Finding Yourself After De-converting
I have a confession to make. Despite the way I may sound confident after leaving the faith, I admit that being myself has been so difficult. It has taken about a year for me to see this, but this last year has been a massive realization that so much of how I thought about life was driven not by who I actually was but by who I felt expected to be as a ‘mature’ Christian.
Within the faith I feel there is a sub-class of the elite faithful. These are the individuals who are looked up to for advice and who in many ways drive the faith forward. In many ways I saw myself as one of these individuals within Christianity just a year ago. Was it arrogance? Probably. Was it accurate? I don’t know.
But I am just now discovering how it truly affected my thinking. This last summer as I was leaving the faith I can remember this sense of hurling over a cliff… as if my entire thought process about the world and life was being reinvented. Oddly I was the same person, but the way in which I thought about things was changing.
One area I have struggled with is the area of friendships. On the one hand, I love my old friends within the faith. On the other hand, I am finding that so many of my previous friendships just are not working the same way anymore. So many of those friendships were based on the faith itself – on discussions about Bible passages or prayer or accountability – that now I find I do not have much in common with those people. Furthermore I am finding that some of the friendship decisions I made within the faith were actually really poor, but I made them for ‘spiritual’ reasons. For example, there were friendships I started or kept going because I thought that the Lord wanted me to be a ministry to someone but if I had not been a Christian I probably would have stayed away. How damaging were some of these? It is hard to tell. And what about the good friendships I cleverly destroyed because I was trying to be spiritual and witness to someone? How many smart and helpful people avoided me because of my judgmental attitude and over-the-top witnessing?
To make matters more frustrating, I am discovering that there was a whole side of myself I had completely ignored as ‘carnal’ or ‘fleeting’ and had suppressed in many ways due to my faith. This primarily is in the area of sexuality, but even extends into the realm of hobbies. For example, I loved building computer games all through high school and even wanted to make a career of it but eventually abandoned that notion due to this feeling that the Lord would rather have me do something that would impact eternity more. Now that I am not a Christian, that old flame for building computer games is coming back.
Romantic relationships are equally as difficult. What do I want in a future long-term mate? As a Christian, the list generally extended only one line after Proverbs 31: “… and super hot.” But now that I am no longer a Christian, what am I looking for? Has my list of desirables changed much? On one hand, probably not. On the other, I am ironically more attracted to intelligent emotionally mature girls now that I am out of the faith than I was before. Within the faith I felt like it was somehow my prerogative to avoid certain types of girls and so that made them more desirable. I found myself attracted to the types of girls Christianity says you should not have simply because they were off limits. [It is ironic that the search word “pornography” is most prevalent in Utah, is it not?] Now that I can ‘have’ anyone I want, I am actually pretty confused about what I like in a partner. Oddly, I am finding that this is forcing a level of responsibility on me that somehow I expected the Lord just to work out when I was in the faith.
What a strange feeling. It is like I am becoming myself all over again. Is this just the post-college years, or is this a part of leaving the faith? I continually find myself revisiting old thought patterns I had suppressed for spiritual reasons, and finally being forced to address them in a serious fashion. It is like I am being forced to grow up in ways that my faith had allowed me to avoid. When in a cloistered environment, sheltered from the ‘world’, it is easy to avoid certain issues. They can either be categorized as temptations (and not to be thought about), secular (and to be fought against), or cares of the world (and we should just trust God that He will work them out). Faith had become my water cooler to avoid working hard in my life and taking responsibility for everything.
I was talking to a friend about this recently and we both agreed that while most parents probably hope that growing in ones faith will encourage maturity as one enters adulthood, we were discovering that it actually can have the exact opposite effect. Rather then taking intiative to find a career and settle down, one can just “trust the Lord” that it will all work out. Rather than working hard at being attractive to find a mate, one can actually do the opposite and avoid being attractive for fear of its carnality and assume that God will just plop someone into your life. Rather than thinking hard about issues like global warming, terrorism, the middle east conflict, euthanasia, abortion, homosexuality, politics, etc. – one can just accept all the faith based packaged conclusions that [insert denomination here] supports. Rather than seriously looking for solid friendships based on real mutual interests and hobbies that will advance one forward in life, one can just accept the crowd of friends provided by the local church or homeschool group because they agree on the same doctrinal issues – no matter how detrimental they may in actuality be.
I feel like leaving the faith is making me grow up a second time.