A Role I Never Expected to Play

I have learned a lot in the last couple of years about rejection and friendship. Some of these were hard lessons that I would rather not have learned.

At our former church, I was secure in my friendships. I was involved in many peoples’ lives and moved among several different social circles in the church. I also had several close friends, some in leadership with us and others not involved in leadership.

When we left the church, we attempted to leave with as little disruption as possible. This required not challenging the false accusations against us. We cared about the people we left, and we had no desire to leave with an ugly conflict.

I naively thought that in doing this, we would be allowed to move on and still retain our friendships. I worked hard to affirm the relationships that were important to me, not wanting to be responsible for their demise because of our departure.

Little did I know that friends would simply walk away as if they had never known me. I also didn’t realize the stigma that would be attached to continuing to associate with us. After the initial hurt, I became accustomed to the ongoing rejection, at times laughing at the extent people went to to avoid us.

No longer was I invited to group activities or family events. The few people who maintained relationship with me did so with private lunches in obscure places. Tiring of the role of outcast, I have often been tempted to withdraw from these remaining relationships. They are the relationships I struggle with.

Honestly, it is emotionally draining to spend time with the people from that church. There is the constant tension between what really happened and what I know they’ve been told, an ongoing restraint to not set the record straight, to not speak critically of what they are involved in, a major effort to not react negatively as they talk about their pastor and church.

It is easier to not be around them. I have begun to withdraw more. I commend the tenacity and boldness of the friends who continue to attempt to stay connected with me. I don’t believe friendships are to be forsaken, but it has been difficult to stay in these friendships.

After a couple of months of quietness, I heard from several old friends in the last couple of days. I’ll be having coffee with one this afternoon and drinks with a couple of others this evening.

I know avoidance isn’t the answer. My plan was to continue extending friendship, even in the face of rejection. I hope that I can still do that and that I will respond to my friends in love and wholeness.

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18 thoughts on “A Role I Never Expected to Play

  1. I don’t know the circumstances around your particular situation, but I do find it sad how often people leaving a church revolves around some sort of major controversy or ugliness. My dad is a pastor, and a few years ago he left a church he’d been shepherd of for 13+ years. He simply recognized that God was leading him on to other works. For whatever reason people were offended and trumped up some nasty lies to try to make him look bad. It’s not something I understand and probably never will, how Christians can do those sorts of things to each other, but it does happen. All too often.

    That said, kudos to you for working so hard and maintaining those friendships. My parents still have several good, solid friendships with people from that church, even though some of them were part of the hurt. Restitution was made and things have gotten better. I can only hope that it will be the same for you.

  2. bless you grace. i admire your humility. I hope you discover a greater degree of God’s comfort in all of this. He knows a thing or two about rejection and betrayal. Thanks for sharing this difficult part of your life with us…

    ((hug))

    Pam

  3. Grace,
    I’m understanding what you’re talking about more than I wish I did. I’ve recently lost some close friendships…and I’m committed to extending love…regardless. So, I just read your blog, and guess where I just came from? Drinking Margaritas w/ my wife at a new Mexican restaurant. It was nice.

    I pray that you will embrace the grace the Lord extends to you and in so doing, embrace your friends.

  4. Grace, I hope we get a chance to sit down someday, with our spouses, and talk about all of this. What you’re describing here is absolutely identical to what we experienced. I can relate to every single thing you’ve said here.

    Except the margaritas thing. Never been a big margarita fan. Guinness — aye, there’s the drink for the Dead Pastor Society (a real group that we once started in 1997, that met every Monday night at the King’s Head Pub in Winnipeg).

    I’ll definitely be praying for you guys. I know all too well what you’re talking about here.

    Grace and peace to you, sis!

  5. jim, thank you for sharing the story about your parents. It is sad to realize that the political nature of relationships causes Christians to act in this way.

    pam, thanks for your encouragement. As much as I have lamented this stage of my journey, I am also grateful for the place it has brought me to.

    fr’nklin,
    I also pray that you will be strong in your convictions and not be swayed by those who don’t understand you.

    Robby,
    Honestly, I don’t know if they sell guinness here. Hopefully, someday we’ll be able to sit together and talk. Are you and Wendy planning on attending the emerging conference in North Dakota?

  6. Just wanted to say I’m there with ya. I’ve actually been sorting out some relationships in the last week. Sad to find that there are a couple of friends that I just have to let go of. I have been through what you spoke of…the necessary restraint of my words in order to not “contaminate” them, and the obvious stigma of their association with me…these are people who I know would be there for me in a crisis, but they cannot retain a regular social relationship with me because of their close ties (working/friendship) with some people in the church who are the most “not OK” with my leaving. The Lord has graced me with an ability to let them go, knowing that seasons do change.

    However, I have been blessed and thrilled in recent days to find affirmation in a couple of other friendships, finding unconditional love somewhere I didn’t expect.

    I think God knows who to surround us with in the various seasons of our lives. He knows who will hold us up and who will cause discouragement in our life. I just try to trust His judgement on that. I look for the “open windows” that have turned up because of “closed doors”…and I have found one or two new friendships that bless me and encourage me; friendships that I might not otherwise have had.

  7. Thanks lily, I really understand what you are saying. Your comment about trusting God to surround us with the right friendships for this season is really true. I believe that is part of Him placing us in the body where He knows we belong, not necessarily just according to what church we go to, but according to the relationships we are in.

  8. Grace, I just went thru a similar process with the last year or so. We left a fellowship where we had been for more than 20 years. It’s not an easy thing to do. Thanks for sharing with us!

    In HIM,
    David

  9. Since I’ve been out of my problem church for considereably longer than some of you, I’ll share this. I, too, lost most of my friends, and endured a very very dry time, relationship-wise. After several years, I don’t know exactly how many, I was able, as providence allowed, to clear with air with the two friends who I deeply wanted to know the truth about what had happened. It was only just a couple of trustworthy people that I told the whole story to. (For the reasons you all have stated.) They’re the strong, firm-faith ones I knew could hear the truth and not be hurt. It did help me to eventually share the truth with them. And, as a few years had passed, I possessed a much wiser perspective on my own sins and stupid mistakes that compounded the problems. I was able to approach those conversations with more of a sad wisdom, rather than the bitter fierceness that consumed me for some time. Not that I would assume any of you made as many sinful mistakes as I, but time helps broaden all perspectives on things.

    I didn’t look for those opportunities, but they came, and when the time was right, I took them. I wouldn’t recommend anybody rushing into it, but down the road, it might happen. By the way, if you’re wondering, only one of those friendships was restored. The other remains an amicable but uncomfortable familiarity, at best. Out of 10-20 close friends, I was able to salvage one. It does make me more appreciative of true friendship when I find it.

  10. grace, thanks for sharing.

    My problem is not being able to get connected in the first place, but your perspective is very interesting nonetheless. There is a lot of ugliness among the insiders, and I am not so sure if I want acceptance in the first place now.

  11. David, I can’t tell if you’re referring to a specific group of insiders or not, but either way I can say I sure do understand and empathize with you.

  12. I pray that the Peace of God is with you during these times. It’s a hard thing to understand the workings of man. Perhaps by this time you’ve had your margarita and everything worked out with your friends.

    Dead Pastor’s Society – now there’s a group I can relate to!

    B~

  13. “EMPTY SHELLS”

    Walking along the beach, endless and endless miles of seashore with time to explore.
    Empty shells are all that I can see so I pick them up and carry them away with me.
    Quite a collection I find I have so I carry them for a safer place to be.
    The Sun beating down on them with a glimmer of light that catches my eye.
    More and more I find to carry with me a salvation hard to describe.
    So much beauty and so many different shapes!
    But they all lay in such a commonplace.
    As I carry these empty shells away with me,
    The weight begins to slow me down!
    So I sort through them one by one.
    Each carries a moment in need.
    Each one in different places I have found.
    And each with a memory that has only just begun!

    “THE BATTLE WITHIN”

    Love and trust the battle within,
    One of armor and one of cloth,
    Both equal in strength and at a great loss.
    Cornered by time to live again,
    A moment to go back to where you have been!
    The principles of pleasure intrude on a pleasant dream.
    Love and trust the battle within shouts its damning scream!
    One of armor, one of cloth and both are determined to rise again.
    Conflict and pressure begin to adhere to this occasion.
    One second to catch your thoughts of stop, go, or yield?
    Beset by these restless conflicts your need to release introduces itself.
    Provoked to endure a graceful truce the weak one falls to submission.
    Love and trust the battle within proclaims the very same guild.
    One of armor, one of cloth, and both equal with great strength in this world that we build.

    “THE MOON BETWEEN THE TREES”

    It was the night after the full Moon.
    This was the night that I saw the Moon between the trees.
    It was huge! The color of melon!
    My world was lit as my life had instantly risen.
    I saw light gray clouds all dismayed with dark blue visions.
    My moment had come forth and all at once I felt a life inside begin to breathe.
    Three decades of life had passed by me.
    Cascades of shadows erupting dark and gray!
    Now they evolved in true sight and all of this was for my eyes to see!
    “Oh My God”, dear God, this is my world mine all mine in every way!
    And this is what I have dropped before Thee?
    At such a long distance, that glimmer has covered over me.
    So many nights I lay before Thee.
    Not one word and not even one moment heard.
    For it was silence, for I could not breathe!
    An hour had passed since I saw the Moon between the trees.
    It had vanished and no longer could I see,
    The dark blue vision, the one that would not let me breathe!
    I saw the melon with its glimmer, the one that had covered over me.
    I felt my breath inside that I could not breathe.
    “Oh My God”! My dearest God, I have found what I lay before Thee!
    I have found the vision of gray and how huge it was for my eyes to see!
    “My dear God, my only God”, Oh how I have forsaken this precious life you have given to me!

    “THE HAPPY PLACE”

    Mornings delight is present with the laughter of children.
    Streets are full with the pitter-patter of little feet that are out and about.
    Each home with a gift on this street! Many seeds with many sprouts!
    Laughter and joy fill the air allowing the child in you to cheer again.
    Little hearts pound with excitement from all that is complete and genuine.
    Streets are full with the sounds of our own innocence, many screams with many shouts.
    Little lives engaged with the will to thrive on this street, not one with a glimpse of doubt.
    ”The Happy Place” is what I see, a place of comfort that carries us back to where we’ve already been.
    ”The Happy Place” holds many things!
    The warmest images are portrayed by the innocence of a child’s smile.
    ”The Happy Place” holds many memories.
    The face of authenticity is what this child’s smile brings.
    ”The Happy Place” is our gifts in the world from a most precious child.
    Genuine smiles that at once give this world some truth with our most pure honesty!

    © Copyright: 1997 Ann Rich

    • These poems are registered with The Library of Congress in the United States and have already been published. Please feel free to share them.

  14. david u,
    It is difficult losing the many years of history you have shared with people.

    Thanks for sharing your experience Cindy. I have learned a lot about friendships and my role in those friendships. In the past, I was willing to allow the “club” to sustain my friendships with little effort on my part.

    David, I think the difference is learning to discern between authentic acceptance and inclusion in a social club. Sadly, I think many churches don’t realize how cliqueish and tenuous their friendships are.

    anonymous, nice poems.

  15. bruce,
    sorry, I missed you there before the poems. Thanks for your prayers. Things were fine with my friends, and I realized I am healing and less sensitive to some of the “stuff” about the old church.

  16. Wow Grace, this hits close to home…and the reality I still have some healing to do. I had been in leadership in a church for 15+ years, developed what I thought were some deep and personal realtionships. But these same people, I meet them in grocery stores…they look through me as I never existed, or quickly dash for the next aisle. Maybe it was nothing more than belonging, and membership…something a whole lot less than true friendship. My prayers are with you Grace…Pax Ron+

  17. ron, I’m sorry that you understand this so well. Realizing that what seemed like deep relationships were so conditional to membership was really disappointing, but apparently very common. There are social dynamics involved that shouldn’t be a part of a true kingdom community.

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