OK, I wanted to talk about this–even though.
Even though it’s deeply personal.
Even though I’m not an extrovert and don’t usually talk publicly about difficult experiences.
Even though I normally prefer to keep details about family life tucked away tight within the walls of our home.
I want to say something, because I think someone should:
I’m glad the annulment process is long, difficult, and even painful.
Not that I’m enjoying it. (I’m not!)
Not that I don’t wish it could be easier. (I do!)
And not that I don’t wish sometimes that it was all over and done with and that I had a decision so that I would know what to do with the rest of my life. (I wish those things all the time.)
But, really, it just makes sense.
Of course, it makes sense because of the gravity of the decision. To declare an entire marriage covenant null? That’s some pretty heavy stuff. It’s not exactly the kind of thing a Church tribunal judge can just skim over in a printed PDF as it crosses his desk, decide whether to use the stamp that says “NULL” or the other one that says “VALID” on it, and then move on to the next one-page summary. Of course, the time it takes makes sense for that reason.
But it also makes sense from the perspective of mercy.
I’m not talking about the “short-term mercy” of our culture today, which says, “Do whatever is going to make the person’s life easier for now. Ease their suffering now, and let them worry about the consequences later.”
I’m talking “end-game” here. We need to get back to long-term mercy, which says, “Do what’s best for the person. Do what’s going to help them to be healthier in the long run. Do what will help them to get to Heaven.”
St. Padre Pio said, ” The life of a Christian is nothing but a perpetual struggle against self. There is no flowering of the soul to the beauty of its perfection except at the price of pain.”
I can see how this applies in a special way to the divorced person seeking an annulment. When a marriage ends civilly, there’s a lot of pain there. There were mistakes made by the person seeking the annulment–whether they were mistakes that led to a relationship that never should have been, or mistakes that contributed to the civil end of a valid marriage. And the only way to face those mistakes and correct the interior flaws that brought them about is to walk right back through the pain. Those mistakes need to be processed deeply and intentionally, with plenty of thought, prayer, quiet time, and good spiritual direction, until the petitioner understands–not just mentally, but on an action-changing level of the heart–what he or she did wrong and how to keep from repeating that.
Then, there’s the hurt. If a marriage has ended civilly, you have a lot to work through–you have to heal not only from the pain of the divorce, but also from the pain you endured living in a wounded marriage. These things weaken a person, and they don’t go away overnight just because you separate and divorce.
And, most importantly, there’s the way that Christ draws us very close to Himself when we’re hurting. But that takes time! The annulment process is a “little desert” for each of us–a place where God can re-form and re-shape our hearts and bring us closer to Himself.
For me, it’s taken four years so far to go through the annulment process (over half that time was just me working through the questionnaire)–and I’m grateful, because, looking back, I can see that every minute of that time has been a blessing. If I had gone into another relationship, it would have been a huge mistake. Even though the marriage was broken from the beginning, and even though it was such a painful experience, I’m grateful that “moving on” hasn’t been made easy. I’m grateful that, in order to move forward, I first had to go back and sort through everything that happened in the past–despite the fact that that was incredibly painful.
Finally, after four years, I am ready to wholeheartedly accept the Church’s decision–whatever that may be–and I can confidently hope that, if I dated again, I’d be more careful to seek God’s will this time. This has been a fruit of the annulment process–because it’s tedious, because it requires the divorcee to relive the pain and analyze it, and because it takes a long time. All of these things were hard to walk through, but, at the same time, were a gift.
Blessed Mother Teresa said, “Pain and suffering have come into your life. But remember pain, sorrow, and suffering are but the kiss of Jesus–a sign that you have come so close to Him that He can kiss you.” The difficulty of the annulment process gives God space to work on us and to heal us. And that makes it worth the time.