“There is a way of finding certainty right here and now. Refuse to be a part of fearful dreams whatever form they take, for you will lose identity in them. You find yourself by not accepting them as causing you, and giving you effects. You stand apart from them, but not apart from him who dreams them. Thus you separate the dreamer from the dream, and join in one, but let the other go. The dream is but an illusion of the mind. And with your mind you would unite, but never with the dream. And what is real and what is but illusion in yourself you do not know and cannot tell apart.” A Course in Miracles IV.2.1-10
After divorcing my second husband and moving into my own place, I didn’t have a particular direction. I’d spent much of my married life working excessively to pour into my ex-husband’s dream because I thought we had the same dream. During our courtship, we’d dreamed of serving in ministry together. He would be the pastor and I would be his first lady, his co-pastor. We talked about this a lot while dating, and we knew exactly what we wanted and exactly why God brought us together. He was an ivy-league trained minister and I was an up and coming, popular bible teacher at one of the largest mega-churches in the world. We were in our thirties and the world was our oyster.
I taught in the young adult ministry. My teaching specialty was relationships, so when I met the young, charismatic preacher, I thought I was equipped to not only participate in a godly courtship, but also know through the filtering eye of the Holy Spirit, if he was good for me. After a three of years of dating, several issues emerged. We entered into counseling collectively, and I also entered individual counseling with a “council” of married, female preachers who wanted me to be clear about my decision to marry and the benefit our union would offer to the church body as a whole. After meeting with them, I felt that I had done my due diligence, and the red flags I may have seen in my relationship didn’t seem to bother them, so I felt like maybe I just needed to pray more and trust God more so that those issues wouldn’t bother me either.
Nevertheless, I was internally divided because at the core of me, I knew I should have left the relationship with my ex long before we reached the engagement stage. However true that may have been, at the time, I didn’t have the courage to own or wisdom to understand that I created an image of him in my mind that was an illusion of what I knew to be true. It was tricky. He presented a picture of himself (as we all do) that was based on an illusion of who he wanted me to see, not who he actually was. It was an image of who he saw himself to be in the future, not who he was in the present. His future, potential self, was very impressive, yet illusive. He based the ethos of his future “self” based on his past academic accomplishments and perceived ministry connections. He lived in the past, not only as it related to accomplishments, but also in the pain of inadequacy or unworthiness due to his humble beginnings. He warred with anyone who may have reminded him of people from his past whether their perceived transgressions were only symbolic representations of past hurts or actual deeds that resembled past offenses.
I offered him who I was in the present and attached my illusion of who we could be together in the future. I did not consciously conspire to only give him my present self, a tabula rasa if you will for a new lease on love. It was a decision I made after each of my failed relationships. I have a Hallmark Channel approach to love. I think that with each episode, I will have a happily ever after if I only believe the best in people. I did not know that unconsciously, I stored the pain of a failed prior marriage infested with lies, deceit and unfaithfulness in my “relationship knowledge tank”. I did not know that although I believed in “happily ever after”, I had an unconscious expectation that I would not be enough, that my husband may cheat on me if I was inadequate, and that pastors cheated on their wives, because a pastor, who I thought was a dear friend, whom I thought I loved dearly, cheated on his wife with me, while counseling me after my first divorce. After I learned that this affair had been planned and executed by this pastor, and that his actions were considered predatory, I believe, I wanted to sanitize the action in some way. Therefore, I brought as much baggage into the relationship as my ex, but I was not conscious of it. I believed I was offering only my present “self”, but my past hurt, pain and karma entered into the relationship as well, and it was somewhere beyond my consciousness.
We both lived within the illusions we created and the dreams we imposed upon our relationship. These illusions came together through months of intimate emotional sharing of past fears, common foes, shared ambitions and common iniquity. We thought our union would help us overcome it all. Thus, we conceived the dream together, based on illusion of who we thought we were and projections about who we could be together. I saw him as an individual I should attach myself to so that I could become who I believed myself to be. I did not see myself as an individual, I thought I could only become who I could be once I attached myself to the right man. After all, I was strong in my theology and well-versed in the biblical teachings of the Apostle Paul. He lays out the role of women clearly,
Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I have delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man and the main is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. Every man who has something on his head who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and same as a woman who has her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of a man for a man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake. Therefore, the woman ought have a symbol of authority on her head because of the angels. However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray with her head uncovered? Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her as a covering. But one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God (1 Corinthians 11:1-16 NAS)
This idea of needing a male covering in order for me to be a respected bible teacher (or co-pastor) in the church was deeply ingrained in my psyche. For there was no other way I would be acceptable and remain within the tradition of the church. I could maybe be a small group leader or something like that or teach a bible class. But there was little hope of a larger platform to have greater influence.
For when I accepted my individual call to ministry, three years before meeting my ex-husband, the pastor of the Dallas-based church I was raised in, loudly declared in front of a large group people that I hadn’t been called to preach, my license was a waste of paper, and the pastor who licensed me in Houston made a mistake, because women were not called to preach. It was a man’s role and responsibility. He humiliated me in front of my childhood church family and boldly stated that I was out of order.
In that moment, I retorted instead of relenting. I met his narrowed eyes and turned down mouth with what I fancy was a fierce look of my own. I informed him that I was already leading congregation of college students weekly and I hoped that he would pray for me every Thursday at noon, because I would be preaching in the pit (the bottom of the stairs, a small amplitheater, at the base of the student center at Texas Southern University). Without breaking eye contact, in dry, deep voice, he said he would not, because it was against God and I was out of order. I offered a “God bless you pastor,” and held my head up so the tears could stay within the confines of my eyes. In the silence of the room, I heard my heals clack on the parquet wood floors as I walked away.
I was condemned, embarrassed, and ashamed. Only a couple of people from my childhood church comforted me. They came to me in secret after hearing my tongue-lashing and collectively encouraged me to keep going. This comforted me, but it did not salve my wound. This moment would further shape my spiritual formation and reinforce my desire to marry a pastor, so that I would have a male “covering”. In the moment with my childhood pastor, I felt as if my head were clean shaven, and I was a woman out of order. I looked for guidance. I found it in the council of women, but these women had no external power.
They, like me, were looking for affirmation and opportunity from a man. We secretly plotted to get more women married and into positions of power so what we could invite each other to speak at one another’s churches. Those who could not marry, sought to get academic degrees or start home churches to find platforms to exercise their gifts. We believed in the “inerrant Word of God” and accepted our subjugated places. We like many young male preachers without churches had to wait patiently for the “good ole boys club” of clergymen, steeped in nepotism, cronyism, egoism, and sexism, to offer us an opportunity. And like me, many women compromised themselves and married people so that they could have a place to lead. To this day, many women live within this context and believe they are doing the world a service. Yet, they are dying inside as they live still with unrealized dreams and misguided purpose.