708 Days of Growth, Evolution, and Healing From Leaving and Returning To The Church
A Story in Three Acts
All cartoons used in this series come from David Hayward, aka ‘nakedpastor’ at www.nakedpastor.com
Read the Prologue and Act One: Loving The Church
As an English teacher, one of my favorite lessons is teaching students the elements within a story. Every story that has been on performed on a screen, shared by families at bedtime, spoken at a campfire, or written down carefully by monks has the same elements in it.
The second act is considered by many to be the most challenging ones to write in stories. In the first act, the setting is taking shape, our characters are introduced, and the conflict is established. In the second act, our characters encounter a variety of obstacles (internally or externally or both) that prevent them from resolving the conflict. Little did I know that the second act of our story, would be unlike any story I had encountered.
Act 2: Hiatus to Healing in 708 Days.
Hiatus n. a pause or gap in a sequence, series, or process.
As I arrived home from my meeting, my eyes still red from crying, and I received a hug from my wife, an odd combination of feelings came over us.
My wife says she felt like a burden had been removed from our backs.
We were free.
Free from scrutiny.
Free from gossip.
Free from control.
Free from community.
When we made the decision to resign my position at the church and stop attending, it wasn’t one we made immediately or without thinking through the repercussions it would have on our family. Church attendance and involvement was an important part of both of our lives. We affirm that God has created us to live our lives in community with others. However, with the increased responsibilities I was gaining at the church, there was a strain was growing on my relationship with family. We had to act quickly, before the strain would splinter us apart. We knew the questions and backlash that would come up from people in the church or our Christian friends and family.
Are you ok?
We can’t be friends anymore since we don’t go the same church.
Are you still saved?
Where are you going to church now?
These questions have the appearance of being well intentioned, but sadly they can cause more hurt than healing.
By asking if we’re ok, they are looking to fix and not empathize.
By saying our friendship was no longer valid because we were going to a different direction is making the assumption that our only source of community came from that church.
Asking if we’re still saved, they’ve taken on the role of the Holy Spirit and determined that we must have changed beliefs since we were no longer part of a community.
By asking where we’re attending, it sweeps whatever pain we gained under the rug and leaves us no opportunity to take a moment think about what happened and seeking healing.
So what happened???
We grew closer together as a family and our faith matured.
It wasn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination, but we survived and grew. This isn’t always the case with many couples or individuals who leave the church. It is important to remember for life and renewal to take place, death must remove the old. Before the resurrection is the cross.
I remember reading a book in seminary on an analysis of the life and teachings of the Apostle Paul. One of the points the author made in which the author makes the argument that in Paul’s views, maturity did not come through gaining more knowledge, hours in service of the Kingdom of God, but came through evolution of thoughts and ideas. In essence, if your views don’t change or develop over time, you aren’t growing. As he said to the church in Corinth, when he was a child he thought and acted like one, but once he grew older, he put away his childish ways. This seems to contradict Jesus’s insistence of having a childlike faith, but they are connected. Because as children we see the world, full of awe and wonder. Paul saying to put away childish ways is not a dismissal of wonder, but as an adult, is to still see the beauty and wonder, but open our eyes to see things with a wider lens. Instead of focusing on a single color of a rainbow, stand back and look at all the tapestry of colors interwoven in the sky.
Through a brief conversation I had online with Derek Webb, I saw how this can happen. I recently messaged him and explained how The Church helped shape my views, however, over time I’ve become more jaded and my beliefs were evolving. To put it bluntly, my trust in the American church was (and continues to) grow thin. I asked him if 14 years after the album’s release if his thoughts remained the same or has shifted away from it. His humble response encouraged me greatly, “not sure what of any of it i believe at the moment, try working on it out on the new record…” It encouraged me because I think he understands how growth happens.
As we grow in our understanding of the world around us, we must adapt and be willing to change our beliefs.
Another way our intimacy as a couple grew was through being more authentic in our communication and actions. Authenticy looks different for each couple. For some it might look like speaking up, when it is more comcodtable to be silent. For others, it is the freedom in knowing whatever doubts you may have can be shared without judgment. Our conversations and quality time started to feel more relaxed since we didn’t being under a microscope. We could freely discuss ideas without scrutiny from others. We found healing in different ways, but primarily found it in being open with each other.
My wife found her healing through becoming an active member of the Bible journaling community. By visually expressing her thoughts rooted in the timeless truths of scripture, she found refreshment for her weary soul. The picture above is my personal favorite. She has even started to post videos online of her experiences. Her creativity explodes on every page! Check out and subscribe to her YouTube channel here!
One of the main ways I found healing was through reading and listening to a diverse group of theologians, pastors, thinkers, and writers. One of the biggest mistakes I have made in the past is only reading and listening to people I would align with. By opening up to an eclectic group of passionate men and women from the past and present helped me appreciate and value the diversity within the body of Christ. Their ideas challenged and comforted me. It is difficult to fully see what impact they made in my life, however, I compiled a small list of ten ways my thoughts were and had been changed. These ten ideas helped me burn off the spiritual obesity that caused me to be stubborn, arrogant, bitter, and ultimately, immature:
- Christians should not be easily offended, because deep down inside we are as offensive as our pagan counterparts.
- We ought to be quick to forgive, because we have been forgiven.
- Be free to be ourselves and not take ourselves too serious, because we are accepted by God as we are.
- Our actions should display love for each other, instead of simply saying it.
- Our good news (gospel) is not a ticket to health, wealth, happiness, or heaven. It is an invitation to partake in the mystery that God dwelt, died, rose again, and will come again.
- The love of God cannot be hoarded, conditional, but covers and binds up our pain and casts out our fears.
- When we shine the light and love of Christ, it is less like a halogen, a flickering spark, or an angry mob, but more like a match igniting the darkness, bending down to wash each other’s feet.
- The church is more than a well choreographed production, dysfunctional family meal, and a voting booth, but it is and always will be a beacon of beauty, justice, and evangelism.
- Unity is not uniformity, but embracing diversity and doubt.
- Jesus must be seen and experienced as more than a teacher, an afterthought, or simply a deity, but is Emmanuel, Rescuer, and Judge.
Coming soon: Act 3: The Return