Annul a 20-year marriage?

I ran into an old friend of my Mom’s a few weeks ago at the grocery store.  This woman’s husband left her 15+ years ago with 7 young children.  He left her for a younger woman and his relationship with the kids is estranged at best.

Embracing her in the store, we briefly caught up on all the happenings with her mountain of children and now, grandchildren.  The woman looked exactly as she did when I last randomly bumped into her: exhausted.  She had been working two jobs for over fifteen years, was uneducated, so she was making little money for hard work.  One of her daughters had a child out of wedlock and was living with her as well.  Barely able to make ends meet, this friend secured yet another 10 hour gig on the weekends to help raise the grandchild. Let me repeat:  she looked drained.

Through the ten minute conversation, she mentioned that the ex-husband was happily married, living in another state and hadn’t provided for the kids’ needs in many years.  Upset and distraught with the Catholic Church, she said her ex received the “right” to marry because he had the marriage annulled.

Just to clarify, I asked, “how long were you married?”

“20 years.  7 kids.”

She continued to explain that after the divorce, the Catholic Church had not accepted her as a formal church member, since she was a divorced woman.  She was also forbidden to take communion for many years.  This was especially painful to this woman, because as a devoted Catholic, she did not use birth control – thus, the 7 kids.

Her eyes grew wet as I suggested she try visiting an Evangelical or non-denominational church where she would be lovingly accepted and could develop new relationships.  I emphasized that the “church” is a group of believers in Jesus…that Christianity is about a relationship with Jesus and believing that God loves you – just as you are, right where you are in life.  Christianity is not about being alienated by your Sunday worship center just when you need love and help the most.

It’s important to note that as someone who was raised in a liturgical church, I respect and admire all the tradition.  Although I grew up in a liturgical church, I am no longer familiar with the rules, having been in a different church the last 20 years.  So, upon arriving home I looked up the true meaning of annulment.  “To reduce to nothing.  To obliterate. To make void; invalidate.”  Are we seriously “invalidating” a 20-year marriage for one spouse at his request, after years of painfully rejecting the other spouse by isolating her from the church she devoted herself to?  How does this mentally impact the children?

That afternoon I had a very clear understanding of Gandhi’s words when he said:  “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

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