Clean Breaks

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“He’s lucky, it was a clean break.” People say this sometimes, when a leg or arm or ankle is broken. I teach high school and I am always surprised at how often my students end up injured, often seriously. “It was good that the break was clean.” How can a break be good? I’ve never broken a bone, but my understanding is that it hurts like hell. A month ago we left the church we had served in, and loved with for seven years. We had been with that church for 7 good years. 7 big years. That church grew us, and grew with us, and prayed for us and with us while we bought a house, had two babies, transitioned to three different schools, started a PhD program and struggled and grew in our faith. Faith growing can be tricky sometimes. I wanted to believe that I could prune and shape my faith so that it looked like what I expected it to, but that isn’t quite how it works. There were branches that stopped bearing fruit, and others that sprung out alive and vibrant in the most unexpected places. I became a creative in that church. I met Jesus there over and over again. But slowly, slowly, our family and our understanding of God grew into a shape that didn’t fit into the greenhouse it was raised in. We prayed and circled and prayed and thought and waited and got frustrated at the waiting, and prayed and yelled and met and prayed. And then . . . and then it was time to go. So we met again, and prayed some more. It was just time.

How can a break be good?

I always thought we would leave because we were splitting town. Or maybe because we had heard some BIG CALL from God. I never imagined it would be because things didn’t quite fit anymore, because things that used to only irritate me started rubbing deep, and pretty soon there were wounds. I couldn’t quite tell you how they got there. It was just time. We heard it as a whisper, as an answer to a very difficult prayer, as a strange line up of a comment spoken off the cuff with a Bible passage for the small group we had hosted in our house for more than five years. This all is coming out neat and tidy. Clean breaks still hurt like hell. We told the pastor first. By we, I mean my husband. For the first time I was grateful for the understanding of gender roles that made sure he was in the leading role. Then we told our small group. After the dinner and the Bible study, before the prayer requests, we told the group what a privilege it had been for our family to host them, how blessed we had felt by the way they received our kids and ate out of our kitchen. With tears streaming down our face we told them that we wouldn’t be hosting again. It was awful. And it was beautiful. They prayed for us, laid hands on us, thanked us. They told us they loved us.

Every week, I can feel myself healing.

We did the same thing a week later at church. It was explained that we were feeling called to leave. After the service, our tiny congregation circled around our family as tears streamed down my face. There were hugs and assurances that it was okay to come back and visit, or even change our mind. We were told we would be missed. We were told we had served well. We were told there would always be a home there for us. Have I mentioned that a clean break still hurts like hell? It is early, and we aren’t sure, but we think we may have found a place to call home. We’ve had dinner at the pastor’s, we have our eye on a small group, the nursery workers know the names of my children. I sit in the sanctuary that is not the same shape and go through the service that is also a new shape. I get nervous every time we pass the peace. Will anyone talk to me? (Inevitably, they do.) I miss my old congregation. I miss the familiar songs, and I deeply miss the people. I miss having the same place to sit every week. But every week, I can feel myself healing. A little more hope, a little more strength. I have no regrets, or frustrations. No one is emailing me surprised they haven’t seen me in a few weeks, or asking me on Facebook why I wasn’t at church. It was, after all, a clean break. Clean breaks do in fact hurt like hell, but the healing is quick and often leaves that broken place stronger.  

Abby Norman

Abby lives and loves in the city of Atlanta. She swears a lot more than you would think for a public school teacher and mother of two under three. She can’t help that she loves all words.She believes in champagne for celebrating every day life, laughing until her stomach hurts and telling the truth, even when it is hard, maybe especially then.

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  • Natalie Hart

    Oh, Abby, I am so with you. It’s so different to leave a church when you are just plain leaving that place, and not leaving because you are going on some great new adventure. We did that 3 years ago, and it was so painful, so sad. That church was a place I loved and grew; in many ways, it was the making of me as the Christian I am today. But we had to go. I was sad for months. Even after we found a new place, I’d cry every service because it wasn’t my old church and these weren’t my people. But God used the silliest little things to incorporate me into that congregation (an older man with a developmental disability who sang just like Mr. Bean, and a hug from a little girl that turned into a big pile-on of all the kids hugging me). So besides being kind to yourself and letting yourself be sad, I’d say be alive to those silly little things, because God uses those, too. Love to you!

    • Abby Norman

      Thank you so much. The new place is so great with my kids and finds their incessant talking and need to be with each other atalltimes charming. So I am grateful and have found much solace in that. I am doing well, but hating how long it takes to not feel sad.

  • Perfect. There’s a tension between knowing we need to move on for our long term health, but that transition can be a killer.

    • Abby Norman

      Thanks Ed. It has been so hard, and I often feel silly and over-emotional that it has been this hard. But it seems like I am not alone in that.

  • Oh gosh, Abby – this is GOOD writing.

    • Abby Norman

      Thank you love. And thank you for being with me during all of it.

  • I love this, Abby.

  • Beautiful. This is my experience too. For me it is still affirming that I was able to recognize that I no longer going to be able to fit or grow there. At first I thought it was them, and then realized it was me and was able to leave peacefully. I still haven’t found a new home, but the exploration has been really good. It’s an awakening for deeper, more authentic life. My faith has gotten strong in the face of less evidence. That feels really wonderful and right. We are all headed into new places and it’s exciting!

    • Abby Norman

      YES! Thank you for sharing your experience with me.

  • Josie Barone

    It is said that when a limb undergoes amputation, the empty space feels the former attachment for a long time after it has been removed. Maybe that is why, even with a clean break, pain is felt–because of the intimate attachment. I hope your family quickly finds that special place to forge close relationships–that special place that will feel like home.

    • Abby Norman

      YES! This. I think we have found a new limb but this is SO on.

  • I’m so happy this happened so well for you. The other side just blows chunks. It’s been over a year and I still miss the music, LOL.

    • Abby Norman

      The other side blows chunks. I love you so much.

  • I love the line about every day feeling yourself healing. I think it’s a difficult choice at times, to let ourselves feel the small stirring of healing amid the clamor of loss.

    • Abby Norman

      I have been surprised at how stinging the healing can be.

  • I can relate – I also changed churches last summer for similar reasons. I felt useless and stifled at my old church, like I had outgrown it (not that I’m so great, just that I couldn’t develop any further there in the ways I feel called to). It was a hard choice and a hard transition, but I am incredibly happy at my new church. It’ll happen for you too. You did a brave thing!

    • Abby Norman

      Brave. I like that. Thank you.

  • smuddles

    I just made a similar transition this August. I wept through the first service at the new church because the focus in the service was on the exact words God had been whispering in my heart. Leaving is such a growing process and growth unfortunately comes with may tears. Thanks for sharing this!

  • Chris

    So inspiring to see someone write about this in a positive vein. We’ve drifted away from our church roots over the past few years for reasons similar to yours, and really haven’t looked back. We know that faith and religious practice do not have to mean the same thing. We haven’t really found (or looked all that hard, to be truthful) a church home since; glad you’ve found one that speaks to your family in words that ring true to your heart.

  • Lindsey Smallwood

    Beautiful hard story, thanks for telling it. We left because we were moving, which made things clean but somehow not saying the things we would have said has left me feeling un-finished with it all. Thanks for being brave,