on a mission to embody grace and compassion in all relationships

Welcoming Feelings

This is the nineteenth in a series written by Malcolm Marler and Mary Bea Sullivan, husband and wife, about their journey as Mary, an author, goes to Virginia Theological Seminary.  Malcolm is a director of pastoral care at a hospital in Alabama.

“He Said” by Malcolm

I am happy to report that Mary and I both survived her first semester of seminary.

Mary settled into her dorm room in Virginia, met new academic challenges, made new friends, and immersed herself in a new learning adventure.  I am proud of her for meeting the challenges.  But these experiences are for her to write.

As for me in Alabama, I was surprised that my adjustment was more challenging than I had anticipated.  After all, Mary and I talked on the phone more than once a day and saw one another on Skype every night.  We visited each another every other weekend.

But I was surprised by the grief and loneliness I experienced in our first semester.

I have walked with many people through grief throughout my ministry.  I am also well acquainted with personal grief.  I know the signs, the symptoms, and the outcomes.  I know what to say to others, and what not to say.

But when I tried to ignore these feelings within myself, they dug themselves deeper in the trenches.

What we cannot do is avoid grief or avert loneliness if we live long enough.  It is like a flowing stream that will not be denied.

Of course, there is good reason why I felt these feelings because I love my wife and when I am not with her I missed her deeply.  I missed our casual conversations, her quick glance or kiss, and I missed making Mary laugh.  Oh my goodness, my wife has a great laugh.

These feelings are simply confirmation the love we have is the real deal.  Thank God.

Does feeling the grief and loneliness mean that we have made the wrong decision about Mary going to seminary in Virginia and me staying in Alabama? Far from it.  This is a decision we made together over several years.  I have no doubt Mary Bea Sullivan is exactly where she needs to be.  And so am I.

Just because a decision is difficult or challenging does not mean it is the wrong one.

My challenge now is to welcome the hard, uncomfortable feelings, and to lean into them.  It is the difference between arms open wide and a stiff arm.

This is an opportunity to learn, to grow, to trust.

Welcome grief, what lessons do you have to teach me today?
Come, let me hold you close.
Welcome loneliness, what lessons do you have to teach me today?
Come, let me hold you close.
Welcome Holy Comforter, give me peace while I hold the questions.
Come, let me hold you close.

When you experienced grief and loneliness, what did you learn about yourself?  About your faith?  About your relationships?

Would you be willing to share some of your discoveries in the comments below?

Peace be with you.


More Resources:

The Wisdom of Emotions – Mary Bea Sullivan or in her latest book, Living Awake Forty Days Toward Renewal

The Welcoming Prayer – Meaning and Authenticity blog



  1. Jo Ann Baker

    Oh Brother, Hang On! Those were the last 4 words HC spoke on this earth as our car was spinning out of control. Truer words were never spoken to me. I have learned to “hang on” through a ton of stuff I never would have dreamed I would need to accomplish.

    I hang on to my faith! Absolutely could not have made it this far without my Lord and Savior (that word has taken on a whole new meaning to me). What do non-believers do?????
    I hang on to memories that come crashing into my mind and heart when I feel I cannot go on one more day.
    I hang on to my family and I am grateful sometimes they hang on to me.
    I hang on to my friends (and some of them just might be sick of me by now).
    I hang on to my new life lessons so hopefully I’ll not make the same mistakes twice.
    I hang on to my mind!!!!! Some days it feels like it’s going to leave me but I won’t let it.
    I hang on to my new life because I have to build on that history. My children, my grandchildren, my family and friends would expect nothing less of me and I know that God left me here for a reason, a purpose not yet fulfilled.

    Yes, that casual conversation, the glance, the kiss, the laughter are gone but if I hang on…something else will take it’s place.

  2. Malcolm

    Thanks Jo Ann. Your words of encouragement (and HC’s) will be taken to heart. I will hang on. You also remind me that what I am experiencing is a 1 on your scale of 1-10.

    For my readers, please see Jo Ann’s powerful blog called Widow World.

  3. Mary Bea Sullivan

    Jo Ann,
    Even though we have never met, Malcolm speaks so lovingly of you and HC I feel like I do know you. Recently he was telling me of your blog about widowhood. We should put the link here for folks who have lost their spouses/partners. Blessings to you as you continue create a new life-you have inspired me from afar. I am so sorry for your loss. MB

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