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the break-up

  • April 24, 2016
  • By Happy
  • 19 Comments
the break-up

Church has been the center of my spiritual and social life for as long as I can remember.  Some of my earliest and happiest memories include sitting on the front porch, singing “Tell Me The Story Of Jesus,” and planting marigolds in the Sunday school garden.  My childhood was filled with hymn sings, potlucks, choir practices, church picnics, community dinners for the homeless, Lenten suppers, church fairs, and hours upon hours of other activities at church.  I didn’t always appreciate it at the time, but my faith was nurtured in that church community, and the foundation for much of the rest of my life was laid there.  Church has remained central to my life for the majority of my adult life as well.

Which is why it came as a bit of a shock when I realized the other day that church and I have sort of broken up.

I haven’t written a lot about what happened in November 2014.  On the occasions when I have referred to it, it’s mostly been in vague terms like: much of my life as I knew it just … stopped.”

Because it did.  And I didn’t want it to.

I had to choose between two things I didn’t want to do, and with only a few days to decide, making anything resembling a well-researched, calm, and informed decision was close to impossible.  In the midst of my heartache and anger, it never occurred to me to do anything other than walk away, and not one person I went to for counsel suggested I shouldn’t.

So I did everything I was supposed to do, and “left well” – because that’s what you do when you resign from a staff position at a church and 80% of your Facebook friends and Twitter followers are members of that church.  I didn’t write about what happened, or what I thought and felt about it, and only a very small number of my closest friends knew how devastated I really was.

I took January off, and then started looking for a new church home – which proved difficult.  I tried going to a megachurch for awhile, and started serving in an effort to try to get to know people (and as part of the application process for a job there), but it was too long of a drive to get involved much outside of Sundays, and it never really felt like home.  When I left after a few weeks, very few people noticed.

Then I tried a small, country church – which was pretty much polar opposite from the polished services of a megachurch.  They needed a worship leader, so I filled in off and on for six months.  The people were really nice, and generally appreciative of my skills as a musician, but no one ever asked me out to coffee or made an effort to get to know me outside of Sunday mornings and rehearsals.  So when I moved last November, I just stopped going.

I went to a Presbyterian church on Christmas Eve, because I knew there would be carols and candlelight, and my soul needs that at Christmas, but I could tell right away that it wouldn’t feel like home there long-term, either.  So finally – at a loss for what else to do, and with very mixed feelings about it – I went back to my old church.

A number of my closest friends are still members there, and it’s been nice to see them more often – but it’s not been easy, being back.  A lot has changed in a year and a half, but my influence is still visibly evident, and while in some ways that’s flattering, it’s also a painful reminder that I’m not really a part of things anymore.  I know I’m welcome and that people are genuinely glad to see me, but there’s so much history… and I don’t really know how to go to church and not do anything.  Every Sunday morning entails a wrestling match with my emotions.

I talked it over with some friends, and we thought maybe rejoining the worship team, just as a background vocalist, might be an easy and low-key way to feel out what it might be like to really be back and a part of things again.  So I said I’d serve a couple weeks ago, and in truth, that midweek rehearsal did feel a little like coming home – it was fun, and good to be worshipping with close friends again.

But I hadn’t banked on what it would look like to other people on Sunday:

It looked like commitment.

And in the midst of managing my own very complicated emotions about even being there at all, suddenly I found myself fielding the emotions of well-intentioned people who were so excited that I was officially “back” – when there was nothing official about it.

Singing that Sunday wasn’t meant to be a statement; it was meant to be a question… a question that, as it turns out, had a rather unexpected answer.

You see, somewhere over the course of the past year and a half, without really talking about it, church and I broke up – and it’s incredibly awkward.  Because we still know all the same people, and we still hang out sometimes, so it kind of looks like we’re together, but we’re really not.

And I don’t know what to do with that.  Because I still love the Church, and I still want to live my life with a community of people who love Jesus and put feet to their faith, and I don’t know how that fits with this.  But both realities exist.  So here we are.

I don’t expect this to be permanent.  I’m already pretty sure we’ll get back together someday, maybe even sooner than later.  But it’s going to take some hard work and some really honest conversations, and the one thing I do know is that for right now, I need some space.

Yesterday, I started reading Brazen: The Courage To Find The You That’s Been Hiding, by Leeana Tankersley.  In the very first chapter, she talks about “listening with deep compassion” to ourselves, “instead of jumping right to judging, overriding, denying.”  As I read, I began to give myself permission to really listen to what my soul is saying, instead of trying to tell it what it ought to say.  And the word that surfaced was “space.”

photo courtesy of ©Depositphotos.com / mihtiander

photo courtesy of ©Depositphotos.com / mihtiander

So I’m going to create it.

I’m going to stop trying to make myself want to go to church.  I’m going to stop trying to convince myself that I’m fine when I’m not, and I’m going to let healing take as long as it takes, instead of trying to rush it, or fabricate it.

I’m going to go back to some of the practices that make the most sense to me, practices in which I know I’m likely to hear God’s voice most clearly.  I’m going to take an entire summer of Sundays to read and think and walk and bike and write.  I’m going to spend as much time as I can outdoors, and watch for the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory to be revealed in creation.  I’m going to spend time with friends who will breathe life into my soul: the kind of friends who will read this post – and without judgment and without being asked – will go with me into the uncharted wilderness of life as an unchurched believer (at least for awhile), and let it just be what it is.

I’ll work my way slowly thru books like Brazen, Faith Shift, Still, Anonymous, How To Be Here, Out of Sorts, and Searching For Sunday, and I’ll write my way through all the ideas and the questions they will raise.  And maybe as I’m writing, I will find my voice again.  Maybe I’ll figure out who I am, or at least who I’m becoming, and what it is that I have to say that’s possibly worth saying.  And maybe – just maybe – I’ll figure out how breaking up with church (at least for now) actually works in the context of loving her so much.

Or maybe I’ll just learn to live with the paradox, and plant a few marigolds anyway.

By Happy, April 24, 2016
  • 19
19 Comments
  • Robin Schacherer
    April 24, 2016

    Happy I totally get I went to the same small church and was sick and gone for over a month and one person noticed . The pastor was afraid to contact me . I feel like a women of faith who belongs no where compounded by my fear. I am afraid I will never belong anywhere?

    Thank you for having the courage to write what is in my heart. I have been feeling so inadaquate that I don’t know how, where or who? I love you Happy I am just so scared , that no onewill get me so thank you. My heart still hurts but I don’t feel so alone! Thank u and God Bless. I don’t even know how to find a new job. I feel like a cart with one wheel….
    Love you and thank u again.
    Robin

    • Happy
      April 24, 2016

      Oh, Robin – you are NOT alone. I think there are more of us out here in the margins than any of us could have imagined. It *is* scary, and there will always be people who don’t understand us – but you, woman of faith, are loved and wanted by the God who made you, and I believe with all my heart that as you continue to walk with him, you will find where you belong. (I’m still praying about your job situation; personally, I wish the answer would come a little faster for you! But I know He is *with* you, and He hears your heart’s cry.)

      One of the comments on this post via Facebook tonight was about the narrow path that leads to life, and how sometimes it’s difficult to navigate narrow paths. It reminded me of a sermon I heard once where the pastor was teaching on Psalm 23 and the verse about how God leads us in paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake. The pastor shared a picture of a “path of righteousness” that a shepherd would lead his sheep along – and narrow is kind of an understatement. Without the shepherd to watch over it, a sheep could fall right off the path and down the side of a mountain – but the shepherd *does* watch over his sheep, and the path *is* the way to green pastures…. and, well. I think you get the metaphor. 😉

      He is with you, Robin. Hang in there, friend.

  • Shara
    April 24, 2016

    Love your heart, so very very much, Hap. ❤️

  • Brad Gross
    April 24, 2016

    Welcome to real freedom. We’ve been waiting for you. 🙂

  • janellea
    April 25, 2016

    if back in the day someone had said to Paul, “I’m going to church” he wouldn’t have known what they meant. You are the church. it’s a body, not a building.
    You’ll find your way to iron-on-iron community that puts feet to faith. It might look different than before, but that’s okay. It might be something Paul would recognize!

  • Cathy_H
    April 25, 2016

    My friend, we are in the same place at the same time. Was encouraging to read this 💛

    • Happy
      April 25, 2016

      I love it that we became friends because of a road trip with Jesus, and that now we just journey together. Love you, friend. Glad this encouraged you, and am looking forward to walking this stretch of the road in such good company. 🙂

  • Summer Fest
    April 25, 2016

    Hey Hap,

    I know how you feel. I started attending a church a while back. Got all into the facebook scene, being transparent with my church and such. Really felt like I was deeply connected with a good church and a good core group of friends.

    Then its like I disappeared. Not them, me. Talk about a break-up, you know?

    Anyway, community, Church, etc. it happens all over the place. I’m always here.

    – Summer

  • Danielle J Carlson
    June 23, 2016

    Wish I had seen this awhile ago!! Here I’ve been struggling with (self inflicted) guilt that I have also broken up with church. It’s been almost a year now, and I did it for the similar reasons and have fufulled those reasons: trips to see friends! Hiking (my favorite), visiting my dad in FL, ect. I feel blown away and a boulder was removed from my shoulder…. I’m not alone!!!!! 😀 I was just struggling so much at church near the end and I literally felt like Seasme Street “One of these things is not like the other” in a swarm of families and children. Sigh…. 🙂 thanks for posting this girl!

    • Happy
      June 23, 2016

      Danielle – you are definitely not alone! I’m so glad this spoke to you. Stay tuned – more to come this summer.

      Please feel free to PM me on Facebook if you ever want to get together and chat about these things over coffee or mimosas. 🙂

  • Marcina
    August 5, 2016

    Having experienced something similar a couple of years ago, I would be honored to walk this journey with you, Happy. May He fill your sabbaths with His presence, His peace, His promises, and His love, whatever that looks like. And when it’s time, may He lead you to your next church family who will embrace you as you are and love you like Jesus.

    • Happy
      August 9, 2016

      Marcina – thank you SO much. Your words were like water to my soul tonight. I’m so glad God brought you into my life, and that distance never really seems to matter with us. I’m privileged to be walking this road with you, friend, and honored that you are. Love you!

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Meet Happy
Thanks so much for visiting Simple Felicity. My name is Happy, and I write about faith and happiness and a bunch of other things. I have an amazing talent for misplacing my keys, a deep appreciation for whomever looked at the coffee bean and thought, "Hey, I wonder what would happen if I roasted this?", and road trips to Michigan are pretty much my favorite. Contact me anytime at simplefelicity7 (at) gmail (dot) com!
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