I could feel it within my bones—that unsettled awareness that something was out of balance. It was more than the cold, single-digit temperatures or the doubts and questions that come with the beginning of a new year.
Hoping to lift my spirits, I called a long-time friend who lived far away. I wished her “happy new year” and asked about her posting on social media showing how she spent a tropical holiday. For the moment, her exuberance and delight calmed my questioning spirit. Before we said goodbye, I expressed my unsettled feelings. After a pause, remembering years past, she asked, “Is this about the time your husband left?”
I felt my eyes moisten—not because of her words but because my call to her was in part prompted by my own epiphany of sorts earlier in the day, which she named gently but clearly. “Yes,” I said, “January 6, to be exact.” It’s been more than 20 years since my husband announced he was leaving the marriage. I don’t often think or talk about the trauma of divorce and the faith-shaking and faith-shaping experience that has been over these years, but today I needed to be reminded.
After our conversation, I reflected on my spiritual journey since then. The trauma of divorce shook the foundations of my faith. At the time, I was working with curriculum development at a church-related organization where I was surrounded by caring, compassionate colleagues. I began to memorize Scripture and find new meaning in the texts that were familiar from childhood. I grappled with what I’d been taught and believed. I held to the belief that being a person of peace meant reconciliation was not only desirable but possible.
A colleague helped broaden my understanding of reconciliation by explaining that when Jacob and Esau met in the desert after many years of animosity, they embraced but then went their separate ways. Through spiritual direction and small-group experiences I explored how to let go of toxic relationships, whether on a personal or professional level. I learned that letting go gives opportunity for new possibilities and growth.
A friend invited me to attend a writing colloquium that led to seminary studies in a non-Mennonite environment. This new environment broadened my horizons but kept me grounded in the peace church tradition. There were years of rebuilding and transformation before I felt spiritually healthy and whole again.
I continue to learn that living in the now is the beginning of living in the know. Knowing comes with noticing God’s presence in the world around me—the chickadee whose insistent song calls for my attention, the squirrels in joyful play who chase each other along the same tree branch paths no matter what the season, the grocery check-out person whose eyes always sparkle when I ask a question or comment on her smile or helpfulness, the grandchild who smiles and hugs me when I sing the song I composed for him on the day he was born. These threads of awareness, relationships and community sustain me.
Recently the blurb on a book jacket in our used book store caught my attention. The editor of a collection of first-person essays on loss and sorrow acknowledged that bad things happen, and the first thing we must do is name them. I’m grateful my friend helped me recognize that on our telephone call. The second truth, he said, is that sometimes bad things can lead to good things. That doesn’t negate the bad or say we should deny feelings of anger, hurt and loss. But keeping our hearts and minds open can help us be aware that transformation is possible.
The Apostle Paul puts it this way in Romans 8:28: “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Good News Bible). Unfortunately, the final phrase of that verse is often used to say that God wills or lets bad things happen as if to test us or somehow make us stronger or more dependent. Just like a loving parent, God who is love would never bring harm to his children. God’s purpose is always for our healing and wholeness. When I consider my spiritual resilience in my ongoing journey as a divorced, remarried person, I claim the words of Paul earlier in Romans 8, reminding me that in my weakest and lowest moments, “the Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words” (verse 26).
I am learning to be thankful within all things. That choice is different from being thankful for all things. One of the Scripture passages I’ve memorized says it this way: “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4: 6). Henri Nouwen said that being thankful for all that has brought us to the present moment requires hard spiritual work.
In his poem “The Way It Is,” William Stafford uses the image of a thread that we each follow through the changes of life. In spite of loss, hurts, suffering and growing old, we will not get lost as long as we don’t let go of that thread. I visualize that life-sustaining thread like an umbilical cord. I am forever tethered, but not chained, to a loving, generous God who created me, who dwells within me and to whom I will return. As Stafford says, “It is hard for others to see” that thread. Through loving relationships, a caring faith community and personal attention to spiritual practices such as centering prayer, that cord provides nourishment, meaning and joy.
Today my life is full of many blessings—the opportunity to graduate from seminary and share ministry with a loving husband, many grandchildren, a strong faith community and opportunities for service and travel, to name a few. My soul has a story to tell. Writing is one avenue where my soul story finds expression, and I know I want to continue following that life-giving thread.
Elizabeth Raid writes for Rejoice! and has worked in various Mennonite-related organizations, including as co-pastor with her husband, Lou Gomez, at Mennonite Friendship Communities, South Hutchinson, Kansas.