I was shocked to see today that Tipper and Al Gore are separating. A couple who seemed so happy throughout their days of being in the public eye, a couple who seemed so together when the marriage of President Clinton seemed so shaky, a couple who kissed for what seemed to be several minutes on stage at the Democratic National Convention, is splitting up, calling it quits after 40 years of marriage.
How is it that people can stay married for 40 years and then give up?
This question is the one I asked earlier today when I posted my frustration and sadness on Facebook. My friend, Cynthia, answered with a comment that is making me think.
She wrote, "...But it also made me think of a group I was involved with that stopped getting together and meeting because "it had run its course of usefulness for us." And I wonder how we have turned our relationships into commodities whose only requirement for existence is their "usefulness" to our personal lives--within marriage, within our churches, *with* our churches, with any other group where relationships get difficult and require more work than we think we can give."
I've given up on such relationships before. There have been many times when I let go of something because it no longer seemed useful. I used to meet with two nearby clergy every single week. These two individuals are the people who got me through the really hard first year at Mount Vernon Place when I wanted to quit more often than I wanted to stay and be a pastor. However, when our time together turned from a time of sharing about life and the church to a time of studying the lectionary together, I decided it was no longer useful. It was no longer useful for me to spend an hour or so of my time with these two clergy friends. A few years later, one of them has moved away and the other one is only three blocks away, but I never see her. I miss her friendship deeply. There are many times when I wish I would not have given up on that sacred small group. My deeming something unuseful resulted in a near loss of relationship with someone who is responsible for getting me through the toughest year of ministry.
Certainly we all have an experience of determining that something is no longer useful. I am guessing that we also all know what it feels like when someone has determined that spending time with us is no longer useful.
What would it mean for us to take every single covenant we have made and see it as something we have to work hard to keep no matter what? What would it mean to see the commitment we made as the reason we stick with everything instead of whether or not something is still useful in our lives? Would we then see the church that was useful when we were lonely and needed friendship as the place that might be able to use our gifts today to provide fellowship to others? Would we then see the church that nurtured our children when they were little as a place where we are called to serve today - to ensure that other children have the same experiences as our children? Would we see the Bible study group that was useful to us when we were going through a horrific divorce as a place where our gifts can be utilized because someone else might be going through a difficult time? What would it mean for us to approach our relationship with God as not something we use only when needed - when we're on our knees and crying out to God in the midst of a major disappointment, or one door having closed after another, or an illness or loss - but something that we enjoy because we are a covenant people bound to God who promises to always be with us? What if we always remembered the promises made at our marriage - to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, until we are parted by death - as promises made for life and not just when being with our spouse seems useful?
What about you? What have you let go of because it no longer seemed useful? What might you be called to take up again whether useful or not?