When I graduated from high school and left for college, I was, probably a bit unusually, ready to do so. And it’s very obvious to me now that I could not have forged such a confidence in leaving my parents, friends, and hometown on my own. (I mean, I am notorious for being more than a little resistant to change. I have to factor in five extra minutes when driving anywhere because it takes me at least that long to get out of my car once I arrive.)
Several friends of mine left for college the year before I did, and had made sure to thoroughly prepare me for this massive adventure I was about to embark on. And, if we still spoke now, I would tell them how right they were regarding the importance of meeting regularly with your professors and keeping my refrigerator well-stocked. Did I mention the all-nighters? Killer. Thanks for the tips on strange-sleep-scheduling. I owe my degree to you.
But, as much as I want to say it was enough to be given study tips, I can’t. Not a single person warned me about the most radical, transformative thing I’d have to trudge through during my twenties, and it wasn’t bombing a major exam.
It was losing my faith.
Perhaps it’s a taboo subject, one people don’t like to even entertain. Maybe I didn’t receive any sort of talk about it because it comes with several years of living on your own. Or maybe I just wasn’t the kind of woman that would be expected to one day throw her hands up in resignation and say, “I’m done. I can’t do this anymore.”
I don’t remember when, exactly, it stopped clicking for me. It could have been any number of experiences, some of which I’ll be spending a large portion of my life attempting to heal from. You see, I am the daughter of a conservative, fundamentalist, charismatic pastor. I “gave my life to Jesus” when I was six years old. In school, I debated fervently with my classmates, whether it was in regards to evolution, abortion, homosexuality, or Barack Obama. Purity culture was always the underlying motivator to my wardrobe, and I was taught early on to check for demons under every rug.
It’s become very difficult for me to think back to the nuances of growing up in this environment, as they have turned out to be utterly traumatizing. There is an aggressive word I use now for the method to my upbringing, but I believe it is necessary: I was brainwashed, and I don’t mean in the sci-fi sort of way. Thinking for myself was discouraged, questions and doubts were brushed aside as having poor faith in God, and the severe anxiety and depression I eventually developed was deemed “demonic possession.” My father even claimed theologians were deceived by the devil, and we should be careful to “guard our hearts” around people who had been to seminary. I’m not kidding when I tell you I held on to my fundamentalist beliefs for dear life because it was all I was allowed to know.
By my third year of college, I had done the unthinkable and befriended religion majors and seminary students. I was wary at first, just as I had been taught to be, but it turns out being deceived by Satan resembles being educated.
While these new friends of mine added many good things to my life, the exposure to researched and well-studied theology basically opened Pandora’s Box. Doubts and questions began settling on me like a thick fog, and my parents were no longer there to call out directions when I couldn’t see past it. Cracks in everything I had ever known, typically patched with the stuff called faith, were starting to look a lot like a crumbling foundation.
The unrest didn’t stop there. In fact, it had only just begun. The heavily-charismatic church I had found after moving began making me uncomfortable, and when I asked God why, I was met with crippling guilt. It descended upon me and kept me awake at night. This thing called conviction suffocated me. I used those sleepless nights to cry out to God and repent for my wandering, and when I could sleep? I dreamt of my church community ambushing me with their “loving” talks I can only describe as spiritual interventions. I dreamt of exorcisms. I dreamt of hell. It became commonplace for me to wake up having panic attacks, and I found “casting my anxieties upon the Lord” was not cutting it anymore.
These are only a few of many influential, damaging experiences that lead to me walking away from God and the church. And, can I be honest here? It’s been like a breath of fresh air. My whole life, I had been told we go to Jesus for peace. But it wasn’t until I gave up on faith completely that I felt I could finally breathe.
My story is not a new one. Many before me walked this path and when I began to trace their footprints, they welcomed me with opened arms. We are each bleeding in our own ways and learning how to heal. Some of us will go on to rediscover faith in God, and some of us will not. We are needy and broken, discouraged and different from how you may have once come to know us. And there are a few things we need from you.
We need people willing to sit with us, not convert us.
We are not your projects. We are not hoping you’ll convince us to “return to our first love.” Implying we should, that we are incomplete unless we do so, is not only inconsiderate, but painful to hear.
We need you to stop quoting scripture at us.
I think I speak for a lot of others when I say we are fully aware of what the bible says. (Seriously, I have participated in more than one Sword Drill in my day. I could kick your butt at reciting verses.) For many, the content and in-depth study of scripture is what triggered the beginning of this journey.
Please don’t assume we are looking for you to cure us of our unbelief.
Unless explicitly stated, it is better for everyone involved if you do not approach us as though we are desperate for your help. You are not superior, we are not helpless, and many of us actually feel significantly more at peace where we are. If you are unable to invest in a relationship with an unbeliever without thinking you are to be their savior, it is best to not invest in that relationship at all.
We are still whole, even without a faith in the God you claim makes us that way, and we need you to at least try to consider that.
If you don’t, we can tell. And it hurts.
If you have any questions, concerns, or comments regarding all of this, I’d love to lend a listening ear and perhaps provide clarity. Grace and peace to you all.