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. Amen.
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.
The Welcoming Prayer – Meaning and Authenticity blog