It’s not every day that a greeting card changes the way you live your life, but several years ago I saw one that did just that. On the cover it said, “Approach love and cooking with reckless abandon.” From the first moment I read those words, I knew they were spot-on, and I have tried my best to live them out. Sometimes it means getting hurt, though, whether through splattering oil or things that seem like they should have tasted good or even the occasional broken heart (much longer lasting than the dinner that shouldn’t-have-been).
Usually I only get to cook, but for the past year or so I had the opportunity to approach love with reckless abandon—I have been more open, more real, more honest, more vulnerable in this relationship than any other I’ve been in. I’ve given myself away to another person more than I ever imagined myself doing. I allowed myself the fantasies, the idea that he might be The One, the hopes and dreams and girly chatter, the pondering of great mysteries of life, love, and God all intertwined.
But in one important way, I was neither reckless nor abandoned: I did not allow my church to know.
A few people who work in the office, a few friends, and maybe one or two people who figured it out. But mostly I’ve said that I’m spending the weekend with friends, that I’m going out of town for a couple of days or that I’m hanging out elsewhere in the region. I haven’t said that I’m doing things with my boyfriend; in fact I haven’t even used the “b word” at all at church. I have worked hard at erecting boundaries that will keep the church people out of my relationship, because I need that space away from them and away from the fishbowl effect. I have learned that I can’t do ministry when all people are thinking about is my personal life, and I can’t have a personal life when my time and space is so bound up with my ministry.
It’s hard to be so secretive, to dance around the whole truth, especially when you’re happy and in love… Yet it’s harder, I think, to be perfectly transparent with them and have them wondering all the time what I might be up to. I’ve been single a few years now—if I started tossing around the word “boyfriend” they might get so excited they’d never hear another word I said from the pulpit. Plus, I thought, if this relationship were to end then I’d have to explain that a hundred extra times too.
And now I find myself in one of those times when reckless abandon leads to hurt. I am grieving for who I thought he was, what kind of relationship I thought we had and the future I envisioned together.
Things were going well. We were in love, we have a lot in common yet we have enough differences of opinion to always have lively conversation. We were committed to each other, to figuring things out and to loving through thick and thin. I made choices based on our understanding of this as a committed, loving, life affirming relationship. I made choices about intimacy, both emotional and physical, that I may not have made if I knew then what I know now. I don’t regret those choices—but I don’t know that I would make them again right this minute. Instead I find my stance changed to one of self-protection.
And now those boundaries I was so careful about at church turn out to be a double-edged sword, too. I am feeling heartbroken, my best friends live hundreds of miles away and are great by phone but can’t just come over with ice cream and Bailey’s and sit and commiserate. I can feel those stages of grief working their way through my mind and heart and body, but no one else can see them. And so I obsess over what I might say, what I should have said, what the future might hold, even as I try to plan the next youth group meeting or the details of an intergenerational mission trip or the liturgy for next Sunday.
It feels like tears are pretty near the surface, and while I know the immediacy of that will pass, the fact remains that in the midst of this grief, I still have to go from the heartbreaking conversation directly to a dinner party with 10 church members, I still have to lead worship, I still have to facilitate Bible study, I still have to go to the pastor’s book group and the county-wide visioning board and continue to live life.
The show (which is what it feels like right now) must go on.
So I will collect myself, stifle the tears, push out the should-have-said thoughts, put on the happy face, ring the doorbell with a smile and talk about my great weekend with “a friend.” Because sometimes, that’s what it means to be the single rev.