One day we were there, and then we weren't.
It's a particular kind of pain, this unexpected separation. One Sunday you have a big family (complete with everyone from your beloved grandparents to the cousins you don't really get along with), and the next you have a basket of fragments, shards fallen here and there. You have anger, disappointment, disillusionment, frustration, and an utter loss of trust. Loss.
Grief and relief: they are a peculiar pair.
On one hand, we left familiarity. A kitchen where we knew where every pot and pan belonged. Pews we've lovingly cleaned. Flowerpots we've filled with petunias, spring after spring after spring. My children's outgrown toys and dress-up clothes in the nursery. The blue Christmas decorations. Angel wings and shepherd's gowns. Even the big, nasty stains on the carpet in the fellowship hall.
Grievingly, we left people we've known over a decade. Little old ladies in their hose and pleated skirts. Sweet-cheeked preschoolers in pretty dresses. Families caught in the crossfire. Special-needs friends who sang loudly and badly and with utmost joy. My children's Sunday school teachers, who have loved them and nurtured them. My youngest son was born into this church, grown up with these children. Sat in pews drawing pictures on the back of offering envelopes, participated in Christmas programs, recited memory verses.
Relieved, we left others—people we tried to love but couldn't trust. We left people who rolled their eyes, who made snide comments, who didn't love us enough, who didn't trust us. Nor we them.
Here is what I want to say: leaders in a church should live with complete honesty and integrity and pursue holiness. They should seek to do like Christ and to honor God with every word and action.
So should I. So. Should. I.
And I don't, always. I have said mean things. I have made snide comments and rolled my eyes, too. I have nurtured a healthy dose of self-righteousness. I have sneered and had angry conversations in my head.
Leaving a church is a hard, hard thing. But here's the thing: we haven't left the Church. We left a local congregation in order to survive and thrive. We had to break away in order to grow, and I know without a doubt that God called us to leave. Pushed us out the door, in fact, and said, "It's time."
Honestly, I don't want to go back. The ashes are cooling, and I believe in God's promise of beauty from ashes, of a brand-new thing. Someday, there will be a restoration of sorts. The anger will dissipate, the questions will seem unimportant, the need to be right will dissolve.
When it happens, I pray my pride will long be swallowed and my fists so long unclenched that we can all shake hands and share high fives.
Have you been there?