Recovering (from) Faith: Never Going Back

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There was a point fairly soon after everything fell apart that I knew I would never go back. I remember laying in the grass outside and thinking about what was expected of sheep returning to the fold. See, when I first left I didn’t really know what I was doing. And in the emails I sent to a few of my Christian friends I didn’t have the courage or total conviction yet to say that I was done with this. So I said that “the only way out was through” and I left open the possibility that this was me exploring something that I couldn’t leave alone anymore, left open the possibility that I might come back. Part of me wishes I hadn’t done that but at the time the idea of leaving it all behind entirely was so incomprehensible that I couldn’t really face it. And I certainly couldn’t face them with it. What I could say was that for now I had walked away. I did not explain how I felt like I could breathe for the first time in my life or how the world seemed like the most beautiful place I’d ever seen. I was contrite. I only showed my fear, not my exhilaration. I wasn’t looking to hurt anyone.

But there I was, lying in the grass and thinking about it. I thought about how much I had learned in only the few weeks or a month since I had taken those steps and what a different person I felt like. I thought about how I loved David and The Superhero and how much that relationship already meant to me and how much I knew I had left to learn from it. And I thought of my mother and in that moment I was sure I could never go back.

It’s not that I couldn’t be welcomed back after this – I absolutely could be. The truth is that the evangelical church loves a lost sheep returned and the more lost the better. My story would be sensational. A history of abuse, sex with multiple partners of both genders, I could probably up the drinking if I really wanted to. Look, we hear a lot of testimonies. People who claim that sensationalized ones aren’t more interesting are lying. I would say that almost anyone who claims they never felt the competition to have a better one is probably lying. Even Jesus didn’t spend much time talking about the 99 sheep who never left the fold; he talks about the rejoicing at finding the lost one. But there’s something implicit that you have to give up when you give your testimony. You give up the value of what you gained.

God pulled you out of hell on earth and sin. It’s a really confusing message if hell on earth and sin gave you anything positive and meaningful except how great God is and how not great you are.  Those are the lessons you are permitted to learn. Everything else was a lie from Satan. But I knew then and know even more now that that is quintessentially and demonstrably untrue. I am a different person than I was a year ago. My friendship/poly relationship with David has been one of the most challenging relationships of my entire life. I am a better communicator, I am a better friend. I am far more aware of my areas of weakness. I have worked harder on these things than at any other point in my life and nothing could ever make me stand up in front of anyone and say that was a lie. I have met incredible people this year and I know I will meet more. I have challenged myself in ways I never thought possible before and I am moving forward. Nothing could make me say that was wrong. I am a better person now than I was in June of last year. I refuse to say that God magically made “good come out of evil,” that the beautiful and amazing things I have experienced in the past year were bad. I knew I could never go back and say that the best choices I have ever made were mistakes. This would be called pride by most Christians I grew up with (and perhaps that contributes because I am proud of myself and think I deserve to be) but I primarily call it honesty.

You might wonder what this has to do with my mother. While my mother’s life and experiences have been extraordinarily different from my own, I still cannot help but see her as a hard line example of this. In her late teens and twenties, my mother was an alcoholic. However, I can only presume she was also other things. I know she had friends, I know she had a life. Maybe occasionally she even had fun. I say maybe because I know almost nothing about my mother’s life during that time. When she got clean and became a Christian she cut everything out of her life. She stopped listening to secular music, as far as I can tell she stopped seeing her friends. She never talks about it, except for bits I occasionally pulled out of her. She believed that what she learned from that life was to forget everything about that life. I know this is not the same, I am well aware that the life of an addict is not a happy place and that there may be a lot that my mother wants to forget. But I argue that forgetting has not made her happy, in fact it has done the opposite.

We are the same people. We learn from everything we do, whether we admit it or not. No matter how hard the line is we draw, we cannot shut out what happened to us. We can only make it meaningful or meaningless. “I found my way back to God” is not enough meaning for me. It is not tangible, it is not real. I have tangible, real things, things that I can point to and document from this past year in my life of “sin” and I argue that forgetting those things would make me so much less of a person.

This is not a hard argument that I could never come back to God for any reason under any circumstances. I don’t know that or what that means. I don’t feel highly motivated to pursue it at this point. But it is my case that I can never come back to the evangelical church. They don’t want my story and I’m not interested in being pulled back. There’s too much to do.

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