A tender morning dawns within me, with awareness of an eventful–huge, actually–day yesterday. I feel the heart-ache of an ending, with all its subsequent fear, self-doubt, anxiety, sadness. I feel the cusp of fresh air, a hopefulness and freedom so unfamiliar to me in this area of my life.
A vague summary? I came to voice about my experience and finally took action for my own best self/life, even as I am only an indirect participant in my husband’s vocational life–as a preacher’s wife. I finally valued my own experience and the power of choice I do have more than the fear of the potential conflict or damage it might create, which he would have to manage. I embodied my own wisdom-sense, trusting Brian to embody his.
So we’re in it now. [Full Moon in Aries. Yowza. Yes.]
The last fourteen months have offered fodder-for-discernment for the situation in an on-again-off-again kind of way. Specifically, food for thought about a strand in my married-family life of the last 8-10 years. Years. My husband’s vocational life in congregational ministry, specifically his gift for mentoring, alongside my own sacred work of circle and commitment to him, our life together.
The story and stories within these 8-10 years are too numerous to recount. The good decisions made in risked faith, the poor decisions made in risked faith–again, too numerous. But all the strands came together in the last month for me to see new things about my own behaviors, my own contributions to a situation–with possible future situations–which finally grew so untenable as to spur me to voice. Naming my own experience, in detail, with potential for sharing it in a system shaped to disregard my own experience. Naming what I now see. And acting for my own best self, the sense of the life I want with Brian. Acting without attachment to outcome, but finally acting.
We are in it now.
“This may be the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” I told a friend on my way home from the long day of United Board meetings. Given the centrality of relationship that defines my life, my own sense of belonging and purpose, I bend over backwards to nurture relationships, offer well held spaces for teaching/learning/listening/growing with others. I find my life’s purpose in this kind of work, so it’s nourishing of me, about me too. Therefore, not out of character, I engaged this work for the last 8-10 years, on behalf of my husband’s work, mentoring a young woman who presented both a large threat of perceived impropriety and a desperately needed balm to his ministry. He and I made discerned choices all the way through, struggling together to honor his own relational needs in his work as well as the balance necessary in our own intimate life.
Had it not been for his work, his need(s), I would never have intertwined my life with this young woman. There’s an emptiness in her that reminds me too much of my own. I recognize her familiar patterns of getting her needs met in the emotional intimacies of her parents, now the emotional commitments of other couples. She works hard at being the right answer at the right time for the men in her life, providing them what they need before they even know it themselves. And she’ll say whatever she intuits she needs to say, so to be valued, seen, belong. As such, she has shown me my youngest self, my most emotionally-neglected and wounded self, for years.
I am thankful, of course, as she has been a great spur for me to work on my own issues, my own relearning of new patterns that are healthier, better for me, better for all around me. I can say Spirit brought her into my life for my own healing, my own journey. I am thankful.
I have deep belly compassion for this young woman too. I perceived Spirit’s leadings for me to welcome her into the writing circle(s), the leadership circles, the community of women I knew that could help her see new patterns, different ways of getting her needs met–to be seen, heard, to belong. And she participated in all the things that I held, led, finally ditching the circle when it no longer provided her the connection to me…ultimately to me and Brian. Something in her prevented her from seeing new patterns, new invitations. She turned her attention to a new attachment that could meet her needs. Another fragile marriage, this time attaching to the woman.
And finally, in mid-September, I saw the inevitable frame within which all of this had unfolded. I had enabled the pattern itself. Because of my life with Brian, she never encountered the circle outside of the pattern of getting her emotional needs met in the covenantal intimacies of others. I was the link in the chain that had increasingly imprisoned myself. The circle itself was never promising enough on its own or it was not time in her life for whatever-this-is-in-her to be confronted, healed. So we release and trust in Spirit's timing...
Once you finally see something deeply, it’s impossible to unsee it. Once you see it, you have to take responsibility for the co-creation of your own bondage, making choices for your own best self/life/community of practice, purpose.
So, doing the hard thing I feared most to do, I set a boundary of no-contact with this young woman, for the remaining active years of Brian’s ministry. For the sake of his ministry, I had welcomed her in where she did not belong. For the hope that I could help her, could open new spaces for her, I had welcomed her in where she did not belong. For the penance I felt I needed to do, awakening to my own feminine and altering Brian’s world forever, I had welcomed her in where she did not belong. In my own patterns of finding safety by buffering my own parents’ rough edges, in getting my sense of belonging by providing for them, I enabled her to repeat the very same pattern in my own marriage.
This morning, I ponder the very able skill I have in coming to voice in my profession (with its prophetic and provocative messages I offer a resistant listening church) alongside the highly developed aversion to coming to voice in my marriage to a pastor (where my coming to voice threatens our financial security and his standing as a leader). He cannot tell the difference this morning, of course, as I finally spoke. But I know the difference in my belly. I speak truthfully in his world only rarely, hardly at all. Congregational systems are not built for honesty in this way. They are built for diplomacy, the accepted public truth of what has been. Which has its place, of course, but is not central to who I am or what I’m called to do, say, be. I spoke as a whole woman yesterday, all of who I am, without attachment or anticipation of outcome.
What will life be like for me now, for Brian and me now, with less and less of this woman in our lives? I am sad for the pain of it all. The heart-ache is real, visceral. But so is the oxygen, the hope, the awe of what we get to learn, when it’s finally time for us to learn it.