Breaking Up with God: A Love Story

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I broke up with God. The breakup was devastating. It was like a divorce when all the friends you had as a couple are forced to choose sides and end up not choosing yours.

Sarah Sentilles's relationship with God was not casual. When it began to unravel she was in the ordination process to become an Episcopal priest, a youth minister at a church, and a doctoral student in theology at Harvard. You might say they were engaged and that the wedding was all planned. Calling it off ...

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I broke up with God. The breakup was devastating. It was like a divorce when all the friends you had as a couple are forced to choose sides and end up not choosing yours.

Sarah Sentilles's relationship with God was not casual. When it began to unravel she was in the ordination process to become an Episcopal priest, a youth minister at a church, and a doctoral student in theology at Harvard. You might say they were engaged and that the wedding was all planned. Calling it off would be more than a little awkward. But in the studying of the religion she'd been raised on and believed wholeheartedly, one day she woke up and realized . . . it was over.

In this powerful memoir of faith, Sentilles reveals how deep our ties to God can be, and how devastating they can be to break. Without God to mold herself to and without religion as her script, who was she and what was her purpose? Her relationship with God had been connected to everything—her family, her friends, her vocation, the places she frequented, the language she used, and her way of being in the world.

Not unlike after a divorce, she had to reorient her life and face a future that felt darkly unfamiliar. But this beautiful, brave book is surprisingly filled with hope, a coming-out story that lets others know it's safe to come out too, and that there's light on the other side.

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Editorial Reviews

The Parish
“There is so much to love about this book...Her language is always straightforward, and her voice is strong and consistent, but straightforward isn’t just simple. At times the language is exalted, breathtaking, captivating and just stupid f-ing brilliant.”
Kelly Corrigan
“Honest, like down-to-the-core honest, beyond what most people are capable of, especially in public on the topic of faith. I admire her as much for her conviction as for her talent as a writer.”
John Shelby Spong
“Provocative, penetrating, honest and real. Sarah Sentilles, in chronicling her own story, chronicles the journey that all of us must take in search of our own humanity. Would that institutional religion were big enough to embrace and affirm her work.”
Philip Gulley
“Breaking Up With God is a beautiful reminder that truth is found in questions, not answers, in seeking, not finding. From Sarah Sentilles, I have learned my ‘No’ to God can be every bit as helpful as my ‘Yes.’”
Joanna Macy
“Sarah Sentilles’ book is a treasure and a triumph of the heart. Wise, funny, and fearless, she dares to take the ultimate questions seriously enough to be outrageously honest. May her journey be a challenge to those whose imperturbable faith may filter out the anguish and fragility of our world.”
Bart D. Ehrman
“This is a wonderfully moving book, written with rare elegance, real passion, warm humor, and penetrating insight. Breaking Up With God will comfort those who no longer believe, guide those who are plagued with doubts, and challenge those who wonder how anyone could leave the faith.”
Library Journal
This is a beautiful, intimate, and personal spiritual memoir, told as a passionate love story about a relationship that ultimately does not work out between the author and God. Sentilles (A Church of Her Own: What Happens When a Woman Takes the Pulpit), a former candidate for the priesthood in the Episcopal Church, with a master's of divinity and a doctorate in theology from Harvard, tells her story in a way that is never preachy or pushy. She is not angry or bitter and seems to have no intention of converting readers to her viewpoint. She simply shares her journey with a tenderness and authenticity that is both heartbreaking and hopeful. Her narrative ends with an agnostic but promising vision for humanity. VERDICT Sentilles provides a wonderful model for humbly seeking and inquiring to find meaning. Those who have ever doubted, wrestled, questioned, or struggled to maintain a relationship with an elusive God, whether they are currently believers, nonbelievers, or somewhere in between, will find much that speaks to them in this touching memoir. Highly recommended.—Brian T. Sullivan, Alfred Univ. Lib., NY
Kirkus Reviews

Unilluminating tale of one woman's lost faith.

Sentilles (A Church of Her Own: What Happens When a Woman Takes the Pulpit, 2008, etc.) recounts a childhood torn between two faiths—Catholic and Episcopalian—before deciding to become an Episcopal priest.While completing a doctorate program at Harvard Divinity School, the author finally admitted something she had long sequestered in the back of her mind—she does not really believe in God.Less a spiritual memoir than a cathartic exercise,Sentilles places the reader in the unwanted role of therapist as she shares the details of an upper-middle-class life gone awry.What becomes clear early is that the author's understanding of God never developed beyond the childish concept of deity as a completely anthropomorphic figure, making her graduate studies that much more difficult.Sentilles was obviously not prepared to begin preparation for the priesthood (she admits to having never owned a Bible before entering seminary),and readers will be easily convinced that her faith was based far more upon herself than God. Though filled with unwarranted shame and guilt and plagued with a strikingly low sense of self, Sentilles manages to portray herself as completely self-absorbed at every point in her story: "The good things I did in the world had an ugly underside: I didn't do them for others.I did them for myself. I did them to make people love me."As the author moves slowly toward an obvious and inevitable conclusion, she forces unwanted tidbits on readers—the tale of her eating disorder, intimate details from failed relationships with men ("We kissed.He sucked on my toes.") and even a graphic depiction of her urine test for Teach for America.Finally, after a tortured relationship, Sentilles broke up with God—a God she never saw as more than a boyfriend.

A disappointing spiritual memoir.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061946868
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/7/2011
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Sarah Sentilles is the author of A Church of Her Own and Taught by America. She is a scholar of religion and earned a bachelor's degree in literature from Yale and a master's of divinity and a doctorate in theology from Harvard. She lives in Portland, Oregon.

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Read an Excerpt

Breaking Up With God

A Love Story
By Sarah Sentilles


Copyright © 2011 Sarah Sentilles
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-06-194686-8

Chapter One

No e y e s meeting across the room. No first date
we never want to end. No friendship that becomes
something more. No flowers or gifts or boxes of
chocolate or weekend getaways. No funny stories about
misunderstandings or missed trains or plans made at
the last minute that change everything. No first kiss,
no drama, no flutter of butterflies in my stomach, no
moment of recognition. It was like an arranged marriage
my faith, God like an older man: He invited my
parents to his house. They sipped wine and ate bread.
They promised him their firstborn.
If you'd asked me, and if I'd had language, I might
have said water blood cord heart pulse I might have said
life I might have said sleep I might have said love I might
have said darkness or milk or passage or womb but I
would not have said God. He was not my first story—
but then he became my story, the priest taking me from
my parents all dressed in white, the priest marking my
head with oil, the priest washing me in water, the priest
speaking words like sin and death and Satan and glamour
of evil, the priest snuffing out the glow of original sin
then lighting a candle, the priest wrapping me up, the
priest handing me back.
When my mother gave birth to me, there were grape
stems in the hospital room under the radiator as if there
had been a feast, as if there had been wine, dancing.
The doctors gave her drugs during labor, so she forgot
she gave birth to me. "Congratulations on your little
girl," one of the nurses said.
"I didn't have my baby yet," my mother said. "And
I'm having a boy."
My father remembers my beginning differently. "It
was cosmic," he says. He knows human beings are
made from the explosions of stars, and when he looks
at me, this is what he sees. "Stardust," he says, his arm
around my shoulders.
My parents bundled me in blankets and took me
home to our third-floor apartment in a four-level
brownstone in Brooklyn. Our dryer vented out a window
in the kitchen, our washing machine hooked up
to the bathtub, and sometimes we went to dinner at
from afar
a Chinese restaurant in our neighborhood, climbed a
narrow staircase, ate sizzling rice soup in sticky vinyl
booths. After dinner, my father and I sat on the yellow
shag rug in our living room and watched The Muppet
Show, waiting for some animal to blow his trumpet.
I grew up believing in invisible things.
My sister Emily was born when I was almost three,
and we moved to Summit, New Jersey, to a blue house
with a big backyard on a busy corner. Elephants lived
in our backyard, two of them, a couple. My father
named them Mr. and Mrs. Elephantes. Mr. Elephantes's
first name was Euphronios, after the ancient Greek
potter whose vases were displayed at the Metropolitan
Museum of Art, and Mrs. Elephantes's first name was
Eustacia. Eu, Greek for health and happiness.
We ate dinner at our butcher-block table and looked
out the picture window and into the dark and imagined
what Mr. and Mrs. Elephantes were doing, how
they might be getting along. I pictured them on our
swing set, Mr. Elephantes pushing Mrs. Elephantes,
feet pumping toward sky, head back.
I watched the elephants and God watched me. And
God wasn't just in the yard, but in the sky. In the house.
In my room. In my head. My parents and I talked to him
every night when they tucked me in: Now I lay me down
to sleep I pray the Lord my soul to keep and if I die before I
wake I pray the Lord my soul to take. God bless Mommy and
Daddy and Sarah and Emily and Grandma and Grandpa and
Grandma and Grandpa and Great Grandma and all the rest of
the boys and girls. Help me grow up to be a big, strong, healthy,
good girl. Then kiss goodnight. Then turn out the light.
Then darkness. Then solitude. Then God above my bed,
somewhere near the ceiling, waiting to take my soul if I
died in my sleep, and if I did die in my sleep, a real
possibility, it would be because I wasn't the girl God thought
I should be. It would be my fault.
My friends and I thought one of our classmates was a
robot. Our proof? Her perfect handwriting that made
her homework look like she'd used a typewriter and
her white Keds that never got dirty, even at recess.
We watched her, waiting for her to make a mistake
that would betray her robotic status, but her family
moved to California before we could verify she was
a machine.
I thought life as a robot would be easier than life as a
real girl. I wished I were programmed so I could follow
directions perfectly. I wanted to be commanded.
My soccer coach shouted during our games. He'd
yell at me to kick the bloody ball or to move up, move up,
move up and I'd try to do exactly what he said. "When
from afar
your coach yells at you, you just freeze up," my mother
said after one game. "You do literally what he tells you
to do. It's like you aren't even really playing the game
anymore. You stop thinking for yourself."
Sarah, take three giant steps forward.
Mother, may I?
I believed in God the way I played soccer when my
coach was yelling at me. It was my responsibility to do
exactly what he wanted me to do. Faith was a performance.
There was a script.
My mother didn't want to move to Texas, she didn't
want to leave Summit or her friends or her job at the
local newspaper, but my father got a new job at a law
firm in Dallas where he might make partner. So she
packed boxes that were loaded on trucks, and on the
day we moved, my parents' friends gathered in our
driveway crying in the cold morning darkness. One of
my mother's friends accidentally hit me in the ear with
her pocketbook. "Don't remember me like this," she
said, but that's what I remember most, my ear numb
and pulsing.
We drove to Dallas in our stick-shift station wagon
with fake wood paneling and no radio. My four-month-
old brother screamed for much of the drive, and once
my mother held his head out the window.
We arrived in Dallas in May, and my parents
convinced administrators at a school named Greenhill to
admit me to their first-grade class even though it was
almost the end of the academic year.
Holy Trinity was our new church. Before Mass I
went to CCD, the Catholic version of Sunday school,
and the other students already knew each other, but no
one knew my name or bothered to learn it, not even the
teachers. We sat in rows and read Bible stories out loud.
I asked a lot of questions so I might understand the man
I was supposed to love. "It says God hardens Pharaoh's
heart. How can God punish Pharaoh for not changing
his mind?"
During coffee hour on the stone patio, I asked my
father the questions my teachers hadn't answered. He'd
gone to Catholic school, he'd been an altar boy and
loved to ring the bells at the moment when the bread
became body, he'd wanted to be a priest. One Sunday
I asked why God would sacrifice His only Son, Jesus
Christ—even if it was to save the world—and my father
walked me over to talk to one of the priests. "Ask him,"
he said, holding my hand, but when the priest patiently
explained that Jesus went willingly to his death, I didn't
feel much better. "Isn't suicide a sin?" I asked.
The priests at Holy Trinity seemed lonely to me. I
wanted to know why priests couldn't get married, and
my parents told me priests couldn't have their own
from afar
families because they had to take care of the families in
the congregation. "Priests are married to the church,"
my mother said, and I pictured them in the empty
sanctuary on Friday nights, hugging the columns, their
voices echoing in all that space. Priests were married to
the church, but nuns were married to Jesus, and to me
that seemed like the better deal, especially when I saw
a painting of a nun lying on her back in bed with Jesus
hovering above her. Her arched back made me blush.
Lift up your hearts, the priests said each week in Mass.
We lift them up to the Lord, we replied, and my head
was filled with images of people reaching deep inside
themselves to lift up still-beating hearts, blood dripping
down their arms and onto their best Sunday clothes.
My CCD teacher told me that when God looks down
from heaven he sees us all naked and bathed in the
blood of Christ. Church was a gory place. It confused
me that I had to get so dressed up.
A Sunday School's God
There is one God. And this one God is three. Father, Son,
and Holy Ghost. Liquid. Ice. Steam. God's son is Jesus. Jesus'
mother is Mary. Mary's husband is Joseph. Jesus suffers and
dies on the cross and on the third day he rises from the dead
and ascends into heaven and is seated at the right hand of
the Father, where he will judge the living and the dead.
God loves you. God loves everyone, but especially the
Christians because we're the ones he saved by killing his
son, who was Jewish, but not really, because if he had to
choose now, he'd be Catholic. He's got the whole world in
his hands. He's got all the little children in his hands.
God is love, and even though he kills a lot of people in
the Bible, he only does it because they deserve it. Jesus
didn't deserve it, so God didn't kill him. He sacrificed him,
which is different than killing because God did it to make
a point—to show us how much he loved us. Or to show us
how sinful we are. (I can never seem to remember.)
On Christmas, we celebrate Jesus' birth in the manger
because there's no room at the inn and Santa lands his
sleigh on the roof and slides down the chimney and brings
us presents, and on Easter we celebrate Jesus' death and
resurrection and the Easter Bunny brings baskets of chocolate
and fake grass and hides pastel-colored hard-boiled
eggs for us to find.
God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent, which
means God knows everything, can do anything, and is
everywhere at the same time. You better watch out. You
better not cry. You better not pout. I'm telling you why. God
watches you to protect you, but God also watches you to
make sure you don't do anything wrong. He sees you when
from afar
you're sleeping. He knows when you're awake. He knows
if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.
God knit you in your mother's womb. God counted the
hairs on your head. God knows everything about you, even
what you're thinking, but that doesn't mean you don't have
to pray, because God wants you to say what you're thinking
out loud even though he can read your thoughts. It's
the saying that matters, although sometimes you can pray
without saying anything at all, like after Communion, when
you kneel and fold your hands under your chin and try not
to let your rear end rest on the pew because you look lazy
that way and then God won't answer your prayers.
God loves us so much that he gave us his only son. Then
we killed him, but God wanted that to happen, so it's okay.
It was all part of the plan. Nothing happens that isn't part of
God's plan, and if you ask for something, and God doesn't
grant your wish, then it wasn't meant to be, or else you
did something wrong and it's a kind of punishment and
you didn't deserve whatever it was that you asked for. It's
hard to know. All things bright and beautiful, all creatures
great and small, all things wise and wonderful, the Lord
God made them all.
God is invisible, like the wind. God wrote the Bible, but
he wrote it through human beings because he can't use a
regular pen—well, he could, but it would have to be really
big. Lord, make me an instrument. Sometimes God
tests your faith by asking you to do things that might be
unpopular, like asking Abraham to kill Isaac, which means
we shouldn't have sex until we're married even if we get
pressured at school. Onward Christian soldiers, marching as
to war. Yes Jesus loves me Yes Jesus loves me. If you ever
saw him you would even say it glows.
My mother gave me the gift of suspicion.
She isn't Catholic. She's Episcopalian. She converted
to Catholicism when she married my father, and she
only attended Catholic Mass to please my father and
her mother-in-law. When I asked my mother about the
difference between Catholics and Episcopalians, she
pointed to the cross. In Catholic churches, she told me,
the cross always has Jesus' dead body hanging on it,
but in Episcopal churches, the cross is usually empty.
"Resurrection," she said.
Catholicism annoyed her. She rolled her eyes during
sermons. She rolled her eyes during sappy music. She
rolled her eyes at people in the parking lot and yelled,
"That's real Christian of you!" when they didn't leave
enough room to let us pull out of our parking space.
My mother told me about the parts of the Catholic
Church she found problematic—the crucifix, the belief
in Limbo, the obsession with the Virgin Mary, the ob-
session with Latin, the obsession with guilt—and her
ongoing critical commentary gave me an early
theological education: People tell a lot of stories about God,
but only some of them are true.


Excerpted from Breaking Up With God by Sarah Sentilles Copyright © 2011 by Sarah Sentilles. Excerpted by permission of HarperOne. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 9 )
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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2014

    Sentilles, you are a great writer. But this is not a good messag

    Sentilles, you are a great writer. But this is not a good message. Anyone can be thoughtful. And though it is famously said that breaking up is hard to do, it's easier than sitting with discomfort and making yourself vulnerable enough to change. If everyone but your spouse were telling you your spouse were unfaithful, would you so easily take their word for it? Or would you give your spouse the benefit of the doubt and do your own investigation? Truth is not found by making up a new truth. Truth is unchangeable. Truth is absolute. I hope those who have divorced God will let go of their doubt and rekindle the flame one day.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2014


    Moans and picks her up and places her back on the floof

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2014


    Licks his neck sucking on it grinding her wet pu.zz.y to him

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 31, 2012

    Just finished reading "Breaking Up With God", about a

    Just finished reading "Breaking Up With God", about a seperation from God. In her previous book, "A Church Of Her Own", she examined the topic of female clergy by telling the stories of the women she interviewed. She did so very effectively, leaving us a new perspective.

    In this book she must tell her own story. To flesh out her relationship she needed to explore what she brought to the relationship, the nature of the relationship, and the fallout of the break-up. Again she does this by telling us stories. These stories hold our interest and bring to life Sentille's journey of faith. Although at times the stories may seem spurious, their relevance is made clear.

    "Breaking Up With God" illustrates the challenges of seeing the relevence of organized religion as recent generations have come of age. A theistic deity seems not only implausible, but also feckless. In our homes, coffee shops, and bars people will say of course God is not some being with a robe and flowing beard. However our public vocabulary still includes "God's will" and "God's love". These are not the traits of the deistic that many of us believe in.

    These are subjects often discussed by modern intellectuals with well-supported arguments. Santilles makes the issue visceral. With superb narrative, her story stands as an example of the same battle many are facing today.

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  • Posted July 5, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    In pursuit of a just world

    In this thoughtful memoir, Sentilles chronicles her relationship with the God she comes to know as the constant companion of her inner life. Beginning with her early years as a child in church, and moving through her experiences as a college student in class, a young adult in charismatic fellowship, and a priest-in-training, Sentilles beautifully articulates the challenges of loving a supposedly loving God whose past and present are inextricably implicated in violence towards human bodies, non-Christian others, and the earth. Increasingly unable to live with this injustice, Sentilles rejects the God she has loved in search of a faith that will better express her passionate pursuit of a more equitable and earth-friendly human world. The courage with which she interrogates her beliefs is inspiring, as is her hope for the future. Kimerer LaMothe, author "Family Planting: A farm-fed philosophy of human relations"

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 17, 2011

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    Posted May 31, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2013

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 9, 2011

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