Several weeks ago I wrote about the difficult time I was having in my church experience. I shared my emotions, my fears, my confusion. And I promised to update you from the other side of those feelings. While I’m not through those feelings, and may not be for some time, just a week after sharing that post, the healing of the situation had begun.
I have made the difficult decision to leave my church. It was a decision made after much prayer and searching. And it was a decision made in tandem with my husband. We had to agree with the same conviction before we moved forward.
My husband was in the process of quitting his job for a job for our church. The board had agreed unanimously, but while we were out of town one Sunday, the other members held a meeting to reconsider their offer. We were shaking up our lives, losing good benefits, taking a big financial hit. And now we just felt betrayed. We felt alone and so misunderstood. We had somebody praying with us as we discussed our options in bed until midnight one night.
I was still running up against the brick wall of responsibility. If we left our church, they likely would not have enough members to hold church services. They wouldn’t have a Sunday School teacher. They wouldn’t have anyone to run the library/bookstore. We lived close and spent many hours each week working and ministering wherever we found the need. What if we left, and the church closed? Would I be able to live with that?
But deeper than that was the feeling I just couldn’t shake that God would never direct me to leave my church. Could there be blessing to the church in leaving a church? What would be the divine point of abandoning one church to bless another? I never doubted I’d end up in the right place, but I doubted my church would. Why did I keep forgetting that God was in charge of both?
Somewhere in that long night of sharing our sadness and fears, this sense of responsibility lifted from me and I could see more clearly. The responsibility for keeping this church running was not mine, but God’s. We made our decision: we’d tender our resignations.
In the next couple days, I was finally able to fully admit to myself that I’d wanted to leave the church for months. The relationships felt poisonous, and I was becoming ill with the worry and pain. I had not allowed myself to leave, though. I had not even given myself the option of leaving. I didn’t think I had the right to leave. This realization has been a pivotal point of my growth. I allowed myself to be trapped by the thing I loved most. But it was false imprisonment. Church is not a prison, but my thoughts about it were. How many other places in my life am I falsely imprisoning my sweet soul when there is absolutely no need?
We stopped by the church to drop off our resignation letters and keys, and I took one last look around: the church painted in the colors I’d chosen, the drapes I’d ordered, the podium my husband read from, the pew I always sat in, the nursery room I’d furnished, the Sunday School where I taught my grandson the ten commandments. So much of my last 15 years was poured into a place and a people who were happy to see me leave. I was heartbroken. I left with tears in my eyes. I remember thinking, “It’s such a pity it had to end this way.”
A short time later, someone we’d respected and looked to for guidance in our decision told us we’d made the wrong choice. It was human will, she told us, not divine direction that made us leave. We needed to be more humble, she said. This could have been healed. Dealing with her assertions was almost as difficult for me as the decision to leave. She was sure we should stay. I was sure we should leave. Surely we couldn’t both be listening to God if we got such opposite answers.
My head and heart are still a stew of emotions. I’m processing so many feelings (disappointment, failure, relief). I’m still trying to puzzle out some things. Still trying to forgive the members of my church who did not reach out after I handed in my resignation letter. But mostly, I’m trying to better understand that boundary between the human and the divine—that’s what religion is, after all—and how one makes the right human decision when they are endowed with the divine.
It’s been several weeks since I left. They’ve been difficult weeks. I’ve had some really bad days. But I’ve also had feelings of unspeakable freedom. I can feel myself opening up in a dozen different ways. I’ve made new friends, shared my heart in ways I haven’t in years, learned so much about who I am as a woman and child of God, moved forward on several creative projects, and taken a few emotional risks I didn’t know I had it in me to take. I’m experiencing a creative surge, with ideas coming to me from every direction. I’ve had to start taking notes on my life to keep up with myself! My marriage is also stronger. We’ve been able to grieve this loss together instead of separately, and we’ve been sure to check in with each other periodically and uphold each other when the other is having a hard time.
We haven’t found a new church yet. We’ve visited one and met some beautiful people there, and we plan to visit others before we make our choice. Our closest options are about two hours away which makes for a long commute. And it makes me kind of sad to think of the distance.
In all, if I had to settle on a current feeling, I guess I’d say I’m hopeful. Hopeful to put this behind me and experience the freedom of finding a new church to grow in and serve. Hopeful to better understand my relationship to God. Hopeful to see the full extent of what comes out of this change.