Recover (From) Faith: Christmas Letters

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So when I arrived home after the holidays this year, I found a Christmas letter from a friend with a personalized note for me. I’ve been meaning to write about it for a while but I’ve held off to see if anything further developed on the story before I did. It’s possible it still will, but it’s seeming less likely and I’ve decided to just go ahead.

This friend is someone that I met at my former church. She and her husband (we’ll call them Mary and Joseph just for fun) are extremely kind people, in fact I would say they are examples of the best that evangelical Christianity has to offer in many ways. They are extremely openhearted and warm, they bring people into their lives quickly, they love those around them with great sincerity. Their faith is an integral part of their lives. When I met them I was at the tail end of a relationship with my parents and they were both very kind to me. Mary in particular took me under wing in a very sweet way and that meant a lot to me. I very much needed someone to mother me at the time.

When I realized I no longer believed, she was one of the people I emailed. It was awkward? We talked about it a little but not a lot. In the last couple of years we’ve fallen into a strange place — kind-of how I had always imagined how things would be with my parents if I had parents who were more just everyday Christians and less narcissistic and abusive in their reactions. We mostly just avoided it. We talked about a lot of other things. I could always tell she was uncomfortable and I didn’t want to make her uncomfortable but I also didn’t want to not talk about my life… it was just difficult. Needless to say, I haven’t seen her as much in the last few years.

So the note she sent me basically said that she had really enjoyed seeing me over the summer but that it was awkward. It was awkward because there was a lot she wanted to say to me but never did, that she felt like God had been presented in the wrong way to me and she wanted to do it better, that she kept hoping I would see the error in my ways basically. She sent me an article by Rachel Held Evans and hoped maybe I would read it, and maybe I would read her book and we could talk about it.

I had a lot of conflicting feelings about this note. On the one hand, I honestly thought it was quite brave of her to be so open about her feelings like that. It’s not easy to talk about those things. Also it made me realize that considering where we stopped talking, there was probably a lot she didn’t know. After all, when I first sent out those emails I just didn’t have it in me to say “I just don’t believe in God at all anymore.” I wasn’t sure that was true. I wasn’t sure what was true exactly. So from how I phrased it at the time, it did seem like maybe it could be a phase. I could see that.

On the other hand, it is so frustrating. It’s so frustrating to have my experiences discounted. It’s so frustrating to know that she is convinced (and very possibly always will be) that the only reason I left the church were because of bad experiences or because my parents sucked. It’s so invalidating, even when I know that she means well.

It’s true it started out that way. When I first ran, I was just running. But I wasn’t just running away, I was running towards things. And I found things, a lot of things. It’s hard because of course my background has contributed heavily to what I want to do and what I am interested in. But I don’t feel like I am damaged or broken. I feel like I found good things, like I had experiences that were wonderful and those are what shaped my current life. The bad things contributed but, like I’m sure is true for a lot of people in any system of belief, it’s really the good things that make you stay and push forward.

So I wrote her an email back. I tried to be loving and kind, because she is a loving and kind person and I care about her and she deserves that from me. I tried to explain what maybe I hadn’t said before. I tried to explain that this wasn’t on her shoulders, that I didn’t not believe in God because she had failed to show me something. I tried to be firm, to make it clear that I wasn’t coming back to the church but to leave the door open for conversation. I’d be happy to talk. I’d be happy to communicate. I’m happy to have discussions about this, even if they’re hard. I still love you. You’re still important to me.

I said at the end of the email that she could write back whenever she felt comfortable. It’s been a month now and she hasn’t. She still could, of course. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility. But I do feel the window is starting to close.

I am not angry at her, or even really hurt. I feel like our relationship has been stalling out for so long at this point that if it was over I could accept that without too much grief. But I am disappointed. There’s only one person from that life who I’m not related to that I’m still friends with, and she’s definitely what my parents would disdainfully call “a liberal Christian.”

So we’ll see. I’m not expecting anything anymore. It’s just sad and disappointing to know that this really was the breaking point for multiple people. I honestly didn’t think that would happen.

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