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
Act 2: Hiatus To Healing
Act 3: The Return
American writer Max Eastman once said, “I don’t know why it is we are in such a hurry to get up when we fall down. You might think we would lie there and rest for a while.” One of the biggest mistakes we could have made was immediately joining another church. Our wounds needed time to turn into scabs, and thankfully we had caring friends and family who helped us achieve this. In fact, one pastor from a nearby church reached out to us and helped us process the assortment of feelings and thoughts we had. The following Sunday, which happened to be Easter, we visited his church. We appreciated the care that was given to us from him and his family. However, on the car ride home, Jenny and I made the decision together to take a break from church community. It was a mutual decision on not attending, so it would be a mutual decision to return.
For the next year and half, there were Sundays where Jenny or myself would feel like we were ready to return, but the other wasn’t on the same page. Slowly, we started to understand each other’s views and expectations and we started getting closure.
As this started to happen, an opportunity to join a church plant with one of my mentors opened up. However, as with many church plants, it never took off and we were back to where we were at the beginning. Wondering when we would be part of a community again.
April 5, 2017.
708 days later.
We decided to visit a church we had heard great things about from various friends and acquaintances. It was a megachurch, but the people there were experiencing and distributing the love and light of Christ through the Sunday gatherings and community around the church. As we unbuckled the girls from their car seats and began making our way to the main building, a variety of emotions and thoughts flooded my mind and heart. It was an odd feeling being a stranger among men and women who profess the same beliefs as me.
Even though we had left, some things didn’t change.
Yes, there was a fog machine.
Songs were sung at us, not with us.
Faces and hands were lifted up.
Meet and greet was still uncomfortable.
Checkered shirts were untucked and in abundance.
In seven hundred and eight days, or, one year, eleven months, and eight days later, the church still looked and acted like the church.
I don’t want to come across as cynical and jaded, but after the service ended and the fog started clearing and I regained my hearing, I started to understand what had happened during our hiatus.
I cannot condemn the Church, because of the people within the church.
I have received many wounds from people within the church, yet I still believe in the Church. There’s an old saying that goes “hurting people, hurt people.” No matter what community I am a part of, there is going to be hurt and I will hurt others. It is a painful reminder of the depravity inside all of us. But beneath the grime and pain of our lives is the ongoing work of God. God is always working in our lives and many times we don’t see or feel it. He holds all things together and his kingdom is never threatened.
If God’s Kingdom is never threatened, I don’t have to have all the answers to my doubts and questions.
If God’s Kingdom is never threatened, I don’t need to know now where we will eventually find community with other brothers and sisters.
If God’s Kingdom is never threatened, I can listen and learn from others who hold to different views than me.
But as long as God’s kingdom moves forward, it will bring healing in its movement. In the small church of less than 50, or in the gathering of thousands, when Jesus is proclaimed and shared, there will always be healing along the way.
I would not replace the time my family took to rest and reflect for anything. I cannot tell someone who has been wounded like me in good conscience, to return right away, like others (including me in the past) sadly advise to do so. We found communities that encouraged and strengthened us, outside of the walls of the church. I have a group of friends who I meet with for coffee and encouragement, where we freely discuss ideas without fear of condemnation. I’m able to enjoy my agnostic, atheist, exchristian, heavily involved Christian and the burnt out ones too without feeling the pressure to solve their problems or convert them to my beliefs. My wife has become very active in the online Bible Journaling community, where she has found greater joy and support than when she was attending a women’s group. We may not have found a church yet, but we are in a greater place of ongoing restoration and healing.
I have learned that it’s not fair to cluster all Christians, pastors, or churches into the same group. In order to heal, I have found that I must look beyond the hurt and look to the only one who can truly heal: Jesus.
His love must compel me to step out of the walls of a building and share this transformative love with others. It is Jesus who came to rescue and heal. He came for the sick, not just for the prostitute or pharisee; but for all who are fragmented image bearers of God. His teaching and life illustrated what it meant to love our neighbors and enemies. His death and resurrection healed my greatest sickness and gives me confidence that nothing can defeat the plans of God. No amount of shame and pain is greater than the love of God. Who makes all things new, in his will, in his time and his way.