I took down this post a day after posting it. I thought I’d make some edits and look it over. And deep down inside I thought, “maybe this is a little much”. See, even now, I am figuring out what authentic living is for me. Several days after taking the post down I had several people contact me and say that the post was a breath of fresh air. Unbeknownst to me others have been struggling with similar things related to suffering and the church. I decided after hearing that this was a source of hope to others I would go ahead and repost it. After all, that has always been my hope that my story and sharing would be a source of something for others… If this post or other stuff I share is a source of helping you know that you are not alone well then I think it’s freaking worth putting my stuff out there.
I’ve been feeling like an orphan lately. A spiritual orphan of sorts. After 37 (ish) years in church and ministry I left. It was a culmination of things that led to isolation, depletion and burn-out, which eventually made me realize I needed to go for my own heart’s sake and health.
And now I find myself frequently asking myself questions of belonging:
to whom do I belong?
how do I belong?
is belonging possible?
It seems since leaving the church I have been left with all kinds of yearnings to continue some connection with faith, but how?– when most of what I was taught was that faith is connected to church community. And how could I possibly go back to church community when I am still recovering from so many wounds from the previous community I was a part of? And sometimes when I’m at this crisis juncture I resign myself to never finding another spiritual community again.
And then I came across this today by the dearest Anne Lamott:
My brand new sister-in-law died yesterday, as has been expected for weeks. We are heartbroken, relieved, amazed by Grace. My brothers and I are all accidentally devout believers, so we feel that death is a major change of address: that death is the end of dying, but not of life.
Or Life. Whatever you want to call it.
Life or life: This strange situation we find ourselves in, with no clear answers or meaning–well, you know, I mean besides love, or Love; taking care of the poor; and being amazed by beauty.
With Connie, who entered our lives eighteen months ago, with stage 4 cancer, we all just surrendered to the reality that my older brother John had fallen truly, madly, deeply in love.
I would not have picked a wife for him who had aggressive cancer in her liver and lungs, but that’s just me. She was everything he had ever hoped and dreamed of, as he was for her. We fell in love with her, too. This didn’t work for me at all, as Jax’s baby heart–and, who am I kidding, mine–were now guaranteed to break, big time, in the very foreseeable future.
I read this and I began to feel those yearnings hit the surface, again. She always has a way of writing with sheer, raw, heartbreakingly, open, truth-telling that I can’t help but not want to give up on the idea that on this earth– community just might exist where we are accepted just as we are: broken, imperfect, awkward, real, authentic
Maybe, just maybe there is a spiritual community that exists with a bunch of scarred-up and flawed-up people seeking to seek together and love together and suffer with and for one another…
As much as all the various things that built up over time (endless budget meetings, being the first one in and the last one out, full-time work for part-time pay) left me feeling depleted and used up– what slowly began to eat away at my heart was the reality that I couldn’t be authentic or real about the suffering that I was experiencing.
I learned this lesson early on when my husband’s bipolar was brought to the attention of the lead pastor, our friend and he responded by stating that in this country we over diagnose and we over medicate. He was clearly uncomfortable and didn’t understand the disorder so he went on to say we needed to get help and then shortly thereafter began distancing himself.
Later I shared with the pastor’s wife my struggles with the bipolar and the depression I was experiencing as a result and she stopped talking to me and soon there-after we were no longer invited to family gatherings or events.
We continued to feel this distancing from community and staff, which led me to internalize that this must be our problem and ours alone.
I learned early on that these were not topics that were supposed to be discussed and I stopped sharing. I kept showing up for all the strategic meetings and all the work parties and to minister to others. Meanwhile, in my own life I continued to melt away.
When things would escalate to the point of violence– like the time my husband went into a rage and I needed to grab my daughter and physically run without shoes to a friend’s house– I knew that I would need to keep this to myself. A few days later I showed up to work… engaged in ministry… put on a smile… didn’t let on that anything was wrong at home…
For ten years I kept all these secrets.
I fulfilled my duties as pastor, but could not disclose my sufferings even within the circle of staff and leadership.
Yet, this church preached boldly and passionately about the need to be authentic in community. And it took some time to learn that authentic in this community meant: real minus the icky, awful, uncomfortable stuff like mental illness.
As all communities, this community had exceptions to what would be accepted as authentic. There were all these rules and guidelines and norms about what could be shared, who could share and what was socially acceptable to publicly grieve. This was a culture that cultivated an environment of silence.
After my grandfather collapsed at his home he was rushed to a hospital ER and later that day he was diagnosed with leukemia. The shock of these events rattled me and when I shared this with my pastor he expressed no condolences or words– he just simply walked away toward his office. My grandfather died two days later and no one said a word to me about it. At my place of worship, my place of spiritual community I silently grieved alone.
You can imagine my confusion.
For a long time I thought it was me.
The past three years I’ve been in recovery. In terms of spiritual community, I often feel confused more than ever.
But I know now that this wasn’t right. I know that it wasn’t all me. I’m not perfect– I don’t claim to have my shit together, but authentic community doesn’t require polished, perfected, shit-don’t- stink, kinds of people.
I learned this, too.
I learned this when on several occasions when I was especially down and out, feeling a specialized kind of crazy in this recovery process I called out to a bunch of ladies– this ragamuffin, hard core group of women friends and they got it. I was a blubbering, sobbing, mascara-stained mess and the leader of our army said, “You’re not alone, DeAnza– we got you”.
“No requirements– we got you”.
“You don’t have to be perfect– we got you”.
“You are lovely as you are– we got you”.
I’m still confused about formal church and community. At some point, I imagine I’ll find a spiritual community or at least hope to…
Silence is no way to live. Silence breeds shame and it is a disservice to people– it compounds suffering.
This is also what I know: this example is what community should be like– however you define it– whoever is in your community– wherever your community resides– it should be like this: a refuge place where you can bare your soul and know that you won’t be respected any less for doing so.