The Sunday after we left our church plant, we returned to our previous church home. We immediately began trying out Sunday school classes, looking for a new way to get involved, a new fit, a new family. Soon after, we met with one of the pastors to talk about why we’d come back, and not too much time later, I joined the choir and began attending rehearsals every Thursday night.
When we talked to friends who had left the church plant a few months earlier than us, they were surprised to hear that we’d jumped right back into church after the deep hurts we’d all experienced. “You must be super Christians,” they joked.
At least, I think they were joking. They must have been. At that time they knew us better than pretty much anyone, so they knew all the many ways we were not “super” at all. Still, they seemed confused by the way we appeared not to need any down time after our heartbreak.
Our friends were taking some time off from church – time to process and to heal – as were several others involved in our church plant. And who could blame them? What we went through was traumatic . . . and exhausting . . . and life-changing. So why weren’t we doing the same thing?
Though our eventual exits took place at slightly different times and with slightly different reasons, we all experienced many of the same challenges and hurts while planting that church. We all poured our hearts and souls into it. We all wrestled with the decision to leave. And in the end, we all left with regrets and heartache. And yet, we all reacted to the end of that season differently.
Even now, nearly seven years later, each of us has followed a unique journey of faith and church-life. Though we started in the same place and went through the same difficult experience, we’ve ended up (at least for now) on different paths. Going through what we did changed each of our life’s trajectory – but not in the same ways.
To be clear, my way of coping wasn’t any better than anyone else’s. I jumped back into church life right away, but it was years before I felt safe enough to let a church family back into my heart. And even though we returned “home,” we never actually fit back into the place we’d spent several years, and eventually, we had to move on in order to move on.
I could spend hours – or, at least, paragraphs – analyzing the whys and hows of all this. I could explain that while some people retreat in the face of crisis, my immediate reaction to trauma – whether it’s losing my job, leaving a failed church plant or hearing that a family member has died – is to go, do, act until I can’t feel anymore. (Then I fall apart later.) I could even settle into the idea that perhaps I was just a “super Christian” after all.
But really – and those of you who know me will not be surprised by this, I’m sure – the best explanation I can find comes from an episode of a TV show.
In an episode of Burn Notice, the mother of the main character, a CIA operative, asks why her two sons turned out so differently after growing up in the same dysfunctional family (something I’ve wondered about my own siblings and me, for sure). Here’s the response she’s given:
Imagine that you’re holding on to two bottles. They drop, slowly. What happens? They both break. But it’s how they break that’s important. Because, you see, while one bottle crumples into a pile of glass, the other shatters into a jagged-edged weapon. You see, the exact same environment that forged older brother into a weapon crushed baby brother. People just don’t all break the same, Mrs. Westen. Just don’t.
We all break differently. We hurt differently. We react differently.
In the case of my friends and me, none of our bottles was broken better than others. If pressed I’d say that all of us crumpled into piles of glass; our piles just looked different. Because even though I dove right back into one church after throwing in the towel at another, it was a very long time before I actually healed. I was walking wounded, hiding my broken and bitter heart as deep as I could, all the while getting involved and finding a new place to belong on Sunday morning.
My particular (or peculiar, depending on who you ask) response to leaving our church didn’t indicate my level of heartbreak any more than baking casseroles or sobbing all day long indicates a person’s level of grief after a death. In the moment of crisis, every person will feel differently. And even if two people share some feelings, their responses to those feelings will be different, just as the long-term life change they endure as a result of that crisis will be different.
I think this is a lesson we all need to learn. Because even though you may never plant a church or go through the same difficult experiences I do, one of the few certainties of life is that disaster will come. And when it does, we might react differently than those around us. We might break differently.
And that’s okay. God made each of us unique, so it really can’t be helped that we all feel, react and break in different ways. That’s why we must give each other grace when we go through tragedy together. My pain will look different than yours – and that’s okay.
Have you ever struggled with the way others have responded to a shared experience? Have you noticed that we all break differently?
By: Mary, Giving Up on Perfect
ABOUT MARY CARVER
Mary is a recovering perfectionist who writes about giving up on perfect and getting on with life. She's also mom to a sweet (and sassy) preschooler and wife to her high-school sweetheart. When...