Thursday, April 12, 2007

Letters from Leavers

I just got pointed to a website called Letters from Leavers. It is a really interesting site full of letters from people who have left the church (some have returned) and their story. I want to post parts of one particular letter. I realize its very long but I'd really encourage you, especially if you're struggling in your faith, to read it fully, and realize you are not alone and maybe share your own story.

I left my church–not all at once–but in a gradual drifting away that took place over the course of a year. I was 18 and planning to attend a Christian college that was not run by the denomination in which I was raised. My family moved to Guam a few weeks after I graduated from high school–which seemed about as far away as they could be from where I was living. I would never have admitted it but I was desperately homesick and the first thing I did was get into a relationship that summer with a guy from high school who was agnostic and highly intelligent.

Whenever I attended church I felt like an alien and when we sang hymns and choruses I would keenly miss my family and feel completely alone and desolate, often blinking tears away. When I was with my boyfriend, I felt happy and wasn’t lonely at all. He was happy and untroubled by living under the assumption that no one could know if there was a god and that it didn’t matter very much. I enjoyed working, earning a little money, and living without any of the rules and structures imposed by my parents. It was very easy that summer to let church go by the wayside. “I’ll just read my Bible on Sunday mornings,” I promised myself. After spending the summer that way, it was difficult to see any need to return to church and my Bible reading and prayer became less frequent.

By fall, when I was living at the college, I didn’t think I had time or need for personal, devotional Bible reading since we had mandatory chapel services three times weekly and I was taking an Old Testament class. Prayer had become more or less like Adam and Eve in the Garden after eating the fruit: lots of defensiveness and hiding. I didn’t see the need to return to my former church for services and activities since there was so much available at school and, quite frankly, no one seemed to miss me. Apart from two or three phone calls in my first year at school from the church family with whom I’d lived that summer before my freshman year, I don’t recall being contacted by any of my parents’ friends, youth leaders, or college class leaders and I wouldn’t have returned anyway had they contacted me. The church that had seemed like home for the years prior now seemed like a foreign land.

I spent the next four years studying and living in the dorms, hanging out with friends, working–the basic college experience. On the surface, I appeared to be a nice Christian girl (as a minister’s daughter I knew how to play the part by habit) but inside I was filled with questions and doubts which all seemed to be increased by the content and discussions in my classes. I was amazed to learn that the content of the Bible had been chosen by groups (councils) of men and that some books had been excluded that other churches used. Somehow, I’d gotten this idea in my mind that the Bible was just delivered from heaven in a pristine state and been passed down from generation to generation. This really shook my confidence in “the whole thing”–God, Jesus, Christianity, the church. I remember thinking, “This whole thing is just made up by people and everyone is deluded.” Thinking a little more about the people I’d known in the church, it seemed that they were nothing like Jesus anyway. I was really confused. It would be fair to say I’d never really learned to THINK and attending my Christian liberal arts college was the mental equivalent of a serious earthquake...

..One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t try to find someone who was older, wiser, and filled with faith–someone who had really grappled with doubt and still believed to whom I could bring my questions who would help me work through them.

I met my husband toward the end of my junior year and we ended up marrying the year after I graduated. He was also a person who would say he was a Christian and yet never read the Bible; if he prayed, that was his business. He didn’t like to talk about his spiritual life and felt it was invasive if I wanted to discuss it. He had more doubts than I did. We happily agreed to skip church and did so until our first child was born. Always, in the back of my mind, was the thought that I had to re-open the issue, not let the God question go unanswered: I owed it to my daughter to take another look at Christianity if I was going to be a good mom. Plus, I missed how life felt with some kind of direction and purpose. I felt very confused and uncertain internally in a godless, churchless, Bible-free life. Still, I didn’t do anything about it. It was easy to get busy every day and put a search for belief on the back burner.

Some members of a religion that uses many Christian ideas but is considered a cult by Christians were visiting our apartment complex and it occurred to me that I’d always heard they were a cult but hadn’t ever heard from any of them what they believed. I let them start coming by once a week for a study of their literature and found it to be pretty convoluted. I thought it might be fun to argue with them a little, using what I remembered from my years growing up in a Christian home. It was fun and their belief system seemed really flimsy compared to the core Christian doctrines I’d heard growing up. I started reading “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis and re-reading the gospels. By the end of “Mere Christianity,” I realized that I had been pretty intellectually empty in my rejection of Christianity. I began to see that I might have been wrong about Jesus and was still tripping over all the ridiculous trappings of the church, like church jargon, church social customs, long lists of do’s and don’ts…but one day I found myself sitting on the floor in my apartment with a crushing, burning need to know if God was real. I didn’t know what to do except to try asking Him if He was.

I just looked up at the ceiling and asked, “God, I need to know if You are real,” and within seconds of that, I felt an amazing sense of presence, of being with someone. Part of my mind knew this was the presence of God and the other part was wondering what was going on. I felt as if a voice–but not an audible voice–said, “I am real and I love you.” It was an amazing moment. When it passed, I knew that I didn’t have to have all the answers right away but that I needed to reconnect with the Lord. I told Him that I would come back but He would have to help me. I knew I couldn’t make it completely on my own and would have to return to a church setting.

I’m often amused and irritated by myself and other Christians but have accepted that the only people in the church are going to be the only kind of people there are: imperfect human beings like me who are doing the best they can and are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. My ability to love others is slowly growing and I hope by the time I die it’ll be much better than it was. I am so much happier than I was when I didn’t believe.

What's your story?

1 comment:

  1. About 3 years ago I dropped into a black hole – four months of absolute terror. I wanted to end my life, but somehow [Holy Spirit], I reached out to a friend who took me to hospital. I had three visits [hospital] in four months – I actually thought I was in hell. I imagine I was going through some sort of metamorphosis [mental, physical & spiritual]. I had been seeing a therapist [1994] on a regular basis, up until this point in time. I actually thought I would be locked away – but the hospital staff was very supportive [I had no control over my process]. I was released from hospital 16th September 1994, but my fear, pain & shame had only subsided a little. I remember this particular morning waking up [home] & my process would start up again [fear, pain, & shame]. No one could help me, not even my therapist [I was terrified]. I asked Jesus Christ to have mercy on me & forgive me my sins. Slowly, all my fear has dissipated & I believe Jesus delivered me from my “psychological prison.” I am a practicing Catholic & the Holy Spirit is my friend & strength; every day since then has been a joy & blessing. I deserve to go to hell for the life I have led, but Jesus through His sacrifice on the cross, delivered me from my inequities. John 3: 8, John 15: 26, are verses I can relate to, organically. He’s a real person who is with me all the time. I have so much joy & peace in my life, today, after a childhood spent in orphanages [England & Australia]. God LOVES me so much. Fear, pain, & shame, are no longer my constant companions. I just wanted to share my experience with you [Luke 8: 16 – 17].

    Peace Be With You


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