Why I Walked Away from Church and Christianity
Part One: The day I stopped praying.
The look on her face said it all, fresh tears streaming down her cheeks, the loss and grief so evident in her eyes—in that moment my world changed, well, my spiritual world anyways. How could God let this happen again? I was so sure, we were so sure we knew what He was going to do for our friend. Both of us had reassured her how confident we were in God’s answer to our prayers. We kept telling her to calm down and relax, God’s got this. And then all of a sudden He didn’t “get” it. Cause if He did, He wouldn’t have let us believe He would do what He wasn’t going to do.
Anger and despondency towards God began to grow in my heart. So many ungodly people bringing children into the world with no problem, so many people choosing to kill their unborn children, so many unfit parents raising children, and yet when one godly woman wants nothing more than to raise more godly children, God says, “No.” Harsh. Unfair. Cruel.
I stopped praying that day. I didn’t know what to say to God anymore. Why bother? He’s going to do what He’s going to do, whether or not I ask for it. Whether or not I believe. So really, why should I even bother with it? I had literally been at the height of faith and belief one day, to the very bottom the next day, drowning in doubt and uncertainty.
Over the next several months a series of unfortunate events took over my life, as well as that of my friends. It seemed for all three of us, suffering and heartache have been the name of the game. After a while, after life has kicked your ass real good, hope seems rather elusive.
Part Two: The day I stopped attending Church.
Several months before all this, I had sat weeping in my Pastor’s office, confessing how I was at a point where I didn’t even want to go to church. That life had turned me into a cynic. How I used to be happy, positive, and outward focused, and now I was negative, cynical, and could barely get through each day. Church was torturous for me. Those who know me well know that I cannot stand lying and fake-ness. I don’t like being deceived, nor do I want to deceive others. So going to church every week, plastering on a fake smile and shaking hands with people seemed disgusting and reprehensible to me. I’d rather just sleep in, thank you very much. I left the church that day and really, that was probably the last time I experienced a deep connection in any way while in that building.
Sometimes you can feel your soul fading away. Hope running in the opposite direction while you watch helplessly. And then you just, stop, you give up, you quit trying. That’s pretty much how it went down for me. I tried to hang on, but seeing my friend suffer the way she did was the proverbial last straw for me. Of course, the ensuing tragedies to befall my life and that of my two closest friends over the next several months didn’t bode well for my dwindling spirituality.
Occasionally a glimmer of hope would shine through the deep darkness of despair but it was usually brief. Only lasting until the next setback in circumstances came crashing down. Of course, this is what I deserve, after all. You see, I’m not one of those people who believe God owes me something. Quite the opposite, actually. I see every “bad” thing as God giving me what I deserve for the many years I lived my life in rebellion. When bad things happen to my friends I feel crushed for them, they don’t deserve it. But when bad things happen to me, well, why not? You sow what you reap, after all. I’m just getting my just rewards. Eventually I succumbed to the belief that my life, despite my desire to atone for my bad choices, would never be happy, would never be “successful”. I would never be forgiven, but instead forced to live in a state of perpetual punishment. God was going to let me suffer forever. I gave up and basically told God, “I still believe in You, but I don’t trust you. And I don’t plan on talking to you anymore.”
Recognizing my starving spiritual state I immediately withdrew myself from ministry. I stopped going to church, except for the days my husband would drag me there, but sitting through the services proved to be quite uncomfortable. We started coming late and leaving early so we could just hear the sermon and avoid the mushy gushy singing stuff. It’s kind of ironic that my husband, new to the faith, turned out to be the stronger “Christian” than me, the one who spent most of her life in church. I never said this to my husband, but I often thought, “Just wait till you see what the Christianity stuff is all about. Just wait till you see what horrible things God allows in your life, now that you’re trying to obey Him. Good luck with that.” (I told you I was cynical!)
Part Three: The day I stopped identifying as a “Christian”
Another thing I “gave up” was social media. I took a huge step back from things like Facebook because I found myself constantly enraged at the BS I would read on a daily basis. The BS that came from none other than self-professing Christians. Combined with my lack of trust in God, I began to hate Christianity more than anything. Christians can be jerks, you know? I mean really. sometimes more than the average “heathen”…
You’re gay? You’re going to hell.
You believe in the rapture? You’re going to hell.
You believe in eternal security? You’re definitely going to hell.
You don’t have good theology (meaning you don’t share MY theology)? Better turn before you burn, my friend.
Oh my gosh, you have tattoos? You belong to Satan.
Christians can be the most irritating judgmental people on the planet. And I totally get why people walk away from their faith. Many Christians tend to spend more time fighting with each other about who’s right and who’s wrong and who’s really saved and who’s not (like that’s any of our business???). It’s DISGUSTING. I can only imagine how this type of “Christianity” pleases Jesus—which is sarcasm because I know without a doubt, it does NOT please Him. It seems a great deal of Christians have missed the point. You see, you can stand for something (or against something) without being an asshole. Seriously. You can say why you believe what you believe without insisting everyone else who disagrees with you is an idiot and clearly not “really” saved. I’m sorry, I didn’t know we had so many perfect Christians qualified to judge people’s salvation and spirituality! Maybe we should live by example and let the Holy Spirit be the convicting one. You and me, we make terrible Holy Spirits because that’s NOT OUR JOB.
Think going to the movie theatre is a sin? Cool, don’t go to the theatre. Live by example. But don’t tell me that I’m going to hell, or that I’m clearly inferior to you spiritually because I still choose to go to the theatre. Live out your convictions people. Actions. If someone asks why you have your conviction, by all means, share your reasons with grace and love.
“Dear children, let’s not merely say we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.” –1 John 3:18, NLT
The other side of the see-saw.
And then there’s this other thing. The complete breakdown of integrity within the church. It’s like we’ve either got the Pharisees over here making a living out of judging everyone else, or we’ve got the Bible-is-optional group who believes actually following God’s word is up for debate if you’re a Christian. I’m talking about people in leadership positions who habitually practice lifestyles contrary to what is clear in God’s word. And let’s be real, it’s not too hard to figure out who those people are, because they’re the ones posting their personal drama all over social media. Of course, along with those Friday night drunken party photos, they’re also talking about how much God is blessing them in the church stuff their doing. Hmmm.
Am I saying you’ve got to be perfect to serve in the church? Obviously not. But have some integrity in your personal life? Yeah, probably a good idea if you’re in a position of leadership. And if you continue to struggle, admit it, and get help. And maybe step down from leading for a while. Positions of leadership really should be reserved for the spiritually mature (not perfect!). And while you certainly have every right to pick and choose what you want to follow or believe in God’s word, I also have every right to not allow you to be in a position to lead me or my family members because I flat out don’t trust you or your “commitment” to truth-seeking. (As I said earlier, going through a major season of depression and doubt, it was easy for me to withdraw from leading and serving because I knew I wasn’t in a spiritually healthy place to be telling someone else what to do! Common sense, y’all. Doesn’t make a lot of sense to teach people about defeating depression if you haven’t defeated it! Just like you can’t effectively teach kids about purity if you aren’t practicing it…etc.)
“Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?”—Romans 6:1-2
So yeah, sometimes Christians suck and sometimes I’m embarrassed to use the term or identify with it. In fact, every time a crazy driver going 10-15mph over the speed limit zooms past me and gives me a dirty look, and then I notice the church sticker on their car, I’m even more convinced how much I loathe the term “Christians”.
“Wow, Rebecca, sounds like you’re the one being judgmental.”
I knew you would go there. Listen, I’m not going to defend myself here. Maybe it is judgmental to expect integrity within the Church, especially leadership. Maybe that’s just asking too much. And yeah, it’s none of my business what people are doing in their personal life. But then again, they make it everyone’s business when they post it all over social media. So…
What I’m saying is, I recognize the irony of my argument. It’s flawed, I know. But it’s where I’m at right now.I’m a fan of “real talk” and honesty, whether or not that realness is “Un-Christian”. And I have to add, I DO have a small group of ladies who feel the same way about Christianity and the state of the Church. They’re just nicer than I am about how they talk about it. That’s a maturity thing, they’re wiser than I am. And thank GOD they put up with me and “get” me.
Part Four: The day I finally understood what it all meant.
One of my favorite shows is “19 Kids and Counting” which follows the lives of the Duggar family. A Christian family with integrity, who live by and teach their children the Bible. They receive a lot of criticism from, you guessed it, Christians. They’re too strict, they’re cultish, they’re obviously abusive. Blah blah. Everyone’s an expert. Anyways, I don’t care about all that. I love them and what they stand for.
Samantha (my daughter who just turned 7) and I were watching the wedding of one of the Duggar girls, actually the first girl in the family to get married. They talked about how they saved themselves for marriage, including their first kiss. This is something we have taught to our daughter and continue to reinforce. How important it is to save the gift of kissing and hugging for our spouse only. And what a special gift it will be to know that your spouse is the only one you have ever kissed and held hands with (about as graphic as we’re going to get with a 7 year old). With great excitement (and some tear-shedding), we watched Jill and Derrick kiss for the first time at the altar, on their wedding day. Sam explained how she would be very nervous to kiss on her wedding day for the first time. I smiled, a proud moment to hear such a thing from your child. To know that the seeds are sprouting. And then I bawled like a baby.
For the first time in several months God spoke to me plain as day. I finally understood why I had no choice but to trust Him and cling to Him no matter how ugly life gets. Because He is my daughter’s only hope in life, and without a praying, faithful mommy, she stands little chance of standing by her faith when temptation strikes. She needs a strong foundation. Without Jesus, there is no hope. Trusting Him is our only chance of making it through life. Even if that means sometimes (or most of the time) we don’t seem to get what we want.
I’m not saying all the depression melted away, but a great deal of it subsided. The fog began to lift. My daughter is the reason I gave my life to Christ in the first place after living many years in rebellion, and she is the reason I have to press on. I have to be the example, I have to live the example, because words are just words. People, especially children, can see through lip service. It means nothing. Showing what I believe through my actions says everything and that includes trusting Jesus when it doesn’t make sense. When it hurts. When it doesn’t seem fair. Without that trust, there really is no hope. No hope for my daughter to make it through life as a God-fearing woman of integrity. Jesus is her only hope. And I will spend the rest of my life on my knees praying for her to remain strong in her faith—much stronger than her mommy. That she chooses to cling to Jesus even when society (and likely other Christians) are screaming at her and calling her a right-wing lunatic. The only hope for her, for any of us, is Jesus. If you take that away, well then, you’ve got nothing to anchor your life on. Even with Jesus, tragedy and hurt is hard enough to deal with, but without Him? Not a chance. I would have given up on life by now, if it wasn’t for Jesus.
Why trust God? Because there is no hope beyond God and what He promises to those who choose to follow when nothing makes sense, when nothing is going “right”, when we’re not getting the answers we think we need. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall see God.” God was here all along and I know that. But it was nice to hear Him speak once again and to feel the comfort of His presence. To see Hope again, after over a year of darkness.
In the end I have decided to walk away from the Church and Christianity, and embrace the Bible and Christ alone. I’ll worship with other Christians in a place called a church—whatever church God calls me to on any given Sunday. But I won’t make church and churchy things my idol. I won’t find my identity in church and activities, but in what God says about me. I won’t reach for redemption and atonement through works, because grace is free. I won’t search for accolades, because in God’s eyes, I’m already “one of a kind”. I refuse to insert myself into the holy huddles that plague every church. You know what? I don’t want to be part of the “in” crowd. I want to be part of Jesus’ crowd. Sometimes that means standing alone. But really, with Jesus, you’re never “alone”.
And I no longer identify as a Christian, but as a Jesus loving, truth seeking Christ follower. I’m not interested in beating people up with theology (which really only turns them away). I’m not interesting in debating doctrine. I’m interested in following God’s plan for my life and living out the truth of God’s word to the best of my ability and through the leading of the Holy Spirit. That’s really the life I’ve been called to and that is now the life I seek. I don’t want to be in any box but Jesus’ box. I want to live grace and be a beacon of grace because that’s all my life is—an outpouring of God’s immeasurable grace. I have no right or place to point fingers at anyone but myself, but at the same time, I will carefully choose who I will allow to influence my daughter and who I will sit under and learn from, because integrity is important to me. That is simply my personal conviction.
I will never really understand why God allows some things to happen, and I have since given up trying to explain the why’s or maybe’s of it all. I’ve learned through all of this heartache that what people really need is someone to listen to their hurts, be there for them, hug them, maybe send them a note of encouragement, and only give “advice” when it is clearly asked for. Hurting people don’t necessarily need answers and explanations, they just need someone to hear them and meet them where they’re at. They need someone to reach out and notice their need and show that they care. They need to know they’re not alone. They need to know that Jesus (LOVE) is their only hope.
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”—1 Corinthians 13:4-7, NLT
PS–I realize I used some strong language in this post and, no doubt, offended someone. You can save your comments about it. I know I’m probably not a “real” Christian and am doomed because I used “unChristian” words. Thank you for wanting to warn me though, I appreciate it.