One evening in October 2007, as my husband and I were having dinner at a nice restaurant, he tearfully admitted that he was ambivalent about our marriage. I was shocked. We had been married for fifteen years. We prayed the Rosary together frequently. We went to Mass together. We went to Medjugorje three times. We made our Cursillo together. People told us they were inspired by us and thought we were an example of a happy marriage.
Five months later, my husband had moved out with all his belongings. He wanted a divorce, he told me, because “I want to have babies.” I had wanted children too, but my age was a limiting factor: I was fourteen years older than my husband. In our first year of marriage, I had a miscarriage and never conceived again. Finally, at forty-five, realizing that we were not destined to have children, I reached a turning point. I started my own personal coaching business, which I thoroughly enjoyed. My husband, though, remained unhappy and upset.
In those difficult five months between my husband’s announcement and his departure, I prayed constantly that God’s will be done. And in one way or another, God kept giving me peace of mind. The divorce became final on September 14, 2008, the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. I took it as a clear communication from God—his way of assuring me: “By your cross, you will be exalted.”
Friends in Heaven. Quite unexpectedly, I began receiving encouragement from some of God’s special friends, the saints. I read Story of a Soul by St. Thérèse of Lisieux in December 2007, during a ski vacation with my husband. Our last vacation together, this was the lowest emotional point of my marriage. I would never have thought I could read such a book, but I was mesmerized by it and couldn’t put it down. St. Thérèse was funny, she had depth, and she had suffered. I felt that she was with me as a companion.
In February 2008, a friend gave me a quote from St. Francis de Sales. I cut it out in the shape of a heart and put it on my bedroom mirror:
Do not look forward in fear to the changes of life; rather look to them with full hope as they arise. God, whose very own you are, will lead you safely through all things. And when you cannot stand it, God will carry you in his arms. Do not fear what may happen tomorrow. The same everlasting Father who cared for you today will take care of you then and every day.
Then I found this saying from St. John of the Cross: “Live as though only God and yourself were in this world, so that your heart may not be detained by anything human.” I added this quote to my mirror, too, and as I reflected on it, my concerns about money were relieved. I also became less fearful about how people would react to the news of my divorce.
Discovering Teresa. A few months later, a book on a friend’s bookshelf caught my eye: Teresa of Avila: An Extraordinary Life. I said, “I want an extraordinary life! Who is she?” I had never even heard of this great saint, so my friend loaned me her book. I couldn’t put it down either and soon bought my own copy. A few months later, I read St. Teresa’s Interior Castle. In no time, I had quotes from St. Teresa everywhere—in my car, on my mirror, and on my computer. I especially liked this one, which I memorized and shared with others:
Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you.
All things pass away: God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
He who has God finds he lacks nothing.
God alone suffices.
More and more quotes went up on my mirror. Every morning, standing in front of it as I put on my earrings, I memorized the words of these great saints. They were my encouragement during a turbulent time. I lived their words. When I got disturbed, I prayed to St. Teresa of Avila. When I could not stand the divorce proceedings, I prayed to St. Francis de Sales. When I worried about money, love, and relationships, I prayed to St. John of the Cross. These saints were real in my life.
And there were more! I learned how these and other holy men and women lived, struggled, loved, failed, and were disappointed—and yet were always full of zeal for God. They were my new best friends. I finally understood something about the “communion of saints” that I had never experienced before.
My Daily Companions. I decided to apply for an annulment and received it so quickly that I was astounded. I suspect my friends in heaven had something to do with moving things along.
As I tackled the paperwork, I asked the Holy Spirit to help me. I also asked some of my new friends—especially Teresa and Thérèse—for guidance in filling out the forms and answering the questions. I think these saints also helped my witnesses, who had many questions to answer but who filled in and returned their documents immediately.
One day, I was praying to St. Thérèse of Lisieux and asked her to be with me all day. I went to a home goods store that afternoon, and there was a garden statue of her for sale. Of course, I bought it—and for a good price. I placed her in my garden, where I already had a large statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as well as a fountain that I call “woman at the well.” I thought, “I would really like St. Joseph here too.” A week later, there at the same store was a large St. Joseph statue. These garden statues now face me as I wash my dishes in the kitchen. They are lit up at night, and when I have dinner parties, they shine their faces on us all.
Over these past years, God has used many people and many things to touch and change me: daily Mass and Eucharistic adoration, a wise and patient confessor and spiritual director, Scripture, good friends, books, articles, devotionals, and so much more. Now I am fasting, praying, forgiving, growing—and enjoying life more than I would ever have thought possible.
But in a special way, God has made me a different woman by introducing me to these new friends, the saints. Inspired by them, I am surrendering my past, present, and future to God. Even when life turns out differently from what we have expected, he continually shows his abundant mercy and love.
Joan S. Smith is founder and president of Leadership Consultants International (www.LCIcoaching.com).