I know my story is not unique as I’ve been reading many others just like mine, but I know it will be cathartic for me to write my own. I am the granddaughter of an evangelist and I was raised in an evangelical church. I was a “Missionette honor star.” I bet some of you on this site were too! I went to Evangel College (University now) and married the son of two pastors. My grandmother was into prophesy and prophesied when my sister and I were little that my sister would grow up to be a nurse and I would one day be an evangelist. My sister is a nurse…..dun dun duunnnnn.
I LOVED my church growing up. My husband and I decided to “take a break” from church in January of 2009, and I miss it (the people). Growing up, I looked forward to every aspect of church; Sunday and Wednesday nights were definitely the highlights of my week. Our Sunday school teachers and youth pastors would always encourage us to bring our friends from school to church, but I never wanted to. First of all, I didn’t have any friends at school, because I was taking to heart the whole “You are in this world, but not of it” ideology. I also took on God’s view that anybody who was not a believer was “wicked.” So, anybody at school was to me a potential convert, but nobody for me to actually be friends with, other than to potentially witness to. But I didn’t want to bring these people to church, because church was my safe haven, free from the evil, evil world. I realize now, looking back, that I would even try to figure out if my teachers were Christians or not, and if I determined by what they said or did that they must not be, I don’t think I learned from them as well because I would subconsciously discredit what they -- or anybody who wasn’t a Christian, for that matter -- had to say. This indoctrination was very subtle and I didn’t even realize I had this mentality and how unhealthy and off-base it was at the time.
It was probably more than 10 years ago in my early 20’s that I started really questioning what I believed and why I believed it. I remember sitting through a sermon where the pastor was describing how his sister was in hell. He said that today she would be pleading with us and telling us how hell is a terrible, horrible place and that it IS reality for those who don’t accept Christ. I had heard about hell a million times, but that day something snapped in me. I remember really considering the implications of hell -- hell for people who were merely brought up to believe something else, or whose life circumstances prevented them from being open to accepting an idea of “a loving god.” I remember thinking how billions of years from now when the world finally explodes (if we don’t do it to ourselves before then) their suffering in hell is JUST beginning, merely for a giant misunderstanding on their part. And if I REALLY believed a loved one was in hell experiencing excruciating suffering. I couldn’t go on! I would be devastated! And I certainly wouldn’t be worshipping the one who sent him or her there and who had the power to rescue, but chose not to.
I remember discussing hell with my mom and she said, “Well Maestra (ha ha), you’re not the first person to wonder about these things. You just have to trust that God is a just and loving God and that He will deal with people accordingly.” Then, just a few weeks later I was watching the youth group do a reenactment of the youth pastor’s troubled childhood. In one scene, the youth pastor was about 10 years old, experiencing trauma in his family, and emotional devastation. The scene showed him running wildly around in a state of crazed anguish. All the while “Jesus” was standing there with his arms outstretched waiting for him to run to Him. But the 10-year-old boy could not see this and ran outside the house in hopeless despair. (Jesus didn’t follow him, by the way, He still stood in the house with His arms outstretched -- looking dejected). The congregation was sobbing. I was getting angry. I was a mom at this point and I thought, “What loving ‘father’ is like this? If I see my child is in any sort of turmoil and needs me, I am not going to stand there and wait for him to come to me… I am going to go to him.” I also started thinking about how this “relationship” with God is really very one-way. And it is always my fault for not hearing Him because my life is too busy for him, or I have things so good that I don’t need Him… Along the same lines, I thought, “What loving parent makes it such an impossible game for their children to hear from them?” If my child asks me something and I respond, but see my child didn’t hear me or doesn’t understand me, I KNOW it is MY responsibility and my DESIRE to say it again and again in as many ways as possible to make sure my child understands what I’m communicating. Is God like a dead-beat dad? And who encourages the child of a dead beat dad to keep pursing a relationship with him?
I talked with my family members about my thoughts and was told they understood, but that “God is mysterious and one day it will all make sense to us” and I just need to have faith in God. That’s all He asks. I wondered though, “WHY have faith in a God who doesn’t do anything or respond in any way?” It makes sense to have faith in my husband, who has shown a pattern of being loyal and loving and responsive and responsible. Although I can’t be sure, I can have faith that he will continue to be this way, and it makes sense for my life to keep that faith. But why have faith in God who is none of these things and does nothing He promises he will do for us in the Bible and never has (I know many Christians would beg to differ with me on that point)?
I was having serious doubts and I know my husband was too, but he would tell me sometimes, like in our marriage, love is a choice. And we need to choose to love God. So I continued on, still having my doubts, but still enjoying church, for the most part, and enjoying my Christian friends. These days, I have noticed church is a lot less legalistic. I haven’t heard a sermon on hell in a very long time, and the message is usually about peace and love and hope and helping each other through life. I can swallow that message.
But then there was still my pastor talking about her strategy of befriending the Hindus in her apartment complex to share about Christ. Can you have a true friendship when that is the purpose? Isn’t that insincere and even deceptive to the people you’re befriending? Has she considered if she is successful in her endeavor to convert even one of her Hindu friends in that family that while she would be singing God’s praises and count that as a victory, what that might do to the family dynamic of the Hindu family and how it might be devastating to them?
There was still all the rhetoric of God being “faithful” and “He will never let you down,” and I never understood what people meant when they say things like that. I was also beginning to cringe at the worship songs that would talk about us being nothing without God, and proclaim his mercies, and have words like, “I am so in love with you.” I was starting to be purposefully late to worship to avoid either singing these songs, which would be a lie in every way for me, or having to stand there and not sing and have everybody wonder what my problem was.
Wow, my story is too long and I have so much more to say…sorry. I think I’ll continue writing independently, but cut to the chase for this forum.
My husband and I finally decided to “take a break” from church in January. In that time I have been reading the Bible again from Genesis to Revelations (Ummm… that is making things much worse for me). I finally allowed myself to read the “other side” and read “Letter to a Christian Nation,” “Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America-and Found Unexpected Peace,” and many other books. I have also been reading Christian apologetic books again too, which I now find incredibly weak in comparison. Last night my husband and I watched the Julia Sweeney’s monologue, “Letting Go of God,” and it was incredibly good. I have outed myself to all of my friends and family, and they are very sad and alarmed, but we have stopped discussing it. I feel SO compelled to share with them everything I’m reading and feeling because I so want them to come to the side of reason, but I’m finding that it is best to not talk about it and am learning to not say anything unless I’m asked a specific question. I guess people have to come to these conclusions on their own.
I’m very nervous. I’m still trying to figure out how to live life minus religion. I have two incredible children, a 10-year-old and a 6-year-old who have gone to Christian school up until this year. We thought we’d sit them down and have to tell them Mom and Dad no longer believe and explain everything, but so far we have said nothing and only answer questions as they come up. And few have come up. Just the other day my 10-year-old son asked my husband, “Dad, do you really believe in heaven?” That is the hardest thing for me. It seems so sterile and unkind to not be able to give your kids the hope of heaven. What if one of them was suffering from a terminal illness? How would we comfort them? Or ourselves for that matter? But I liked my husband’s answer. He said, “I hope there is a heaven Dude, but nobody really knows for sure.” And my son was satisfied and went out to play with his friends. I was so worried about my daughter being upset we weren’t going to church because she seemed to love it. But she is not. We have organized family time every Sunday morning and go out and do something.
I still worry though. I do not believe Christianity is true, but practicing it has given me more good things than bad. Without it I wouldn’t have met my husband or other incredible people in my life, and I worry sometimes I’m jipping my kids of something. While I know plenty of people who have raised kids both successfully and unsuccessfully with religion, I know nobody who has raised successful kids without it. Yes, my world is still very narrow. I’m working on that…
Thanks to those of you who got through this very long story! It’s amazing how I feel compelled to say, “Keep me in your prayers” as I go through this journey. But I know better. Your verbal support is all I can ask for, and really, that is enough!
I don’t know what I am yet. I still can’t completely drop the “I’m a Christian” thing, because I feel like it’s in my blood. But I do know I’m not a Christian. I can’t call myself an atheist either. In truth I’m agnostic, but I probably don’t need to label myself just yet!