I'm thankful for my Christian friends. Maybe that's not what you'd expect me to say after this - or this - or even this. When I say Christian friends, I mean those willing to continue interacting with me - with us - as we process losing our religion, leaving ministry and the church.
When I say Christian friends, I mean those who aren't talking about us - but talking TO us. [Bringing us up in conversation to someone else and masking your concern with a prayer request is gossip. If we are unafraid to share this process openly, then we are certainly unafraid to talk to you about it. It's more than okay to engage with us - through text, email, or even gasp! an actual phone call. We aren't angry, we're just figuring things out. And we won't be mad if you have questions.]
When I say Christian friends, I mean those who accept my feelings are valid - whether they understand or agree - and reassure me that no matter where I wind up on the other side of this journey, they'll still be right here with me.
You know who you are. Thank you.
I'm not a Christian writer.
My writing has taken a turn and for most of my readers, it's come as a surprise. Or maybe it hasn't. I don't really know; I'm speculating based on mumblings. What you need to know is this shift has been a deliberate choice for me. As I explore what it means for me to be a writer, I've come to realize I don't want to be labeled a Christian writer. Because honestly, that comes and goes, and I'm not sure I'll ever refer to myself as Christian again. I am dissolving the glue attached to "safe" Christian blog posts where a problem is presented and a solve is given with all the hope, and scripture, and fluffy words attached.
Life cannot always be wrapped up in a pretty bow. Shit is getting real. Oh, and I say shit sometimes. I'm sharing thoughts - thoughts I've had for years that "good Christian women", especially pastor's wives, don't think - previously hidden, on purpose. Because I know I'm not alone.
If I'm going to call myself a writer of active, open processing, then this is what you're going to get. And what I'm actively processing is what I want to believe - outside of corporate church gatherings and traditional Christian acts, proof I'm "walking the walk and talking the talk".
At some point, my words won't be all about leaving the church and quitting ministry - as a paid position - because I'm going to move past it and find myself in a place where I don't care enough to talk about it. I'll work through this and my writing will shift yet again.
I'm growing, and I'm sharing my growth - pains and all. It really is just that simple.
My relationship with God.
Without giving in to the enormous pressure I feel to justify our position on church and our messy feelings about ministry - or exhaust myself by trying to explain the relief Mat and I truly feel on this side of things, no matter what it may seem like (because if you asked us directly, you'd know, and you wouldn't have to wonder) - I will answer one question recently posed to me by a Christian friend.
"We talk so much about the church and your journey, but I guess I don't hear much about your walk with the Lord. You know, what God is specifically teaching you. What are you learning? Where is your heart in all this? How is your relationship with God; what does it look like?"
I was floored. And not because of her Christian-speak*. (Love you, Carrie! If I used emojis in my blog posts, there'd be one right here - all smiley and winky and inside-jokey.)
My heart swelled and my stomach flip-flopped. This is what has been missing.
In the almost eight months since leaving the church, not one person has asked me how I'm "doing with God". Not one Christian who has had a relationship with me since I married into the role of pastor's wife and became a regular church-goer and eventual staff member, has asked me the question I used to be asked on a weekly, if not daily, basis, "How is your relationship with God?"
Isn't that what the church exists for? To encourage a personal relationship with God? And yet when attendance wanes or stops altogether, that encouragement - the heart-probing question - is gone.
There is an unhealthy assumption about those who leave the church, that God is no longer important to us - that he no longer has an active role in our lives; leaving church equals leaving God. It may be the case for some, but it isn't for all, and the assumption damages relationships.
God exists outside of the church.
God is more real to me now than he ever has been before. If you've been wondering what Mat and I talk about during Pajama Church, this is it.
God has spoken to me, and I'm finally listening. He whispered in a dream, and I knew his voice instantly. It's like when someone startles you by clasping their hands over your eyes, moving their body close to yours while speaking softly in your ear, "Guess who?" You recognize them the minute their palms meet your face before they even finish their question. You know them like you know yourself. That's what it's like hearing from God.
- God has given me peace, and I am restful. I've discovered God is softer than I've known him to be. He is gracious and merciful. I've heard these descriptions of him before, but I've never felt them. I relate so much more to him in the quiet spaces, and he knows that, which is why this time away from "doing church and ministry" is so important. It's very sweet here. I speak to myself positively; I don't put myself down or criticize my actions. I don't get caught up in a grading system; measuring my worth and value by someone else's idea of what it means to be "a good Christian". I am gentle with myself. I don't worry about being holy enough, I don't stress about "good" or "bad", and I don't fuss with labels. I am reflecting God by caring for myself in a way I never have.
- God has given me life, and I am erasing the boundaries I used to draw around myself - to keep him out. My beliefs are fluid, and I feel content for the first time. As a pastor's daughter I had rules to follow and a reputation to uphold. At 18, I took a seven-year break from church and God because I was tired of feeling so limited, so boxed in. Then I became a pastor's wife and expectations swallowed me whole. I spent way too much time striving to prove myself. All of those aspects of myself have fallen away outside of the church. I invite God into every part of me because I'm no longer scared of knowing he's always with me, witnessing my every move. He's with me because he wants to be, no matter what I'm doing; and I want him with me.
I'm two weeks into The Discovery Project and it's been a beautiful, massive unearthing. That's really the only way I can describe it. When you donate to my campaign, you'll get weekly updates of my experience and a free copy of the book I'm writing.
Be a friend.
Chances are, you know someone in your life who has stepped outside of the church's walls and begun their own exploration. Maybe you could be that friend; the one who asks them about the state of their heart and how God is revealing himself to them, instead of about the last time they attended a service.
*Oh, and for the record, we're okay with your Christianese when we know you're being genuine.