapted to a Catholic setting, could provide a much-needed additional resource.
Over the autumn I intend shadowing the delivery of this resource at a local Anglican Church, as a very practical way of experiencing how it is delivered, the pastoral sensitivities required and the structure of delivery. In doing so I may well be leaving my own comfort zone, but just as in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, I have to decide whether I notice a need and ignore it, or simply notice, get involved and remember that, despite the challenges, I too may help restore another’s life and in the process learn something about myself.
If this story has touched you, or you might be interested in knowing more about developing this ministry, either ecumenically or in the parish, please contact: email@example.com
Marriage and Family Life Coordinator – Diocese of Westminster