Exploring the interplay of relationships and spirituality

I can see it in her face even when she dismisses it as “not a big deal.” The faces of many older women with some sadness in their eyes. These women have called me their pastor at one time or another.  Their husbands don’t come around the church unless it is a command performance or they are asked to fix something at the church. Most of these men will say they are Christian, when asked. Some have in their head a list of Christian values that got as a child. This is their active Christian faith, trying to live this list — that if it was on a piece of paper would have long ago yellowed and been torn or tattered.

These wives are faithful to the church, committed to Sunday worship and many other activities and ministries in the church. At home there is rarely a conversation about spiritual things unless it touches on that old list. The wife might talk about “church things” but rarely the spiritual or ministry experiences that can be so powerful and transforming. She holds back. Some of these husbands are jealous of their wife’s time at church like it was time away with another man, a potential suitor. On a busy week at church with lots of activities — such as Holy Week, the high holy days of the Christian year — I will hear “Pastor Jim, all these things you are doing in the church this week are important but I had to negotiate with my husband. He thinks I am spending too much time here, so I will be here tonight but I can’t come tomorrow. I want to be here but it will upset my husband.”
These women usually tell me that this is OK. It is not a big deal. But I can see it in their eyes. There is a level of sadness that this spiritual part of themselves cannot be shared in their most intimate relationship. It is not a good thing when our central relationships are limited to the closet. It is not a good thing when the stories of our spiritual journey are neatly placed in the closet when we get home along with the coats and shoes. These women have to adjust their spiritual practices, their participation in the activities that are part of their spiritual expression, and how they tell significant stories in their lives that gain meaning in the context of God. There is a great holding back that takes its toll on a person. I can see it.

In many small communities, the adult children who stay in the community grew up in the church of their parent(s). What happens when these adult children are still comfortable in the church that was a second home growing up? Often, they see God and God’s expectations differently than their parents.  These different understandings, never mind the little things like the boring church music, lead to conflict and spats of conversation. These are uncomfortable. This does not help their evolving adult relationship with their parents. The choice is made. Withdraw from church because it is the best way to show love and respect to your parents for how they live, believe, and practice. That choice made, there is often no other alternative for church in that town. It frees up Sunday for other things. 
I know, other pastor-types out there, there are ways that churches can help this if they have the resources. But, the point of this topic is to consider the interplay between spirituality and relationships.
How dare I try to simplify such a complex topic as the interplay between relationships and spirituality?  The stories that I tell just begin to scratch the surface of a topic that has multitudes of interweaving dimensions. The truth of both the life of our relationship as well our spiritual experiences and understandings cannot be objectified. Relationships are about my experiences with other people:  Spirituality is about my relationship with God in the context of human relationships. These are topics that deal with the core of the human experience — touching on all the big questions in life in our search for meaning. Much of it is invisible, untouchable, intangible. When I discuss my relationships, my spiritual life, and the interplay of both — I can only tell stories and seek to discover my truth. When we share these stories in community or in our core relationships we can be empowered to live more deeply, more fully. Yet, the risk for this sharing is often too great so we find a safe place in our relationships.

I provide no answers. Let’s share the stories of our lives — our spiritual journey and the people in our lives who have walked with us on the journey. Let us tell the stories of how negotiating relationships has led us to make different decisions in our spiritual practices and understandings. In the storytelling — the listening and telling — there are sure to be new possibilities that will emerge that will transform our lives and our spiritual journeys.

Join us for our next Coffee Talk, where we'll examine relationships and spirituality. It will be at 10 a.m., June 1 at Morning Sun Bakery. CastroLang is a panelist.

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