When my mom and David, my pastor, fell in love, got engaged and were married in less than six months, I was against it. The whole thing became a catalyst for division in the church. I was against that too.
Adults were to be civil and not get in fights. Pastors never made mistakes or got angry. Moms who said they would never remarry, never remarried, and… oh yeah, didn’t have personal lives. I was a few months shy of eighteen and going to be a big girl about all this. Those were my expectations. It seemed pretty clear and reasonable to me. Only, nobody played along.
Every adult behaved badly on one occasion or more. David was, surprise, human. Mom was, surprise, not a robot. And I…did not behave like a big girl. I behaved like a big ol’ baby. On one occasion, I became so angry during a discussion with the two of them, the church staff heard a stream of profanities from behind the closed door of David’s office. I used every cuss word in my arsenal…in front of a pastor…inside a church.
My obvious dislike of what was happening had little effect. So, I progressed to passive aggressive I-hate-this-and-I-don’t-want-you-around kind of behavior. It was behavior I rarely employed as a teenager, believe it or not, but I was not going to budge. I could control this, and I was going to. However, I found myself in a navy blue bridesmaid’s dress a month or two later, being escorted down the aisle by David’s brother. I had given up, but remained hopeful that someone in the congregation would object. No one did.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like David. I liked him just fine as a pastor. But, as a man responsible for turning my world upside down…didn’t so much like that. The relationship with my mom had been my stability through everything with my dad and beyond. Now, nothing was stable, not even our relationship. Not my home life. Not my church life. I was graduating high school. I sunk my nails into a steadily slipping stability, but it got away from me…
Others were struggling too and the whole thing raised issues for people: Were they fooling around long before his wife died? Is the church being mishandled? Should they be getting married…and in less than six months? Pastors don’t behave like this. Because there is so much discord, their marriage is wrong. They aren’t handling this right. Change is not hard because things are suddenly different; change is hard because we have this need to decide what is right and wrong about it.
Earlier this week, I submitted an application for Pacific School of Religion (PSR). One of the seven questions I had to answer in a personal statement was: What do you think is the most critical issue we face?
As I answered this question, my experience with my mom and David’s marriage was on my mind. The issue, as I see it, is our preoccupation with “issues.” I think the most critical issue we face is acceptance. Acceptance can cause us recoil, and maybe it’s because our agendas, our opinions, the “issues” contrived and genuine, become more important than the people we are called to accept…to love.
Acceptance creates room for things to change, for people to change. Acceptance allows people to be who they really are. Creating this kind of space makes things messy because people are messy, and I couldn’t allow that kind of mess. When my mom and David got together, my tendency was to stuff people into a tiny box and sit on the lid to make sure everyone stayed put. I needed people to stay the same, and create the least disharmony as possible, and everything would be dandy. The problem is, sooner or later, boxes burst open even if you sit on them.
The worst thing about refusing to give people wiggle room is that it means God doesn’t get any wiggle room either. When God does not get wiggle room we miss what He is doing in His people and His church. I missed what God was doing when my mom and David married because I saw only the issue. I did not see David and Nancy. I saw only my limited scope of right and wrong. The rights and wrongs became more important than the lives I was given to love.
Our rights and wrongs become more important than people all the time in different ways. I believe Brennan Manning was on to something when he wrote,
“The way we are with each other is the truest test of our faith…Authentic faith leads us to treat others with unconditional seriousness and to a loving reverence for the mystery of the human personality.”
The mystery of the human personality is a mess, and I can’t handle the mess most of the time. It’s a test of faith because we have to truly let God worry about the right and wrong, the wheat and tare. When boxes are bursting open and rules say one thing but grace says another, I can’t be depended upon to figure it out. I need a God who works in spite of me. I need a God who is bigger than my good intentions and attempts to do the “right” thing.