It’s Okay to Grieve When You Leave the Church!

"Okay to Grieve" cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

“Okay to Grieve” cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

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Don’t let anyone rush your grief! You’ve left the church. That’s heavy! Grieve it. Feel it to the full. Go ahead and deny that it hurts. Then bawl your eyes out once in a while. Get angry. Get frustrated. Think about going back then change your mind again. Get depressed. That’s the best way to let it pass and finally find peace.

Grieving is an important and necessary step after any kind of loss. You have to grieve when you lose your favorite pen. You have to grieve when you lose your loved one. Of course they are on a different scale, but grief is a part of the process of responding to loss.

Is there an appropriate length of time for grief? I don’t think so. But let’s take me for an example. I lose my favorite pen. I can’t find it. There’s nothing I can seem to do to get it back. It is gone. Forever. My response has been anything from denial, bargaining, anger, depression, to hopefully and finally a sense of peace. After all, I can go back out and buy another one. Maybe that grieving response took… I don’t know… 15 minutes.

But what if I lose a loved one? The same stages of grief apply, but they will take longer. It will take a much longer time for me to eventually and hopefully reach the stage of peace. But this depends on a lot of factors too. How close was I to this loved one? Were we living together? For how long? How dependent was I on this person? How much did he mean to me? Were we estranged when we were separated? And so on. You might grieve for a year. Or maybe 10 years with the occasional reversions on anniversaries, etc. Who knows?

Even when we lose something that wasn’t a totally positive experience for us, and maybe even unhealthy, we can still grieve. Like losing a limb because of infection: it’s unhealthy to keep it, but painful to lose it, followed by a period of difficult adjustment.

We grieve when we leave the church. Even if we left volitionally or were forced to leave… whatever the circumstances… we must allow ourselves time to grieve. If you just went one month to church just to observe and left, your grieving might not take as long. But what if you went to church for 50 years and were deeply involved in its life and then were asked to leave or you felt you simply could no longer stay? How long should grieving take then? A week? A month? A year? Five years? A life time?

I would suggest having someone to talk to so that you can walk through it in a healthy manner, whatever that is. It is possible to get stuck in grief, bogged down in anger, stalled in depression, broken down in sorrow. Having someone to talk to may jumpstart you to make your grief manageable and help you progress towards a joyful life.

But don’t let anyone tell you how long you have to grieve. Take as long as you want. I remember just a few months after a devastating church split, some people who were strong supporters finally left the church because I wasn’t healing fast enough. But I couldn’t speed it up. And you might know me well enough by now that I just couldn’t fake it. I was grieving. It took me a long time to get over that.

I left the church in 2010 under strained conditions. I grieved that for years. I still experience grief once in a while. But no one’s rushing me now. And I don’t judge myself for it. I talked regularly with someone. I still do when I need it. I’m better now. And I did it at my own pace. I’m fine. Happiness finally came.

You can do it too. Don’t rush the grief. Let it come. Feel it to the full. This is the best way to let it pass. And it will. Eventually. And you will be happy again.

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4 Responses

  1. David Mercer says:

    When you lose someone in a dysfunctional community, with unresolved conflict and guilt and anger, grief is more complicated and painful, which is why it can take so long after one leaves a church. Churches are quite dysfunctional.

  2. Good point. Thanks David.

  3. S says:

    What I have found hard to swallow is the vacuum that appears when you leave a church. It’s quite an unpleasant feeling when you realise that you were only cared for and you only mattered whilst attending their church (it works both ways I suppose). It’s just quite a sad eye opener

  4. Hi S. It is quite an eye-opener. But then they say “Well YOU’RE the one who left!”