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  • Writer's pictureSarahHauer

Ripple Effects



Humor In Chaos

Searching for Joy Series


Ripple Effects


The thing about lies and sins, or wrongs in general, is that they have ripple effects. Even small ones that most often grow to big ones. They don’t just affect the person committing the wrong. They affect the people in the immediate circle. The ripples form concentric circles that grow out and affect more and more people – children, extended family and friends, even strangers who get pulled into the toxicity. As sins and lies grow and compound, the ripples get bigger and bigger until they create a hurricane of hurts with collateral damage no insurance company is interested in covering.

 

How big were the ripple effects in the break down in my marriage? That’s the thing. For a long time, I didn’t know how bad things had become. I still don’t. The ripples have yet to subside.

 

As I took stock of the wrongs from both sides, I also had to separate the concepts of forgiveness and reconciliation. Forgiveness needed to happen. Reconciliation did not. For a long time, I wanted reconciliation more than I wanted forgiveness. That wasn’t healthy.

 

After a while of keeping the door open for him to return to the marriage, I decided it was time to let him have his divorce. Why, if I wanted to preserve the marriage covenant, did I open the path for him to divorce me? The collateral damage. Our children, even though they were/are adults, they were getting severely damaged. So was I. I closed the door but kept it unlocked for potential reconciliation just in case God softened his heart and he wanted to come home. In the meantime, I changed my focus to forgiveness. It was the smart move.

 

I had, still have, the potential to blast him. I could have written about and published all his sins and exploits. After all, for years I wrote articles giving him all kinds of praise for the way he loved me and cared for me. He did, in fact, save my life more than once. He was the reason I fought to stay alive. I wanted to be with him. And his children adored him. They tried their best to emulate him. I could have, and some say should have, blasted him publicly.

 

Why didn’t I, and why don’t I now that the divorce is over?

 

Because he wasn’t always this way. For a long time, he truly was a good, godly man. He was an excellent father worthy of the respect his children gave him. He had a wife who loved him so much that she wanted the world to know it. If I did blast him, I don’t want to imagine the extended damage that would do to our children.

 

Why were we, our children and I, not enough for him? I kind of know why. At least, I know a big chunk of it. His childhood situation. His family of origin contains hidden toxicity including a convicted violent criminal who led what was essentially a double life, and some family members who protected that criminal from getting caught. Lies automatically come with these sorts of crimes. Lots and lots of generational shame does, too.

 

My ex-husband didn’t know about this certain member of his family until it was too late, and people had suffered severe damage. Once we learned about it, we joined hands, as a married couple should, and we stopped that monster from hurting any more people. We were a force.

 

But it damaged my husband deeply. You see, lies and sins are part of the ripple effect that the criminal family member created, and the cover ups of the other family members who were more concerned with the black mark of violent crime than they were about the welfare of the victims made things much worse. He had been raised in that toxic environment without knowing it. This is the result of multi-generational suffering when individuals don’t take responsibility for healing.

 

Hurt people do hurt people. But, not all hurt people hurt other people. My husband still had choices in what he did and did not do in turning towards our marriage or turning away – in turning towards or turning away from God. For a long, long time, my ex turned towards God, and I loved him all the more for it. Unfortunately, either I misread what he was doing, or he changed course and hid that from me. At some point, he turned away from our covenant with God and away from me. I cannot pinpoint that moment.

 

That was something else I needed to understand. That he had made the decision to turn away from God before he made the decision to turn away from me. If God wanted to forgive him for that, so could I. How? By studying the true heart of forgiveness – the heart of Jesus.

 

One of the activities I continued to take part in the years I was sick was a ministry at church where we gave monologues from the perspectives of various figures of the Bible during the time of the Crucifixion for a special Good Friday Stations of the Cross presentation. We did it off and on a few years both while my ex was still at home and without him after he left. Taking part in a presentation like this caused a lot of soul searching for us members of the ministry. Our director wasn’t satisfied with us simply memorizing our parts. She wanted us to deeply feel what those people experienced at that moment in their lives, and she wanted us to deliver those experiences to the congregation living in today’s era. Every year was a moving presentation for parishioners and those of us directly involved.

 

I already cried this time of year anyway from the realization that Christ suffered greatly for me. Digging deeper in that ministry was sometimes heart wrenching. It got me closer to the sufferings of Christ. The knowledge that he went through all that to die for our sins, for our redemption with the Father in heaven, that enlightened me as to why I needed to forgive my husband because I knew God was going to forgive him. He only needed to ask for it. It was simply a matter of my husband choosing to accept that forgiveness and grow from it.

 

His choice to make. Not mine.

 

At one point, I had a dream that pounded that concept into my head. After crying myself to sleep and begging God for a return to the life I thought I had, I slept deeply and dreamed vividly.

 

The dream consisted of me walking down a black road into a neighborhood of prominent homes. The sky was grey and red, clouded, with the sun somewhere above the clouds. The grass was grey. The black pavement wound around red brick, two-story, traditional homes with at least five acres of yards between them. I walked to one home and approached the side of the garage. Along the garage wall were five trees. The tallest one in the middle was about six feet tall, roughly the height of my ex-husband; each of the others a little shorter. All the trees looked sickly with sparse leaves and brittle branches.

 

I reached out to the center tree. I was able to grab hold of it right in the middle of the trunk with one hand and gave it a slight tug. It popped right out of the ground with ease. I looked at the roots. There were hack marks where the roots had been deliberately cut off. I started to panic.

 

I looked to see if the roots were still in the ground. They were not. Instead, the hole I pulled the tree from was getting bigger and falling in on itself. I quickly shoved the tree back in the hole and tried to push dirt around it. The tree was now only about three feet tall at most. I knelt and prayed over it that the tree would regrow roots. I got up and walked away.

 

I woke up and understood. The trees were my family. The center tree was my husband. Someone had hacked away his roots. The final message was clear. It was up to him to decide whether he wanted to grow roots there. He chose not to. The only option I had left was to forgive and let him go.

 

Forgiveness and reconciliation are two different things. In the Catholic faith, we cannot reconcile with God if we choose to continue to sin even after we confess and receive forgiveness. There is an expectation in Confession that we will mend our ways to grow closer to God and be obedient to Him. Without that, what is the point of confessing?

 

In the same manner, I realized that I can choose to forgive my husband. He can choose to accept or reject it. Regardless of which he chooses, if he does not mend his ways and work to come back to the marriage, then there is no ability to reconcile. Forgiveness requires one person. Reconciliation requires two.

 

And sometimes, reconciliation is simply a bad idea anyway if there is abuse. Was there abuse in our marriage? Financial abuse for certain. Yes, financial abuse is abuse, especially when one partner is limited on abilities. I am disabled. Every time I have tried to work a job, even parttime, I get sick. When I volunteer at church, my friends around me understand I am not wonderfully reliable due to health. I am not going to go into details on how he financially abused me except to say it was a form of control he had over me that was hard to escape.

 

Was there emotional abuse? I think so. He might disagree. That’s more difficult to measure, and we each have our own perspectives.

 

Was there physical abuse? In the last few months, yes. For decades previous, there was none.

 

Why would I bother to forgive someone who hurt me so much?

 

To say I did it because God commands it is trite and incomplete. To say I did it because Jesus was able to forgive his betrayers while he was hanging on the Cross in agony is closer to the truth, but I am not nearly as good a human being as Jesus in His humanity. Not even close. I’ve got plenty of issues of my own.

 

I did it because my ex-husband is as much a child of God’s as I am, and I know God wants us both, together in marriage or not, with Him in heaven for eternity. And I want my ex to have as clear a path to that saving grace that I can point out from my perspective. I can’t push him along it, but I can be one lighthouse helping to point to it. Isn’t that what we Christians do for each other by loving each other?

 

Years ago, I gave a talk at a women’s gathering on being a lighthouse for my husband. I gave this talk back when I am certain our marriage was on solid ground; when the love I had for him was reciprocated.

 

I admittedly stole part of that talk from a priest who admittedly stole it from someone else. Who knows how far that analogy has traveled? Frankly, it’s a good one.

 

Lighthouses light the way home for ships traveling the seas at night. They don’t beckon sailors directly to them because they stand where dangers exist. They don’t say, “Here is safety.” Instead, they say, “Here are rocks. Here are dangers. Go that way.” Lighthouses shine a light on the path towards safety, the harbor, where they can find rest. The ships choose to follow the path, or they choose to go on their voyages.

 

Christians are the lighthouses. Heaven is the harbor. The ships are souls journeying in this world trying to navigate the dangers of sins.

 

I shared that talk with my sister who sent me a small lighthouse chime. I had that chime hanging up in my dining area of my kitchen. I loved that chime. It reminded me to be a lighthouse for my husband and my children.

 

My husband never heard the talk. He didn’t like the windchime. It drove him crazy. Eventually, he took the wind sail that was hanging down in the center and wrapped it around the tubes so it wouldn’t chime anymore. It hardly ever made any noise. I don’t understand why it bothered him so. It became tangled. I cried. It was a beautiful reminder to me of one of my roles as a Christian wife and mother that he was not capable of appreciating.

 

That’s the thing about forgiving someone who doesn’t want to reconcile. It takes a type of love some people cannot comprehend. It takes striving for the agape type of love God has for us.

 

Agape love is an unconditional love that includes sacrifice. We can strive for it, we can achieve it in our love for God Himself; but, when we strive for it between us humans, we run into the risk of loving another more than we love ourselves. That self-sacrifice can be a virtue or a trap. We need lighthouses to warn us of those hazards from the people who have gone before us in this battle for love, for those who have reconciled and those who have not.

 

My ex-husband did not want forgiveness or reconciliation. Therefore, forgiving him was bad, right? No. Forgiving him was still the right thing to do. Then and every day since. For him and for me.


Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for more!

 

Sarah

Humor In Chaos


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