Burned by the Incubator, Part II

Sent in by Angela

If the pessimist sees the glass half empty and the optimist sees it half full they both go away thirsty.

I’ve been thirsty for a very long time, yet afraid to take a drink.

Most of my life I’ve had an all consuming fear of hell that has prevented me from being honest about my doubts. I was raised in a Charismatic Christian household where free thinking and doubting were discouraged. Doubt was an enemy to faith. It was to be either fought against, or politely ignored. Every question I had received a simple black or white answer that never satisfied.

The older I got the harder the questions became, but the answers remained just as unsatisfying. When I was 17 a man came into our house and attempted to rape my mother. This was while in the middle of my parents trying to save their marriage because my mom had an affair with someone at church. At the time we attended a church that taught us if we had enough faith we would never get sick, we would be rich, and nothing bad would happen to us. When I asked how God could let this happen to us I was told it wasn’t because we didn’t have enough faith, it was because we didn’t lock our door. Apparently we had plenty of faith. just no common sense.

Or was it that we had too much faith? Would doubt have protected us better than faith? My mom maintains that it was her faith that protected her. She fought back and screamed Jesus’ name at the rapist until he got tired and eventually left. She is convinced it was Jesus’ name that made the difference. I am convinced that the assailant wasn’t prepared for a fight. She caught him off guard, and she was tenacious. I was not at home the morning of the incident, yet I was affected deeply by what happened. Already spiraling downward from the news of the affair, I wondered for the first time if there was a God.

I didn’t care anymore if I was going to hell for doubting His existence. I went from having no doubts to having all doubts overnight. I felt responsible for my mom and I knew it upset her to see me upset. I never allowed myself the time I needed to sort through the pain. I covered up the bleeding parts of my heart without clearing out the infection.

I stopped asking questions. It was easier to accept other people’s answers to the hard questions in life, but laziness isn’t satisfying. It painted broad strokes of fear on my canvas. Doubt meant sin and sin meant hell, so I had to escape my doubts in order to escape hell. I was a spiritual fugitive. I ran with the same urgency as an escaped prisoner, but the more I ran the less free I became.

It wasn’t until I stopped running and turned myself in that I was released. Embracing doubt and mixing it with belief created a new color on my palette. With this color called hope I could paint a new picture. Instead of forcing me to decide if the glass is half empty or half full, hope offers a drink. Hope shows me doubt and belief walking down a path holding hands; they aren’t enemies fighting against each other. You don’t have to choose one and reject the other -- they can exist side by side in the universe.

Faith, for me, used to mean black or white, but hope is an enchanted shade of grey. Faith is certain and uncomfortable with uncertainties. Hope is uncertain and uncomfortable with certainties. Hope is neither heads nor tails, but a coin in my pocket. When faith closes the door to doubt, hope invites it in for dinner. Hope is humble. Faith is arrogant. Hope cooperates with reality. Faith combats reality. Hope leaves room to explore, question and wonder without having to know for sure. Hope gives me permission to be human. Faith mocks my humanity. Hope is a long, loud sigh of relief. Hope creates a perpetual season of spring with new growth, new possibilities, new beauty and new love. Doubt will starve faith yet nourish hope. Hope needs the mystery.

This is where I find myself today. I am a fence sitter. I am no longer a Christian, but have not made the full leap to atheist either. To me it is plausible that god exists. and it is plausible that he doesn’t exist. If he/she does exist I think it is impossible to know anything about him/her. The Bible is not an accurate representation. I live my life exactly how I want to live it yet staying within the confines of reality.

I spent some time with a Christian counselor (before I knew better). We worked on co-dependency issues, so I was able to break free from my mother’s strangle hold. In that respect it was helpful, but I was still very afraid of hell. Christian Universalism was the first radical move I made away from traditional Christianity. It gave me the courage to question the existence of hell. I began to read about cults and testimonies of people who escaped cults. I found so many similarities between my upbringing and cult characteristics I couldn’t ignore it. A book by Steven Hassan (former Moonie turned cult expert/psychologist) showed me how to systematically destroy a phobia. I used this to combat my fear of hell and it worked. Once the phobia of hell was gone, life changed dramatically for me. For the first time since I was seven years old, I wasn’t afraid. I realized that without the threat of hell I could pretty much do whatever I wanted, and it was exhilarating.

We quit going to church. I quit reading my Bible. We stopped revolving our life around a religious addiction, and we started to pursue happiness.

I was always taught that without god in my life things would slowly start to deteriorate. I found out what a lie that is. Today I have been happily married for almost 20 years and we are more in love today than we were 20 years ago. I have an 18-yr-old daughter, a 17-yr-old son and a 12-yr-old daughter. We have so much laughter and fun in our house, and peace. We live a very slow and simple life. We enjoy being together, and we are extremely content. We have all the things that Christianity promises, only we have it without Christianity. How can you explain that?

I see my mother about once a month. I have very clear and specific boundaries with her. I never talk about anything personal or emotional and I never share any of my thoughts of god or religion with her. She doesn’t deserve to know the real me. I get to choose who I share myself with, and she is not a safe person, so she doesn’t get to have me. She is experiencing the consequences of years of bad choices and it’s her fault, not mine. I am in charge of my life and I feel strong and in control when I am around her. The power she had over me before was shame, and I am not ashamed of myself anymore, so the power is gone.

The best thing to me about my story is that I get to take credit for all the hard work I have done to get where I am today. I don’t have to say, “Well it’s all because of god isn’t he good to us?” I don’t believe that. I have wrestled with “demons” and won. I have won because I am strong and intelligent, not because god is so faithful. If god was truly a loving father he would not make us wrestle with demons. I take credit for my life because I have consciously pursued emotional health and serenity. I have a good marriage because I will do whatever it takes to have one, and I have a husband who feels the same. I wanted to give my children something better than I had. I wanted them to know that even though I was burned by the incubator they didn’t have to be.

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