The Church Was My Safe Haven During My Annulment - A Letter from Patty Breen
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There are so many important life lessons we each have to learn upon this crazy, beautiful journey called life. Some we may welcome with open arms ready to take on new adventures. And others may be more painful and purifying than we would prefer.
Sometimes the life you have dreamed for yourself doesn’t go the way you planned: you don’t get the job, you are unable to have children, or the “perfect guy” has broken up with you. One of the greatest lessons I have learned in my own life is that we don’t get to choose the things that happen to us, but we always have a choice on how we respond. We can do hard things in life.
The hardest, transformative experience of my life has been going through a divorce and annulment as a 31 year old Catholic woman.
I got married at 26: very happy, excited, but unknowingly insecure, emotionally needy, and very co-dependent. Looking back, I saw fulfillment in life finally having “arrived” because I married a good Catholic man.
Seven months after getting married, the fairytale came crashing down and life was forever altered. I learned my husband was a sex addict and addicted to pornography. I was devastated and felt totally numb.
By our one year anniversary, we were in marriage counseling and we both began seeing certified sex addiction therapists (CSAT). We hit recovery hard. You name it we tried it. Our lives revolved almost completely on trying to restore what had been broken. Over the course of the marriage, we spent close to $25,000 on counseling and therapeutic intensives.
(Page 2) In spite of small steps forward, information was always being dribbled out to me. Lying was a huge problem and I was never sure what was true or not.
I found myself in a living Hell. I was petrified to stay, but I was even more afraid to leave. What would people think of the parish youth minister getting a divorce? Would people in the Church judge my choice? Would a divorce mean I could never have a good marriage?
After much prayer and counsel, I left my marriage. I had no other option. The Church became my safe haven and protector, and I am grateful for the healing that annulment process was for me.
"After much prayer and counsel, I left my marriage. I had no other option. The Church became my safe haven and protector, and I am grateful for the healing that annulment process was for me."
Now life is radically different than I could have ever imagined. I have my own apartment and am learning to be content building a new life for myself. I have a much healthier perspective as I begin to date again. In my local archdiocese, my friend and I have created a workshop called “Whispered in the Dark: What to do when the man you love is addicted to porn.” From all I have learned I want to help other women who feel alone or lost when pornography addiction touches their life. God continues to open doors for me to encourage and support other women in my local community and across the country. I will never say I am grateful for this experience, but I can say I am 100% grateful for what it has taught me about myself. I am not the same woman I was 3 or 4 years ago.
My sister I do not know the pain or trauma you have walked through in this life. I wish I could sit with you and cry over it; hug you tight and pray God’s peace over whatever it is. But what I have learned from this pain in my life, we are never forgotten by Jesus. (Page 3) He see’s you. He will never abandon you. I promise you He is faithful. And even if the situation doesn’t go as you hope and pray for, He is still good and has a plan for your life.
Our deepest pain often is the tapestry where Jesus writes a bigger story of healing, hope, and redemption. And that story He re-writes is the one He wants you to proclaim with your life.
And this chapter of my life is a story God has used to change me from the inside out.
All my love,
Get to know Patty
Tell us a little bit about yourself!
Hi there! My name is Patty and I am 32 years old. An ENFJ personality with equal doses of sass and occasional snark. I am single and dipping my toes back into dating again. After ten years as a parish youth minister, I’ve switched it up and am now the Pastoral Associate at a new parish.
How does your Catholic faith affect the way you live your day-to-day life?
My Catholic faith affects my day-to-day life by helping me structure my day built around a life of prayer. Of course I am not perfect at it, and there are plenty of days I get it wrong. For example, I love how the Liturgy of the Hours is a model of praying at certain times of the day and a way to build prayer into our daily lives.
From one Catholic woman to another, how have you discovered your sense of belonging in the Church?
For most of my life, I have never felt very secure in my own skin. I always wanted to be like some other girl and struggled with comparing myself to all these other women doing “better, more beautiful things.” Honestly my sense of belonging in the Church as a woman, really came about as I went through my divorce and annulment. My worth and value had absolutely nothing to do with my marital status or job or number of children I did or didn’t have. After being stripped of everything I always wanted, God showed me who I was in His eyes. And for the first time in my life, I was actually believed it.
What’s the most empowering piece of advice you’ve been given as a Catholic woman?
There is no one way to be feminine! I think sometimes we hear the phrase “feminine genius” and think being a woman in the Church means you have to be quiet, timid or something like that. But you know what? Jesus needs all types of woman in the Kingdom! Loud ones, quiet ones, feisty ones, women with tattoos, women who write and speak with passion, and women who are not afraid to have difficult conversations. He needs women of all different flavors and colors!
"Jesus needs all types of woman in the Kingdom! Loud ones, quiet ones, feisty ones, women with tattoos, women who write and speak with passion, and women who are not afraid to have difficult conversations. He needs women of all different flavors and colors!"
Tell us about a woman who inspires you. What lessons have you learned from her? How has she influenced your life?
A woman who inspires me greatly is Edith Stein, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. First of all she was well ahead of her time in terms of ideas on what it means to be a woman and how to live that out. And secondly, I love that how her life portrays fulfillment in life is not based on a relationship status. She used her God-given talents and gifts in writing and speaking and has left a rich heritage for all women seeking the truth about who they are.
What’s your favorite way to pray?
My favorite ways to prayer right now are the daily Examen and saying the Jesus Prayer on my rosary beads (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God have mercy on me a sinner”)
What’s currently your biggest stumbling block in pursuing the Lord?
My biggest stumbling block in pursuing the Lord is my ability to try and control the Lord. I first realized this almost a year ago last Lent when I did the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius for 5 days. Jesus very gently showed me (and has continued to do so!) if try and control Him, then I can never actually receive from Him. It definitely continues to keep me humble before Jesus.
What’s a dream you’d love to achieve in the next 10 years?
In the next ten years, I would love to write a book. Specifically a resource for Catholic women who find themselves unexpectedly going through the divorce and/or annulment process. We need more resources in this area as a Church. I would also love to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Fill in the Blank
A typical day in my life looks like...
Rising early around 5:15. I will ready the daily readings and morning prayer with a strong cup of coffee. I like to do lector diving with the Mass readings and then lifestream worship from the International House of Prayer. If I need to run, I’ll push the alarm to 4:30. I’m at the office from 9a-5p. The evenings are filled with meetings, outings with friends, blogging, working on free-lance writing, and my running group.
My favorite quote is...
My favorite quote would have to be "Jesus I Trust in You."
I feel most inspired when...
I am running outside without music playing in my ears. I feel more connected to God, myself, and nature.
The Catholic Church is...
The Catholic Church is a home for the wounded and weary, a safe haven for people. It is not a place for the perfect but the broken and hurting.