I have many thoughts on theology and they're very different from what they used to be. But my life is very much "in process" and has been for some time. This July, it will be 3 years since Tim (and I) got fired from ministry. That was such a significant loss. If you've never been in professional ministry yourself, it can be hard to understand why this is so much more than a job loss. At the risk of sounding dramatic, we liken it to a divorce. Our church was where we spent the majority of our time. It was where we worked, where we learned, where we found support, where all our relationships came from, where we introduced our precious child to God, where we found purpose and identity. It was our life. Many people who attend church share some of these feelings. It's your "go to" place. Obviously, when you work there, this is taken to another level. And while it is a "family", for us, it was also our livelihood. Leaving your church, when you're as invested as we were, is very disorienting. Many people wanted to know "what happened" when we were fired, but to be honest, nothing happened. Like some divorces, it's a million little things that just don't add up to a marriage anymore. There was no major infraction. It's like, they fell out of love with us. There were things we were unhappy about in our relationship with the church too, and we're not at all claiming that we never made mistakes. But it's a painful reality to sit in that you can be dismissed from your "family." Your family can literally tell you that you no longer fit in it. After all this time, just writing those words brings tears to my eyes.
When we worked at church, our life was a lot more structured. We knew what we were about, as individuals and as a family. There were a lot of mission statements, tiers of leadership, committees. We knew where our life was headed. Our path was set before us. The weeks, months, years just flew by. We were so busy. There were things we felt God pulling us towards (reducing our consumer patterns, being present in our neighborhood, doing less, investing in deeper friendships) that just weren't possible in that environment. We were too distracted by the immediate tasks at hand and were trying to fulfill everyone's expectations of us. I haven't met a minister yet who didn't struggle with people-pleasing. There just wasn't enough space for growth in these areas. I think this is because when you get hired (marry your new church), they ask you where you stand on all sorts of theological issues. You get hired based on whether you and the church are compatible in these areas. The problem is, if you change at all and your church does not, you will eventually outgrow it and vice versa. So you either don't allow your theology to evolve or you try to drag the church with you. I'm not going to lie to you. Every single precious friend we know in ministry carries wounds from this reality. It's very painful. And no matter what anyone says, it most definitely is personal. I think what happens a lot, to quote an amazing Chumbawamba song (yes, I just dated myself), they just "get knocked down, but [they] get up again. You're never gonna keep [them] down..." You just keep going, keep praying, keep trying, keep crying, keep leaving. Until eventually, many of us just get too hurt or too tired to go on. Some of us barely escape with our faith, while others lose it entirely.
There was a new-found freedom to leaving ministry. We could hang out with whoever we wanted to! We had time to build a life for ourselves based on our personal values and needs. We could be in transparent, two-way relationships. We found out we weren't the problem or the solution. We were just regular people trying to make our way in the world and be decent to those around us doing the same thing. We got to ask the questions instead of having to give the answers. We realized we had a lot of unmet needs and a lot of theology to reevaluate. It was the first time in our lives that we were free to believe what we wanted, without feeling the weight of a bunch of other souls soaking up our influence. We gave ourselves permission to wrestle, to grieve and to change our minds, over and over again.
To be honest, we're not nearly done. But all of the things we wanted to be different in our lives are now. It's pretty amazing. And when the shit really hit the fan this year with the postpartum depression, we had the relationships we needed to keep us afloat. We could not have had that level of trauma in our old life. We would have had to stifle it or at least try to contain it. (Ever try to contain grief? Works great, right? Depression...sure, it goes away if you deny it long enough. Ha!) We probably would have lost the job then anyway. Churches don't like to employ openly messy people, especially if this includes their theology.
As a Christian, my theology is the lens through which I see the world, my life, myself. But there comes a point in your life when crazy, unreasonable shit happens. And the frame that you're putting around your life isn't big enough. Your life suddenly becomes an 11x14 and your frame is still an 8x10. What are your choices at that point? Either cut your life back down to an 8x10 (denial, shaming yourself, repressing your feelings, jumping into another situation without processing your loss) or you embrace the mess and get a bigger frame. I firmly believe in a God who's bigger than any frame I've used so far. He's not threatened by my broadening theology. And yes, I would love to pretend that I'm completely open now, living outside any proverbial box. But is that really a fair expectation for myself? I think we all have boxes regardless of our personal theology. Would it be cool to have none? Sure. But at this point, this perfectionist is just happy to know that mine is a bit bigger than it was before.