She returned home from school late in the spring. It’s hard to say when we officially began dating. We planted the seeds months before and wasted no time cultivating the young saplings already sprouting from the ground.
It was a captivating summer romance between us, though not quite in Hollywood fashion. There were no long walks on the beach at sunset. No weekend excursions to the big city or some cabin in the woods. We were never caught in the rain while I rowed her to my favorite spot on the lake. We were together and that was enough.
No matter how strong a budding relationship may seem, they are always fragile in their infancy. The thrill of endless possibilities can obscure the delicate ecosystem of two people first learning about one another.
As for us, there was an elephant in the room we tried our best to ignore. That obnoxious mammoth had the potential to crush our hopes for a future together. I pastored a small, traditional, Calvinist-leaning church. She was an active member of a large, contemporary, non-Calvinist church. The cultural and theological gaps were deep and wide. Faith in Christ we shared; church we did not.
Neither of us could imagine a reasonable compromise so we responded with willful ignorance. We turned a blind eye to the problem as if it would eventually give up and leave us alone. It never did. Elephants can be relentless creatures.
As summer ended, she prepared for her last semester in college while I prepared to live without her for the next four months. It wasn’t ideal but we could talk on the phone and I could drive down to see her when possible. We’d manage.
Before she left, I could sense something was wrong. An extended period of her silence indicated to me bad news was coming. And I was right.
“I think we should break up,” she struggled to say.
As happy as we were together, our unresolved issue over church was like a small leak in the roof. On sunny days, it was easy to forget. During light rains, a bucket on the floor was a temporary fix. It was only a matter of time before the heavens opened and we’d be reenacting Noah’s flood in the living room.
I didn’t have the courage to admit the potential severity of the problem. Neither of us had the courage to deal with it. To be fair, she had many other things to worry about at the time.
So, I did what came natural to me; I reasoned with her. I offered several theoretical solutions. I even drew a diagram complete with a bridge, two roads, and some stick figures. I don’t remember what my illustration represented. I know it had something to do with why we shouldn’t break up. Despite all efforts to preserve the world crumbling around me, it was over. No counterargument would stop it.
The temptation to continue fighting for us was powerful. I considered standing outside her window with a boombox raised over my head playing Peter Gabriel, but I was getting too old for that kind of thing. I had to let her go. As hard as that was, experience taught me it’s much harder to hold on to someone who is not ready to be held.
Of course, there’s a difference between letting go and moving on. I suspected she loved me as much as I loved her. If not for the stress of finishing school, she might have stayed to combat Dumbo with me. Regardless, I had hope that she’d return and give us another chance if only I’d be patient.
Destiny rewarded my self-restraint.
Following her graduation, we enjoyed the sweet privilege of falling for one another all over again. Not to mention our time apart accentuated the need to resolve our underlying church issue. We wouldn’t avoid it the second time around. For the better part of a year, we navigated a minefield of religious contention before I did what I was sure would be our fatal blow.
“I’m moving 700 miles away to pastor another church,” I confessed with nervous hesitation.
To be continued…