When we knew Lee was leaving the ministry “we will find a church!” was our battle cry.
We unloaded the U-Haul, with the help of three paid college guys, on a Saturday. We had all boxes properly dispersed between home and storage unit, beds were put together and dinner eaten. My parents looked shell shocked, my brother looked ecstatic, and the kids were just done. Right after we swallowed our ibuprofen Lee and I looked at one another and said in unison, “We will find a church!” and promptly passed out.
Bright and early the next morning we were at church.
It was the right one, I just knew it.
Until we knew it wasn’t.
The next one was the same.
There was more of the same for many months. We liked the preaching every where we went. We loved the people. But we found ourselves in our old pattern of doing and serving and going and dragging the kids along with us. The exact pattern that had been part of the reason we felt a need to change things.
We had gotten stuck in the ‘have to’ and ‘should’ trap without even realizing it.
As soon as we walk in the door to any church we spot places we could serve, begin looking for places we might fit.
I realized too late that we have begun to see church as a machine, a man made apparatus into which you must fit and find your place.
It’s not the church’s fault we feel this way. The people in the church aren’t necessarily the problem. Conversations with other families who have left ministry clue me in to the fact that this is not a Shepherd family phenomenon. This is what happens when you give too much of yourself without filling back up.
This is also what happens when the church is unable to help when you are empty.
I think that because our family always looked okay, as in, we were professional at looking okay, no one realized the depth of our suffering. When we finally asked for help it was too late. The relationship was too broken to go back to it.
Honestly, I don’t even know what church is anymore. What is the function of the church? For us it became all about doing – there were a lot of shoulds and have-to’s attached to everything involving the church, and we were doing that to our kids. Those are things I’m avoiding in my life now. So we are re-learning church.
No more shoulds or have-to’s.
I think I was afraid of what would happen to our faith, to my faith, when my husband wasn’t a pastor anymore. So much of my theology was formed in church. I found a relationship with Jesus in church. I fell in love with hymns at church.
I worried about what exactly I would be leaving behind when we took a break from church.
The depth of my relief when we didn’t go to church that first Sunday shocked me.I wasn’t expecting to feel unburdened. I was not surprised at how sad I was. It was like not going gave me permission to really feel how let down I felt, how overlooked and left behind we all felt. We were each able to share our feelings because we weren’t putting on a brave face anymore.
I took the kids and dogs on a long walk at a nearby park. I read aloud a psalm, we prayed, and I even went homeschool on them and made them sing a hymn with me. Lee was at work so that was weird, but otherwise it just felt good and right. I felt the weight of those shoulds and have-to’s rolling off of my shoulders. I felt delight in watching my kids play and laugh and thought, “This is what God feels when He watches us worship.” and then I thought, “THIS is worship.”
I did not expect to find our Sabbath when we took a break from church, but we did.
We’ve had house church with a couple of other families and that has been another step in our healing. It’s interesting learning to trust and navigate relationships without the have-to’s chasing us there. We are still tentative about reaching out, still nervous about rejection, but we have hope, and that’s something I haven’t been able to say for a long time.
I’m not saying we’ll not be returning to church.
But this time, instead of forcing it, we’ll wait until it’s not a have-to or should.
I have to say that writing this feels risky. I’m revealing a wound that has not been healed and that makes me and mine vulnerable. Then I remember that we’re all broken, no matter what it looks like from the outside. I’m just putting a name to some of my brokenness. I want to always remember that people are important, and not for volunteer opportunities and bake sales. I also want to remember that people need people even if it doesn’t appear that way.
Relationship with each other is vital to relationship with Christ.
Even if it’s messy.
Invite each other into the untidiness of your life, brave misfits.
Don’t wait for the other to go first.