Several of his friends and colleagues have been talking with him about the break-up of his marriage. They nod wisely, and say:
“Of course, we knew what she was like, we saw it coming!”
His face smiles, but inside he seethes, and thinks…
“Well, thanks a lot for telling me. How wise and helpful you can be after the event.
He makes a mental note to take the risk of speaking out if ever he sees the tell-tale signs in any friend’s relationship.
Many of his Christian friends are still pressing him to try to be reconciled to his wife…his ex-wife. They do not know the full story…
Later he reflects that he and his former wife have achieved a kind of reconciliation; it includes a recognition that part of their reconciliation as people involves accepting that the marriage and all that relationship meant is definitely over for good.
In his time as a minister he has given help and counselling to several men going through painful separations. Mostly they do not deal with it well. He has seen men become a pale shadow of their former selves and effectively withdraw from life. He does not wish to become a victim.
He determines that he will not allow this event to define who he is. There will be life the other side of divorce, and he will embrace it…
Seventeen years later he applies for a job as a minister. He has waited a long time for this moment, and is intensely nervous at the risk he is taking.
Much to his surprise, things go very well at every stage…writing the application, being selected for interview, coming out of the interview as the best candidate and being recommended for the post by the church leadership. He meets the church and things are still going well.
When the church votes on his appointment, a small but significant number vote against. It is enough to deny him the return to ministry.
It is rumoured that they voted as they did because of his divorce …
‘They’ have sent his student minister to see him. The student obviously feels awkward and out of his depth.
“There’s been a meeting…a small group are insisting that you stand in front of the church and tell everyone exactly why you have separated from your wife.”
(This is the group who have resented the changes he has brought to their church, who cannot cope with the new people from the neighbourhood who have started to come.)
The man knows he cannot do this. It’s not that he’s not prepared to be completely honest and vulnerable but…churches are often not the places of discretion they should be. His children do not know about the things his wife has done.
Suddenly the strain of trying to keep it all together is too much for him. He feels tired and unable to fight.
His letter of resignation is in the post by the evening…
Resignation means, although he does not know it at the time, the loss of his vocation, long periods of unemployment, having to claim benefit for the first time ever and…because of his failure to explain, being seen for many years to come as the one who broke up the marriage.
He has been very careful when telling friends and the church that he and his wife have separated. He gives no deep explanation, apportions no blame. In everything he tried hard to be neutral and fair…it seems like the right thing to do.
Robbed of the full story, people make up their own version of events.
One night the phone rings. It is a friend, a leader in another church.
“I’ve just been at a city-wide prayer meeting,” he tells, “where a member of your church felt ‘compelled to share, just for prayer, of course’, that their minister had separated with his wife and was having an affair.” Fortunately, another close friend of the man, who knew more than most about the situation, had quickly quashed the rumour and defended the man’s integrity.
But damage had been done, and the rumours continued to grow.
The man realised he had been very naïve…
It is just before Christmas. One year has passed since she first let on about her affair.
He has just finished clearing his life out of their family home, and relocating it to a small but cheerful room in a community house owned by a local Anglican church.
There is space in the house for his children, who only live a short distance away, to come for frequent stays…in fact, the house is almost equally spaced between his old home and their school.
Lying back on his bed and taking in his new space, he is surprised that amidst the sadness he is also feeling an amazing sense of release and relief. He feels safe again.
He’d better enjoy those feelings while they last…
They have just told the children that they will be separating. He is still trying to ‘do a bad thing well’, and on this occasion they are both in agreement. They have picked a weekend when nothing else will intrude They will be able to all spend the weekend together after breaking the news.
The eldest son tries to look brave and in control, while the youngest son quietly weeps. The youngest daughter, almost uncomprehending, weeps with him.
It is left to the eldest daughter to give full vent to her feelings in one long, drawn out cry of horror and pain.
It is a sound that will always haunt him, maybe for the rest of his life, and draw him back to the raw, painful emotion of that event.