When I first saw this story a few days ago, I felt an immediate connection. Whether one loses their faith community because they were asked to leave, as in this story, or struggle to find the courage to walk out on their own, as in mine, there is still a void left. It took a couple of years after separating from my former church before someone finally suggested that I might have unresolved feelings of grief from the loss of that community. Even though my experiences there were harmful to me in some ways, encouraging me to suppress my sexuality and asking God to heal a part of who I am that I realize, in retrospect, didn’t need healing, that church was my community for thirteen years. That is not insignificant. If anyone reading this has suffered a loss of community such as this, I would encourage you not to ignore it. Give yourself permission to grieve and work through your own process to acknowledge the loss of relationships and community. Hopefully, like me, your life will be filled with amazing new relationships, community, and sense of purpose. Still, those new presences in your life do not erase the feelings of loss that some from being suddenly cut off from a community of faith that has been your home and place of connection for years prior.
For me, the need to address this unresolved grief surfaced after a break up. After spending all those years living as an ex-gay, this was my first real relationship. So, when it came to an end, I was devastated. I tried everything I could to keep the relationship from ending. We went to meet with my pastor for counseling, but it was over. Still, I couldn’t accept it. My pastor referred me to see a psychologist that she knew to help me work through the loss of the relationship. The psychologist, after getting to know a bit more about me, was able to see the connection between the extreme grief that I was feeling over the end of the relationship and my unresolved feelings of loss from my former faith community. Having her help me make that connection was an important revelation for me. Up until then, my focus had been on moving forward and surviving. This was my first moment to consciously pause and look back to recognize what I had lost. I continued to work through my grieving process with the psychologist, and I also, at her suggestion, ordered a copy of the Grief Recovery Handbook. I asked a friend who had suffered the loss of a close loved one to go through it with me. I found the experience of being able to talk about it and to have my loss acknowledged to be very affirming. Too often, we push people to dismiss losses like this. We shouldn’t. While I am better off today and I wouldn’t go back, I still needed to have my loss acknowledged and validated. Giving myself permission to acknowledge that, while no one had died and I had left of my own free will, I had still been left with a sense of tremendous loss was very healing for me.