I used to hear a statistic all the time in youth group growing up. They used to tell us that about 70% of kids that grow up in the church lose their faith when they get into college. I remember I would look around the room and imagine my friends not being beside me at church anymore. I would think about what it would be like for them to abandon the faith that we had learned so much about and dedicated so much of our lives to already. I imaged how hurt I would be and how I would try to redeem them. I thought up a lot of scenarios in my head about what would happen if someone I knew stopped calling themselves a Christian. But I never imagined what it would be like if that person was me.
Maybe that’s melodramatic of me. I still go to church; not as frequently as I used to, but I still go. But I’m not as involved. It doesn’t feel the same. I don’t read my Bible much anymore, but I think of it often, although it’s not quite the same. I’ve been trying to pray again, that’s almost been working lately, but it’s not like it used to be. When Christians talk it sometimes feels very foreign to me. I’ve struggled with my place in the church for a long time now. I struggle with feeling like I won’t be accepted for all that I am. I struggle with feeling like my doubts are a burden to those around me. Sometimes, I worry that my doubts will consume me.
I used to attribute 2016 to being the year I realized I was falling away; but looking back on it now, I realized that was only when I was able to acknowledge it. Really, it had begun years before. It’s been a long journey. A long, weary, journey. It’s exhausting. Lonesome. Frustrating. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve mumbled that I want to die just because I would rather die than try to find it in me to sift through the years of trauma, pain, confusion, and conflict that’s raging inside of me. I struggle with reconciling my faith that I grew up with alongside what I believe now. I don’t know where my pain fits into my theology, or how others suffering does. More than anything, I’m afraid to be wrong. I’m afraid God isn’t real and I’ve wasted my life talking to myself. I’m so scared to die and that to be it. Sometimes I want to die just so the mystery will be over. I just want to know. Tell me what the truth is. It’s been a long haul. I feel like I’ve been here and gotten out of this same hole a million times. But each day I find myself lost in doubt, it feels like the very first time. It feels utterly suffocating.
No one in youth group ever prepared me to lose my faith. No one told me what it would be like when suddenly all of these concepts that you learned in Sunday school don’t make sense anymore. They didn’t tell me that the world won’t make sense once you’ve seen enough pain. I was never taught how to deal with prayers that don’t work. It’s earth shattering. It’s devastating. It feels like the foundation you stood on is giving way. I’ve felt like that for years now. I don’t know what to make of the arguments with freewill or predestination or what that looks like in terms of prayer. I don’t know how hell works because while it has to exist for God to give us the chance to love him, he must give us the chance to reject him, but at the same time, if the other option is harmful, we can’t really give a meaningful “yes.” I wrestle with knowing how much faith I need to have in order for it to be enough. I don’t know how to reconcile my progressive beliefs with some biblical passages and what I know of God’s character. I don’t know why God says yes to some of my prayers but says no to other people’s. I don’t know how much of my life is the product of God’s hand and how much of it is the consequences of my own actions.
Maybe these things are arbitrary to you. But to me, they’ve kept me awake at night. They’ve rocked my life for years now. They’ve changed who I am completely. For a while I stopped calling myself a Christian. I go back and forth with the label. It depends on the day. If people ask me when I “got saved” I ask what they mean by that. It’s a process I’m not sure I could ever define. What am I being saved from? Why? I don’t know. I don’t think of my testimony the way that I used to. I don’t think it was that one day when I was 8 years old and seeing demons in the trees. I think of it as how I wrestle with God on a daily basis. I think about all the years I’ve built up my faith only to tear it down again and start anew.
I’ll be honest, some days I resent most Christians. I see their faith and how it all seems so together. I envy those who know God exists. But when I stop and think about it, I realize how I feel sorry for them. I feel so sorry for people who never had to deconstruct their faith or had to go through the brutal, messy project of tearing their own faith to shreds under a microscope. I feel sorry for anyone who thinks they really have all the answers. I used to think my story was the day I accepted Jesus, but now I’m starting to think of it as the years I’ve spent pushing away Jesus, and going to find him again. Sometimes it’s a bit like tug-of-war. We go back and forth; I pull away, God pulls me right back. Sometimes I want to let go and watch him fall. But at the end of the day, I’m trying to be more okay with the answers I don’t know and to fall in love with the beautiful, but messy, process. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
The ocean of doubt is hard to navigate, but I think it’s helped me far more than certainty ever did. Certainty made me stuck up and conceited. It made me think that I had truth and I had power and I was the only who was responsible with giving it to the world. But having doubts made me listen. I didn’t know the answers, so I listened to people when they spoke in hopes of hearing the answers there. I didn’t just listen to people who look like me; but people from all different walks of life. I just learned to listen. I wasn’t always perfect at it, but on the times I did it well, it was rewarding.
I keep coming to the conclusion that I don’t know. I don’t know all the weird nuances of my faith but it has to be enough. It has to be enough because if it’s all in how much faith you have, I’m sure I’ll never have enough. I don’t know if I’m a Christian anymore, but I’m done letting that thought scare me. I don’t know if hell exists. I don’t know how much God is in control. Sometimes I doubt he even exists at all. But I know he’s there. Somehow. I know I believe in Jesus. I believe in his radical love and how he did the coolest things on earth. I love how he was a crazy feminist and let women tell the world when he rose on the third day. I love that he let women touch his feet with their hair. I love that all his friends were broke fisherman and tax collectors. He taught so much about loving immigrants and the poor and I think that despite our bastardization of church, it was a great concept. I keep going because despite how much harm the church has caused me, it’s been one of the only anchors in my life. Church has been like a really fucked up family to me; we fight, we disagree, we hurt one another, we try again. We love one another. We are there for one another. We support one another. Sometimes I wish it was different; but that wasn’t for me to decide. We should always strive to be better, but I think we’ll always be a bit messy.
Sometimes it doesn’t make any sense. That’s actually most days. Most day I want to scream “fuck it!” Because no one told me it would be easy, but no one told me it would be this damn hard. Sunday school always made it sound so simplistic. But it’s not. It’s gritty and scary and lonely. But that’s okay. Did you get that? It’s okay to not know what you believe and it’s okay to question everything you were ever taught.
I’ve come to the conclusion that people who grow up in the church need to have two faith revelations in their lifetimes; the first is when Jesus becomes real to them and they do the prayer and accept it. The second is when they realize they think everything is bullshit, scrap it all, and find out who Jesus is on their own terms. Sometimes that means leaving the church they grew up in. Sometimes in means reading theologians that disagree with what you were taught. Sometimes, and I would even most times, it’s becoming an agnostic for a while. It may takes only months, but sometimes it takes years of wandering before you find a solid ground again. I don’t necessarily believe that doubts stop, but I think you become more okay with their presence. They do become less frightening. Over time you start to realize that doubt has more power to shape you and your beliefs than faith ever could. Doubt is natural and good. I don’t think Christians talk about that enough. You can bring many questions that border on heresy in the common church; that freaks people out. But don’t let it do that to you. Somewhere in the bible it says that you’ll find God when you seek him with all your heart. So go into the deep shadows of doubt. Don’t shy away from the desert of fear. I think when you do, you’ll find out there are other people in there, and many people who went before you as well.
For me, this realization came when I got connected to the Exvangelical community on Twitter. It sounds artificial, but I mean this. There is a whole community of people that I get to talk to that have gone before me in this process. They’ve wrestled with my same doubts and fears about God and they’ve come out alive. Many I disagree with still, but our struggles and research have brought us to different conclusions, and I’m learning to not let that worry me. Faith must evolve in order to survive. Your faith can’t be like your parents. It has to be something you choose on your own terms. That often means leaving it.
I know that was a lot like rambling, but I hope some of it resonated with you. I wish there was a more clear cut conclusion. But there isn’t one. Sometimes you just need to go out and find the answers on your own. Everyone has their own journey, but for those of us on the same path at the moment, I hope you felt less alone. This is my little encouragement to speak up about your doubts. There are always going to be people who get worried and question your salvation and think you’re wrong. People will always panic when you start to question everything. But hold tight. You’re not the first one and you certainly won’t be the last.