Never thought I’d be here

This week was Vacation Bible School at our church, And since Ms Action is old enough to attend this year, I spent every morning at church helping out the volunteers.

We’ve gone to the final program each year as the Pastor’s family, and I’ve always had mixed feelings. I wasn’t allowed to participate in those types of programs as a child, the songs were considered ungodly by my parents, and they certainly couldn’t allow someone else to teach me anything about God. So watching those programs always reminded me of my determination to be part of community for my children’s sake.

This year was different. This year I am having a hard time believing in God at all. So going to the program each morning was painful. I want to believe that there is a higher power who loves us and watches out for us. But I am just finding it less and less plausible. So much of life seems random, not controlled by an all powerful being like I always thought. Religion is feeling more and more like the addiction that got me through the darkest days in my teens, not a reality. (I say addiction because God never spoke to me or anything, but the ritual of praying, crying and reading pages of my bible every day made me hope that I would be good enough for Him and my parents.) I have too many questions about God, the bible, religion and theology to list, and so far no satisfying answers.

It was hard for me to go to VBS every morning, and hear all the little kids singing praise songs and watching them do crafts and bible study. Seeing their excitement made me want to warn them not to get their hopes up, even though I’m glad that they were able to have fun and be a part of something.

The words to the songs were frustrating.

“God loves you, God is watching over you, he has great plans for you.”
(But some of you will die before becoming adults, some of you will have abusive parents or abusive spouses someday. And if you don’t follow God the “right” way according to whichever of the myriads of churches out there is right, then he is sending you to an eternal torture chamber because you displeased him.)
“No greater gift than God’s great love, for his children every one, not a gift that we can earn
so much more than we deserve.”
(Really? No greater gift? His love is only for those who are doing what he wants, but it’s a gift that we can’t earn at the same time? And of course, it’s so much more than we deserve, because all you little 4 and 5 year old are desperately wicked and depraved and only out to cause evil and destruction.)

I just don’t really believe it all anymore. We are only supposed to talk about God as this wonderful beautiful loving being, but there are countless things in the bible that directly contradict that.

I can’t explain the origin of the universe, or the purpose of life, and I think that religion makes some attempt to do that. But I just don’t fully buy it anymore.

I am still open to believing in a God.

Some days I am still afraid that I am displeasing God. But I’m pretty sure that if he is there, and what most religions teach about him is true, then I am not going to be enough for him anyways. Some days I feel very sad that there might not be some magical after-life where we will all be together again, but on the other hand, that thought makes me that much more determined to live this life well. Determined to love my kids and be the best person I can be in this life, because it may be all I ever have.

And in some way, I feel a sense of relief. I don’t have to question every thought and action if God isn’t watching. That burden to “save” my children from hell doesn’t have to be feared anymore, I can love my children freely, whoever they grow up to be. Maybe if there is no God, then there are no evil spirits to be feared, no scary invisible beings attacking me and trying to gain power over me. There are just humans, some of which may be evil.

In some ways it’s freeing to drop all the chains of religion. And yet this morning when I saw my 4 year old singing these words in the kitchen (complete with the hand motions she was too shy to do at VBS),

“I have a maker, he formed my heart, before even time began my life was in his hands.
He knows my name, he knows my every thought.
He sees each tear that falls, and hears me when I call.”

I felt the tears come to my eyes.
Because sometimes I still want that to be true.

What I Understand
Fundamentalist Approved Feminist Literature
Rather Dead Than Queer
Children of an Atheist talk about God
  • Leigh Ann

    I hope you can keep on being gentle with yourself. You have been through a lot with your upbringing, and you still have all these hormonal things going on:-). You don't have to figure it all out RIGHT NOW.

    I have been through two seasons of this. Once when I was a senior in college and spending a summer in Africa and right before I was married (and on birth control which did a number on me with all the hormonal stuff). There was never one thing that changed my mind, but a gradual coming through the fog. And I always found God there waiting for me with a smile and not a frown. But I am just now realizing how big that smile was and how unanxious He was about me "finding" Him.

    Now I don't know where you will come out, friend. But it ain't over until it's over:-).

    Enjoy your beautiful family and keep on with the task of loving them well.

  • Anne —

    Wow, I totally could have written this!

  • Libby Anne

    "And in some way, I feel a sense of relief. I don’t have to question every thought and action if God isn’t watching. That burden to “save” my children from hell doesn’t have to be feared anymore, I can love my children freely, whoever they grow up to be. Maybe if there is no God, then there are no evil spirits to be feared, no scary invisible beings attacking me and trying to gain power over me. There are just humans, some of which may be evil."

    Yes. I can SO relate to this. I have found letting go to be so freeing! The world makes more sense on the other side.

  • Like a Child

    I think I have gone through all of these emotions you've described, finding myself sgnostic no matter how much I might want to jave faith in Christianity. thanks for sharing.

  • Hermana Linda

    (((hugs))) You are still detoxing and it's very hard. I do believe that God exists and loves us. He has a plan for each of us, but we can't always understand because His ways are higher than ours. He is using you to help the enchained to break free. It's true that nothing we do can earn His love. He loves us because He loves us, not because of what we do. We cannot earn His love and the concept of Him only loving those who do His will is a lie from the evil one. Please feel free to write to me if you ever want to talk.

  • Anonymous

    Ow ow ow.

    I really sincerely believe that God loves each person a million billion trillion times more than the person who loves that person most. He loves you more than your husband does, more than your kids do. He loves your kids more than you do. And so on.

    Every time you post something new about your childhood, it blows my mind about the new depths of abuse and harm. I'm sorry you're hurt so bad.


  • Pippi

    I'm so sorry you are going through this. God is not who you were taught. I think He will reveal himself to you. I'm no longer a Protestant, though I still attend a Protestant church. The Orthodox church makes a lot more sense to me. It's hardly the same religion. How they both claim to follow Christ is beyond me.

  • Chantal

    I pray God reveals who he is to you soon. You've been searching for so long and you've been greatly hurt.

  • Dawn Farias

    I have been where you are and it seems like a cyclical thing for me. I am not there now but am pretty sure I'll face it again one day.

    You are not alone in your wonderings.

    I have had those same thoughts and concerns when watching my children at VBS or when volunteering in the parish education programs. That we're sugar coating everything and what good will that do them when they are old enough to question things on their own and then they'll just be disappointed in me, and then the world, for misleading them. Or something.

    But as a Christian, there are certain things I believe. I can't NOT give that to them. I don't assume they'll embrace it when they're older. But if I brought them up with NO religion, they might not embrace that when they get older, either.

    A few devil's advocate type thoughts for you:

    "So much of life seems random, not controlled by an all powerful being like I always thought." – Seems that random might imply a higher being that lets us choose how things go, instead of controlling everything? I like that.

    "I have too many questions about God, the bible, religion and theology to list, and so far no satisfying answers." – At least you're asking and wondering. That's good. Passion and a desire for wisdom and knowledge are good things. If it becomes overwhelming, take a break and remember Ecclesiastes (paraphrased): "it's all vanity. eat, drink and be merry"

    "Some days I am still afraid that I am displeasing God. But I’m pretty sure that if he is there, and what most religions teach about him is true, then I am not going to be enough for him anyways." – No, you won't. But that doesn't NEED to be a source of shame or discouragement. Maybe it just is what it is and THEREFORE you can just accept it, do your best, don't sin willfully (follow the commandments and all that), confess when you've done wrong and then REST.

    At any rate, I'm just talking/typing out loud here. I enjoy reading your thoughts and am glad you share them. Hope your Saturday is going well with your beautiful family.

  • Ami

    I gave up religion and belief in a higher power. I was raised the opposite way, of course. But I just feel like it's all a cult. Whichever being whatever group currently worships… just a cult. Some scarier than others.

  • Anonymous

    DO you remember the man with the 'posessed' son in Mark 9? What was his cry to Jesus? "Lord I believe!! Help me with my unbelief!!"

    What did Jesus do? He didn't turn to him and say "You are an evil, horrid, sinner who I hate and will toss into hell! How dare you question your belief!" NO He healed the man's son!

    I am always so sad when I see people driven away from God by religion. Our faith isn't bout toeing the line, it is about loving God and loving others. Simple as that. Straight from the mouth of God.

    I want to encourage you to just simply try to love God and to love others. When these thoughts of what you were taught in the past come to mind, remind yourself that while you were still a sinner, Christ died for you! You are precious in His sight.

    I know it is hard, but try not to let false teachings cloud your view.

    If you have not read this, please do. It is long but so powerful.

    You were deeply wounded by your upbringing. I think God understands that and weeps at your struggle and pain.

    You are right to question everything, and honestly, I would understand if you walked away. I pray that you find peace in whatever road you wind up on.

  • Arual

    Living life in fear is never healthy, and for some people, believing in god alleviates that fear. For others, it amplifies it. I fall in to the latter category. Believing in a vengeful god that I never was able to "feel" the love from made my life a living hell, because I never felt I was good enough.

    Reading your experiences and seeing the transformation you have made has been eye-opening, and while I do not have a vested interest either way, I am very happy for you being able to question. Whatever the answer to those questions is, for you, I hope it makes your life happier.

  • bluebleakember

    *Sigh* I just wrote a very similar post. I never thought I'd be here, either.

  • PersonalFailure

    sometimes I want it to be true, too. very much. just doesn't make it so, unfortunately.

  • Julie

    I don't have time to write a long comment today, but wanted you to know that your words connected with me today, and I'm not feeling (so) alone now. Thank you.

  • Mrs.Spit

    After my son died, I had a hard time with those questions. They told me to read the Psalms, and so I did, and I found empty promises (David said that he had never seen the children of the righteous begging for bread and I thought really? Because I volunteer with people who will go to sleep hungry tonight)

    I sang the empty praise songs and my heart broke just a bit further. I heard the stupid Christianese and one day something just snapped.

    It is no longer that I don't believe in God. I have found my way back to a sort of faith, but it is nothing like what I had.

    Whatever I believe or don't believe, I have a profound understanding that most of what is out there, it just isn't enough to answer for the evils, the pain and the plain uncaring of the church and the world.

    I'm sorry. I have no answers, but I perhaps understand a bit of what it is to question. I spent, am spending and will spend a lot of time in a hard, lonely and frightening place.

  • Practicing Mammal

    Dear Young Mom. You have been in my prayers. One of the difficulties of an online community is that we lack the ability to truly support one another in crisis, of any kind, but particularly of faith and uphold one another.

    I can only pray and leave a comment. I am a convert to Catholicism, I cam into the Church in my twenties from the Dark Abyss of nothingness. But one thing I have learned is that nothingness has no baggage. I have heard many friends who are converts from Protestant churches talk about their concept of God, forgiveness and the understanding of pain is disordered.

    I know how frightening it was to grow up with not believing their was a God, but I have to wonder, when I hear your voice and others, if a distorted view of God would be worse than a view of life without a God.

    I will continue to pray for you and I would like to suggest a book to you. Its called Making Sense out of Suffering by Peter Kreeft. It was a life changing book for me. I have been through different kinds of suffering, but severe suffering (I don't know how to link in a comment, but on the top left of my blog is my husband and my conversion stories, they reveal some of our personal pain and crises.) This book is a beautiful commentary.

    May God go with you. PM

  • Michelle

    Keeping you in my prayers. it makes me so angry sometimes when I think of the abuse you suffered and the way God was used to abuse you. Just know that I continue to pray for you.

  • CM

    Wherever your journey ends up taking you, there are many things that sound healthier now than they did before. I hope you find the answers that you're looking for, and I think it's great that you're asking questions. However things end up, know that I think you're amazing for so many reasons, but not the least of which being your willingness to face the hard issues head on!

  • Sally Thomas

    But His love is not only for those who do what He wants. It's for those who struggle and mess up and are imperfect, which means pretty much all of us. And it's for those who hate and reject Him, too. It's just that if you walk away, you walk away. He doesn't leave you, but neither did He make you an automaton, incapable of choice. Your freedom means that you can choose to reject Him, and He will let you, because He will not break your will or force you to love Him. So you can choose to be separate from Him forever if you want, which is what Hell is. But He's not going to send you there.

    The songs that bother you at VBS, and your reaction, remind me a little of how I feel when I read really ultra-glowing hero stories about historical figures to my young children. In these stories, early American presidents and generals and pioneers and other figures from history come off as models of virtue and perfection, which as we come to learn in later life they often really weren't. But I don't think it's right to give a little child the revisionist-history version, where everyone's really a lot worse than the story says, because at this stage in their lives they need to bond with the idea of heroes, just as they need to form strong and trusting bonds with their parents. They need those ideals in order to have some trust in the world that they live in, to be able to believe that human goodness exists at all.

    And I think the same is true of God. You, as an adult, can process your doubts and fears, though it's obviously a really arduous and painful process. They as little children need to bond with the idea of God, and particularly with the idea of God as loving, as Love itself, as *not* basing His love on their performance. Their time to doubt and wrestle and ask hard questions will come, but they're not ready to do that yet, and in the meantime, as an earlier poster says, your alternative is to feed them nothing about God.

  • My Feminine Mind

    This last year I read the book "Consoling the Heart of Jesus." It was a beautiful book about God's profound mercy and truly unconditional love. I got a lot out of it. Perhaps it might interest you too.

  • jen

    One day at a time. Detoxing from abusive religious experiences takes time.

  • Caravelle

    I feel for you Young Mom. Of course many Christians don't believe God has the negative characteristics you ascribe to him (such as sending people to Hell or only loving those who please him) but if those are beliefs you deduced from reading the Bible I'll let others debate the theology.

    I was struck by how you say you can't explain the origin of the universe or the purpose of life and see religion as an attempt to do so. Are you interested in science ?

    Of course science can't explain THE origin of the Universe (it may one day but hasn't yet), or THE purpose of life (the first question would be: what does that even mean?), but it can answer many, many, many questions related to those, maybe more than you realize if you aren't aware of the fields in question.

    And even when science doesn't have the answers, learning about what it does know suggests what shape those answers might have, or how we might go about finding them.

    Now, trying to understand what science says at those really high levels is difficult, basically because what science discovers more and more is that the world isn't really that intuitive – and the further we get from human experience, the less intuitive it gets. Even the best popularizers can only do so much to help one wrap one's mind around those concepts. But then, that's partly its own reward – once we realize that such incredible concepts are *conceivable* the whole world just seems more incredible and wonderful.

    I could recommend a number of books I enjoyed if you're interested, although since I don't know your background I don't know if you'd enjoy them as much. Overall I'd say the interesting fields for "the origin of the universe and the purpose of life" would be physics overall (i.e. from Galileo to the current attempts to resolve general relativity and quantum mechanics), evolution (natch) and the study of human minds – i.e cognition, game theory, sociology…

    Actually I could recommend just one book: Steven Pinker's "How the Mind Works". No physics (so not as much mind-*bending*… but still mind-expanding), and I don't agree with all the conclusions he draws, but it might be greatest overview of the title question you'll ever see.

  • Caravelle

    And I forgot to add: finding out about the scientific answers to those questions won't tell you anything either way about God – but you'll have a richer context in which to understand him. After all if God created the world, understanding the world can only improve one's understanding of him.

  • Rebecca @ The Road Home

    I wish I could go back in time and save you from your childhood. Since I can't I will just let you know that I pray for you every day and I will suggest the song 'Blessings' by Laura Story. It is keeping me grounded these days.

  • Sarah M.

    Love this post. I totally understand.

  • Scott Morizot

    "So much of life seems random, not controlled by an all powerful being like I always thought."

    I have such a hard time comprehending the "god" so many Christian sects proclaim. Even when I try, I can't force my mind into those shapes.

    Another word for 'random' is 'free'. That's the beauty of what I understand as the Christian God. Even though he creates all things and sustains all things, at its deepest level, creation is undetermined. And ultimately that uncertainty at the quantum level gives rise to a creature who can choose to love.

    That's not to say we are completely 'free' either. The choices of an abused child are constrained. The choices of a child soldier are sharply limited. Nevertheless, we have the ability to, at least in some degree, transcend our experience. And ultimately, we have the ability to know God.

    I don't understand or know the God you were taught. I would not worship such a God and I do not believe in such a God.

    Nevertheless, there is something about Jesus of Nazareth. He drew me into 'Christian' faith (or something like it) and he keeps me here. He's compelling. More compelling that Prince Siddhartha. More compelling than Lao-Tzu. More than anything found in the Baghavad Vita.

    If the God who created and sustains all is truly uncompromising, unfailing love, well, that changes everything.

  • Sarah

    I agree, it is certainly more free, and makes more sense on the 'other' side.

    I just want to make a point to some of the other commenters – can we stop using hormones as an excuse to why she might be having these thoughts? As if these deep questions are just the result of a hot flush. I think it's demeaning.

  • David T.
  • Anonymous

    I grieve for the child you were . . . and I just wanted to tell you that I wouldn't believe in the God you were taught about either. I am a follower of Christ, however, but I'm pretty convinced that he had little to do with what was modeled to you.

    Have you every read The Wounded Heart by Dan Allender? It was written to deal primarily with sexual abuse, but has many parallels with what you often write about. He examines the difficult questions, too, about the kind of God that allows abuse, and even deals with the subject of forgiving your abusers . . . but in a deep, marrow way, not in a saccharine way.

    Blessings to you as you grapple with these great questions.

  • Thirtysomething Wife

    Young mom, I too feel for you. I just wanted to share that there were many Saints that had doubts about God. I haven't read the book of Mother Teresa's letters, but evidently she had many doubts about God and did not feel His presence in her life. And yet during this time, she was encouraging others and helping the poor and needy.

    I also connected with what you said: "That burden to “save” my children from hell doesn’t have to be feared anymore, I can love my children freely, whoever they grow up to be." For a long time, that was my biggest fear as well. Actually, it was part of my worry that I couldn't make them choose what I wanted them to, or keep bad things from happening to them (sounds a lot like fundamentalism, doesn't it!). I realized that all I can do is to influence them by teaching them my beliefs and being a good role model and by loving them no matter what. I can't FORCE them to chose anything, and I wouldn't want to. They need to be their own people, and to learn how to wisely make their own choices. My job is to teach them how to do that as best I can. And as much as I would like to keep all bad things from happening to my children, I know that is not possible. I know that they are going to get hurt in life, and my job is be there for them and to love them as best I can when it happens.

    I like to think that is how God relates to us too. He doesn't control us, and He doesn't keep bad things from happening to us. But, He is always with us and loves us no matter what. He loved us enough to set us free to make our own choices. And so how can I do anything less than that for my own children?

    Thanks for sharing such personal thoughts. I loved this post.

  • Kayla

    As I was reading this article about the Kingdom of God, the way the author was describing the Isrealites' distortion of the Kingdom reminded me so much of how you have written about your fundamentalist upbringing. I hope it helps!

  • Rebecca

    I want you to be able to believe too. In reading your honest and vulnerable posts in the past 6 months, I am always rooting for you and for faith to win out. I love how you tell what's really going on in your head and your heart. I understand the struggle with doubts as I have struggled with these things too ever since my teen years. I keep returning to faith though, saying to the Lord, "I believe. Help my unbelief." Have you read Ann Voskamp's book, A Thousand Gifts? I found it so helpful, because she doesn't sugar coat things but she makes God so real to my world. And she does it in a way that engages the kind of suffering like losing her toddler sister to a car accident when she was a child.

  • Rebekah

    I relate to this post. Including the sadness from missing the comfort of those beliefs. Thanks for sharing.

  • Anonymous

    I too so relate to your post. Coming back to read it daily has gotten me through our own VBS week, but not without some anxiety and all the same questions to torment me. I hope it is at least some comfort to YOU knowing that others are on a similar path, or that you find some help in the writing and thinking itself. It is amazing to hear the heart of true love and kindness you have, in spite of all you have been through.

  • Bethany

    I feel like you wrote this post directly from my heart. The questions you wrote after the song lyrics could have come word-for-word from my head. When my husband reads our Jesus Storybook Bible to the girls (a truly beautiful and hopeful version, but a Bible all the same), I mentally argue with every other sentence, and I'm shocked every time by the level of pain behind my cynicism. Just like you, I want the innocent joy my girls have in God's love to be true. When my three-year-old asks God to keep her nightmares away, I feel like I'm splitting in half from how much I want her prayers answered… even as I remember my own nightmare-ridden childhood and how praying never helped one bit. When my six-year-old chatters excitedly about how she's going to fly one day in heaven, I just want to cry remembering how I used to daydream about that too. At this point, my primary hope (and I'm guessing yours too) is that if our sweet children are right about God's love, our own stories aren't over yet.

  • Libby Anne

    I just realized I never commended here but I meant to. As you know, I've been where you are. The most freeing thing for me was realizing that if there really is a god, and that god is a god of love, he won't mind questions and he won't send you to hell for questions or for not believing. I've come to the conclusion that there is no god, but if it turns out that there actually is one, well, no harm no foul. I'll have some questions to ask, though! So anyway, you go, and never be afraid to think or ask questions!

  • Aunt Vik

    I found this blog totally by accident, but I do appreciate your honest thoughts. Some people gasp when others start to doubt God, but I don't gasp. I grew up in a fundamentalist home, as well– difference being, when I hit 18 years old, I did what I wanted. My dad was disgusted at the time, but now tells me how proud he is of me and he loves my husband and kids. And if he didn't… too bad!

    While I never doubted God's existence (he has answered prayers that could never, ever have been coincidence and protected me from very dangerous events), I have gone through the valley and away from God a few times. I won't go through all that, but when I finally figured out that when Jesus said, "My yoke is easy"… he meant it. It's other people who complicate it.

    I don't go around talking "Christianese" (I hate when people do that!) and acting like "the holy spirit" tells me everything, or that when something nice happens to me that it's God's reward for my self righteousness. I don't pray for the exact right shoes (or swimsuit!). I also don't worry that evil is lurking all around me. I don't worry that God is going to smash me if I, say, have a glass of wine or drive 75 in a 65 mph zone. I also learned that I enjoy liturgy. I am not Catholic/Orthodox, but I love liturgy far more than emotional "alter calls."

    I had to quit going to church for a long time because it was bringing me down. I have finally found a church where Christians are real people. But I decided that no church is better than a bad church, and God will meet with me wherever I may be.

    As far as things like VBS– I don't like the kiddie programs. They are mostly meant to [literally] scare the hell of the kids so they'll get "saved." If you don't like doing those programs, then don't do them and learn to say NO. God will love you every bit as much, and you can dispense with all the "Churchianity" burn-out and get back to plain and simple Christianity and enjoy your life…and God… once again.

    Steer clear of the legalistic fundies. Don't worry about God's "big plans" for your life and that you might never figure out what those "plans" are. God lets us make our own decisions and I don't believe there is only one "right" path through life. Just let God keep you away from the wrong ones, is all. God is so there. If Satan is supposedly "lurking" all around us… it's in the form of self-righteous fundamentalist know-it-alls. Blech. Who needs 'em.

  • Anonymous

    I was a crew leader in VBS at my church last week, and probably the same program that you went to. And i have to say watching the little kids singing and wanting to learn is an amazing sight to see. Kids are naturally curious.

    I must say though, something you shouldn't do is push what you believe on young kids. My mom raised me 'sorta' catholic, she would only go to church in spurts. I'm 20 and spent the last year taking classes and doing things on my own to get baptized and have my first communion since my mother never thought about doing it when i was younger, and i must say if it was for my best friend who is my godmother's granddaughter and practically my little sister, i probably wouldn't be where i am now. It was after i got to see her do her baptism and first communion when she was 12, that i realized how much i loved going to church and how happier i felt when i left as to how i was when i hadn't gone to church. It is important to remember that not everyone has the same opinions as you do, and its important to let them figure out what they want on their own. I think that people should send their children to sunday school or as its called in my church Religious Education, until the child themself says they don't want to go anymore. I know i have different beliefs than my brother and father, and some different than my mother. But if your child enjoys going to VBS then let her enjoy it. I know my church believes and teaches that everyone goes to heaven, no matter what they've do, and i think that is what young children need to be taught.

    Also, if you have questions or concerns, then don't be afraid to ask. I know i had many questions and asked the deacon who taught my class at church and he was more then willing to answer them, without "pushing" the religion on me, and I had some really odd questions. Sometimes talking it out with someone is the best thing. I know asking my questions helped me a lot.

    I didn't have the greatest time growing up, i spent a lot of time crying, and eventually almost got to the point where i was barely eating, and all i thought about was hurting myself just like how other people hurt me. I spent a while not believing in god, and believing that he did exist, but he just didn't like me. It took time, but i finally got to where i was happy again, it just took time.

    Not every church and religion is the same, you just need to find the one where you belong. And for me i know i belong in the catholic church, you just got to find the right fit for you.