Are you an extrovert or introvert? Based on the number of online quizzes, knowing that answer seems to be all the rage today. So where do you fall? Me? I’m a pretty strong extrovert. I absolutely love to be with other people! All the laughing, talking, supporting each other during the tough times, celebrating in the good times, and just plain old hanging out with friends is where I thrive. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a large social circle. But that all changed when I came out as an atheist.
Why would this news suddenly destroy those long standing relationships? I can count on one hand the number of friends who stayed in my life after the news reported my story. For the first month I’d wake up in the morning and wouldn’t remember what had happened. But, in the next few seconds, as the early morning fogginess wore off, reality would come crashing down on me. I’m alone now. All those relationships that I thought could withstand any difficulty were gone. Apparently losing my religion wasn’t included in the ‘relationship contract’. That detail must have been on one of those ‘fine print’ lines that I never bothered to read. So I’d just sit there on the edge of my bed while the tears streamed down my cheeks..
Rejection and isolation drove me to the brink of insanity. Day after day I tried to understand why they left me. Tormenting thoughts clouded my mind every waking moment. In many ways, I blamed myself for them leaving me. I’d catch myself thinking crazy things like,
“I should have been a better friend.”
“If I’d only called more…visited more…opened up more…”
Of course the logical me knows that those thoughts have no basis in fact. But the emotional me couldn’t accept the truth. By being honest about who I am, the ones that I loved most…abandoned me.
Even though so many people vanished from the landscape of my life, my feelings for them didn’t magically go away. The wonderful memories of all those years together were (and are) still firmly etched in my mind. How can you just turn off a relationship in an instant? Is there some type of master switch that can be flipped at will? Maybe I wasn’t equipped with one because if I had it, I’d turn off all the hurt inside me. In the weeks that followed, I received every kind of hate-filled message you could imagine. I mean, I expected some relational fallout, but I didn’t realize that it would be so severe. People said things to me like,
“You’re not welcome in our house any longer.”
“Enjoy your sin while you can because one day you’ll pay for it.”
“I can’t wait until I’m standing in heaven looking down at you in hell as the flesh burns off your body!”
With every email, text, Facebook message, Tweet, and phone call I slipped into a deep, dark depression.
In a weird way, I was like Indian Jones. Remember this scene from “Raiders of the Lost Ark”?
That’s exactly how I felt! As soon as the news of my coming out went public, this large boulder of hatred appeared out of nowhere and rolled toward me. Panicked, I ran toward the safety of trusted friends only to find them standing there with drawn bows aimed right at me! A deep anger welled up inside me. How could they treat me like this! I’d given my entire life to loving, caring, supporting, helping, serving, and giving to others. As a pastor, I invested everything as I ministered to my parishioners. Standing by their bedside in sickness, praying for them and their loved ones, celebrating special events, baptizing their children, serving side-by-side on mission trips, and so much more. Apparently that didn’t count for anything! All that mattered to them was that I no longer believed. Honestly, I felt like I’d been used. Without so much as a ‘fare thee well’, I was tossed out like yesterday’s garbage. Not just any garbage mind you, but three-day old rotten-egg topped with spoiled milk garbage. Slowly the heart-wrenching reality set in…when I walked away from my faith the people that I loved walked away from me.
I lost it all. Gone in the blink of an eye. All because I no longer believed.
That’s not the end of my story! Stay tuned for part 2…
NOTE: If you’re in a similar situation, don’t go through it alone. Find a freethought group near you or contact Recovering from Religion. There are so many who are there to walk with you as you navigate this road.