A long time ago, I used to pray to the God of Christians and ask what it was I wasn’t getting through my sick head. Was I not faithful enough? Was I harboring some secret sin I needed to confess to someone? My entire life, I had been told Jesus loves to heal the sick, but here I was, the outlier in desperate need of a psychiatrist.
It was about this time I had started to wake up with panic attacks in the middle of the night. If I had been seeing a therapist at the time, we would have discussed possible triggers. Perhaps the recurring dreams of hell, the thought I was possessed by demons that would not listen when I demand they leave? But it doesn’t matter. I didn’t have a therapist at the time. I had a bible, a screwed up theology, and trouble catching my breath.
I don’t talk about religion much anymore. There are a lot of expectations surrounding a pastor’s daughter, even now as a married adult. It makes it hard to cultivate an environment safe enough for the skeptics, the hurting, the one’s who got (see: ran) away. But I only have one hour per week with my therapist, so perhaps it’s time to begin addressing all of this myself.
I used to believe almost everything I was ever told when it came to Christianity. It made things easier, in terms of thinking: meaning, I didn’t really have to. If the bible said it took seven days for the earth to be created, then there was no room for discussion as far as I was concerned. And if it was written that men are the leaders over women, it must have been true. “God-breathed” says Timothy. And it will be backed up by admonishments resembling, “We cannot pick and choose what we want to believe.” I know now there is a name for this: fundamentalism. And it was the only thing I knew.
I remember reading in Genesis one night, attempting to try again at my goal of reading through the entire bible, when I came across a discrepancy I had never noticed before. It was a retelling of the Creation Story, but it wasn’t lining up with the original telling. The timeline was off, days were switched, and I began to panic.
Flipping urgently through the thin pages, I tried to will the words to match between chapters. Tears formed in my eyes as the words my dad had always sworn by echoed in my brain: “It’s either all true, or none of it is.” Sleep evaded me in the following hours and days.
From there, I spiraled about as quickly as a person can. I no longer searched for comfort like I once did among the stories and chapters and promises. Instead, I prayed God would somehow show me a reason to not feel betrayed or lied to. “Give me peace,” I’d cry when I couldn’t sleep. But God was suddenly so quiet and the panic attacks became harder to brush aside as a test of my faith.
I searched the holy book for some kind of proof I had not spent my entire life believing a lie. I thought of hell, and those destined for it; the people far from me, supposedly waiting on the men and women of God to hear the message of “go,” or suffer eternal damnation. For the first time in my life, I was horrified by whoever this God was. “God of justice,”cried the people as Aleppo was bombed for the third time that week. “God of mercy,” cried the people as those in the far reaches of earth who had never been exposed to the gospel because they were not born in the Bible Belt like I was were damned to hell. “God of kindness,” cried the people as they closed their doors to refugees from the middle east. “God of joy,” cried the people as I choked on my depression whilst crying out for freedom. “God of peace,” cried the people as my body shook with panic and fought off paranoia. “God who answers prayers,” cried the people as I found myself caught in an echo chamber. “God who makes the demons leave,” cried the people as mine proved to be the exception.
Nothing made sense to me anymore. The solid rock on which I had always stood was crumbling out from underneath me. Hadn’t I been faithful? Hadn’t I been diligent to spend time with God in the mornings like the preacher had said we must? Hadn’t I prayed fervently before making any major decisions? Hadn’t I spent time with fellow Christians around me, despite being massively introverted? Hadn’t I prayed enough, loved enough, been good enough? Hadn’t I preached the gospel in word and deed? Hadn’t I always sought forgiveness after confessing sin? Hadn’t I spent every goddamn morning asking to be refilled with the joy of the holy spirit?
It wasn’t long before my roommates at the time caught on that something was different with me. I’d leave the house early in the morning and wouldn’t return until I knew most of them were probably asleep. I couldn’t handle it anymore, the big conversations when I just wanted to eat breakfast; the prayer meetings when I was just trying to do homework; the twenty people worshipping in my living room when I just wanted to watch a movie on the couch. I was suffocating and met with people laying their hands on me without asking to try to cast out the demons of doubt.
Losing your faith is hard to describe without being met with some sort of resistance, usually by the people you once believed with. And people who are not experiencing doubt don’t know how to talk to people who are. “Do you want to pray about it?” No, no I actually don’t. “I just feel like the Lord wants you to know…” I think you made that up because you want it to be true. “God gives rest to those who ask.” I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in months. My dreams are littered with scenes from hell. I asked your Prince of Peace to come through with every sincere bone in my body, but he was suddenly so quiet, as though my capability to hear from God only went as far as my brain’s ability to think clearly and conjure up comforting phrases.
And now, oh god. Like that sacred book describes, the scales fell from my eyes and now I can see clearly: the hurt and the pain and the damage believing in this god has done to people, what it’s done to me. I have seen what believing in this god does to a nation’s government. I have seen what it does to good people who need help but are met with those claiming they can hear the voice of their deity, this deity demanding some measure of faith rather than providing food, shelter, a job, etc.
I don’t write any of these words easily. I know what this confession could do to my relationship with my family. I know it could invite the masses to tell it on the mountain I’m hanging around. I know I will disappoint and offend. But I’ve only been given two options: fake it, or admit to who I am and where I’m at. Neither of these are ideal, but at least I can maintain some semblance of integrity with the second option.
There are a lot of people like me wandering around, or perhaps, hiding from the hateful and accusatory words thrown like darts in their direction. Good people, people who believe in justice and love and second-chances and liberation and equality. Just…not your god. I feel as though I owe my past Christian circles an apology, for abandoning the thing they love so deeply. But I sleep better now. And I love myself and others more. My voice shakes less when I speak my mind and I’m not afraid of every one of my mistakes being a death sentence.
I guess what I’m saying is, I finally feel free.