I think it’s unhealthy and disingenuous to walk away from something as major and all encompassing as faith and pretend not only that it’s easy but pretend that there aren’t things you miss. Look, overall the walking away has been a relief, like finally breathing for the first time in my life. That’s a true thing. But there are moments, times, when it doesn’t feel like that. They’re smaller than the other times but it’s not insignificant and they still count as part of the experience. You can’t lay down so much of your life and walk away without a twinge. I think probably if I could do that I would have bigger problems. So I’m going to talk a bit about some of the things I miss and what that’s like. And David has actually agreed to do a guest post that I’m going to use to close out this series on what he misses, so it won’t just be me talking for once. So to begin.
I guess what I’ll start with is community. This is a strange and complicated one for me. I was never the person to be intensely active in my church. Actually I tended to be very suspicious of the church, probably as a result of a lot of my growing up experience. It was always hard for me to trust a church community. But in the last two years or so before I left, I had actually started to change that. It’s weird timing in some ways, trusting the church as I moved away from trusting God. On the other hand, it makes a certain amount of sense. I was becoming less of a Christian and more of a humanist. My ability to trust people was growing. And during that time I found that there were many people within my home church who were wonderful people. Interesting, loving, kind, unique people. I was delighted to be part of their lives, for many of them I wanted to be more part of their lives. But now that’s gone. The thing we had in common is gone and it has been difficult to maintain even the few actual friendships I had from there (and some I’ve lost).
I liked that we were so different. I liked that being in the church gave me the valid opportunity to be friends or at least passing acquaintances with these people who were so different from me, who often believed such different political things from me, who had so many different ideas and thoughts. I worry about only making friends with people who share my outlook because it’s easier, because it’s more comfortable, because it’s… I don’t know. Maybe part of growing up? The church offered me a place where we were all in something together. Vastly imperfect, absolutely. But I genuinely felt for a while like maybe I could have a place there, like maybe I had important things to add to the conversation. And of course the conversation was always important because things had eternal significance. I don’t really miss that part, but I miss those very kind, earnest people. I miss being part of their lives, even if it was just for a brief while. I miss the variety of an even remotely communal existence. I miss feeling like I fit into that puzzle somewhere. I never even quite got there but I guess I miss the sense of a possibility of belonging.
I suppose part of the puzzle is what do you replace that with? Do you replace that with anything at all? Part of the excitement of striking out on your own is that you’re striking out on your own. I’m not necessarily trying to stick with a group in the same way and I’m more free to follow what I believe intrinsically to be true rather than trying to mold myself to something else. So where does community fit in that? I have more support than I’ve ever had in my life. People I trust implicitly, people who are genuinely amazing and patient with me. I do not want to downplay that because it means the world to me. But they are people I chose or we mutually chose each other. Found family, so to speak. As such they tend to be people I speak the same language with, agree on most core things. Is there a place in that for people who challenge me in other ways? I go to school but I am in a social work program. Sure, there are occasional people where you wonder how they stumbled in but for the mostpart, we tend to be in agreement with each other on major particulars. I work at my practicum but… you know. It’s a domestic violence and sexual assault agency. We tend to be agreeing on many things.
I used to give my parents a lot of grief for only surrounding themselves with people who were like them. Other Christians, other people who thought like them, talked like them, believed like them. I told them it was a cop-out, that what was the point of living your life never talking to anyone who might make you uncomfortable? I guess I just want to be sure I don’t fall into the same trap in the other direction. It’s funny because the church is often where people go to hide from the world, to surround themselves by people just like them. But in those last few years I got to be the person who made people uncomfortable, who challenged them. And being friends with them challenged me, made me uncomfortable, helped me remember to listen, helped me remember that these people had faces and names, were people I cared about even when we might disagree on things I was finding increasingly important. I don’t want to lose that. It seems like it’s all too easy to become comfortable no matter what side of the fence you’re on. I guess I miss pushing and feeling pushed. There’s something unique about the grace I found in that kind of situation and I don’t think it had anything to do with god. So what other ways do you maintain a connection with other people, people who don’t think like you? I guess it’s something I have to feel out as I go.