My First Christmas Without Jesus

My First Christmas Without Jesus December 31, 2017
Angel of Grief. (c) 2011 Ed Nh (via Flickr)
Angel of Grief. (c) 2011 Ed Nh (via Flickr)

On December 20th, I realized that Deconstruction is a process of losing and grieving foundational beliefs that build and shape us, and that I am in the fourth stage of of that grief: Depression.

The next and final stage is Acceptance, and I’m sure I don’t know how to cope with that yet.

So for now I am just sad and utterly lost.

I am lost in a space of not knowing how to make sense of the world, of pain and suffering, or how to hold hope if there’s nothing Greater to anchor us beyond Now.

Lost in questions that plague me night and day about how to make God and evil and this world and history add up to anything more significant than a pile of depressing years with which we have to do our best for ourselves and each other and our kids, cause no one’s gonna do it for us.

I am sad that for the first time in my life, Christmas wasn’t that big a deal. Celebrating the birth of Jesus didn’t feel significant. Singing “Oh Holy Night” brought me no intrinsic joy, sparked no divine gratitude or transcendent feeling of being part of something bigger.

I am sad that the nation — and world — seem to be crumbling before me, and for the first time in my life, I don’t have an answer. I don’t have a “future hope” to hang on, or a promise that all will be made right in the end. I have no reason to believe that the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice when power rests not in a morally good God but in the morally bankrupt powers of this earth.

I am sad because I desperately want to believe in God — the story of Jesus is beautiful and the hope of something better to come is empowering and comforting when it gets Dark.

And because I am a certifiably better person as a believer (I am one of those who derived a deep sense of self and purpose and compassion for others from my beliefs about my Maker and how God created us all to be), I am sad that I cannot always (or even often, these days) bring myself to sit in Denial and just believe. For all my efforts to accept a God, my mind can’t make the math work.

What kind of all-powerful and loving God who is *capable* of stopping wars and saving terrorized children from their tormentor’s weapons…doesn’t? What kind of God would hear and attend to my prayers for personal peace and good-feels, while neglecting the cries of the mother whose child starves to death in Yemen as a direct result of choices I’ve made as an American? If that God exists, don’t I have an obligation to use my audience with it to remind it that there are far greater problems in the world than my unbelief?

And I am sad that acceptance comes after depression — because it means I may be on the cusp of losing (or giving up on) God forever. Of accepting that this thing I orbited my entire life around just…Isn’t. So all my trust that God would reveal purpose or open doors or protect me from enemies or light my path was placed in an empty box.

And I am as unready for the cold loneliness of that space as I am incapable of believing God really is in there.

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  • Right with you. I was 5 when I felt compelled to learn about God. I drove people crazy. The passion drove me even when I “strayed.” I am on the cusp of 60 and I doubt God will make it that far with me. I am not straying this time, I am walking away. How do I explain my life (to me) and all of these years, all of this hope, as I stare into darkness and collect the courage to take the next step? Perhaps it is best that the end comes in the cold and dark of winter.

  • John

    The age old question of a good God in an evil world. Many have left God over such conflict, and many have found him anew. Too much to address here, but this struggle is critical to faith and I believe a good thing. Hope you are still searching and not given up. Have you read much of historical figures who have wrestled with these same questions?

  • Robert H. Woodman

    You’re not alone in your questions, nor alone in your struggles. You do not have to suffer alone; you can suffer in community, with community.

    The multitude of problems (theological, interpretational, behavioral) in American Evangelical Christianity led to me to walk away from God many years ago, but I found my way back to God in a different Christian community, one that didn’t just teach *about* grace, but taught and lived grace in community and stayed more faithful to the Scripture than Evangelicals ever did (in my experience). I have struggled with doubt and even despair since then, but I have always found my way back. I hope that you can experience the same renewal. I have, and will continue to, pray for you.

  • Liz

    I walked away from the concept of God as a Supreme Being who intervened in time and space years ago, and found in God’s place a sacred presence of unconditional love. That Presence is as much a part of me as my own breath, and yet also transcends me to include and encompass all of creation. I don’t experience it as an intervening or coercive force, but rather a low, steady pull towards greater wholeness and compassion.

    Walking away from the biblical God doesn’t have to mean walking into a void of meaningless emptiness. There are many voices of wisdom that can guide us on the journey away from God to “God” – I found Richard Rohr really helpful, and Reza Aslan has a brand new book called “God” that describes the journey towards his understanding of “God” as our innate nature and the ground of all being from a scholarly standpoint. Many Buddhist teachers describe this concept beautifully.

    Your God doesn’t have to either fit the biblical description or die. You don’t have to accept nothingness. It just takes a shift of perspective.

  • Linda Daily

    Be of good cheer! You are asking all the right questions and suffering the pangs of growing into adult faith. I was told this years ago by a priest when I was in a dark patch and invited to grow – I wanted to smack him, but he was right.

    Stay with it and allow God time for self revelation. It can be very painful letting go of the Santa Claus god of our childhood. But allow for the possibility that something more waits beyond. Some reading material while you wait:

    If possible, find a wise spiritual director to accompany you.

  • Amy Courts

    Thank you, Linda! Yes — leaving behind the all-powerful “sovereign” god is something I’ve been on my way to for years, but figuring out what/who god is if not that is painfully hard. And you’re right: man, I need a spiritual director!

  • Amy Courts

    Thanks, Robert. One of the strangest things about where I am right now is that I’ve found so much solace in our home church — an elca in North Minneapolis, pastored by two Black siblings — which functionally and practically serves people here and now and “builds the kingdom of God” regardless of whether or not there’s an eternal one called heaven. There’s much space in this community to doubt and question and not have answers, but to participate still. I’m so grateful for them. Without them, I’d be even more lost and unanchored, and I think any hope of return would be completely dead.

  • Amy Courts

    Liz, this is so beautiful: “low, steady pull towards greater wholeness and compassion.” I keep hearing this same theme over and over, from friends who’ve deconstructed to spiritual philosophers and theologians like Rohr and Pete Rollins and Rena Aslan. (I think I’m finally in a place where I can listen to Rohr these days — for a while there, any theological talk was just triggering.) I’ll have to read Aslan’s new book.

    One thing I come back to is what Rob Bell said in discussion with Rohr once: whatever God is, we’re all just working to describe our perception of it, but it doesn’t itself change. Maybe I’m just seeing it at a different angle, which is disruptive but not scary.

  • Amy Courts

    John, I am trying so hard not to give up! And am soaking up all the teachers like water in a desert. If you have suggestions, I’d love them!

  • Ama Nazra

    Perfect, Liz. Thank you. I was thinking about this again last night. God is not someone, or something, we can blame, or lay responsibility on, for everything that happens to humanity. We have to accept that we are the creators of our own downfall. We were given ‘free will’. Until we accept and understand that enormous gift, we will continue to use God as a scapegoat, and become disheartened when he-she-it does not ‘step in’ to rescue us when we make our world go wrong. God is God. Creator. S/he does not have a large spoon stirring the stew of humanity .. only we do. I have never had much faith in the Christian Bible, but now, after years of studying it, nothing is left. I have been feeling bereft, because I still have that strong call to become a Minister of Faith, so I will continue my studies (university degree) with the understanding that people wrote their hopes, beliefs and fears into the Bible, God didn’t write it, nor did s/he dictate it. Only us. The ‘God’ of the ‘fear/judgment and unconditional love’ paradigm was created by humanity. God, the watcher, the Love that calls us, that ‘low, steady pull’, is real, and still there, when we strip away the covering that our need for control created.

    Don’t lose hope, Amy. When we finally find the God within, hidden behind two millenia of other opinions, nothing else will matter.

  • YellowBird

    oh Dear Heart… likewise… oh so very… a Deep and Broken Grief…
    But may we never come to that place of Cold Acceptance, as long as there remains breath in our bodies that keeps us anchored to this side of the Veil. There is time enough for whatever must be embraced, on the Other Side… for now, in this NOW in which we currently exist, may we continue to cling to that Great Hope that there IS something better ahead… that there IS a Maker Who Cares… that someday ALL Grief will be restored into Joy… for ALL Humankind, of which we are a small part.
    For you are so right… it IS this Great Hope which in chasing after we found our hearts became KIND. And KINDNESS COUNTS.

  • Lark62

    My questions about the god described in the bible led me to a different conclusion than the one you have reached so far. After several decades as a christian, I am now an atheist.

    I am not advising you to stop believing in the christian deity or any other. That is something only you can work out for yourself. Two things. 1. My lack of belief is not a choice. Just as I cannot choose to believe that the tooth fairy is real, or that Frodo, Hobbiton and Middle Earth are real, I cannot choose to believe that the deity described in the bible makes sense. That ship has sailed. 2. Despite the fear-based bad press that atheists get from organized religion, there is nothing bleak or hopeless about not believing in a deity. The earth and the cosmos are amazing. Pull up the photos from the Hubble telescope, read books about the history of earth or life on earth. Wow. I simply know that if problems are to be addressed, we’re it. We cannot rely on someone else to swoop in and fix things. I have found atheism to be positive and life affirming. There is nothing to fear here.

    All the best wherever your journey takes you.

    (Note – If you find that you no longer believe, be very careful and very intentional about who you tell. Especially if your livelihood depends on christians. There are many, many cases where people lost every friend and their entire support system overnight. Christianity seems to need positive reinforcement. Some christians are emotionally threatened when another christian stops believing and become extremely vicious. Not all christians. But I don’t know how to tell which is which before revealing non belief. Here are two links. The writer of A Pasta Sea said if he had to do all over again, he would have moved his family across town and never let anyone from his old church know he no longer believed. Pastor No Faith’s best friend of years lives less than a mile from his home, and never spoke to him again when he found out he was no longer a christian.)

  • Scott

    “What kind of all-powerful and loving God who is *capable* of stopping wars and saving terrorized children from their tormentor’s weapons…doesn’t?” From Jürgen Moltmann: “God is not in control. He is carrying and bearing everything but He is not in control.”
    I also found Evil and the Justice of God from NT Wright to be somewhat helpful. I know how you feel because I’ve been in the same place for years. It’s painful. Just try and remember that doubt isn’t the opposite of faith, it is part of faith. Without doubt you have certitude and there is nothing more destructive to growth than certitude.

  • enchess

    I don’t know if this will help or not, but here’s my two cents. I became an atheist somewhat recently after slowly losing my faith little by little over the years. Personally, I find that I am a better person and my life has more meaning without God. Before I was always taught to thank God for all good and blame humanity for all evil. “Good” was never my choice before, from that perspective. I was also taught to see God as in control of everything. My parents thanked him when they got job offers or when they found a new church they liked. Everything happened according to an outside plan they couldn’t see. Now, I can steer the boat myself. I can’t make my life take an impossible course, but I know that I can put it in a general direction. The loss of faith meant the gain of freedom. It meant I for the first time ever felt some sense of control. It even made me feel less lonely, less empty. See, God never spoke to me even when I passionately believed he was there. He was silent. I felt lonely because I felt ignored. Now I have no reason to feel ignored because I’m not pleading to anyone.

    TL;DR: You don’t need to be scared of losing faith. Maybe you’ll feel a pull and come back into it, but if not, don’t worry. There is fulfillment to be found outside of God.

  • Cliff

    You do not have to lose God, only the fairy tale of orthodox Christianity….Read Bishop Spong: Why Christianity Must Change or Die, and his latest and last book, Unbelievable….Read the NT as a Jewish book, particularly read the 4 Gospels as midrash….Paul and the early Church Fathers led us down the wrong path and created Orthodox Western and Eastern Christianity…we should have stuck closer to the Jesus Followers in Jerusalem. I hope you were able to view The Invisible Universe on PBS a few days ago…one could not but stand in awe and realize that the Universe and everything in it is NOT an accident….Remember too, that Jesus said the Kingdom of God is within you and me; it is not some pie-in-the-sky sweet by-and-by…We just need to live it and let it OUT….He also gave the greatest rule ever: LOVE ONE ANOTHER…because that is the way to the Kingdom….

  • Brianna LaPoint

    I deconverted december 18,2004 there are many times i engage in conversation/debate with christians. These days i feel it is a waste of time. However, i feel more and more, that theres something plastic about being christian. The face compassion, the fake tolerance for others, the fake sympathy. Its just not for me, and if people try to convince me theres something good or special about christianity, i give them a lecture.

  • Brianna LaPoint

    Ive heard it said before, one can be good without god. I have gone from church to church, and the more i followed Jesus the less i found myself.

  • Robert H. Woodman

    If you are looking strictly at adherence to societal norms of “good” and “bad,” people can be good without God and bad with God. That misses the point of who and what God is and why we are called to live in relationship to God.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “the more i followed Jesus the less i found myself.” Could you unpack that, please?