Have You Seen My Faith?

I am said to have lost it, but I've never liked the expression "lost my faith." It conjures up images of searching the house, as if for my misplaced keys, scratching my head in wonder at where I could have possibly put it. (It also makes me chuckle at the memory of a bumper sticker I once saw: I finally found Jesus. He was hiding behind the couch the whole time.) At any rate, I didn't lose it. I very deliberately and consciously rejected it, yet I'm starting to think that I really may not have lost my faith. My religion, yes, but I've been realizing in recent months that I still have faith.

It's an interesting thing, de-conversion. It's almost like moving through a grief cycle: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing, and finally acceptance; coming to terms with the "new normal."

I can remember a pivotal moment through each of those stages. As a teen I was sitting on the public bus, heading home from work one evening, reading an autobiography by Hannah Whitall Smith. I don't remember verbatim the exact passage that struck me, but it was like this huge epiphany settled into my soul and my eyes widened in shock and excitement at seeing the Bible and Christianity through new eyes. It was an incredibly spiritual moment; a revelation. From that point I started devouring Scripture to read it through this new lens called Universalism.

That was the beginning of the process of a very gradual change in belief. It was a decade before I had the courage to completely let go of the label of Christian. The denial stage was fraught with indecisiveness and confusion as to whether I could still partake in Christianity when I knew that it didn't line up with my inner convictions. I went through several years of halfheartedly playing the part. I was not a regular churchgoer. (Never was growing up either. My parents had to write a letter convincing the administration of the Christian school my brothers and I went to that we were still good kids and should be allowed to attend despite not belonging to one church. We church hopped a lot when I was little then my parents just seemed to give up on finding a suitable church family when I was in high school.)

Anyway, the denial years coincided with being a young and isolated mom who craved community and intellectual stimulation, and I became active in a Mothers of Preschoolers group at a church I sporadically attended. I enjoyed that experience very much, but it eventually became fraught with confusion and indecisiveness as well. I was on the Steering Committee and we were supposed to sign a sort of contract/honor code that I don't remember every detail of, but did have a line about regular church attendance. I simply left it unsigned, but felt very hypocritical in doing so. My pivotal moment was when sitting in a MOPS meeting on Election Day 2004, listening to all these other women talk about how scared they were at the thought of Bush not winning reelection. I didn't utter a word that the voting booth was my next destination, and I certainly would not be voting for Bush. I felt like a misfit and outcast, and realized that even though I didn't really know how to find community outside the familiar framework of church, this community wasn't fulfilling me in the ways that I needed.

Anger, bargaining and testing were happening simultaneously throughout those years in a kind of ebb and flow as one took precedence over the others at various times and in various situations. I was constantly trying to convince myself that it was okay to attend church solely for the community aspect. I remember sitting through sermons and wanting desperately to converse with the pastor over what he was preaching. I've never felt a huge amount of anger towards God or the church for anything that has happened directly to me. I've felt anger at the larger injustices being perpetrated by the church in the name of God, and I've been angry that American Christianity does not reflect what I believe to be the true Christian faith. I felt very disheartened with "Churchianity" but still maintained that I had my faith, and that was what counted.

Testing took center stage when I saw an announcement at the church for people to be baptized. It was something I had never done, and I understood it to be a public declaration of faith, a sacred rite that one goes through when you are certain about your faith in Christ. I signed up to be baptized and then a flood of questioning began that ultimately led to the realization that I no longer believed in Christ. Needless to say I did not go through with baptism.

I think when I finally made a declaration of non-belief I felt the need to make a very clear rejection, but in the years since I've been doing a reclamation of sorts. My faith was a huge part of my upbringing and I've realized that I can simultaneously reject the things that did not work for me and reclaim the things that did, and that line of thinking has led me to wonder if I ever lost my faith at all. Perhaps I was simply called to a deeper faith.

My favorite Bible verse from back in the day was Romans 15:13 -

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

I still find comfort in it for throughout my journey hope, joy, and peace have been my guiding lights and indeed, despite often feeling sad about the injustices in the world, I am generally overflowing with hope. I just can't seem to help it. It's a deep inner knowing that while I may not have the answers to life's big questions, everything will be okay in the end. I think they call that faith. I don't know if there is life after this one, but I decided that for me at least, it doesn't matter. I've fully embraced not knowing, and rather than resulting in confusion it's only deepened my convictions surrounding this life, and my desire to strive for love, equality, justice, compassion, and peace.

I'm not ready to reclaim the label of Christian, nor do I know that I ever will be, but I'm grateful for my Christian journey, for as Emerson said, "Life is a journey, not a destination." I very much admire and strive to emulate the teachings of Christ, or at least the main ones: Love God (though I don't call it God any more, but simply love or that which is the essence and purpose of life), and love your neighbor as yourself.

And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love. -I Corinthians 13:13