Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A season of divorce, a life of salvation

Seven years ago, I went through two divorces. The first, from the brand of Christianity of my childhood. The second, from a man. The seven years since then have been a journey into wholeness, into salvation.

This Friday would have been my 10th wedding anniversary. I got married at 22, right out of college, believing that love and faith would overcome all challenges. I joined my husband in Boston, where he was in seminary. Our marriage had many ups, more downs, and less than 3 years in, it ended in a lot of hurt and isolation and confusion. I will probably never fully have "closure," because there is likely to be no reconciliation between the two of us.

I was raised believing that divorce is a sin - that nothing short of extramarital affairs justifies divorce in God's eyes - isn't that what Jesus said? I thought it would never happen to me. My parents separated when I was young, but they got back together within a year. I knew others whose parents were divorced, as were some of my extended family, but mostly, in my world, a woman and a man got married and they never split up, unless one person cheated, and even then sometimes there was forgiveness and they stayed together. Divorce was not in my vocabulary.

Shortly before my marriage ended, I went through a different kind of divorce - I left the denomination of my childhood (it was actually a joint decision for both my husband and me). Like my marriage, my relationship with my childhood faith tradition left me with both gifts and scars. Ultimately, it was not a place where I could live into what I knew to be a call to ordained ministry.

Just as marriage is a covenant relationship, so is our covenant with a faith community. Two divorces at once was a lot to handle. I hadn't yet processed the first divorce before hurtling into the second one. I don't know if one was harder than the other. And again, just as I had always known that ending a legal marriage was a sin, so was leaving the church that claimed to have a monopoly on salvation.

When my marriage ended, a friend told me, "this is where every conservative and fundamentalist bone in your body is going to cry out." He was right. Not divorce! Not me! It is a sin, a grave sin! But looking back now, 7 years later, I think that both of those divorces helped make possible my salvation.

Growing up, salvation had primarily to do with what happens to us after we die. As in, if you are driving home tonight and you die in a car accident, do you know, with certainty, whether you will go to heaven or hell? Don't you want to have assurance of salvation? And then the even more troubling question - what if you look at someone with lust, or think a hateful thought, or some other heinous "sin" right before you die? If you don't have a chance to repent, then will God forgive you, or are you doomed to hell? So of course I wanted to be sure, and was baptized, although unlike many of my peers, I didn't feel the need to repeat that baptism, just to make sure I was truly saved.

Seven years later, I don't see salvation that way. My season of divorce, along with other life experiences and relationships, took every bone in my fundamentalist body, made them rise up and cry out and seek a healing balm, a balm that would make me whole. And that is where I found salvation - wholeness. Suddenly sin takes on an entirely different meaning, too. Divorce, isolation, family tensions, hurt friendships, hunger, fear, poverty, pollution, all are symptoms of our brokenness, our need for a healing balm, for salvation.

It's another of those great paradoxes that point to the mystery of grace and truth and love - that our symptoms of sin, of brokenness, are often the very things that can lead us to salvation. I can say with certainty that divorce - times two - opened a new world to me, in which I seek to live into heaven - a place of peace, and love, and hope, and understanding, and joy, and justice, and wholeness - right here and now.

This has been and continues to be my salvation.