SPAIN, by Patricia Navas in Aleteia.org •
Her marriage separation has transformed her into an expert on closing emotional wounds. In Spain, María Luisa Erhart has listened and accompanied separated married persons for more than ten years through a Catholic service that she leads, which bears the name of the place Jesus rested – Betania [Bethany]. In the following interview in Aleteia, she shares her healing process and confirms that “when God allows a separation, it is always for a greater good.”
What common sufferings do separated people experience?
Not all separations are the same; it depends on different factors. It is not the same separating because of abandonment, betrayal, because living together is impossible, because of incompatibility, because real love and commitment are not present, instead there is delusion and it has been confused with being in love, or desire has been confused with love…
Thus the help that each person needs is different…
Yes, every person requires a different response. Betania offers a personalized response; God gives the gift of discernment when we freely place ourselves at His service.
As we heal, we discover that we had previous burdens where perhaps we were not free to choose.
In well-constituted marriages or in ones that have been transformed later by God’s grace, there are also burdens, but in these cases, God has allowed the separation always for a greater good, as much for the person, as for the partner, the children, the family…
This is very difficult to understand because many people come to a separation when they themselves have criticized those who are separated, they have judged them…And now they are in the same circumstance as those they had criticized. This is also a societal healing through people with these wounds.
How many times we judge and have prejudices about people who do not fulfill our expectations! We are not God to judge or prejudge anyone.
I have not seen God as much in my successes but rather in my wounds, because it is there, in frailty, that a person has the opportunity to open oneself up.
God rarely heals through successes; usually he does so through the wounds in places where a person cannot: a fragile person is one who attracts Christ’s love and mercy. We learn to read Christ’s love in these people, in every wounded heart that opens up.
How can those sufferings be alleviated?
The first thing we do or try to do is to listen by capturing the heart, because that person opens up in the measure in which one captures the other’s heart by giving them one’s own.
It is difficult to open one’s heart in this society; we have been taught to defend ourselves, to close our hearts, to mistrust, to be judgmental, and to have prejudices.
Lo que intentamos en Betania es conquistarlo, pero no se puede hacer si no se entrega el propio. Porque la autoridad la recibimos cuando hemos conquistado el corazón, pues la autoridad no es sometimiento, nos la regala el tú.
What we try in Betania is to win the heart, because nothing can be done if one does not offer one’s own. Because of the authority we receive when we have won the heart, as authority is not submission but gives us the heart of the person opposite.
We do it respecting each one’s time. Those who are prepared to see their life history objectively and to recognize their mistakes, can enter Betania to go through this healing process.
If I am closed because I feel frustrated and a failure, because my marriage does not respond to my plan, and I seek someone to blame means that I continue to be the center; in these cases, we cannot do much to help that person.
There is mutual responsibility in every relationship. I do not speak of blame because blame does not exist if there is no will, moreover, blaming blocks, but we do have to recognize and take responsibility for our decisions.
When we have greater self-knowledge, we can modify, repair, and this frees us of the burdens we carry. With God, we learn to forgive ourselves in these processes. Only God heals and saves.
How did you overcome your failed marriage?
I do not consider it a failure. I have never considered it like that. Not all who separated consider that their situation is a failure. Neither did I when I separated. That is the first thing.
The Lord has always been the one who has guided me, who is healing my heart and my ego. Today I see my separation as the opportunity in which I have really encountered Christ.
Before I separated, I sought help in self-help books, psychologists and psychiatrists, but at a given moment, I realized that neither they nor the coaches helped my soul, my heart. They gave me guidelines, but I was looking for more: the healing of my person, the restoration of my being.
Then I learned about the Schoenstatt Shrine, I made the Covenant of Love with the Blessed Mother, and I told her: “If you are really a mother and God wants to heal me through you well here I am.”
I only gave my yes to be there, to go at least once a week, not much more and thus, he began to modify my heart and my thinking. One has to give a yes; if not, God cannot do anything.
It was God who healed me. As I was healing, it affected my children. God is with me, and he is faithful to me even though I am unfaithful.
The origin of my healing was the Covenant of Love. Mary took it seriously; I did not believe, I was very skeptical, but she has taken me by the hand and she continues to lead me every day.
I have never been as happy as when I allowed myself to be. The problem is when we do not allow ourselves to be: when I am the center and my human reasoning built a wall, in which I cannot listen to or trust anything more than what is me, but God’s love is so great and his patience is infinite…
How can hate be avoided after a marital separation?
It is accomplished when one looks at oneself and recognizes that he/she also made mistakes, when one stops only blaming the other person, when one stops expecting and demanding that others make me happy. When one discovers that my happiness is not in or dependent on others, but instead that it is inside me.
This is where we begin to realize that the other knows as much as I do, and when one discovers that, the other has also fallen into a trap (for example that I get him/her to love me more, I have depended more, I have been a slave, I allowed myself to be abused, humiliated….
Another important step is to learn to forgive oneself… the most difficult is not that God forgives, but more importantly, that I forgive myself, and that I forgive them. This is difficult because we are very self-centered.
It helped me a great deal to first identify this and then think: If Jesus Christ appeared now an I asked him to forgive me because I have been proud, haughty, because I have hurt or because I placed myself over and stepped on others, the first thing I have to ask myself is: Would you forgive those who hurt you?
If I do not forgive those who have hurt me, what right do we have to ask God to forgive us? If I do not forgive, I do not grow because I am bound to bitterness and resentment and this diminishes me as a person, forgiving frees us, it is the healthiest thing in the world…God cannot be in bitterness or resentment. Bitterness, resentment…are the bonds to evil, then I belong to evil, I choose evil.
God’s love is so great that he allows me to choose between good and bad. Then I have the great fortune that the Lord always forgives me, but if I do not forgive, I will not be able to receive the true freedom of God’s forgiveness.
The healing of forgiveness is the most precious, every time we forgive from the heart, our love is like God’s love. When we get out of ourselves to forgive, we are being like God. The real power is in love.
When one begins to understand this, one begins to perceive God despite all the mistakes, wounds, sins: of having an abortion, of sexual abuse, of a separation… however, God’s love conquers and forgiveness is God’s power that he also offers to men/women. We must ask God for the gift of forgiveness.
For Christ, everyone who was outside the law, outside the norm was an opportunity, and Betania wants to follow his footsteps in the same way, without judging or prejudices, but rather as an opportunity for Christ to show himself in that person with his love. Respecting them and loving them as he/she is, not like we want them to be.
Time is a gift for conversion and forgiveness. To reach this in this world is the treasure of happiness without caring that the circumstances are difficult.
What can be done so the children can grow in harmony when their parents are separated?
The children are the innocent victims, and they need both references, the paternal and the maternal. The biggest mistake and harm that we can do to our children is to disparage their father or mother, speaking badly about the other, taking away their authority…We have to keep our hatred and bitterness away from the children. They have a right to have a father and mother.
The children are victims of separation, not the cause. Whether there has been an infidelity, even a murder…the cause is found in both parents.
We are all responsible; an abuser does not exist if I do not allow myself to be abused. There are a series of responsibilities because of lack of education, fear. If we do not learn how to do this well in the marriage, they become a burden for our children.
In the separation, the children feel insecure, and they need to experience unconditional love. It is cruel to use the children speaking badly of the other, or using them as confrontational weapons. The children are the most innocent and indefensible in a family. They must be protected more than the parents, because they are the most fragile although the parents should go through a personal healing.
Maria Luisa Erhardt is a member of the Schoenstatt Mothers’ Federation.
Original: Spanish, 29/01/2017. Translation: Celina M. Garza, San Antonio, TX USA. Edited: Melissa Peña-Janknegt, Elgin, TX USA