If you haven’t been reading my blog for very long, you might be surprised to know that this blog used to be very heavily focused on my faith. Back then, I wrote about my faith on a weekly basis, but I can’t remember the last time I wrote about it. It’s been a few years at least.
And the answer as to why I haven’t written about my faith is a simple one: I’ve been wrestling with what faith means to me, if I even believe in God, and how Christians are viewed in this culture today.
I should start from the beginning. Settle in, my friends. This is going to be a ride.
I grew up in a Pentecostal church. If you don’t know what that means, basically I grew up thinking someone interrupting a church service to “speak in tongues” was totally normal. I grew up thinking everyone danced in the aisles and front of the church during worship. I grew up thinking I wasn’t “saved” enough if I wasn’t slain in the Spirit whenever a pastor prayed over me. (“Slain in the Spirit” basically means falling to the ground because you’re so overcome by the power of the Holy Spirit; or, if you’re me, it’s because you don’t want to be seen as “unholy” so you fall down by your own power.)
My grandparents were the pastors of my children’s church, and so we faithfully attended church every Sunday morning. We also typically attended church on Sunday night and Wednesday night. That was my life throughout my entire childhood and most of my teenage years. It’s important to note here that my dad never attended church with my mom, my brother, and me. He did not believe he needed church to be a Christian, which is true, but I’m not so sure he is/was a Christian. Mostly because of the way he used to make fun of my mom for attending church. So I had that dichotomy: my mom, a strong Christian woman who took us to church, and my dad, a nonbeliever who made fun of everything that had to do with Christianity.
In retrospect, my dad’s bullying ways is probably what led me to become an even stronger Christian. And, in truth, having my faith helped me through some of my more troubling years of childhood when my dad was at his worst. There’s something comforting about faith when times are tough.
My faith was a huge part of my identity from the time I was young and throughout my early twenties. I was fully invested in everything the church preached: I didn’t curse, dressed modestly, believed sex outside of marriage was sinful, didn’t listen to secular music or read books that didn’t have Christian themes. I wore a “True Love Waits” ring on my left ring finger for years and felt pride in the fact that I had never “given up my special gift” for some random guy. I was highly judgmental of people who didn’t follow the Christian faith. I believed that the only path to happiness was by being a believer. I didn’t believe in gay rights and was staunchly pro-life.
It’s comical to write all of this out, honestly, because it reminds me of a time when I was deeply unhappy. I wasn’t stretching myself and trying to find different viewpoints. I was stuck in a white conservative Christian bubble where things were strictly black and white. Gray areas did not exist.
So, what shifted? Because it’s obvious that I don’t necessarily prescribe to this same set of beliefs anymore. I’m more liberal, for one thing, and I can honestly say that it was the actions of Christians in my circle and the way they so easily supported Donald Trump for president that pushed me over the edge.
But truthfully, I was nearing that edge way before then.
I quickly became disenchanted with the church in my mid-twenties. It started when I tried joining church groups and was ignored. It’s always my worst nightmare – to push myself outside my comfort zone and join a social group alone, only to be completely ignored the entire time I’m there. I didn’t know about my introversion and social anxiety before then, so I thought it was just me. I thought I was good enough for the church. I wasn’t holy enough or friendly enough or pretty enough or skinny enough. And when this happened over and over again, it was easy to believe it was me and not them.
That’s when the cracks in my faith started to appear.
After not finding a place in my church, I started attending church less and less and subsequently, started to read my bible and pray less and less. I was still a believer. I still yearned for God, but it was less important to me. I didn’t think I was holy enough for Him.
And that’s when I really started to examine my faith and what it meant to me. What does being a Christian mean to me, personally? Do I even really want this life?
Every time I opened my bible, my guilt jumped out at me. There was just something about being told, over and over again, that I am a sinner and the only way to make up for my sinful nature is to believe in God that started rubbing me the wrong way. I couldn’t get away from this idea that I am a sinner, I have always been a sinner, and I will always be a sinner. This is really the basic tenant of Christianity, and it seemed like every time I opened my bible, I would learn about a different way I was a sinner and needed God.
Every time I did something that went against the faith, I felt this enormous amount of guilt. It could be as simple as reading a romance novel or as massive as masturbating (yes, I’m getting really real here). The guilt followed me everywhere and I honestly believed I was the only one who wrestled with my faith like this.
I’m not, of course. It’s the simple truth of the faith journey is that we all battle against our “sinful nature,” but what if… I just didn’t have to battle anymore? What if I just let myself do the things I wanted to do – things that, mind you, aren’t hurting anyone and actually bring me great pleasure – without the guilt I always attached to them?
It’s a question that followed me for years. There wasn’t a light bulb moment where I just stopped battling against my faith. It was gradual. I stopped attending church. I stopped reading my bible. I stopped reading Christian fiction. I stopped listening to Christian music. I stopped praying.
Gradually, I stopped battling against my faith. I just began to live my life without the guilt. It was freeing in the way my faith never was.
And then the 2016 presidential election happened and I saw Christians throw their support for a man who went against everything I thought they believed in. A man who bragged about sexual assault and didn’t believe in helping those less fortunate and made misogynistic comments about his opponent and other women. A man who wasn’t faithful to his wives. A man who said terrible things about other people. That is who you want to support?
It was the beginning of the end for me. I couldn’t reconcile my faith with the way the Christian community was behaving. If that is what it meant to be a Christian, I didn’t want any part of it.
So what’s the state of my faith today? The truth is, I don’t really know.
My faith looks nothing like it did when I was growing up. Even still, I take so much comfort in faith, in bible stories, in hymns, in sermons. I believe that God exists, but that He takes different forms for everyone and it’s not my job to judge that. I miss being a part of a church family, but I’ve been burned so many times by the church that I’m not sure I have it in me to try again, even with a church that ascribes to my beliefs. There’s also the fact that I have social anxiety and joining a new church is downright terrifying for me.
But also, I don’t want my faith to be a defining part of who I am. For most of my childhood, it was my main identifier and it’s really hard when your main identifying characteristic is something you’re actually bad at. And something that makes you feel guilty nearly all the time.
At my core, I’m not a Christian. I’m just a woman who is trying her best to be a good person. And not a good person because of my Christianity, but a good person because it’s the right thing to be. A woman who tries to fight an administration that doesn’t embody any of Christ’s teachings. A woman who tries to help out those in need as much as she can, accept everyone as they are, and keep her mind open to differing viewpoints.
My faith today is less about guilt and trying to live up to the impossible standards of the perfect Christian woman. My faith today is to simply be the best me I can be. To honor my needs, to love people where they are, and to live in a way that makes me proud.