What do we do when the Church feels cold?
When it starts to feel like no, after no, after no?
No sex outside marriage. No birth control. No same-sex relationships. No IVF. No surrogacy.
Even in the smaller things- no meat on Fridays, no food before mass. No getting high, drinking too much, eating too much, shopping too much.
In some circles, the more ridiculous things- no bikinis, no shorts, no working mothers.
It can all start to feel a little heartless.
I won’t pretend to understand the struggle of those in the world sorting through heavier things, but recently I’ve been faced with my own small ‘no’ and I’m a bit at odds.
See, according to my Church, I’m supposed to avoid new romantic relationships until my annulment has been finalized.
For those unaware, an annulment is basically the Church’s way of confirming that a marriage was, at the time of the vows, not sacramental- not a free, total, faithful, fruitful, holy union at it’s inception.
In ‘guilty until proven otherwise’ fashion, we are meant to assume the marriage was sacramental until Step One: The divorce is legally finalized and Step Two: An official Church tribunal reviews the case (comprised of documents, testimonies, questionnaires, and supporting accounts from outside observers).
In the in-between state of a marriage dissolved by law and not by faith, involved parties are advised to “remain faithful to the wedding vows” until an annulment is, or is not, granted.
This process, tacked on top of my already never-ending divorce, promises to be another lengthy, involved, and emotional one.
In reality, holding off on dating is probably for the best, as I’m not really interested in exploring vulnerability with men. And to be completely honest, I’m enjoying this space for myself.
Even still, it feels rather harsh to encourage me to “stay faithful to my vows” when the male half of this situation was not faithful to any vows on any level. Not in dating, not in marriage, and absolutely not now.
So what am I staying faithful to? Lies? Deception? Cover ups? A sham of a marriage and a liar of a husband? And why am I the punished party? If anyone needs a little churching here, I think it might be him.
So I’m annoyed.
And I’m tired.
I’d like to feel free to move and make decisions of my own volition, not as a slave to an abusive husband, the inefficiency of the Californian legal system or the intricacy of an annulment process. I’m tired of being manipulated and under control and out of control, financially and emotionally and spiritually and physically.
On top of that, I feel like I’m grieving again. I’m just starting to realize that- surprise!- I’m really, really, single. A mental spiral triggered by the settlement submitted last week for final legal processing.
I’m relieved, but a little more broken than I thought I’d be.
I feel abandoned.
I keep thinking, over and over,
but what if he’d loved me?
There’s a voice that follows, whispering is this it?
Am I going to be alone? Forever?
I suppose I was alone before. Loneliness in a marriage was certainly painful in its own special way, leaving me by myself at church, with family, in prayer, in thought.
One of those last summer nights found me alone in my home, again, calling him over and over at three am, wondering where he was, again. I tossed and turned, coming to terms with a truth I’d been avoiding: I’d rather be alone forever than live like this.
So what if this really is forever?
I don’t want to hear that God has a plan or it’s all going to be okay.
This might be the plan.
Is it ok?
I try to look beyond the rules.
I put it all away, and I try to look to Jesus.
I try to sit in mass, sit in adoration, sit in prayer.
I try to get beyond the sterility of rule-following to the heart of it.
I sit, and sit, and sit, and stare into the face of God until as much as I wrestle, I can’t help but rest.
There’s something undeniable; it’s tangible, concrete peace. It’s grace.
There is a real encounter with a real God, and real love, so maybe- maybe- singleness is not synonymous with loneliness.
Maybe these rules aren’t the iron-cold bars of a cage, but the warm walls of a home within which I encounter love in the most healthy, human way possible.
Maybe here, in this home, there is a life of abundance waiting around the corner.
Or maybe that life is right here, waiting for me to live it.