When I think or I type these types of things I usually sandwich them between “I know this isn’t true, but…” and all the examples or points that contradict what I’m feeling.
But I’m not going to do that today. It’s incredibly hard not to, but for some reason it seems important this time. I think part of it is because I spent a majority of my life scared to questionmy religion and my faith. Not scared. Terrified. Although I’m always in at least a slight existential crisis, I had this very rough time my sophomore and junior year of college. My wonky brain (for my new friends, that’s what I call the dance my anxiety and depression do together) was the worst it’s ever been, only rivaled by my sophomore year of high school. The wonky brain drove my existential crisis and my existential crisis drove my wonky brain. It’s hard to decide, even now, which was the original trouble-maker. I’m an open book about that time in my life if you want to know more because you think it might be helpful (or you’re just nosy, it’s fine), but it’s not really the point right now, so I’ll move on.
I brought it up because back then I would stay up into the wee hours of the night, sometimes even until it started get light outside. Admittedly, a factor in that was the fact I was living alone and have had a phobia of someone breaking in since I was child, but a lot of the reason I couldn’t relax was because I was starting to have real, big, looming, ever-growing doubts about Christianity, about God. And I was too scared to fall asleep without having that perfect faith I thought I was supposed to have, because I honestly was petrified I would be banished to Hell if I died in the middle of the night. It seems preposterous now, silly and kind of sad.
I realize now how unhealthy that was, but the fear was very real to me back then. Did my anxiety make it worse, of course? But did the culture of wrath-based, guilt-driven teachings with unconditional love as an afterthought help? No. Am I exaggerating a little about the teaching? Probably. Am I overlooking the positives of the culture I was a part of? Oh, definitely. But, again, that’s not what this is about. I just need you to imagine a young woman rocking back and forth in her bed at 3AM, trying to physically shake all the bad thoughts out of her head, asking God to please forgive her for being so ungrateful and foolish and unfaithful. That is fucked up. And is why I don’t want play down what I’m feeling now.
Because I wonder if I had ever interacted with someone genuinely struggling with their faith, if they had been open about it, if they hadn’t been too ashamed or too afraid of being judged or written off, maybe I would have been a little more merciful on myself back then. Maybe I would have considered that God’s full of mercy too and not chomping at the bit so badly that he would jump at the opportunity to condemn me for wanting some answers. I realize as I wrote this that maybe I’m coming off a little accusatory, but I truly don’t mean to point fingers at or even be referring to anyone or any group in particular. (It’s possible there were open people speaking up at that time, but I missed it.) What I mean is I want to be for someone else what I could have used back then, that’s all.
And if it means that someone might let themselves off the hook so they can breathe and sleep and stop beating themselves up all the time and no longer hold it all in and stop feeling that insatiable loneliness, then I will lay it all out there, even if I get judged or misunderstood. It is worth it to me. I believe truth-seeking is sacred and truth-seekers will find truth (after usually excruciating and long journeys).
So now that I’ve finished that introduction–which I’m pretty sure will actually be three times as long as what I even sat down to confess, here we go:
Sometimes, this week being one of the worst, I read or I think about the Bible, where God or a psalmist or someone brags about how God cares about the poor, how he defends the weak, how he frees the oppressed, how he hears the widow, and takes in the orphan…and I think what a joke.
It was a lot easier to agree to all that before I worked with refugees. Before I worked with women who have survived militia groups coming and raping every woman in the village and men who had lost limbs and children who had witnessed unthinkable violence and fathers who had lost daughters and single mothers who are falling apart trying to support their son with the what few shitty cards they’ve been dealt and… something in me feels just a little inconsolable. And angry, though mostly sad and kind of tired. Some days I feel like all I’m holding are loose ends.
That’s all I really wanted to say. Those two measly paragraphs. Without the “I know it isn’t true, but…” and devil’s advocacy surrounding them. But of course I felt like they needed a 54 page dissertation as the prologue. I’m not used to letting my questions be what they are, for everyone to see before I know how the answers play out so I can immediately comfort anyone worried about me. It makes me squirm and it makes other people squirm and it’s not fun for anyone. But in my gut I knew I needed to do it, even if only for myself (though, like I said, hopefully someone else finds it at least a little #relatable).
And, you know, I’m fairly certain if I keep looking for answers in all this, I will find them. But if I don’t keep looking, if I try to convince myself all is well when so much doesn’t make sense, I know I will shrivel up and die inside. I guess that’s what I’ve picked up on in trying to follow Jesus in these last few years, even if it’s sometimes at distance with a hint of skepticism in my eyes. You have to be honest and raw, even if it hurts and it’s embarrassing and people are annoyed. And if I can’t be sincere with myself and with God, then what’s the point?
So, my friends, keep seeking. And please don’t be shy. Let me know if you’ve been in a similar boat and where it ended up landing. I believe you have wisdom to share with me, no matter what your beliefs are. Or reach out if you’re still in that boat. You’re not alone.