The iPhone had yet to be released, Facebook was the new, cool thing and Reddit was in its infancy. American Idol was a BIG deal and my social sciences professor thought it would be another 50 years before legal gay marriage would be a reality.
And I was freaking out because my faith in God was slipping away.
I never imagined I would leave my insulated, tightly controlled Christian college after 3 semesters with major doubts. I never thought I would be going to a regular state college where my professors swore during their lectures and fraternities held wet T-shirt contests.
But there I was, sitting on the edge of my bottom bunk in my dorm room alone. What did God and I even have to say to each other? “God?” I whispered, “I’m in deep shit.”
I was supposed to be training for the mission field, not holing myself up in the library reading Thomas Paine and Bertrand Russell. This is not how my life was supposed to go.
Christian college turned out to be a snake pit of hypocrisy. The leadership clearly didn’t care about anything but power and money. And if I had thought God was telling me to go there, and that turned out to be the wrong place, did that mean I even knew what God’s voice sounded like? What about all the other times I thought God was speaking to me? Had I been wrong about that too? How did I know anything was true?
My very last semester of Christian college I clearly remember sitting on the couch in my apartment, holding my Bible, thinking “What if the Bible isn’t even true?”
I transferred all my credits to a state school, entered as a sophomore, and just walked around that first year trying to figure out what the f*** was going on.
I made a decision at the beginning of this journey. I admitted to myself, “I cannot do this alone. I’m going to be open and honest with people so they can help me.” That turned out to be the best decision I could have made.
I wanted to hang on to my faith, so I called a local church and left a voice message for the pastor, Jeff. I told him I was looking for a church, but I didn’t know what I believed and I was trying to figure it out. When he called back, he told me that was all right and I was welcome at his church. It was actually called Journey Church.
Over the next year, I was honest with almost everyone. There are always exceptions, of course—sometimes you just have to lie your ass off for the purpose of self-preservation. I told the pastor I grew up with that I didn’t know what I believed anymore…to which he replied, “Just tell me the truth. What dirty, nasty sin are you involved in?” To say it didn’t go well would be an understatement, but I don’t regret my honesty.
In making new friends, I often found myself not knowing what on earth they were talking about because I was raised not knowing much at all about sex and I hadn’t seen most R-rated movies. Even in groups, I would stop the person talking and say “I’m sorry, I was raised under a rock. What does that mean?” And they would graciously explain, without making me feel weird.
I had no problem raising my hand in class and asking my professor to explain something. I even went to lunch with one professor and asked her if it would be possible for a Christian to accept the theory of evolution.
I met with my geology professor and we talked about whether or not there was any evidence of Noah’s flood.
My professors were really wonderful. They shepherded me through the hardest years of my life.
After months and months of both going to church and checking out tons of books from the library (Paine, Russell, Helminiak, Spencer Burke, Richard Dawkins, Jack Miles, etc) and talking with my professors and praying really honest prayers, it just became clear that my faith was gone.
In one year, I had gone from missionary trainee to agnostic.
I kept on with my decision to be open and honest with people. I told Jeff, the pastor of Journey Church, that I didn’t believe anymore. He seemed angry, which surprised me. I think he took it as a personal failing that he couldn’t bring me back into the fold. We never spoke again after that, but I’m still grateful for what that relationship taught me.
Getting It Out There
During my deconversion, I felt so many emotions: rage, depression, fear, regret and heaping tons of shame.
The way I moved through those feelings was by talking and writing about them. Just getting it out there. Sometimes people didn’t understand at all and their reactions hurt. But a lot of times, people did understand.
I wrote a paper for my film and philosophy class about how watching Reign Over Me was cathartic for me because I identified with the loss the main character was feeling. My professor read it and told me any time I wanted to talk about faith, philosophy or anything, his door was open.
So, I took him up on it and I would go to his office and talk about the crazy, tumultuous thoughts and ideas that were rolling round in my head and it was so healing for me to be heard and understood in that way.
I’m convinced that this is how healing and progress happens.
Brené Brown has done a ton of research and writing on vulnerability and I believe she is right when she says it is the epitome of courage to show up and be seen. Being willing to be vulnerable is where the best parts of life happen.
I’ve seen this pattern repeated over and over in the last 11 years of my journey: Growth and healing can only happen when I’m willing to show up and be seen.
I’ve had a lot to heal from. Many of us who grew up in church suffered abuse and/or a warped sense of self. Part of my healing process was simply going to someone’s office, sitting down in a chair and talking. And when nothing bad happened to me in that office, a part of me healed a little bit.
Life has seasons. I’ll usually have 6 months to a year at a time when I am in a position to help others on their journey and be a giver and then I’ll have 6 months where I need to be on the receiving end of healing.
I’m in a receiving season right now. I got back into therapy to get professional help, but I also built a relationship with our chaplain at work. He’s a person I can show up and be vulnerable with and, over the last year, our talks have brought a lot of healing into my life. I told him last week that he’s the best pastor I’ve ever had.
If you’re in a place on your journey where you’re carrying around difficult emotions like sadness, fear, anger, and especially shame, I encourage you to reach out to people who will listen without judgement. Over 11 years I’ve found that, more often than not, it’s worth it.
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