No Longer Part of the Vine

sent in by LostInTranslation

I actually left the church three years ago, but it is really only now that I am beginning to say that I am an ex-Christian.

I became saved at the end of my junior year at college. I had a traumatic break-up with my first boyfriend, and was comforted by my best friend, who over the past year had begun to hang out more and more with Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship. She prayed for me, her friends prayed for me. I was very moved by the experience. I also had very low self-esteem and experienced emotional neglect from my parents. I thought, “How could someone who doesn’t know me care that much to prayer for me, a stranger?” My heart, which was hardened by years of Catholic school, started to “soften”.

I began hanging out with her friends and began going to church with her. I saw the Jesus movie. I cried so much to the worship songs. People seemed so happy. Eventually I became saved one Sunday morning.

In retrospect, this particular group of young Christians was extremely legalistic. The group attended a non-denominational church, but later most attended Calvary Chapel. My friend confronted a girl because she was wearing a crystal cross (New Age!!) My friend told me that I shouldn’t be depressed now because I was a Christian. I always felt unworthy or unholy compared to the “elite” Christians of the group, the ones who seemed to really have a handle on their libidos, who wanted to be missionaries, etc.

I went away to get a masters degree and roomed with a Ph.D. student who professed to be a prophetess. Talk about legalistic and judgmental. I went to church with her (Mennonite) but then eventually began attending the Vineyard, because they had a "rocking" singles group.

My friend from college, who converted me, decided right after school to teach English-as-a-second-language in China. I was studying a performance art and definitely felt like a heathen in comparison. She was there for over a year, and eventually got engaged to a young man she met at the Calvary Chapel. She really did not contact me very much at all during her trip, but I do remember that her letters were filled with her praying to God and praising God constantly about anything. Even though I was a Christian, she was starting to nauseate me a bit.

At her wedding, the others in the group, many of them now married, were visibly turned off to learn that I sang at a Presbyterian Church (this was a job). There was also no dancing at the wedding, although my friend’s heathen mother insisted on a DJ so she could dance. Some of us did dance, but many others didn’t. I remember some of the middle-aged couples sitting on the sides with snide looks.

The Vineyard was a lot of fun because of the very active singles community and the worship. They were into “healing” people with emotional, etc. problems, so I went and received counseling there. There were some odd things that I observed, however: the men and women didn’t freely date each other. There were many men in their early 30s or older who never married, not that they didn’t want to, but they didn’t date either. Many were in dead end jobs and seemed to be “waiting on the Lord”. Many of the women were very frustrated with this. There seemed to be a fear of acknowledging one’s sexuality and sex appeal. None of the men ever complimented my appearance or flirted very much. It was as if it was a sin to be sexually attracted to a person. No one even wanted to tell other people about who they liked! Some of the other women also expressed the frustration of feeling that, because of these actions, they weren’t being affirmed as women. It was as if to be sexless was equal to godliness.

My prophetess roommate was the person who introduced me to the spiritual gifts. I, however, was never able to speak in tongues, shake, tremble, scream, etc. At the Vineyard, these were common sites, particularly at the prayer time at the end of a service or at a conference. I went up for prayer a few times, for emotional healing, and was moved by the affirming things that the pray-ers said to me. In retrospect, I couldn’t help but cry, but crying was the only outward expression that I could experience.

There was also some prophesying and people having visions. Once involved in a house group, I allowed myself to be open to “visions” or “pictures” during prayer. In retrospect, I know that just about anything can pop into someone’s head at any given moment. We would try to interpret it as a possible sign from God. If it came true, then we knew it was from God.

I started to hear more about the preaching of “courting” and the different levels of physical involvement, and their logical order of progression. I had first heard about “courting” from my friend in college. At first it seemed to make sense because it seemed like it would prevent heartache if things didn’t work out. How little did I know.

I met my ex-husband at this church. As with many of the engagements at the time, he proposed to me after just three months. We had decided to follow the courting model: no kissing, just handholding. At first I wanted to kiss him, but then he said we would be honoring God more by abstaining, and thus he would bless our marriage. For someone who was longing to fit in with the more “mature” Christians, this seemed appealing to me. We ended up postponing our engagement, because I said that I needed more time. This was very embarrassing to reveal to our small group, which was filled with men and women desperate to get married, and generally very uncomfortable with the dating process. When we got engaged again, I don’t think I was ready even then. We proceeded. My older friends told me, “As long as you are Christians, everything should work out!”

It was quite a blow to realize during marriage that my “desire” wouldn’t suddenly turn on. I had shut off my passionate nature for so long it was odd to suddenly launch into a full, sexual relationship. I remember trying to seduce my husband only to have him reject my advances as being “lustful”. I said, “But, we're married now!” Even in marriage my husband had a difficult time affirming my body, my looks, or expressing desire towards me.

A year and a half into out marriage I got accepted into an exciting program for which I would have to be away from home for three months. I knew he would visit often and that he would have the opportunity to stay with me for days at a time.

In this artistic atmosphere, I met many expressive people. I also found many men and women complimenting my appearance and alluding to my sex appeal, which I had never experienced before, at least to this degree. I was a little flabbergasted because I had thought that I was not that desirable. Good Christian men and women looked at character only.

One very handsome man flirted with me a bit, and I looked at it innocently at first. One trouble-making person, who knew my background, actually egged the both of us on. It was very high school-ish, but I secretly loved the attention. One night we kissed, that was all, and I realized that I married the wrong person. I also realized that the circumstances surrounding my engagement were completely unhealthy. I felt that I had completely missed the romance of true courtship. I told my husband, who was devastated. We went to counseling and trying to address our issues.

This experience changed me in other ways, too. After years of thinking I was superior to “non-Christians” around me, I was humbled. My judgementalism began to dissipate. For the first time I was able to relate to non-Christians as just human beings. It was a very freeing time, but just the beginning.

Almost two years later, my husband I separated, and I left him for another man. I am not proud of this, and I received unbelievable flack from the Christians who were still around. I didn’t even want to face anyone from my past. I lived with incredible shame, guilt and regret at the time. I think my ex-husband thinks I went into rebellion.

That relationship did not work out, but during my recovery from all of this, I read a book by Susan Jeffers called, “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway”. She basically talked about taking responsibility for one’s actions. That there weren’t “wrong” or “right” choices, that every experience was a learning experience. As a Christian, I was always afraid, and suffered from a lot of anxiety (I even took medication for a couple of years). I was fearful of making the wrong choice, of God saying, “I told you so”. I mean, what if I wasn’t hearing God correctly? If only I were a better Christian, then maybe I could discern God’s voice better.

The book also discussed looking at the worst case scenario for any choice: asking, "Well, what if...?". The act of facing the thing that we dread most causes the fear to subside. "What we really fear is Fear". The next task is to logically think of ways to cope if the worst case scenario came true. Would it really be as horrible as it is imagined? The idea is to keep dissecting the fear until the outcome is no longer fearful.

My anxiety subsided a great deal during this period. I wondered why none of my Christian counselors or friends ever recommended this coping strategy. There was always this air of mystery, of having faith in God that everything will turn out OK, of being at the mercy of "Him". If things did not work out, what would that mean? That I'm not worthy? That it's my fault? That God is toying with me yet again? My mindset during my Christian days seemed to perpetuate my anxiety.

To this day, I cringe whenever I hear someone say that they’ll “pray about” any stupid decision in their lives.

The farther I get away from that church community, the sicker the whole experience resounds. I don’t have any friends left from that other life. I would have thought with all the closeness that I experienced and with all of my personal business that was shared during the house group meetings, that some one would try to contact me. But it’s just as well!

A friend whom I had known for ten years, who was a father-figure/mentor, stopped communicating with me when he found out that I moved in with my boyfriend. I’m almost embarrassed that I was so sucked into that world.

And just recently I stumbled upon your site, the first time I looked up “ex-Christian” on the Internet. I figured there must be more people like me. Boy, are there ever.

Sex: Female
City: Chicago
State: IL
Country: USA
Became a Christian: 20
Ceased being a Christian: 31
Labels before: Vineyard Christian Fellowship
Labels now: agnostic
Why I joined: to receive unconditional love, friendship, healing
Why I left: sick of hypocrites, sexual repression, judgementalism

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