It is hard not to come back to this place in my journey, over and over again. Like a well-worn footpath leading to some beloved sight in the woods, I have walked Memory Lane more times than I can count, arriving again at the season in my life when church stopped being a building, when Christians met the rest of humanity in their ability to disappoint and wound and completely abandon. Back to the season when stepping foot inside the sanctuary that had once brought me such life and belonging and hope, now brought me deep pain and aloneness and an overwhelming sense of all things lost. Back to the day I realized that all the answers I had worked so hard to learn, all the verses I had memorized and all the prayers I had prayed, held no weight against the mysteries and injustices of the world.
Before that season I scoffed with the best of them at church members that did not seem to offer enough of their heart or time to church activities, judged those with dissenting views and dared to vow that I would never be a “backslider” myself. My life revolved around being the best Christian I could be by fitting as neatly inside the tiny box that image had created. All I could think of was doom, disaster, deep sin that would keep someone out of the light and righteousness of our church community. It never crossed my mind that one day I would count it a great blessing to be standing outside amongst them.
~Barbara Taylor Brown, Leaving Church
It would be years between the walking away and the opening of hands in my case. Perhaps because the decision was so reactionary, so survival-oriented, I could not think about opening up and growing again. I could not comprehend wholeness outside of the church, peace and joy without all the certainties. I sensed for a season that my spirit was dead, if it were ever alive at all. I struggled with dark thoughts and sadness, some days yearning for the comfort of what was, knowing it could never be again. It would be years of closing down, letting the dying things die, before my soul could fathom of flowering again.
And then, years after walking away, I found myself loosening my grip and letting the crumbled parts start to fall. I found myself waking up and seeing life as if for the first time, finally able to articulate some of those soul urgings from years past and owning the blessing of the new place they lead me to. I found in that place wells of hope and joy and wholeness that I had never, even in those days of constant church attendance and such certainties, ever experienced before.
I found – and am finding - a Deity big enough for all the questions and all the mysteries. I found the thrill of the finding, the unfolding, the questions dwelling in a beautiful place of unknowing. I found the seed of the divine inside myself, parched from all those years of guilt and shame, of rules and answers, of right ways and exhausting effort, finally flourishing in freedom. Returning to that true place of goodness and creativity and love. In walking away, I found life.