Kristin Prentiss Ott, M.D.

Our Church Break-up, Part III: Wholeheartedness (With Crowder and Needtobreathe)

This is Part III of a three-part series. Read Parts I and II here and here.


So our story picks up in the void of time and space after a break-up.  The time period in which you analyze everything that went wrong and why.

If you’ve ever been through a break-up, you know the feeling that all of your love has been poured out and you are left with a heart that is not only broken, but empty.

Most of our friends were from church #4, and as much as we wanted to keep those friendships, there were reasons for our break-up, and they were hard to avoid.

Oh, and all of those voices I had been hearing? 

They dried up.

Talk about lonely.  Even my subconscious wasn’t speaking to me.  So in my quest to heal, I set out in search of new voices.

I found the voice of Dr. Brené Brown, author, researcher and my therapist from afar.  Her areas of expertise include shame (yup, I’ve got that), vulnerability (working on it), and wholeheartedness (looking for it).  Dr. Brown helped me understand that love and belonging are inextricably linked and she helped me see that my broken heart wasn’t just about lost love, it was about failing to belong.  She wrote:

One of the biggest surprises in this research was learning that fitting in and belonging are not the same thing. In fact, fitting in is one of the greatest barriers to belonging. Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be in order to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.

I had spent my entire life trying to “fit in” in church, but I had never felt like I belonged because the me that can lead (and does), the one with a voice, wasn’t allowed in the doors.

The love was there, but as long as the church was asking me to be okay with being limited – I couldn’t belong, not really.

So this wasn’t just about this one church.  It was about my entire religious experience up to that point.  It was more than me walking away from Church #4, it was me walking away from an entire philosophy that had kept me from experiencing true belonging.

The problem was, that philosophy (also known as “complementarianism”) is based on scripture.  In his first letter to Timothy, Paul wrote, “But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.”  (1 Timothy 2:12)  Gut punch.  And yet as much his words hurt, I didn’t want a way around scripture, I wanted a way through.

With the anger of someone who has been wounded, I tackled all of the scripture I had secretly despised.  I kicked, but it kicked back.  There is some crazy stuff in the Bible!  And then I got a little scared.

What if I lost this fight?

Faith, for me, has always been like trying to hold on to a wild animal.  I’ve held on because the story of Jesus is an incredible one and because I know how desperately this world needs a Savior (one night in the ER would prove that to anyone).

But what if it said being me wasn’t okay?

Knowing what was at stake in this fight, I went searching for back-up.  And I found the voices of an army of egalitarians – believers that use the Bible to support equality for women.

I, of course, knew that there were churches that ordained women, but I wasn’t sure if they were dealing with scripture seriously.  I could not have been more wrong.

I found Bible scholars who take on even the hardest scripture and clarify Meaning that liberates rather than oppresses.  I learned about words like “ezer kenegdo” (the words used for woman in Genesis) and “eshet chayil” (the words for the woman of valor in Proverbs 31).  And then I cried.  A lot.  But not because I had lost the fight, but because of the years I had lost discouraged by messages of exclusion and limitation.

God did not create women to serve men, but rather people to serve each other.

I found a way through and on the other side of this fight, my faith feels much more like mine and much less like it’s trying to run away from me.  I am secure in the fact that I am not a mistake, and I am not mistaken about who I am or who I was made to be.

While I would never claim to know what it’s like to be gay, I think I have the tiniest understanding of how hard it would be to know who you are and try to find a place to belong in the traditional church.  As referenced in Part I of this series, there are a lot of church websites that use the expression “come as you are,” but that doesn’t mean you can belong as you are.

Because of our church break-up, our second church search was a lot different.  We still pored over online profiles and we kept showing up for first dates, but we weren’t naïve daters anymore.  We’d done the whole ‘get to know each other slowly’ thing with our first church and that didn’t work out so great for us.  So we broke all the dating rules.  We showed up, shook hands and then it went something like this:

“Hi, my name is Mickey.  Nice to meet you.  Can gay people belong here?”

And

“Hi, my name is Kristin.  Nice to meet you.  Let’s talk about 1 Timothy 2.”

Obnoxious?  Maybe.

Honest?  Yes.

This was respectfully done with the up-front, matter-of-factness of people who knew what they were looking for and were ready to find “the one,” the church where we could bring our whole selves through the doors, a church where we could belong.

The people who were put on the spot answered graciously and honestly, even when it was obvious it made some of them uncomfortable.  Their answers were mostly not what we wanted to hear, but that’s okay.  There were no arguments to be had – just a desire to both fully see and be seen from the start.

And then came the Sunday we walked into church #9…

We learned about a couple who had left this church to go to our old one because this church does crazy stuff like let a woman preach.  (Hey, there’s a church for everyone, right?)

In the foyer, there was a stack of newspapers with a feature story on this church’s efforts to build a school in Ethiopia.  And there smiling back at us in news-print color, was a same sex couple working at a church fundraiser.  (For us, in our search, that was some good news!) 

Shortly after we started attending regularly, I got invited to join a group started by the pastor’s wife called, “Yes, I’m a Christian and a Feminist!”  Yes, I am a Christian and a Feminist and I don’t have to hide it anymore!

It’s been eight months since our first Sunday there and we’re back to hosting small group in our home and doing our best to help with all of the service projects they take on.  There are no membership classes for this church, no contracts, no “we believe” statements to sign our names under.  It is a church that preaches the Bible, but also one where everyone can belong.  Everyone.

The day the first post of this series went live, we had a small number of people over from church.  We sat on our back porch with glasses of Pinot Noir and Prosecco and ate chips and salsa and lemon pound cake while our kids ran around in the back yard.  As I sat there with my knees pulled up at perfect ease with these fellow believers who had come together out of a love for Jesus, I felt both love and belonging – but perhaps most of all, gratitude.

A grateful heart is a whole heart. 

During this process, I reconciled with scripture and my heart was stitched back together by the gentle hands of a Healer.

I am so grateful for church #4 and the love they showed us, but I am also thankful for our break-up because it helped me find the voices of people like Rachel Held Evans, Sarah Bessey, and Glennon Doyle Melton who have filled my heart with love.

My heart grew during this process.  Like, actually, bigger.  A whole heart, when filled, swells.  And thanks to the love and belonging from church #9, it’s overflowing and ready to be poured out at a table set for many.

I found one more voice in this process.  Mine.  I sing terribly off-key, but my voice is rising above David Crowder’s, it’s singing:

So lay down your burdens

Lay down your shame

All who are broken

Lift up your face

Oh wanderer come home

You’re not too far

So lay down your hurt

Lay down your heart

Come as you are

To you who have felt marginalized by the Bible, by the church, there is hope.

To you who are attending churches that don’t appreciate all of your gifts or welcome all of you, as you are, don’t give up on love and belonging. 

The film The Perks of Being a Wallflower includes the quote, “we accept the love we think we deserve,” and I have come to believe the same of churches.  You are worthy; you are worthy; you are worthy of more.  As Dr. Brown says,

Here’s what is truly at the heart of wholeheartedness: Worthy now, not if, not when, we’re worthy of love and belonging now. Right this minute. As is.

Eric Liddell, famed Olympian runner said, “God…made me fast.  And when I run I feel His pleasure.”  Outside church, the world lets women run – fast – and inside some churches, people say, “whoa, whoa, whoa, you’re not made for that.”  Don’t believe it.

God gave you gifts for a reason and you deserve to feel the joy of letting your legs burn with the exhilaration of a full stride.

While writing this last part of our story, I heard a song by Needtobreathe called “Multiplied.”  It’s playing now and I’m turning the volume up, way up.

Your love is like radiant diamonds

Bursting inside us, we cannot contain

Your love will surely come find us

Like blazing wildfire singing Your name

God of mercy, sweet love of mine

I have surrendered to Your design

May this offering stretch across the skies

And these Hallelujahs be multiplied

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  

I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43:19)

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Kristin Prentiss Ott, M.D.

Author of the viral post: 10 Things to Know Before Your Next Visit to the Emergency Department. Board certified emergency medicine physician, wife, mother, aspiring novelist.
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9 Comments

  1. the(esc)apeartist

    I have been struggling with my faith as of late as well, due to the fact that I hold strong beliefs that many Christians have been raised to be against. I live in a small town, so finding a perfect church is hard right now. Your posts give me hope for the future.
    best,
    the (esc)ape artist

    1. Kristin Prentiss Ott, M.D. (Post author)

      Thank you so much for taking the time to write… Stories like yours are a big part of why I started this blog. If you haven’t already – definitely look up some of Rachel Held Evans’ stuff…we’re not alone!! AND – yes, please, don’t give up hope.

  2. Katie Rushton

    So glad you found me on Twitter today and so glad I came to your blog!! Loved reading this series of posts!! I felt like I was reading my own thoughts at times through your writing! I know it’s been forever, but Hunter and I so enjoyed meeting and doing small group with you guys (even if it was for a short time)! Hope all is well in Georgia!! Look forward to keeping up with you guys and your journey via your blog!!

  3. Natalie Simmons

    So glad you found a place to belong. Nowhere near me, but who knows, in 5 or 10 years something may rise up.

  4. Jesse Prentiss

    Even if one doesn’t fully share your opinion no one can dismiss your talent as a wordsmith and the passion of your calling. I pray for your journey, your voice, and that you can discern His whispers and Word. Thanks for always challenging me to think, seek and stand up for my own convictions yet remaining compassionate to the other’s ideas. I’ve enjoyed the insights of your church search as we too are in process after our move to find a community that belongs to the body of Christ to worship, grow and serve God in. It reminded me how in 1 Corinthians 12 Paul teaches the body of Christ is like a physical body, many members yet one body, unified to maintain life and health. “The eye can not say to the hand, you are not needed”. Our roles, style, appearance are diverse but we are unified under Christ and we need one another. I need you. I love you. Thanks for being YOU. You have always belonged to my heart as my friend and sister.

  5. Tim McGrath

    Well said, Kristen! It takes much courage to recover from damaging theology. Our daughter Katey struggled mightily with exactly the same concerns. She has received her MDiv and is pursuing ordination in a different denomination than the one she grew up in for exactly the same reasons. AND, having found a church that welcomes her gifts is truly a blessing and gift to her and those she ministers with. So, stay the course! (Listen to your 4th grade teacher…!)

    1. Kristin (Post author)

      You must be so incredibly proud of Katey! I am impressed with her perseverance, resilience, and devotion. Go, Katey, go! I would love to hear her preach someday.
      PS – The letter you wrote to me shortly after I finished med school was a tremendous encouragement and I still have it. You have made a positive impact on so many lives, Mr. McGrath, and I am thankful to be one of them!

  6. Kristin (Post author)

    So – I want to expound on the running analogy just a tiny bit…. The Bible is full of references regarding Jesus’s equality with the Father, but his willingness to make himself ‘less than.’ There can be joy in CHOOSING second place, but if you are told you’re never ALLOWED to run full speed because you can’t ever be first, that is discouraging and spirit-breaking. Big difference.

  7. Kassi

    Shame. Thank you for using this very powerful and I believe, most damaging of all human conditions. A Shame-based sense of self is often a trigger that leads not only to depression and suicide, shame robs us of the ability to fully appreciate the God in us. The parts that He made special in each and every one of us. We are all different because God created us to belong to each other, through Him, with all our very own ‘specialness’ to compliment each other.
    Glennon comes on board for me whenever Shame comes up. She is my light and my hope for she is such a beautiful, beloved imperfect vessel. She has done such a beautiful job REFUSING to be shamed, simply because she is a Child of God, a Believer, who knows God doesn’t make mistakes.
    Kristin, your writing is so raw and beautiful. I know this is hard to let go of your past, especially because of the love you share with those who gave you those beginning baby steps with God.
    My heart is so full for you because you are now with Inclusive Christians, and you and Mickey are needed so badly in our current church climate of fear, mistrust and change. We are not meant to just ‘tolerate’ differences, we are to rejoice in each other’s love and beauty because of those differences. As Glennon says, ‘a traffic jam is to tolerated’, not a loving relationship. And not a woman who is equal in every way in the eyes of God. Believe me, kid, God did not create you just to be ‘tolerated’!
    Thank you once again for knowing what you deserve and pushing forward to follow that big, outsized heart that you must never ever be made to contain!
    Much love and respect for you and, from one of your earlier posts that made Joe and I laugh out loud, you husband, who swears like a surgeon!

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