In Her Shoes ~ Community and Communion

In Her Shoes is a series written by readers to give us a glimpse into their lives – to see what it is like to walk in their shoes. Today I’m thrilled to introduce you to my friend Leigh Kramer! She is the lovely writer of one of my favorite blogs, and the woman behind the popular What I’m Into link-up.  Let’s join our friend while she shares with us what it is like to walk in her shoes. ~ Love, G

In Her Shoes ~ Community & Communion

There were two common reactions when people found out about my year-long church sabbatical: immediate understanding or shock often followed by deep-seated concern. Those in the latter category worried a sabbatical would kick off a slippery slope or felt I was disobeying God by not going to church. Mostly they couldn’t see how a sabbatical would be a good thing. While I wished otherwise, I understood where they were coming from. 15 years ago I likely would have expressed that same concern.

But thank God for those in the former category because many had similar experiences or grasped how healing it could be.

Because it was healing. God met me there and my faith is stronger as a result.

Hindsight is ever 20/20 and what I needed to do seems obvious now. It took stepping away from church for me to see it though. Had I not given myself space to discern what I need from a faith community, I shudder to think where I’d be.

Coming off of the sabbatical has been a different matter. There isn’t a quick fix, no way to snap my fingers for it to all be well with my soul. Instead, it’s been tremulous steps back, a week by week determination of whether and where to show up.

Last August I went back to church but it took another month before I went back again. Throughout the fall I visited three different mainline churches, spaced out by weeks. This is how I showed grace to myself and honored the healing that had occurred and the healing still needed.

When you’ve been hurt by a church, it takes courage to physically rejoin the Body. It also takes humility to mine the dark periods for the light. I cannot villainize any part of my church experience, though I will not deny the ways it hurt me.  I will also not deny the ways my personality and disposition affected those experiences. After all, I didn’t go to church in a vacuum. Plenty of people from previous churches have different takes on situations and did not respond the way I did. So who’s right? I believe we all are.

(This would be a different conversation had abuse occurred. That is always wrong. Full stop.)

I’ll still point out what could have been done better then and what can be done better now. But I do so acknowledging our humanity and our propensity for seeing only our point of view. When we have eyes to see and ears to hear, much good results. I also recognize I can be the person whose eyes are covered, whose ears are plugged.

This is the risk and tension of community. Will we pledge to stand beside each other through miscommunication and misunderstanding? Will we support one another in times of sickness and strife? Will we each do our part to be the Body of Christ?

I’m not quite all in yet but there will come a day when I’m ready to join a Sunday school class or figure out where to volunteer. Part of me aches to be ready, while another part recognizes my wish to skip past this necessary waiting room. I tend to jump in before I’m ready so I’m biding my time.

Because I bided my time, I narrowed down a stream of options to the three churches I visited last fall. And it is because I bided my time again, I found my church. I’ve never felt safer or more connected to the saints than I have in this Episcopal church.

I’ve never attended a church which observed Lent before. For my first Lent, I decided to re-adopt the practice of attending church. For every Sunday I was in town, I would be seated in a pew. Not for legalistic reasons but to remember the community element of faith and to experience church in a safe setting on a regular basis. I needed to get back in the habit of going.

It worked.

Around week 4, I marveled as I drove to church. No anxiety, no dread. I looked forward to the service ahead. This has continued.

Will I go to church every week from here on out? I can’t say. In fact, I missed this past Sunday due to the aftereffects of a week’s worth of visitors and too little sleep.

But I hope I’ll begin to recognize some of the people at my new church and they’ll recognize me back. I hope this will be the start of deeper community and communion. Fellow travelers all.

Bio picture

Bio: Leigh Kramer is on a quest; she’s living life on purpose. Her to-do list might look something like this: leave life in the Midwest for Nashville, Tennessee with only fried pickles for comfort, quit steady job as a social worker to chase that dream of writing at last, suck the marrow out of life’s in-between places and revel in the now at every turn. She is a contributor at A Deeper Story. Leigh shares this journey through words of transparency, heart, and just a dash of pluck at LeighKramer.com and on Twitter at @hopefulleigh

To read more encouraging stories, or if you are interested in sharing your own story, please go to the In Her Shoes tab near the top of the page. I love learning about the people in this series. Connecting with others seems to make the world feel not quite as big and scary. We’re all in this together. I can’t wait to hear from you, to read your stories, and learn more of what it is like to walk in your shoes.

~ Love, 

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Written by ginger


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13 Comments
  • Lisa C says:

    I usually don’t comment negatively about blog entries because I enjoy reading blogs. But I have to wonder why you would include this entry in your series. Churches are made of up people. People who are human and make mistakes. A church did not hurt the writer. People did. You don’t quit going to work because your boss made you mad. You go to church to worship God. Can you do that anywhere? Yes. But in His Word, he encourages us to gather together. I hope there’s more to the story than I’m gleaning from this one entry.

    • Leigh Kramer says:

      Lisa, it seems you have not experienced hurt at the hands of a church and I am glad for it. But while it’s true people hurt people, there are contexts in which the health (or unhealth, as it were) of a church directly affects its congregation and great damage can be done. My story is my own and it is layered and complex. God is in all of it and He was the reason I stepped away from church, instead of faith altogether. Just as not all my friends and family members understood this, I don’t expect you to understand either. But I would ask you to please not discount it as a valid option just because it does not mirror your own experience or understanding.

    • Patricia says:

      True, you don’t quit going to work if your boss makes you mad. Over time, though, if your boss’ behavior develops into a pattern of behavior, or reveals a larger problem in that program or agency or business, you might decide that’s not a healthy situation and opt to change jobs. And, because so many worship styles and biblical interpretations and church cultures exist, even gathering together to hear His Word isn’t as simple as it might seem.

  • ginger says:

    Hiya Lisa! Thank you so much for your comment. I wanted this series to be about sharing glimpses of life with others. You never know what someone is going through until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. 🙂 You’re right that people are human, hurt others, and make mistakes. We’ve all been hurt in different ways, and I think that we all heal in different ways, too. I was so happy that Leigh wrote about how she is now going back to church – and I am celebrating the healing that has taken place! You can read more about her sabbatical on Leigh’s blog. 🙂 Have a wonderful weekend!

  • Heather says:

    I enjoyed this entry. I was hurt by someone at my last church and it has gone on to affect me strongly in the relationships at my new church, which, in turn, has affected my Faith and my walk with God. I took a short “sabbatical” from the church. But lately, I have been trying to be open with those I trust about my feelings and what I would like to see change. It has not been easy, especially for someone who struggles with interpersonal communication the way I do. But I am trying to stick it out and grow and heal. This entry was encouraging to me to see there are others like me who are taking a path of their choosing to grow and heal.

    • Leigh Kramer says:

      Heather, I’m so sorry to hear you were hurt by someone at your last church. I’m glad you’re working through that pain with those you trust. Vulnerability is so hard but I’ve found when I can be open about where I’m coming from, people then have the opportunity to surprise us with their ability to listen, understand, and encourage. Even if they don’t completely agree or understand. But if we keep quiet for whatever reason, we’ll never know how they’ll respond or what healing can occur. I hope you’ll keep on keeping on as you work through it all.

  • I’ve read a little bit of Leigh’s story on her blog, and without knowing the details (which are none of my business!) it’s hard for me to know how I feel about her taking a year long sabbactical from church. But I am happy that she is finding healing and hope in her cautious return to church. I find being involved in the body of Christ so incredibly life-giving, but I know not all churches foster that kind of culture.

    • Leigh Kramer says:

      Thank you, Sarah! I don’t expect everyone to understand or agree with my sabbatical but I am grateful for those who have respected my decision and who have celebrated the healing that’s occurred. I appreciate your words here. I’m glad you’ve experienced church to be a life-giving place and wish that it had always been that way with me. I’m hopeful about my new church, which is more than I’ve been able to say for a long time.

  • Christina says:

    On a lighter note, I’m in absolute love with that red and blue dress. I want one!

  • Barbara Luehring says:

    Hi Leigh,
    I am glad you could give yourself permission to take a sabbatical, and that you then looked around at various churches. Just as we all cannot feel comfortable and accepted by the same people we all cannot feel the same about a particular church. In my book “What if” I wrote:

    “What if others are liver , or spinach, or asparagus? Some will find us great. Some will avoid us like the plague. If they do, it doesn’t necessarily mean there is something wrong with us. Spinach is spinach. Liver is liver. I am I . You are you. Perhaps all we can ever do is realize and appreciate that it is the differences in our individual tastes that create the rich diversity for all of us.”

    Perhaps we can say the same for churches. Keep on being you.

  • Liberty Bain says:

    this part:
    I cannot villainize any part of my church experience, though I will not deny the ways it hurt me. I will also not deny the ways my personality and disposition affected those experiences.

    makes me think of my potentially crumbling marriage. and There are parts I could easily villianize – but whether or not I choose to do that I still have to acknowledge my hurt. It just feels like a drippy mess full of glass shards.

    and I love the way you phrased it. Might steal it for a therapy session. I’ll be sure to give you credit – this is really quite brutiful <— to coin a momestary phrase.

  • Love your honesty, Leigh. I am a cradle Catholic who was lapsed in my college years/early twenties, then got re-involved in my faith. I don’t regret those years away because they helped me see things more clearly. My practice of faith is something precious to me now, not something I just “do” by default. I’m back in the same church where I began, but it’s better for that space I had in which to process and question and figure things out.

    Glad Lent turned out to be so meaningful for you. I love the rhythms of the liturgical year.

  • Carey says:

    My sister and I took an unplanned sabbatical from regularly attending ONE church; it was scary, we were often misunderstood… and it was the best thing that ever happened to us. We grew up in an abusive church culture and when we felt called to leave it, we had no idea that would mean not having a home church for 7 long years. But looking back, God had to get the “old” out of us and the only way was a complete break from everything that was familiar to us. We are now both members of new-to-us churches and although it is still a tentative & cautious relationship we have with “church”, we are so happy and even grateful for our 7 years of “wandering.”

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I’m Ginger ~
I'm a wife to my Beloved, mom of three boys, bookworm, survivor of a broken heart, and Kansas Girl. It is my desire to encourage you. No matter what storm you're going through right now, you are not alone. I promise.
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