Well, now what? My belief system got an extreme home make over! Christ is still the foundation, but walls have come tumbling down. Even some of the load bearing walls got an overhaul. All this deconstruction and reconstruction has made me alternately euphoric and fragile. These days I’m either hanging on by a thread for dear life or soaring like a bird in this new found freedom.
It turns out these feelings are not unusual for people like me that go through this type of “deconstruction”. It is simultaneously liberating and terrifying. I have been so fortunate to have people in my life that have gone, or are going, through the same thing. But I am also so grateful to the people who have not had this experience and do not understand, but still show me grace.
You are pretty much up to date now with “the story of my life”. Except to say that I made the choice to stop attending church… for now anyway. This may be harder for some of you to hear than the difficulty of last week’s blog. I am sorry. The last thing I want is to hurt anyone or for anyone to lose faith on account of me. I agonized for months over this decision. I chose to stop attending for my own mental and emotional health, not for any other reason. I love everyone at my church! I love the mission of my church! I love that the love of Christ is so evident at my church. No one there has hurt me. I am confident of their love for God, for each other and for me.
Why did I stop then? Certain phrases uttered or sung triggered a negative emotional response in me that became increasingly more difficult to overcome. In the end it was taking me as long as from Sunday until Wednesday to be okay, but then there was church again on Thursday and I’d often have to start all over. Phrases like: “when we were outside the love of God” or “we don’t deserve” or “we are unworthy” and what I experience emotionally is that we are undeserving and unworthy of God’s love. Even Amazing Grace that saved a “wretch” like me caused me to fall into depression. It would just reinforce what I had spent all week trying to get over. What I’ve been trying to get over ever since I was six years old and the hellfire and damnation preacher rolled through town telling me I deserved eternity in a lake of burning fire because I was born a sinner. I was six! Shame for simply being human entered my subconscious and I’ve been wrestling with it ever since.
For most of my life I tried to accept the rottenness of my core-being as truth, but this cognitive dissonance (“the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change”) feels like being crazy. I could never make the other truth, God’s love, congruent with how unlovable I felt.
I have come to accept the narrative of Genesis chapter one where God declares it all “good” and then declares human beings “very good”. I think that God never reversed his opinion about us, or his declaration. Hearing words or phrases contrary to this narrative trigger the limbic, emotional part of my brain and it overrides the prefrontal cortex, rational part of my brain. At this stage of the game I seem to be unable to control this phenomenon. In order for me to get healthy emotionally and mentally I needed to take a break from church.
I understand how, because we do “sin”, we can feel wretched or unworthy and undeserving and even outside the love of God. But I don’t think this is how God sees us or talks about us. If we call God a good father, can we also imagine that good father thinking to himself, my own beloved children are wretched and unworthy and don’t deserve my love? It seems to me that simply existing as a human being grants to us incredible value and worth. Every human being is deserving of love, not just from God, but also from me. Most likely every person whom we deem wretched has endured incredible injustices that have harmed them beyond what we can imagine. I would like to suggest that it is those “wretches” who deserve to be loved with more intensity.
We, none of us, are ever outside the love of God! I have a friend who says to his children, “even if you became a mass murderer, that would never alter my love for you.” My friend, Jack, boldly declares his undying love for his children. How much more would God, who is love itself, boldly shout to the entire universe, “I love you! No matter what! Nothing is ever going to change my mind about you!”? Scripture backs this up in Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans in chapter 8 verses 38 and 39, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This list is exhaustive. Read it again. Did you notice that even death cannot separate us from the love of God? I’m just sayin’…
I love God! More now than before. I am beginning to love myself… slowly. But the best part of this new journey is I actually love people more authentically. Recognizing and believing more deeply that we are “one” (as Jesus prayed in John 17:21-23) has revolutionized my way of relating to everyone. Jesus said, “love your neighbor as yourself” we’ve been taught to think of that command like this: love your neighbor as much as you love yourself. Maybe instead, we could embrace that command like this: love your neighbor as if she is yourself or as an extension of yourself. (Credit for this thought goes to Cynthia Bourgeault.) I’m barely cracking the surface in this regard, but I am hopeful, and maybe I can even say confident, that my love for everyone will keep maturing. I feel a little bit like my fifteen year old self when I said, “I’ve wasted fifteen years of my life!” I regret all the years of self absorption. Today, as I experience God in real time, moment by moment, love is the natural consequence, love for God, love for everyone else and love for myself. With all the emotion my limbic brain can muster, believe me when I say, I love you.
I hold my beliefs with a very open hand these days because the pain of letting them go when I was clutching them too tightly is more than I am willing to go through again. My beliefs have evolved. Now I am endeavoring to posture myself so that they will continue to be pliable. Besides, God is an infinite being and I have a lot to learn!
Lately I’ve been able to find reasons to be grateful for that “Hell and Damnation” preacher I heard at age six. I would not have gone down the path that is my precious life otherwise. It motivated me to dig deep and to keep uncovering layer after layer to find the spark of the divine within. The “I Am” has been there the whole time. Love did not abandon me anymore than I could ever dream of abandoning my own worthy and deserving children. The spark of the divine is in you. That spark will never leave, will not let go, will not abandon you.
Finally, I’ll leave you with this quote from motivational speaker and artist Scott Erickson aka Scott The Painter that aptly sums up the gist, “On the other side of crashing is the flight you’ve been looking for….So instead of fearing the crash, receive it as a necessary teacher before you soar.” ✌️
For more of Scott The Painter check out his instagram profile.