How Leaving the Church Healed Me

This is my second attempt at writing this article.

I tried to write it about two years ago, but I chickened out.

I was still in contact with friends who attended church and had a strong Christian faith. I didn’t want them to know how far I had “fallen” or cause any undue concern.

But mostly, I wanted to protect my former reputation. I didn’t want them to see me as a backslider, an apostate, as a tare among the wheat.

I didn’t want anyone to see me as a nonbeliever.

But I am.

My slide back has been gradual and steady. It’s been a small step here and a small step there. A belief dismissed here. A belief dismissed there. Until finally, my beliefs have totally shifted and altered.

I didn’t publish the first version of this article because it was filled with a lot of pain and a lot of vitriol. I didn’t want to come off as trollish, bitter, and angry at the church. Even though I was.

I didn’t want to voice my scathing view of the church and Christianity as I had experienced it.

I wanted to appear “nice” and “enlightened,” which is the tone I tried to set for this blog.

But, honestly, I have absolutely no need for church anymore, and I don’t miss it.

Yet church wasn’t a complete wash. I actually learned a lot from my days as a Christian, and it is the foundation of my current spiritual practices. But it was also like my last job of 10 years. After a while, I knew I wasn’t going to learn any more or go any higher. I learned everything I was going to learn in the church, and being there any longer wasn’t going to help me get any more experience or qualify me for a grander level of spirituality. I learned what I needed to learn, and the church and all of its trappings had out lived its usefulness in my life.

Basically, I wasn’t going anywhere, and staying there wasn’t going to help me.

Here’s a gem: I don’t believe in a life purpose–other than the purpose you give yourself. I don’t believe any diety gives you purpose or tells you what your purpose is in life. I think every woman and man can determine that for her or himself. There’s no need to look outside for the answers. They’re already within you.

I didn’t use to believe this. I used to think that I couldn’t trust myself and that I needed God to tell me about myself because my heart was evil and desperately wicked. How could I possibly know myself? Only God knew the ins and outs of my motives. I was always scared I was lying to myself and I couldn’t really know what I needed or even wanted in life. Only God could tell me. I no longer operate this way.

What was wrong with me anyway?

It’s been so long since I’ve been a regular church attendee, it’s hard to say what was actually ailing me. I will say that Christianity/Church seemed to exacerbate my neurotic tendencies. Being a Christian increased my sense of guilt. I always felt guilty about something. I always felt like I was doing something wrong. I never really felt that sense of “perfect peace” the Bible talked about. Maybe it was the way I was interpreting scripture and sermons, but I had a strong feeling God was never truly pleased with me, even when the opposite message was preached. Because it was always followed up by something that made me doubt God was actually pleased with me and liked me. I really wanted God to like me. But I never really felt like he did. Because I had this layer of guilt covering me, so followed a layer of depression. I was depressed for most of my Christian experience. For various reasons. But much of it had to do with guilt, unrealistic expectations that led to disappointment, and just plain feeling like I wasn’t liked, neither by God nor by my “brothers and sisters” in Christ.

Death of a Sales Woman

I was a great student, but a terrible evangelist. I lived in my head, but couldn’t really express what I knew to other people. I’ve always been terrible at sales, so it stands to reason I wasn’t going to be very effective at selling Jesus, salvation, or Christianity. I just couldn’t bring myself to tell people they were going to hell, even if I believed it. That just seemed unnecessarily cruel and hateful. I didn’t want to be known as “one of those” Christians. The ones everyone runs away from because of constantly condemning people. So I tried to “live by example,” which was also a disaster. I wasn’t the picture of a happy, effervescent believer who was all sunshine, joy, and grace. That just wasn’t my personality at the time. I skewed more melancholy, so exhibiting the “joy of the Lord” felt phony. I tried to fake that I had some measure of joy when I really didn’t.

The Perfection Trap

Much of my melancholy stemmed from trying to live out a Christian lifestyle and trying to fit into the “Perfect Christian” mold. It was impossible. I knew it was impossible, but I tried anyway despite how much depression over took me. This pressure to be a perfect Christian every where I go because people were “watching” me was a nightmare. It’s just another facet of control. And it stifled my true growth as a person because I was busy trying to live up to some ideal I could never reach.

And this admonishment to always be an “example”–be an “example” in your class, at the grocery store, at your job, at the gas station, at the car wash, etc. Trying to be an “example” means that you are always “on.” You can never be your true self because you’re expending so much energy trying to be a perfect “Christ-like” version that is unrealistic and unsustainable.

Jesus Won’t Fix It

You see, being a Christian didn’t actually solve that many problems in my life. Instead, it created problems because trying to live up to a Christian ideal always put me at odds with my true self. And the problems that Christianity created could not be solved through the religion. Christianity didn’t really provide adequate coping techniques for life’s ups and downs. It just pushed more Jesus, Bible reading, prayer, churchgoing, and witnessing. Christianity didn’t really help me with the common issues young people experience.

Christianity didn’t help me get over a break-up, it didn’t relieve my depression, and it didn’t really help me get good grades. Hard work did. Christianity set the bar so high in all areas of my life, it was inevitable I experienced the sting of failure when I didn’t reach my elevated expectations. Christianity didn’t help me live the perfect flawless life. It just shined a bright light on how hopelessly imperfect I was. Some people would say that was the holy spirit convicting me. That was

Thorn in My Flesh

Christianity set the bar so high in all areas of my life, it was inevitable I experienced the sting of failure when I didn’t reach my elevated expectations. Christianity didn’t help me live the perfect flawless life. It just shined a bright light on how hopelessly imperfect I was. Some people would say that was the Holy Spirit convicting me. That was God humbling me so I wouldn’t become full of myself. It was the thorn in my flesh I endured because I thought I was supposed to live with it. I thought having all those thorns of depression, sadness, and melancholy were my certification badge that I was a true Christian. Because so many of the Christian greats also suffered depression–Charles Spurgeon comes to mind. I just didn’t realize that the depression was because of my religious beliefs, not because of life’s circumstances.

Jesus is not my boyfriend

I never developed an affinity to Jesus. Jesus was not my “best friend.” Some people even try to push him off as a “boyfriend” for single women. That always seemed weird to me. It just seemed…gross or something. Besides I wanted a real physical boyfriend, not an invisible, practically imaginary one. Jesus seemed far away and weird to me. I could never gauge his personality beyond what I read in the New Testament.

I identified more with the Father because I understood authoritarian personalities, even though I didn’t like them. But I understood the expectations of an overbearing parent.

Now the Holy Spirit was a mystery to me, but I always like the Holy Spirit. S/he seemed more up my alley. She was mystical, powerful, interesting. S/he seemed the most friendly out of the trinity. I felt the spirit. I felt her presence. I started designating the Holy Spirit as feminine because her attributes in the Bible were more feminine to me than masculine. Plus the all-male trinity always rubbed me the wrong way intuitively, logically, and even rationally. It just never made sense. It’s pretty clear from passages in Proverbs and some places in the New Testament that the Holy Spirit has a feminine persona and nature. But for some reason, this is ignored. I’m not going to delve that deeply into it here because I don’t worship the trinity at all anymore.

This is all I have for now. I might expound on this later.

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