The Show Must Go On

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.



10 replies
  1. Katie
    Katie says:

    Thank you for sharing. Going through my divorce in front of my congregation was a challenge…what do I say, how do I say it, do I ‘let’ them comfort me and if I do, how much do I let them do that …aren’t I supposed to care for them?
    As I now begin to think about the possibiltity of dating again, I wonder what I would or would not say to these people. What is appropriate? What is enough? It’s not like you would just take the person you were dating to your workplace with you one day, but isn’t that what it would be if they came to worship? It is all so fuzzy. I appreciate your honesty that has opened up for me more questions that I can ponder before I get there. Your openness has helped me to grow.

  2. Lory
    Lory says:

    I, too, am a single minister in my hometown without many “boyfriend” prospects. And, that’s okay. I knew that when I came back. But, it is hard to find a life outside of work and so I work many, many more hours than I’m paid to work. I have people in the church telling me to “get a life” and go hang out with friends. Unfortunately, the people I know in town would hang out at places I’m not comfortable (for my personality and my line of work). There is a balance between the blessings of being able to throw a lot in to work and the curse of being alone so much (even though I need a good amount of alone time). Thanks for sharing!

  3. Kate
    Kate says:

    Thank you for this powerful reflection on boundaries, both the good and the bad. Know you have many sisters holding you up in prayer – to find your own way to grieve, and to help keeping the show to go on.

  4. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Thank you for writing this. As we think about starting a family and have had some trouble conceiving, I’ve thought about these same issues. Our work is so relationship-centric, and yet those relationships can really only flow one-way. Rough stuff. Blessings as your grieve. May you find solace in God’s deep love for you.

  5. Single Rev for 6 more months
    Single Rev for 6 more months says:

    When I started dating last spring I told no one at my church – why would I?
    When I started dating the man I’m now engaged to I mentioned it to staff. After 4 months I brought him to a staff dinner. But beyond that I didn’t mention my relationship to congregants. Again, why would I? When I’m preaching the gospel from the pulpit I see no place to mention, oh, btw my boyfriend and I went camping last weekend and saw the beautiful stars that God made – isn’t God great? That doesn’t work for me.
    I told the member of my church, who is my landlord because she would see his car come and go, of course.
    When we got engaged in November we waited a while to enjoy that time together before we shared the news with others. It was January when I told the Senior Pastor, then the staff, and a few weeks later the entire congregation during worship.
    I got a lot of “I didn’t even know you were dating anyone” comments. A few of the ladies even said, “You need to teach me how to have a personal life, because I can’t do anything without telling the world!” I think a couple of folks are a little hurt they didn’t know. But, frankly, I think it reinforced the “we’re not friends, I’m your pastor” boundary.
    It is hard when we’re hurt and grieving and we do need a friend and we just can’t be a pastor to someone because we need ice cream and a shoulder to cry on. I hope you have colleagues or find others to connect with locally…it is never the same as our good friends who are only in touch by phone, but even just having someone else to cook for – or to cook for us – can ease that loss just a smidge.

  6. Melissa
    Melissa says:

    Oh my goodness. A few months ago, I could’ve written this article. Thanks for being vulnerable and know that you are not alone. So often our lives and ministries are lived in shades of gray, and I appreciate the integrity of the choices you made. Peace and comfort as you continue to navigate the tricky, ever-flowing waters of relationship.

  7. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    I’ll never forget moving to my first full-time pastorate as an engaged person and, within a year, having to handle my broken engagement. I don’t know if it was the thick boundaries I put up or their discretion, but the congregation handled it with respect, allowing me to move forward with dignity and space. They also didn’t even question a “sick day” Sunday I had to take because I was so heartbroken by a new relationship’s end a couple of years later that I couldn’t eat or function. Looking back with the blessing of distance, I’m reminded what tangled situations those were, even with the profound grace woven throughout.

  8. Clair
    Clair says:

    Once again shocked to find my life writ large on this site. If it helps, I went the opposite route, introduced him to some folks at church (after a respectable amount of time, my parents who live 13 hours away met him before any one in the congregation did), and now have to figure out both how to get the word out that he isn’t around anymore, and how to survive the offers of solace once the news spreads.
    So- solidarity coming from this direction. Prayers for feeling better, all around.


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