Who are you trying to follow?

I was taught by my parents that my goal in life should be to follow God. Except that I now realize that in practice what my parents really meant was that I should follow them.

My parents were convinced that they had it all right. They had a direct line to God, and they had gotten the message from him loud and clear. God said not to date. God said not to use words like “dang” or “heck.” God said women’s place is in the home. God said women must always be under male authority. God said we had to read the Bible every day. God said we had to go to church and Bible club but not to youth group. God said that his followers must all homeschool. But actually, it was my parents who were telling me all of those things, not God.

Because my parents believed that God was consistent, they were sure that anyone who was listening to him would hear these same things. And so, even as they told us to follow God, in practice that meant following them. Any time any of us children thought we heard something different, we were told that we were not listening to God. If we were listening to God, we would do and say exactly what my parents did and said.

My parents put their children in a box. “Do and believe as we do and believe,” they said, “And you are following God. Disagree with us and you are not following God.”

When I realized in college that my parents were wrong about Young Earth Creationism, that there was actually overwhelming evidence in favor of evolution and an enormous amount of evidence directly contradicting Young Earth Creationism, I had a watershed moment. I suddenly realized that my parents were not infallible. I realized that they could be completely sure that something was true, and convinced that they had it directly from God, and be wrong. I realized suddenly that I could not simply assume that what they told me about God and his will was correct.

That day, I set out to find God for myself. The result was a years long journey that took me through a variety of faith traditions and in the end led me out of religion altogether. I have seen many others go through this journey: while some end up leaving religion like me, most remain within Christianity. One good friend of mine today calls herself an evangelical, says that her relationship with God is personal, and holds a very “live and let live” attitude towards those around her. The end of the journey isn’t the important part. It’s the journey itself that is important.

What is this journey I speak of? It’s about making your beliefs yours rather than simply believing what your parents say. It’s about deciding what is worth keeping and what is not. It’s about listening to God for yourself, exploring your faith for yourself, learning and studying and reading and questioning for yourself, rather than simply accepting and parroting what your parents tell you. It’s about self discovery and self realization. It’s about becoming an independent adult and differentiating from your family.

This journey starts the moment a young adult realizes that her parents are not infallible, the moment a young adult realizes that she can’t simply accept everything her parents have told her about God without thinking it through. This journey begins the moment a young adult realizes that her parents might be wrong about something, the moment a young adult realizes that she needs to formulate her own beliefs and values rather than simply holding the beliefs and values dictated to her by her parents. This starts the moment a young adult turns off the autopilot.

For me, the journey began the moment I realized that what my parents taught me about who God was and what he wanted could be wrong, and that I needed to find God for myself. For Darcy, the journey began “the day I finally gave up trying to please anyone but God.” Many Americans would simply call this part of growing up. Many would call it part of becoming spiritually mature. But where I come from, it’s called rebellion.

Too many parents tell their children that all they want is for them to love and follow God, and then turn around and expect their children in practice to follow them. It doesn’t work that way. You can either follow God and place him first, or you can follow your parents and place them first. You really and truly can’t do both. But somehow, parents like mine can’t see that.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.