In my most recent counseling session, my counselor said she wasn’t sure if she should describe my experience with deconstructing faith as uphill or downhill. Here’s how I would describe it . . .
Four years ago, a meteor (that looked an awful lot like a faith crisis) came out of the blue and crashed into my life, leaving behind a ginormous crater I was supposed to dig my way out of. There was no defining moment – no death of a loved one, or traumatic injury, or life-altering event. The crater came packaged as a lot of little things that I didn’t realize were happening until after the impact.
In hindsight, I can identify some of those smaller things: I married my husband and realized how ill-fitting gender roles were for both of us. I was halfway through my Preaching and Church Leadership degree, and already exhausted by the arguments for why I shouldn’t be allowed in my field. My little sliver of marginalization opened my eyes to the experiences of people of color, disabled people, the LGBTQIA+ community, and other severely marginalized groups. This was also around the time that the narrative of hate and fear in evangelical circles became more prominent in the news.
When the meteor hit, it was as though everything I had been raised to believe got flipped on it’s head. It suddenly seemed wrong. Not only was the brokenness in the world more expansive than I first thought, but I suddenly realized that a not-so-small amount of Christians were contributing to it instead of fighting to heal it.
This, I knew, was not what I wanted to commit my life to. Not as a career path, or as a personal belief system.
I questioned everything. The words we use, the motives of chapel speakers, my class materials, the dynamics of my marriage, the embedded theology given to me by my family and church leaders…Nothing was safe, nothing was certain.
As someone who grew up with “Christian” as my central defining characteristic, to question the entirety of the Christian worldview was paralyzing. I didn’t know if I wanted to stay, but it felt like I couldn’t leave.
So as many people do, I faked it for as long as I could.
Eventually, that caught up with me. I had been working for a Christian organization for a year when I suddenly realized faking it wouldn’t work anymore. To stay, I would have to play a role that wasn’t true to myself – the role of someone who could overlook significant workplace issues, someone who prayed for numbers and not the best interest of individuals, someone who wasn’t in the middle of a faith crisis.
None of these things fit me, and I was so angry that my workplace made me feel like I had to play the part to begin with. Although I didn’t see it at the time, I think I was mostly angry that Christianity as a whole made me feel like I had to play a part that didn’t suit my personality, gifts, and passions.
What I needed more than anything was to break away completely from any obligation to be a certain type of Christian. I needed to get away from faith in order to figure out if it was worth coming back to. Or, to use the language I found helpful in counseling, I needed space to clean out the closet. I needed to choose what ideologies I wanted to keep, which ones had to go, clean up the dust on the shelves, vacuum the floor, and reorder what I believed to be true. And I especially needed to do it outside of the pressures of a Christian environment.
I’ve come to accept that we all revisit the need to clean out our closets over and over again throughout our lives.
We outgrow old clothing, discover new items, toss out pieces that were just a fad, add pieces that we know might be a fad but we want to try out anyway. We decide we’ll give some items to others, because even though they no longer suit us, they work for the current space of another. Other items, we throw away because we realize they have holes or stains and no longer have a functional role. We throw away others when we realize we only had them because someone else decided they were necessary.
There are some items we’ll hang onto for a little too long, because it’s sad or scary to think they’ll never fit again. Or because the nostalgia of how much we used to love them and feel confident in them is so strong. Sometimes, we’ll throw out pieces that our friends or family loved, but that never truly felt right. Other times, we’ll add in a crop top (and try to hide it from our parents for as long as we can).
And we’ll repeat this process over and over again.
Adding. Removing. Rearranging. Replacing worn out items. Insisting on keeping our old favorites, the things that always seems to help us feel safe and grounded. Gifting some of those favorites to others who need the encouragement more than we do now. Leaving extra hangers for those surprising things we’ll find later on. Counting the scarves and asking, “Do I really need this many?” Dusting off the shelves, vacuuming the floor, all so we can really see again.
And then – before we know it – fads will change. Beliefs will change. Norms will be challenged. Insecurities will be conquered. We will grow and change, and we won’t fit into everything anymore.
So we’ll add, remove, rearrange, replace, insist, gift, leave, count, dust, vacuum…we’ll do it all again.
We’ll realize that we can both appreciate what each item has done for us, and recognize that it no longer serves us in the way it used to. It takes more energy to wear it than it should. It’s ill-fitting now, and that’s okay. It just means we’ve grown, and growth is good.
As you know if you’ve been here before, I haven’t been writing for about six months now. Instead, I spent those months cleaning out my closet. And I’ve learned that I can both appreciate what each item has done for me, and recognize that is no longer serves me in the way it used to. I don’t have to keep things around that take more energy than necessary to wear. I don’t have to pretend to be comfortable in ill-fitting expectations.
After spending time doing this work, I feel so much lighter. And more joyful. And ready to move forward.
Mostly, I feel immensely proud of myself. I’m proud of myself for leaving instead of continuing to force myself to play a part I didn’t feel comfortable in. I’m proud of myself for going to counseling when I could feel something was wrong. I’m proud of myself for digging my way out of the crater. It was challenging, and painful, and some of the most difficult work I’ve ever done. But I chose help, and I chose myself, and I’m finally ready to embrace what comes next.