A couple of yrs ago I met a guy who was a divorced pastor. Strangely enough he recognized me from a photo in an online dating service. I only put 1 photo on the site, as I typically do, to minimize being recognized out in public. Ironically, that was enough for him to pick me out of a sea of people in a very large crowd, one Sunday morning.
As the large slow moving crowd piled out of church, I noticed this good-looking guy standing next to me, smile at me. So, I smiled back of course.
He then said “I know this sounds like a cliché, but you look familiar to me.”
He didn’t look familiar to me. After a very short moment he exclaimed: “Are you on the YYYY.com dating site?”
I was shocked. Out of all photos and people on the site, he would remember me. I of course didn’t recall his face. After further discussion, there was good reason! He didn’t post a picture. He remembered that I didn’t respond to his email. Amazingly, I remembered his email. I can’t remember why now, as I look back on this day, but there was something that made me recall it.
“Yeah! My policy is no picture, no response,” I said with a mischievous smile.
At this point I’m thinking, Hmm, this must be a God thing. The chances of running into each other in a very crowded city, and in a very large church!
After a short talk, he invited me to coffee and we met later that day. I was so ready to meet a man with God in his heart, and here he shows up, a pastor no less! I was definitely excited. After so many prayers and years preparing myself, I thought this was it, perhaps this is my answer from above.
Because he was a pastor, I thought he would be more spiritually enlightened and in touch with God’s purpose, than I am. I came to learn that he carried a lot of shame and embarrassment regarding being divorced, some 3 yrs now.
“People expect more from me, and I expect more from myself. At the time of my divorce, I resigned from being pastor of a church in Las Vegas.”
After several conversations with him, the predominant and consistent theme in all his communication was this shame he was burdening himself with.
At one point I leveled with him and said:
“You say you want to move on and remarry one day. I don’t know if you realize this, but you have not forgiven yourself about this divorce. You are still carrying that around your neck like an albatross. Until you can reckon with it, you will probably scare off women who want a healthy relationship.”
“No, I disagree. I have forgiven myself.”
“I’m just sharing what’s clear to me as an outsider looking in. You may not realize it, but you are coming across this way.”
“I have done a lot of work and am now at peace with this. Though it was hardest on my sons when my wife left.”
Okay. Never mind, don’t mind my observation.
He was also consumed with talk about starting another church. He felt God was directing him to get back to it. He talked about his network of pastors and how he was just waiting to be asked to start a church. It was his dream and desire. He was quick to say it was God calling him to do this. Granted, I just met the guy, but I sensed he was full of himself and what he wanted. I did not sense humility. And the fact that he ignored my observation began to indicate that he did not have an open heart to growing, despite what his words would say.
He talked about wanting to remarry, but I got the feeling he was looking to check the box. Meaning, it was just something on his checklist of what “he wanted.” I would love to marry again some day. But I don’t pursue it like a goal, which once checked (completed) I move on to the next goal on the list. He was disconnected emotionally, and was focused on one thing: attaining a church to start up. He admitted that the divorce led to an opportunity to get closer to his children, and that his relationship with them was better than ever. Yet, he was ready to leave his kids to move to another state to start a church.
As an outsider looking in, this didn’t seem to me as a “Holy” thing. It seemed more like an “ego” thing.
I’m a firm believer that there are always blessings that sprout from tough and terrible times. I think that his period of being divorced, could be used in a God way.
I shared my thoughts about that.
“My experience as a divorced person having visited many churches, is that I am invisible. Churches rarely address the subject of divorce. When they do, they typically do so from a shame perspective. I still periodically hear pastors refer to “broken” homes in the context of divorce. What’s so broken about the love I have for my daughter and she has for me? I tell you, I have seen more “brokenness” in homes where there are 2 parents, than divorced homes. There’s so much relationship and family dysfunction. Do they get a free pass because they show up wearing a wedding band and are not divorced? ”
I was on a roll….
“Do you want to know why I am not a member of a church? Because I will become a member when I find a church that doesn’t ignore the ever large community of single parents. The church which preaches sermons relevant to us, which are motivating and encouraging, not full of finger wagging.
I don’t think you see the very unique position you are in. Maybe God wants to use you to address his overlooked children. You can speak from an authentic place. I would love to hear someone who’s been there, talk about this. Not a married guy who’s never been divorced, talking about something he has no personal experience with. You have a unique perspective and your words would have credibility. Divorced people are likely to listen to what you have to say.”
I have visited many churches where they miss the great population of divorced or single parents, because it’s a taboo subject that most don’t touch with a 10 ft pole. In churches we are a minority. The silent minority. But in the social spectra, divorced and single parents are a growing majority. Here we are in the 21st century, and we are the unacknowledged. To acknowledge us may mean to them that they condone divorce.
I rarely hear the word “divorced” or “single parents” when in church. Instead, I hear the word “Singles” bantered about with ease. Every time I hear “Singles” I ask myself, has he lumped the divorced and single parents into that word? That word sounds like a safe and generic enough word to use. I keep hanging on every word, hopeful that we may be acknowledged, even if it’s a slip of the tongue. The words are very metered and precise, so I can’t imagine it’s a coincidence that an overwhelming number of sermons rarely include “single parents” and even rarer still, “divorced” terms.
“I don’t know about that. I feel called to start up a church.” He said, without acknowledging the relevance of what I shared. Ironically, here he is representative of church clergy, and he doesn’t acknowledge me, nor himself for the status he currently wears.
I continued, “Sometimes I have felt God calling me to do something, and it was my desire that was in the driver’s seat. I’m not proporting to be knowledgeable of what God is directing you to do, but I am suggesting that you consider that maybe God wants to use you in a way that reaches so many who stay away from church because, like me, they don’t feel a sense of “belonging.”
I don’t recall his exact words, but he basically dismissed all I said and was not receptive. I dropped it. What’s the point?
I still think our meeting is a God thing, Sometimes people come in for us to share an observation, share something that may stir them. But ultimately they must think it valuable, because otherwise it falls on death ears.
The next time he called me, it was to say, “I have great news! I received a call from a pastor in Las Vegas, a good friend of mine who wants me to pastor a new church he plans on building.”
“Congratulations, this is what you wanted.”
“Sorry about the timing in all this. We were just starting to get to know each other.”
“No worries. Every thing happens for a reason. But how about your youngest son? The one you said needed you at this time in his life? Are you taking him with you?”
“No. I think it will be better for him to stay here with his grandparents. I already talked about this with him and he wants me to take this position.”
He added, “I’ll email you when I get there.”
For me, I had not emotionally invested myself in this man. He made that very easy. He was emotionally aloof and it was clear that he didn’t respect my views or opinions.
So when he never emailed me, nor stayed in touch, I did not think more about it. Some 10 months later, he called me to say, “I’m back from Las Vegas. Things didn’t work out as planned. The church never got underway as planned and my son had a lot of difficulty while I was gone.”
I searched his heart to see if he was more open hearted, but I saw no change.
He invited me to meet sometime for coffee, but frankly, I didn’t want to go down the dead end road with him. Sometimes all we need to walk is a short path with someone. When we force something more, or lengthen the stay, it’s self-destructive. I’m not about making him (a stranger who demonstrated his heart was not open or humble to allow me in), more important than taking care of me.