“What?!? Moving to Michigan? Now?” Anger and joy crashed together in my thirteen-year-old heart. I adored my father’s family in Michigan but the pain of leaving my mother’s people and all that I knew in Pennsylvania stunned me. My entrance into adolescence created a rocky 7th grade year already and this piled on more agony. The problem? Although my brain grew up, my body stalled, somewhere around 5th grade. My friends “developed” earlier and became goofy about boys, like all the time. I struggled all year to maintain my position in the group.
My birthday coincided with the end of school. In light of our upcoming move, my mother thought a surprise birthday and farewell party to be a great idea. Unfortunately, and unknown to my mother, in the true tradition of mean girls, by the month of May, my friends effectively culled me from their herd. Our friendships stretched all the way back to kindergarten but I no longer fit with them and that was that. Three mothers forced their daughters to come to my party. Oh yay. We limped through a couple of hours of pretending to still be friends, mostly for my mother’s sake.
The scar I bear from that rejection is miniscule compared to the losses my friend, “Sheila,” experienced when she lost her entire support system, due to divorce. If you’ve not experienced divorce, try to remember a time of loss, similar to my story, then multiply that by about a hundred. You might then imagine some of the sorrow “Sheila” and “Bridgette” (see previous two posts for Bridgette’s story), and many other former pastor’s wives experience.
Here is part one of Sheila’s story.
Being There Through Divorce
“Do you think his diabetes could be causing his mood swings?” asked a medical friend of mine. My husband’s unusual behavior caused me so much concern I sought out the advice of a friend on our church staff.
My husband served as a pastor at our church. He didn’t seek a ministry position, in fact, it was my life ambition more than his. Since his business experience was financial and the mission department needed his skill set, he agreed to take a pastoral job.
We worked and prayed together, and watched the department grow. Early on though, his focus on ministry drifted and I noticed his eyes following other women around the sanctuary. Eventually, someone caught him looking at pornography on his computer, but at that time, he only received a warning.
Deeply troubled, I met with the friend, who suggested diabetes could be the culprit. Soon after, two elders ushered me into the church’s board room, shutting the door firmly behind them. The men sat at a table with notebooks opened. One did most of the talking, questioning me as I shared my concern and fear about what was happening at home between my husband and I. In return, the Elder’s questions to me were mysterious: “Did anyone else witness this? Can you prove that this happened? Can we question your children?”
I felt judged. These men offered no help unless I could prove that what I was saying was true, citing 2 Corinthians 13:1 which states, “Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”
Eventually, my husband “retired” early from the church, complete with pomp and circumstance. Two weeks later, he handed me divorce papers and said he wished to marry someone else. I called the church to tell them the horrific news, but they already knew. When I asked if anything could be done to help us, I was told, “This is between you and your husband.” I asked for help, again, from the Elder who questioned me earlier. His response was, “We don’t do that.”
I struggled for years with pain, a sense of failure, anger, grief, feelings of betrayal, and a desire to seek revenge. During those years, I remember hearing a well-known pastor say, “It’s easier to forgive those who have hurt you when you have the love and support of others.” I had none.
One of the awful things about divorce is that friends and family are forced to choose sides. An acquaintance of mine, who experienced divorce and the death of a second spouse, told me that the divorce was far more devastating to walk through. In both circumstances someone dearly loved disappeared from their life but with the divorce, a number of relationships with friends and family were also lost.
So, what can you and I do, if a situation like Sheila’s or Bridgette’s occurs within your world? In the next post, Sheila offers some specific strategies to help churches and individuals who are walking through the nightmare of a pastoral marriage dissolving.