I remember the encounter well.
“Don’t you guys ever wonder if you’re just a product of the culture you’ve grown up in?”
The hurt and curiosity in his eyes was strategically shielded by anger. He was upset that we were meeting at his apartment and talking about an ancient text he evidently thought was ridiculous. We were just trying to be good Christians and engage him in conversation, but we all cowered back in fear. At the end I told him I was available if he ever wanted to grab coffee and talk about it more. He rolled his eyes and brushed me off and I left feeling hurt and what’s more, that I’d failed. Not in winning him over, but in being able to combat his question with any truth. His question haunted me. it was disturbing to me. What if I was just a product of the culture of faith in which I’d grown up?
I’ve been a leader in the churches I have attended, leading small groups, serving on the worship teams, serving on the welcome team for a long time. I served on different teams and honestly loved it. But last year I got to a point of feeling burnt out. Perhaps I wouldn’t have reached that point if I had been courageous enough to admit my faith was on it’s last legs. My faith was looking more and like a desperate last ditch effort to dig my way out of extreme depression than a genuine belief system.
I had come to a point of realizing that no one KNOWS about god. No one KNOWS the truth – and if they claim they do, they were sure as hell lying. Though I knew god didn’t orchestrate the evil in the world, I knew he certainly had to allow it for the sake of free will. Somehow that didn’t sit well with me – and still doesn’t. Believing in a good god was seeming more impossible with each passing day. Believing he was involved in our lives and that prayer actually made a difference were statements that my brain could no longer compute.
On a more selfish, personal level, I was angry at how my life was turning out. If God worked everything “together for my good” why did I feel so miserable? I knew there were others who suffered so much worse physically or emotionally than I had, but from my perspective, what I’d been going through was unbearable. I had begged for god to remove these doubts of mine for years now; to “help my unbelief “. I pleaded with him to give me answers. The god of my childhood had abandoned me despite his promises to his people in that ancient text.
And all the while I kept examining that question … am I just a product of the culture I grew up in? Was I brave enough to take a good hard look at this faith system and others? To detach myself from the faith I’d so proudly proclaimed as my own? I worried about what others would think. I especially worried what my family would think.
Luckily, I decided to be vulnerable with my family about the state of my faith and they accepted me despite my aura of ever-present gloom. (Shocker : P ) And though I no longer considered my relationship with Christ or even god something worth pursuing, I’ve been watching how they’ve been living theirs out. They’ve been so selfless in helping me. I still don’t really understand any of it. Here I am – the kid who left town 9 years ago and never looked back. But when my fast-paced life finally caught up with me, they took me in with open arms, offering to help in anyway they could. I was kicking and screaming all the way home. I refused to believe there was life outside of Los Angeles. I would rather die than to give up on my dream of “making it” as a screenwriter. They chose to love me through an intensely dark time, despite my obvious vanity and a personality that had morphed into something fairly shallow over the years.
Though I don’t know what I believe right now, I know what love looks like because of them. I know what family is. I know what home is. I know how grateful I am for making it through the darkness and for a healthier state of mind. I know how fervently they believe in Jesus Christ and the goodness of a god that is merciful and deserving of their praise, and it gives me hope that something like that exists.
It is weird to be on the other side of faith right now. I am working through it and I am finally praying again…to whom or what I don’t really know. I try to remind myself that god wouldn’t be god if you could define him, right? I’m learning to sit in the discomfort of believing in something I don’t understand, all the while being honest about my extreme doubts. And I guess at some element that is faith…?
I recognize that at the end of this journey, it’s very probable that I will wind up right where I started years ago with Christianity. If that means that I will live my life with integrity, love and acceptance of others in all walks of life I will be at peace with that. But whatever happens, I wanted to share this now.
It would be one thing to share this after I’ve come back to a faith of some sort, but in the age of social media when we are all putting our best (usually fake) foot forward, I’m deciding to be honest about my struggles. Call it depressing or say I’m airing my laundry on the internet or whatever you want.
This is my current struggle and it’s for those who are in a similar place. If you’re struggling in your faith or angry with god or considering other faiths, know you’ve got a friend. But more than that, know it’s okay and probably healthier to grasp the doubt, examine it fully and do some spiritual inventory. No one wants to accept a faith out of fear of spending an eternity in hell or of loosing social standing in your family or community.
I’m coming to believe this season of doubt and even a loss of faith will eventually make me more content and at peace with the world – and I hope it will do the same for you.