March 2, 2023

Spiritual Trauma Part 4: Leaving Well

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Faith in community is tricky to navigate because people aren’t perfect. At some point, there may come a time when you realize that you can no longer stay in your community. When that happens, it can be a challenge to know how to leave well. You might be really angry or hurt, but there are most likely relationships you would like to preserve after you leave. It is also important to try to leave well because burning bridges can lead to further resentment, guilt or shame. Once you have decided to leave, it is important to ask yourself a couple of questions to make sure you leave in the best way possible.

Questions to Ask When Leaving

Why are you leaving your faith community?

At first, the answer to this may seem obvious. You might feel disconnected from the community. You might have been hurt by people in leadership. Either way, it is helpful to reflect on why you are truly leaving your community. We can endure a lot of things for the sake of friendships or feeling connected to God, so the decision to leave is often a deeper issue than it first appears.

If you have determined that it is not possible for you to rectify conflicts for any reason (lack of ownership or apology, no visible change, etc), then the question becomes, “why do you feel this conflict cannot be repaired?” People may challenge you by asking, “Are you sure you can’t just move past this?” or by telling you that, “God wants you to work through this trial.” When you are confronted in this way, it is helpful to understand why you know it is not possible for you to move forward with these relationships so that you do not doubt yourself or your relationship with God.

How will you approach your current relationships moving forward?

When people have hurt you, it’s really easy to cut all contact and leave without saying goodbye. However, as with all relationships, a sense of closure is important for healing and being able to move forward. While you have been hurt, leaving without saying goodbye to people may lead to hurt for others in your life. There may be other people that you want to maintain relationships with. When this happens, it may require explaining why you are leaving and why they are important enough to you that you would like to keep them in your life.

What are you looking for in a new faith community?

When you leave, it can be a challenge to find a faith community that doesn’t have the same conflicts you experienced before. It can be helpful to think about how you want to practice your faith, what you want from church leadership, and how you want to serve in your new community. It’s a good idea to reflect on why these things were a conflict before so that you can understand your responsibility in the conflicts and choose to behave differently in the future. Without this reflection, you may over-serve or attract the same unhealthy relationships as before.

As you evaluate these elements of leaving your faith community, you might find that you feel stuck with your decisions. People may have said hurtful things that fill you with shame or doubt. When these things happen and you find that you need help navigating your confusion, a therapist can meet you in that pain. Call today to begin working toward resolving your feelings of shame and doubt!

Written by therapist Elise Champanhet

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