Sometimes, God gives you people you really need…in ways you didn’t really know you needed them.
In seminary, I had a classmate named David. He lived on campus with his wife, Karen, and I lived a couple of towns over with my husband and kids. My being a commuter student meant I didn’t always get to know people all that well outside of the classroom. While they were having cook-outs and studying together, I was driving home to my family. So, I knew David in the classroom. He was smart and good at computer-y things when I had questions. He was also not from the South, so we had a kinship in that. His wife, Karen, was diagnosed with cancer at the beginning of our seminary journey. She died during the first year or so of David’s first call as a pastor of a congregation. I think that was about 4 years ago. David was maybe 50ish when he became a widower. My heart broke for him, and as Spirit would have it, we were in a group of brand new pastors who met monthly for support and fellowship.
When I was called to be the pastor of the good people of Emmanuel Lutheran Church, (as Spirit would have it) a small group of female pastors (who had been pastors for 20 years or more) in my area gathered me under their experienced wings. We met for lunch once a month for support and fellowship. Judy was one of those pastors. I liked her right away because her smile, humor, and kindness are captivating. Over the months of getting to know each other, we found we had both been divorced when our kids were young – and our sons were attending the same university! We have a lot in common and have become dear friends.
Spirit drew David toward and into my life.
Spirit drew Judy toward and into my life.
Two years ago, I became a widow at the age of 45. David and I were suddenly in the same club: Pastors Who Are Too Young to Be Widows/Widowers. It meant we could nod and make eye contact with each other when we heard someone ask the other of us an awkward question or try to offer comfort. It meant we both knew that when we entered a room at a pastors’ conference for our region, those who didn’t know us personally knew of our losses because our names had been in the newsletter and on prayer lists. We knew what it felt like to have well-meaning people shake our right hand and put their left hand on our shoulder, make meaningful eye contact and ask, “How are you?” And we both new that the weight of the hand on our shoulder and the answer we really wanted to give to this virtual stranger were far too heavy.
Since my second husband died, Judy and I have shared many long conversations about singlehood, single parenting of adult children, and single-female-pastorhood. She has shared that she longed for a life-partner again. I have shared that I simply have no such longing at this point.
David and I have had the same conversations. As Spirit would have it, they met, fell in love, and…
…yesterday, Spirit drew me to Ebenezer Lutheran Church to bear Christian witness at the wedding of David and Judy.
I am so happy for them. And I wondered how it would feel to be at their wedding – my single-mom friend and my widower friend both filling spaces in their hearts and lives, spaces that we have in common. I wondered how it would be to hear them promise forever to each other. Would it sting a little? Would it make me wonder if I might find such love?
The ceremony was beautiful! A trumpet and organ filled the old, stone building as the bridal party walked down the aisle and took their places. Their astonishingly talented friends sang beautiful solos, scripture was proclaimed, a fine sermon was preached, and then it was time for the Rite of Christian Marriage. Our bishop asked David and Judy if they intended to live within a covenant, a holy promise. Do they intend to go through life together, regardless of what life has in store? And I remembered how very hard that can be.
And then came the vows.
I got stuck on these words: I will share my life with you, through the best and worst that is to come.
I can’t do that. I cannot spend that kind of energy. I can’t make that kind of promise.
I confess that when the bishop prayed the next prayer, I was flipping back to the first page of the worship booklet. I knew I had heard the bishop say something about marriage that I needed to read again. And there it was:
Marriage is a call from God.
When we try to do things we are not called to do, that for which we do not have the gifts, things don’t go so well.
If God calls me to marriage again, first God will equip me with the stores of energy, forgiveness, humility, and patience marriage requires. And, certainly, while equipping me with such gifts, Spirit will continue to help me heal from the unhealthy ways I have learned to protect myself. God is in the business of helping me unlearn unhelpful things. This, I believe.
And in just the way that I am not called to be a doctor or politician or work in retail, I may very well not be called to be married. God has called me to holy and marvelous things in this chapter of my life. This, I believe.