When It's Time To Say Goodbye

We recently spent a few days with a couple who parted ways with their church after 17 years of ministry. The allegory that follows was written by the wife. We listed it here because it gives good insight into some of the feelings pastors can wrestle with when it is time to leave a church.  

Divorce—9 Months Later (An Allegory)

(The “spouse” in this piece refers mostly to the church as represented by the leadership—the decision-making body of the institution .)

Now we know what divorce feels like.

Our “spouse” of 35 (and 58) years rejected us.  Cast us aside.  Decided it did not want to give us its love anymore--decided that it would seek another.  It contemplated the separation in secret behind our backs for almost three years, then sprang upon us suddenly, blindsiding us with its decision.  We had no idea the spouse felt the way it did. The spouse had only ever said it was pleased with us. But now it told us unmistakably that we were no longer desired, that it wanted someone else. It pressed us to say the words of separation and expected us to make the announcement to the world even though the idea was conceived in its own heart. We were in shock, as one who turns around and is kicked in the stomach. 

Our former spouse acted cowardly in its resolve. It tried to make the divorce appear like it was just as much our idea in order to excuse itself before its children. It called the divorce a “mutual decision”. The spouse asked of us the impossible, and it knew it had.  Then it told its children we refused to comply with its wishes.  Sad, manipulative spouse! Our former spouse said it would honor us for our long marriage, but then shoved us out with almost breath-taking abruptness. We sat in stunned silence trying to grasp what was happening, wondering what we had done to warrant such treatment, for we had only loved the spouse and served it as honestly and as best as we could. It thinks that in giving us alimony it has done its duty. What shallow understanding!  Money is no compensation for the hurt of rejection, insult and humiliation.

We loved our former spouse.  We still do.  It grew us up.  It helped marry us.  It helped raise our children.  It supported us in faraway places and nursed us through sickness and misfortune.  We tried to show our love and gratefulness by faithfulness and devotion, by giving back, but our sacrifices hold no sway now.  They count for nothing.

Our former spouse is still in town. There it sits, beautiful and proud.  “A place to belong,” it calls itself, but we belong no more. We see it often. It calls to all others but does not speak to us.  It silently mocks us from a distance. It does not see us when we drive by nor does it feel how we long for it. It seems to shun us—glad to have forgotten that we were once one. We are as unclean.  Leprous.  Unworthy.   We feel guilty though the spouse says we did nothing wrong. The spouse rejoices in its triumph. And we are crushed.

Our friends are still friends with our former spouse. They visit together, they play together, they give it their devotion.  Life must go on, but without us. Why should it not? We cry over the one we love, and ask, why? Was this total rejection really necessary?  Was this incredible pain really necessary? We feel lost and homeless, suspended in a great cloud of nothingness, without resolution. 

What if our spouse had talked to us?  What if it had shared with us its vision and what it was thinking?  What if it had respected us enough to include us in the conversation……. from the beginning? We could have come along side the spouse.  We could have understood. We could have prepared ourselves. We could have stepped down with dignity and honor, even given it our blessing.  The spouse’s children could have given their blessing. We could have finished well.  But it did not, and we were driven out bruised and bleeding. The spouse did not really seem to care, nor has it looked back even once to see if the wounds it inflicted have closed. We are abandoned, left with a persistent aching, enduring sadness and anger. I guess we only thought we meant something to the spouse.

Must we move away?  Is it the only way to heal?  Must we forget that we ever had a spouse?  Must we leave the many beautiful memories behind which are now laced with a pain that tears at us daily? We must forget and somehow move on, but we will never be the same. Can we ever trust a spouse again?

Our former spouse has a new lover. It seems delighted with its new lover, and why should it not be?  The new lover is young, different, talented, exciting.  But how long?  How long until the new lover is also old?  How long until the new lover isn’t stylish anymore; doesn’t entertain its spouse anymore? How long before the spouse is again chasing a fresh image? What if the new lover cannot dance to the spouse’s changing tune? Will the spouse again plot behind the lover’s back and cast it off, full of years and experience? We pity the new lover.  But perhaps the spouse has learned. Perhaps the spouse now knows, if it cares at all, that to be forthright and transparent is the better path; that schemes forged in secret only cause deep wounds that take a great span of time to heal…… if they ever do. Betrayal is a weapon of devastating force. Perhaps the spouse will be kinder to its new lover……..perhaps……. perhaps……..