Okay, so my initial plan was to write a blog post about how the Church addresses sex before marriage. It’s kind of a heavy topic, difficult to write about without controversy. It’s also a topic that is close to my heart, because at the age of 21 I fell in love and decided that waiting ‘till marriage was not only not what I wanted, but no longer felt right. Something about the fear attached to this decision didn’t sit right with me, the pressure, the anxiety…I started to wonder if we’d got some of this a little messed up. Matthew and I have been together for nearly 4 years and for many people that fact helps them to feel less uncomfortable about my decision/life choice. Some have also accepted it by deciding that I am essentially married just without the legal shizz. Unsurprisingly (as I’m told) to most people who knew me, my relationship with Matthew coincided with the deconstruction of my faith, which is what I want to discuss today (the sex stuff is for the next post).
What I want to do with this post is shed a little light on my story, and to open up the opportunity for conversation and discussion, whether that be with me or between yourselves. I feel the narrative has stayed the same for a little too long and that there is more we could be talking about. In a new way.
So, to kick this post off I firstly want to say that when I started to lose my faith, I didn’t have a framework for how to cope with it. I had never imagined being in that situation and although some people may have attributed it to my relationship with a non-Christian; the truth is that all of the doubts and uncertainties I started to face, were already in me. I just didn’t have anyone calling me out on my integrity with my beliefs. What I mean by that, is that I was surrounded by Christians who were obviously overjoyed by my faith walk, and although I was definitely encouraged to question, there were certain questions I hadn’t ever really heard the Christians in my life ask, and I therefore didn’t feel particularly free or comfortable to ask them myself. I feared some of the questions to be honest and although I was aware that they were brewing, I think that I kept them out of mind as much as possible, to avoid facing them, or even acknowledging their existence. In fact, if I ever sensed my Christian friends or family battling with some of these questions, it made me somewhat uncomfortable…and perhaps a little irritated and definitely afraid. I’m not sure I had loads of patience for lack of faith in others (which I’m really sorry about) so when I started to feel that in myself, I definitely felt kind of alone.
When I met Matthew he was curious, and he asked me the tough questions. Not to destabilise my faith but to understand. Speaking to Matthew now about this time in our relationship, I realise that he actually worried about me losing my faith…he didn’t want to be in anyway responsible and in fact loved that I was a person who thought about issues, who had beliefs and was passionate. But he could sense this inner turmoil that I was battling with, and he lovingly encouraged me to face it. Ultimately he wanted me to be happy with my decision…and at that point I’m not sure I was.
If you were wandering, some of the questions I’m talking about are these…
Why are we so certain that we are right and that other religions are wrong? ‘We’ being Christians. This question came about as I began to really consider whether I’d be a Christian had I been born into a Hindu or Muslim family. If not…
Is the way Christians have evangelised moral? This became an issue for me as I began to understand the way the West colonised certain nations and enforced our faith on others.
Is there actually a God? This isn’t something I had truly allowed myself to explore, because the fear of disbelief was too heavy…I honestly didn’t know how to exist without a faith in God. If we don’t allow ourselves to truly consider the possibility that we might be wrong and God might not exist - is our faith authentic?
Do demonic/evil forces actually exist? Growing up to fear/avoid certain people, shops, books, media because of the potential demonic forces at play within these spheres now seems a little strange/unsettling. I started to wonder if it wasn’t about the demonic; but was actually an unconscious decision made out of the fear of impressionable children being swayed in their faith?
Does God actually intervene in our daily lives? This essentially was a question about prayer… Eg. Does God grant one person a car parking space and not another. Does he rescue one from abuse and not the other. And if he does, then can he really be ‘good’? (I realise this is an age old question, but for the first time I decided to ask it without having already made up my mind that I would give God the benefit of the doubt, which is how I had approached it in the past.)
Losing my faith was largely about the religious structures, but it wasn’t entirely that…yes, I found the human aspect of Christianity disturbing and full of contradictions, but I can’t deny that I was really struggling to believe that God actually existed. This caused strong feelings which, until recently I couldn’t define. I now know that I was experiencing grief. I was heart broken. Truly scared and lost because I no longer knew who I was. I lost my identity and felt like I was losing my community. Simply continuing going to Church every Sunday wasn’t working, I found myself deconstructing every song, every preach and every prayer. I was becoming cynical and didn’t know how to be there anymore. I stopped coming to church as much, but not completely (part of me really wanted to defy that expectation-I guess I wanted to prove something) I held onto the hope that I wouldn’t lose my family (that being my instant family and my Church family) and I began to believe that perhaps the journey I was going on would help others in the future. I wanted it to be about more than just me, because I truly felt like there needed to be a shift so that others, like me, could experience this whole process differently.
There are more questions, of course, but I’m sure you get the point….At times it was too much and I had to put my questions on the shelf and try to enjoy life without the weight of attempting to re-establish my faith. I was loving my relationship with Matthew but that of course brought it’s own challenges due to it being my first serious relationship. I was also in my final year of university and attempting to work hard and also enjoy it. Which is why it’s taken me so long to be in a place where I can even write this blog post without being riddled with fear and anxiety about how it will be received. It’s also the first time I trust myself to write without being full of bitterness. I really really hope that sentiment comes across. Because I am not bitter. I know why certain people reacted the way they did, because I have also reacted in that way. I am not angry about what I felt or experienced. But, I believe that as a faith, Christianity has a huge amount to give. It just also has a huge amount of power and opportunity to cause harm. What I want is for people to be open minded enough to start having the discussions that make us uncomfortable.
It’s not such an issue for the younger generation, topics aren’t so taboo and don’t tend to cause walls to go up so quickly…this isn’t always seen as a good thing. But I believe that it is. We shouldn’t be afraid to think, or to speak, ever. As my dad always said, ‘God isn’t insecure’ so we shouldn’t be either.
To finish (thanks for getting this far if you have) until recently, I had no idea if what I was feeling was okay. I sensed that I was on the right path…because surely facing my questions and living with integrity rather than faking it is a good thing. But, I honestly didn’t know of any other Christian or faith structures who were discussing these questions in a way I could relate to. I really wasn’t interested in being ‘convinced’. And although I read books and articles, trying to reconcile my faith with something…nothing was working and I was starting to think that maybe I would always feel this way, a little alone with an undeniable space between myself and my Church community/family. It scared me but I was starting to accept it. Until, some good friends linked me to a podcast called The Liturgists (add link) … it changed everything. For the first time, in 4 years, I actually felt excited about my faith walk. I felt hope. And I actually wanted to discuss it with others, in fact, when coming home recently for 10 days I’m pretty sure I spoke about the podcast with anyone who would listen. That’s not to say that I no longer have questions or that I have now found my faith again BUT I can finally reconcile what I am feeling and thinking with others who are intellectually, creatively and spiritually approaching the same questions I have. They seem to be bridging a gap between the secular and scientific world rather than ignoring or fearing it. It’s been blowing my mind.
This has been lengthy, I truly hope you take it well, whoever decides to read it.