Post Author: Grace Pritchard Burson
I never expected to get divorced. Certainly not after being ordained and having a child. And most definitely not while in the most intense phase of a clergy job search.
I seem to specialize in crazy all-at-once life transitions. In six months in 2008, I had a baby, was ordained deacon, got my first clergy job, and moved two states away to start it. So I suppose it shouldn’t have been all that surprising when I found myself, less than a month after being called to my first job as a solo pastor, separating from my husband of nine years.
It wasn’t a particularly messy or acrimonious divorce. There was no cheating or abuse involved, just the gradual growing apart of two people who had married far too young and mistaken superficial similarities for compatibility. In some ways, that made it harder, because there was nothing I could point to and say “THAT is why we’re separating.” In the years leading up to the eventual split, I struggled mightily with God and myself, trying to reconcile my deep reluctance to do something so specifically forbidden by my faith (though I knew plenty of people who were divorced, and thought none the worse of them for it), with my growing gut-level conviction that neither my then-husband nor I could be fully ourselves unless we ended our marriage.
In the end it was he – while I was between jobs, and we were living with my parents and househunting in the town to which I had just been called – who ripped off the band-aid and moved out. And despite the immediate prospect of being a not-quite-full-time solo pastor with a 3 ½ year old in a new place, my most distinct sensation was a profound feeling of relief.
Having been through the discernment process for ordination, I can usually (eventually) recognize an emotional and spiritual truth when it’s staring me in the face. The separation was a blessing. I had done my grieving during those grinding months of trying to salvage the marriage, and when the end came I felt as light as air. Although my ex and I had both failed ourselves, each other, and our relationship in various ways, no human being “put us asunder”; God did that. And suddenly I was free to be myself again, without the constant stress of trying to be someone I wasn’t able to be and love someone who didn’t want the kind of love I had to give.
In many ways, I’ve been supremely lucky. My bishop (himself divorced) and the leadership of my brand-new congregation have been nothing but supportive. I live in a great town, have new friends, a wonderful family, and the house I’ve long dreamed of (including backyard chickens). My son is thriving, my ex pays child support, and my former in-laws who live nearby have made it clear that they still consider me family. If anything, my problem is what Allison Moore, in Clergy Moms (adapting a phrase of Jeremy Taylor’s) calls a “collision of joys”: there’s just too much going on, and not enough time to do it all and still get a reasonable amount of sleep.
But there’s a lot to adjust to as a newly Single Rev. Just going from automatically using the first person plural to the singular is a many-times-daily reminder that I no longer fit neatly into a world defined by couples. I’ve been on one date in my life, with my now-ex-spouse at age 18, and am somewhat paralyzed with terror at the prospect of reentering the dating scene. I often find myself wishing I could marry again for all the wrong reasons – another income, another pair of hands around the house!
The rest of the time, I’m resolved to be just as picky about any future romantic relationships as I was about my current job and location. And so I occasionally lapse into glumness when I contemplate the realities of looking for love as a pastor and single mother in her 30s in a graying small college town in New England.
Riding home from work on my bike one day a few weeks ago, though, I looked around at the blue sky and the tree-shaded two-lane road lined with gracious old houses, and contemplated the fascinating and fulfilling (if sometimes maddening) work I had been doing, and the adorable, brilliant, healthy child who awaited me at home (along with a garden full of fresh vegetables and a college-aged sister who is living with me and providing free childcare for the entire summer!) and realized: my life is chock-full of blessings.
The one big gap in a very blessed life – my singleness – is a reminder that no matter how well or badly things are going, no person or thing is going to bring me fulfillment. Only the divine Being who created me, and whom I serve, can do that. If I did have the final piece of the puzzle – a satisfying romantic relationship with a supportive partner – I might be in danger of being so happy that I forgot about God.
Which doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be willing to give it a try! But if there’s one thing that the last few years have taught me, it’s that life doesn’t unfold the way one expects it to, and that God knows how to bless me better than I do myself.
Photo by Roberto Pagani, http://www.alookthroughlens.com/weblog/archives/2008/07/lake_landscape_2.php, August 14, 2012. Used by Creative Commons License.