Trust in the Lord

20181114_162507-1.jpg I had several song versions of this verse rattling around in my head.  My mom sang it to me on roller coasters and driving through thunderstorms.  It was my mantra for many different fears, but mostly for the invisible, spiritual world.  As a believer, I literally believed in angels and demons floating around.  I would sense the negative spirits of certain rooms and be afraid to look certain directions, worried that I might get a glimpse of evil.  I remember one night, when I was about 21, I got so terrified of demons at home alone, that I went out and drove aimlessly around town.

I vaguely had confidence that as a believer, I was safe from becoming possessed.  I also sort of thought that you could always just driving the demon away by name dropping Jesus, but I had a nagging suspicion that if I didn’t say it with enough mojo, it might not work.  I once heard a story of a little girl becoming possessed and losing her swallow reflex.  I legitimately got dysphagia anxiety, where any time I was either worried that I was sinning or was exposed to something of an evil nature that I wouldn’t be able to manage my secretions.  Experiencing anything potentially dangerous, I would will myself to swallow continuously to keep the demons out.

One positive change that I have noticed since deconverting is that I have much less fear.  I can focus on tangible threats rather than worrying about evil spirits floating around.  I can deal with threats objectively rather than trying to cast out demons.  Sure I lost my imaginary friend God to protect me, but I also lost the monsters running that I needed protection from to begin with.

Not enough perseverance

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This passage was my Christian class’s theme verse printed as printed on the mug we received our freshman year.  This reminds me of my experience choosing, starting, and dropping out of Christian college.  I was not pressured by family or church to attend a Christian college.   It was my dream.  I saw the ads for different schools in Brio (Focus on the Family teen girl magazine) and got promotional material in the mail.  I went to the Christian college fairs.  I dreamed of a place to be immersed in my walk with the Lord, surrounded by a community of believers.  As a socially awkward teen, I longed for a tight knit group of believers who would accept me and make me feel normal about myself.  I imagined late night deep theological discussions in dorms.  I thought it would be convenient to meet one’s soul mate in a godly school environment, like all the adorable courtship stories Christian raft guides would tell.

I legitimately read every college catalog I could get my hands on, as in literal hardcover books, because this was before PDF files.  I dreamed about the courses I could take and browsed the policies and procedures to see which colleges would let you visit common areas of boy dorms.  I toured campuses and enjoyed stories of pranks and traditions.  I compared the quality of worship music at required chapel services.  I got a scholarship and chose a school based on its academic rigor, the climate/ campus prettiness, and my hope for Christian community.

Thinking about my future, in terms of figuring out an education/ future, I literally never asked “What do I want to do?” Everything was cloaked in the language of destiny.  I was searching for the plan the Lord had for me.  I was looking at every clue from a bible passage to the timing of a breeze hitting a leaf to figure out what I was supposed to do.  I had to say “I feel called to…”or “I’m struggling to trust His plan for my life” rather than “My goal is to _________.  Therefore I should study ________”

I packed my UPS boxes and moved into my dorm.  I jumped right into the studies and the social activities.  I shed my introversion.  I kept my grades up and enjoyed the mandatory theology courses and chapel services.  I also stayed up until 3 am every night, trying to engage in any of the “fun” events happening in my dorm to hide any hint that I was naturally shy.  I joined the Young Republicans club, because back then, I believed that even at our small Christian college, the liberal agenda was invading our education.  I made time for “quiet time” where I would read “the Word” and stream of consciousness pray into my journal, still striving to make sure every move was in line with His plan.  I joined a bible study.  On open hour days (where we were allowed in opposite gender dorms) I learned how to play Medal of Honor.   I started to burn out on it all after a while.

Some things happened that made Christian college life more challenging to keep up with eventually.  Then, there was a big event every spring, a competition with performances by dorm groups.  It was the epic thing that alumni would continue to talk about 50 years later. I didn’t get an active role in mine.  I missed the mandatory rehearsal because of bronchitis and sexual assault simultaneously.  I changed majors.  I came back for another school year, but my mental health sucked so bad that fall semester that I transferred back home and gave up Christian college life all together.

I gave up the “race” and that is how I became a Christian college dropout.

Alone

tireswing free

Creative Commons. DeArth-Pendley, T. (n.d.) Untitled. Retrieved from https://tinyurl.com/y8lrr8kx

I think that one of the most underrated experiences of deconversion is the actual grief of the loss of the “personal relationship with the Lord.”  Years later, I still miss him.  I used to be best friends, even have a weird pseudo-sexual connection to an omnipotent deity.  He was always there for me and was my most profound relationship.  I knew I would never be alone.  I was never quite good enough to deserve it.  I had to be eternally grateful for that love despite my humanity, but it was still always there.  In an enigmatic kind of puzzle, brokenness would draw me closer, so I never had to fear getting too fucked up because that would make me needier and more attractive to him.  It may suck, but that connection is always there.

When you deconvert, that connection is suddenly gone.  It becomes a possibility to be completely alone.  That security completely shatters.  No matter what other connections you have to real mortal people on earth and no matter how much you tell yourself that it wasn’t true to begin with, there is always still the grief of that amazing connection that you have lost.

Hidden in my heart;A failed Proverbs 31 woman

I remember learning that Proverbs 31 described all the characteristics of ideal godly woman. It sounds like such an impossible goal – to be attractive and sucessful, but kind and modest all at the same time. At one point, I heard that since there are 31 verses in Proverbs 31, each one is the special verse for a girl with that birthday day of the month. This is mine, 22:

“She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linens and purple.”

Proverbs 31:22

Back in the day, I tried to read and come up with a deep meaning for this one. I never did. I suck at crafts and fashion, so I figured I wasn’t any good at my designated verse for being a godly woman, which is supposed to be very important for an evangelical teen girl. I never came to a conclusion about this one, but it sure didn’t help with the insecurity I already had as an adolescent.

Hidden in my heart: Boundary lines

The most important lesson I learned in life, I learned in PE class.  My Christian college required actual for-credit PE classes (that did not transfer.)  The purpose was something like being a good steward of your mind and body by learning to be active early in life. The first semester of my sophomore year, I took self-defense class for 1 credit.  We learned  how to stay aware walking down the street, how to best attack the eyes and testicles, and even how to change a tire.  One afternoon, sitting on the floor of the gym with my classmates for story time, I learned two definitions that changed everything for me: rape and consent.  Before that moment, I had no vocabulary for what happened to me about six months before.  Abstinence-only education had taught me nothing about consent.  I knew the concept of how to say no to tainted purity but nothing like “yes I want to” or “no I don’t.”

During this particular semester, I was subconsciously seeking out safe places to exist off campus.  One was a Presbyterian church that would shuttle car-less students to Sunday services then provide a home cooked meal for us at a rotating church member’s home. Another was an exclusive bible study.  I signed up for a weekly small group at the home of our school’s assistant chaplain.  That hour collectively meditating on scripture was an escape from the Christian campus existence.  The passage that I remember us diving into most deeply was this one:

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“The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.” – Psalm 16:6

Since that time, it has continued to resonate with me.  I think those boundary lines were starting to impact me.  I used to view boundaries in a negative light, even beyond my poor understanding of bodily autonomy.  I would always forgive, always give more, and always sacrifice for what I believed to be the good of the kingdom.  I would chide myself and beg forgiveness for not being willing to give up more and be more “broken” for a Christ-like transformation.

I had a deep spiritual connection to a personal Jesus who I would never say no to.  My stream-of-conscious dialog with him made it so I was never alone. It took years, but I slowly built up boundary lines to make my personal space more pleasant.

 

Hidden in My Heart: Stumbling Block

wpid-20150110_133754.jpg“You are causing me to stumble.”  It was a common joke at my Christian college, because the concept of stumbling blocks was so common.  One set of female dorm suites wore T-shifts referring to themselves as the “stumbling block in the corner.”  It was very important to avoid being the cause of another person’s sin

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“But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” 1 Corinthians 8:9 NASB

In context, Paul is discussing food sacrificed to idols.  He is saying that even though it is actually no big deal, make sure you are not going to make someone else sin for whom it is an issue.In the context it was presented to young evangelicals, this passage was regulating the behavior and appearance of young women.  “Tank tops are not really a sin, but you don’t want to cause your brothers to stumble, do you?”  My college was not fundamentalist and there was no dress code.  We had liberty in Christ in addition to some subtle guilt.

Modesty, in evangelical world, was optional, but not really.  Yes, you can still be a Christian and not follow the rules, because we are not legalistic.  However, if your heart is in the right place, you will know to follow the rules anyways.  Only men have impure lustful thoughts.  Its totally their own responsibility, but you can help prevent stumbling by wearing modest clothing and acting less sexual.  Actually, in the long run, men want to be with a woman who is spiritual and modest, which should totally be your goal, because being wanted by a godly man is totally what makes you valuable.  However, you shouldn’t do anything that might make you look like you are trying to be attractive.  But don’t be unattractive, because that’s unfeminine, and you were created to be a Godly woman. Don’t be ugly or wear unflattering clothing, but don’t look like you are putting effort into your appearance, because that would be vain and no one likes that.  Just be effortlessly hot and wear pretty but modest clothing and don’t draw too much attention to how pretty your modest clothing is.  Easy enough, right?

Framing my own deconversion narrative

I find that one barrier to coming out as a non-believer is my fear of how others would tell my story.  I feel defensive about how I think others might explain my loss of faith.  This is why I want to better understand my own story before I let anyone know.  Some misconceptions that I could anticipate:

  1. “Bad things happened which made me mad at God so I decided not to believe in him.”

It is true that I have had some difficulties in life – more than the average person of my demographic but less than the median level of human suffering.  I have battled depression/anxiety all my life.  I was raped at Christian college. I have had food/body image issues and for a short time engaged in some binging/purging behaviors. I had a child when I was pretty young with a chronic, life-limiting disease that caused a major financial strain and pushed me to go back to school for a second bachelor’s degree.  I have a job where I care for ill/injured/dying children every day.

I fear my story being derailed by the assumption that I gave up on God when he didn’t make my life go smoothly.  It is true that my worldview probably changed as I saw more of the darker sides, but I am not mad.  I just don’t think that Christianity makes sense.  I would rather focus on improving life for myself and others in a concrete way than talking to God in my head and wanting him to do it.

  1. “People at church were jerks.”

Overall, this is not true.  I have had bad experiences and I think there are ways that the Evangelical culture has been harmful, but overall, church has been a positive experience.  I remember growing up with family friends that we would “fellowship” with.  I had a sense of belonging.  I was surrounded by adults outside my family who really cared.  At lonely times, I have found meaningful and accepting communities in church.  I believe that Christian organizations do lots of good for the world.

  1. “I did Christianity the wrong way.” “I was too legalistic and there wasn’t enough grace.” “I followed Religion instead of having a Relationship.”

I think that there are many people uncomfortable with the possibility for someone to have a genuine salvation experience and later change their mind.  I keep having to reiterate that I was a “real” Christian.  I did it both the Calvinist and Arminian ways.  I also tried Universalism.  I have read scripture and had a personal devotional life with Jesus. I have confessed all my sins and dedicated myself to God’s plan.   Ultimately, I decided that it really just didn’t make sense.  I don’t need to hear the “good news” explained again.

  1. “I decided I would rather sin.”

I can see this coming up – the idea that I quit religion because I wanted to do what I wanted and didn’t want to have to follow the rules.   There are a variety of secular moral systems, but for me, without a supernatural entity, there is even more pressure to do the right thing.  We humans are responsible for the way we treat each other.  There is no magic way to absolve our wrongs, so we have to live with the consequences of the choices we make.  Also, my life is pretty boring and void of debauchery.  I am monogamous with two kids and a job and a house.  I have never used drugs and I only drink in moderation.  I have definitely made mistakes and have hurt others in my lifetime and I need to own up to that, but I don’t know what horrible, secret sin would be pushing me to hide from God.

Ultimately, I need to come to a concise “why” so that I can state it confidently.  My plan going forward is to write my story in a way that is genuine and hope that if the issue comes up, I am able to be heard.