Guest Post | Joel Triska on divorce

Guest Post | Joel Triska on divorce November 10, 2021

Joel Triska shares some of the story on his divorce, a highly trained seminarian and leading pastor in his organization.

I am divorced.

Thought I’d just rip the bandaid off. Most people know this by now, or at least have rightly assumed. But I still run into someone every now and again who doesn’t know. For you few people who were still in the dark, I deeply apologize that you’re finding out via social media. But be encouraged! It saves you that awkward conversation where you boldly ask me how pastoring and marriage are going and I say, “non-existent except for the leftover pain of them ending.” I haven’t actually said that to anyone, but I’m tempted. You know, because I like the awkward.

Long story short: spring last year Rachel and I separated, we tried to work it out, it didn’t work out, we resigned from our co-pastor positions from Life in Deep Ellum, and now we are co-parents of two girls who remain amazing and the joys of my life.

Most people ask about my girls.

The story I tell myself is that these inquiring people are caring humans and know that Selah and Haven had nothing to do with the dramatic changes that have befell them. I like it when people care for my girls. So feel free to ask.

But for the record, I believe they are doing well. Most of the books I’ve read have asserted that conflict between parents is the primary culprit for the kids’ distress when divorce happens. Yes, lots has changed for them. They now have two homes, two sets of house rules, we even have two individual house-cats.

But if I can say one thing about Rachel’s and my good qualities: we both are committed to the well-being of our kiddos. In my opinion, we have mitigated the conflict our girls might notice and our girls are better for it. In fact, they seem to be just as stable as their friends (and more so than others where both parents are in the picture).

The next question people ask is: “but how are you doing?”

They usually put an inflection on “you.” It’s a question I’ve learned to answer with discretion. There are some with whom I let the vulnerability fly. They witness my judgements, my grief, my fear, and my rage against the machine.

But for the most part, I simply say, “I’m alright.” I think it’s an honest answer. It would be inauthentic to say I’m doing “great.”

I mean, I just lived a year and a half where COVID-19 was in the blurry background. All the isolation and social unrest was a distant second to the personal pain I was navigating. And since January when I realized my marriage of 17 years and my dream-job of 12 years were ending, I’ve also seemingly lost dozens of friendships due to people’s gossip-based assumptions. It’s an occupational hazard, really.

People don’t just see me as Joel, the human being. A man with flaws and some circumstances out of his control. They see me as their pastor. People have different expectations for spiritual leaders and their ability to live the ideal life. I don’t blame them. It’s hard not to collapse the two.

The biggest loss for me was my community of faith.

You see, it wasn’t just that Rachel and I pastored that beautiful community, we benefitted from it, too. I’ve come to recognize just how huge a role that wonderful group of people played in lifting me up, keeping me sane, and reminding me of my value. And without my roles as husband and Resident Philosopher, I felt lost. A friend of mine used the word “unmoored.” Like being set loose in the Pacific Ocean without any tethers. My identity suddenly became an abstract amoeba floating in an abyss of uncertainty. If you’ve never experienced that, trust me. It’s very uncomfortable.

Still, I’ve been working hard to stay on my path. Reading, exercising, connecting with God and trusted friends.

Joel Triska | Tree Pose near the Rio Grande | 02.11.21 | used with permission

Therapy, family, and craft beer. I have done several exercises to let go of my bitterness and am now edging into a new clearing. So no, I’m not “great.” But I’m also not “awful.” I’m alright.

I even got a girlfriend.

I know, I know. Isn’t it too soon? “Take it slow, Joel!” I remember thinking the same thing about other people. And many times, I turned out being right. But I’m not them. This is my version of slow. And I am so grateful for my girlfriend whom some of you already know and the rest of you will come to know.

But this post is about processing my divorce, not the things that are making me extremely happy. More to come, I’m sure. (That’s what we call a teaser in the biz.)

I also got a new job.

At first, I worked with a friend who used to be in the faith community. He is a savvy, hair-brained entrepreneur and made his money brokering these gigantic machines that manufacture cardboard boxes. He gave me a job as a safety net. I learned about shipping containers from China, the paper shortage in the US due to all the boxes being made, and I also got decent at driving a forklift. But that job ended last month.

And to Brian, I want to say “thank you.” You were my safety net. You helped me pay my bills while I was clearly not firing on all cylinders. We packed up and sold properties together. We meditated together. We jackhammered concrete together. I designed flyers for you and you took me out to play golf. I felt like a pastor with you as we talked about your life and navigated your move to CA. I love you, bro.

But back to my new job.

A job I haven’t even updated on LinkedIn! To be honest, I hate LinkedIn. I suck at networking, and LinkedIn merely reminds me of my deficiencies.

Currently, I am working full-time for Journeyman Ink. My buddy, Will Richey, is the founder/creator. Him and Alejandro Perez Jr – another homie of mine – have created this wonderful experience of emotional literacy and now are developing curriculum for schools and non-profits around Social-Emotional Learning (SEL).

It’s the kind of stuff I did intuitively when I used to lead a church and cultivate a culture of acceptance and psychological safety. More to come on that later, I’m sure. But for now, I’m again grateful for how God is guiding my steps further into my calling.

In the end, I’m still me.

Yes, I am divorced. But as I have pastored people through many divorces over the years, my theology and perspectives on that have shifted. I admit that I never thought “it would happen to me,” but I’m also not surprised it happened. The truth is that I’m not immune to the human experience.

And though it’s taken a lot of work – journaling, podcasts, deep dives into my definitions of identity, forgiveness, responsibility, tears, numbing, yelling angrily at the top of lungs while driving alone in the car, showing up for my daughters, reorienting my finances, and risking putting my intimacy out there again – I’m finally getting it.

This is all part of God’s plan, too.

Not that God made it happen.

That’s silly, in my opinion.

The Creator is not a marionette technician.

I merely mean that God designed reality, and that reality is intricately nuanced with a million factors I will never fully understand.

It’s not my job to “figure it out.” No one has it figured out! And anyone who claims to have it figured out is automatically on my list of suspicious individuals.

Instead of figuring it out, I believe it’s my job to show up and be my best self. And for the record, my best self includes confusion, mistakes, and coming face-to-face with the parts of me that I wish weren’t there.

I love you, guys. Some of you I know well. Others are observers of me and the work I’ve done. I love you, too. Thank you for believing in me.

I’m sorry if my divorce and the supposed details surrounding it have disappointed you.

Really, I’m sorry. I know what it feels like to be disappointed in someone. It’s an uncomfortable feeling.

But here’s my invitation: let it go. Humans are humans. Even the best of us. And I think it’s suppose to be like that.

Rev. Jared’s afterword:

Joel Triska is a former colleague. He and I ran in a couple of the same circles as young seminarians. He holds two masters degrees, actually two masters in divinity! Joel has served as a premiere leader in pastoral ministry.

Joel Triska on LinkedIn | I thought I’d include it since he says he hates it.

He is on the path to healing and he’s still ministering. After he shared this post on a social network about his divorce, his next post was about a wedding he was officiating!

I asked to share this story on Patheos and he readily agreed. I’m an Evangelical Columnist, but I’m not sure Evangelicals answer the tough questions about divorce.

For instance what do we do when someone like Joel faces divorce?

It may be more common in the corporate world, and possibly in the church, but among ministry families?

I hope his story encourages Christian leaders to consider what to do with ministers like Joel, hopefully to prevent divorce, and also after a divorce.

If I can offer one quick thought from counseling. My supervisor has said that those who come to pre-marital counseling after divorce for a second marriage are more serious than those on their first marriage. Those on their first marriage are too caught up in things like the excitement of romance and wedding planning. They’re not really paying attention, but people really do pay attention the second time around. They’re really wanting to learn from their mistakes.

Take a moment to think of someone you know like Joel, or perhaps a blended family, or maybe someone who has chosen to remain single vs. getting remarried.

Who is inviting them over for Thanksgiving Dinner or sending cards on birthdays?

Who is befriending them, truly… and praying for them?

Joel mentions the stigma attached to this new phase of life.

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