CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.
HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Sage Lynn” is a pseudonym.
Content Warning: Suicidal Thoughts
“God is real,” I confidently asserted. “There’s indisputable proof, and his existence and saving us from hell is the only thing that makes life worth living.”
A girl about my own age countered, “God is a myth. Evolution is scientifically proven. God doesn’t exist.”
“Actually yes, he does. He created the world– science has disproven evolution over and over, but people don’t want to believe it. I believe in God’s sovereignty. I believe that he takes all the terrible moments of our lives and changes them into something beautiful, something worth having. Otherwise there’s no point in living.”
“I can find a purpose in living without God. No one really needs him. If you have to believe in a pretend deity to find meaning, then that’s not such a great way to see things,” she replied.
“Without God, nothing makes sense,” I replied. “People have been trying to find meaning without him for ages, and it just doesn’t work. He is the only one who can redeem the messes of our lives, the things we wish we hadn’t done and the things done to us. Without him, all the suffering in the world is meaningless, including ours.”
“You can believe that, but God doesn’t actually exist and life does have meaning without him,” the girl stated.
Thinking of this exchange makes me cringe. I am sick to my stomach, want to throw up and shove the memory of it far out of my head. But it’s important to me to remember. I was eighteen at the time, suicidal, depressed, starving myself to death, in the hospital because I had overdosed–at that exact moment I was sitting in a psych ward with six other teenage girls and two psych techs, in some group for coping skills or the like. The techs intervened at that point, bringing the group back on point, but I spent the rest of the group writing notes that bolstered my worldview that believing in God was the only thing that made life worthwhile and possible.
A few days later, after the 72 hour hold the emergency room physician placed me on expired, I checked myself out of the hospital. As a semi-minor, I had to have a meeting with my parents and the treatment team before I was released. My parents’ pastor and the biblical counselor I was seeing came along too. At that meeting, the treatment team asked me why I thought I was safe enough to leave the ward. I answered with more of the above, about having purpose because God was working everything together for good and it was all going to have a higher purpose, and I would continue to cling to that and draw strength from that and use it to fight the suicidal urges. The pastor and counselor and my parents all told me how proud they were that I defended my faith against psychological attacks. “You have the right beliefs,” the counselor told me. “That is what makes life worth living. We just need to help connect your head and your heart so that your beliefs guide your actions. God wants that for you–keep studying the Bible, praying, and asking the Holy Spirit to work in your life.”
After we left, I remember looking at the sky and being so relieved that I was out of the psych ward–yet so terrified because inside I didn’t know if the worldview I so stoutly defended was really enough to keep me alive.
And this is the story of my disillusionment with conservative Christianity. It wasn’t so much a lightbulb moment as a rocky path plagued by fits and starts, trying to go back, trying to believe, and coming up dry. Meeting people my religion condemned to hell and realizing they had a better outlook on life than I did.
Understanding that my parents’, pastor’s, and counselor’s approbation showed their overarching concern: that my soul’s security was more important than my body’s survival, that my ability to argue apologetics or memorize whole books of the Bible or “get my heart right before God” was more important than my ability to stop cutting or dreaming of death.
In fact, when I first started seeing the counselor, the first thing she said to anorexic, cutting, suicidal me was, “Before I even try to help someone with their life issues, I want to make sure they’re saved. Otherwise, dealing with the other issues will be ineffective.” When I ended up in the psych ward–again, and again–I would leave with resources to use, groups to attend, but the biblical counselor and pastor would tell me to quit them, to turn to their approved Bible studies and “counseling,” to pray more and make my life right with God. Over and over, this never worked. All the “right answers” just left me broken and battered, more wounded than when I’d begun to seek them.
Eventually, I went left home and started college. I was incredibly lucky to meet several therapists–ones with a degree who didn’t read me Bible verses for every session–who began to help me untangle the webs of lies and confusion I had been told. They affirmed my worth and value, and the priority of dealing with my depression and other issues, all without bringing the Bible into it or mentioning God or telling me my behaviors were sending me to hell.
As I healed, my parents expressed concerns about my salvation. In their eyes, my turning to secular psychology evidenced a rejection of the Bible and principles they wanted me to embrace. I spent hours trying to convince them–and myself–conservative Christian beliefs could be reconciled with reality in the world. I came up dry.
I also watched the way conservative Christianity treated people. I saw much talk about doctrine and scripture and grace and judgment and holiness and righteousness–and I saw an inability to listen to real people, real stories, real pain. From abortion to LGBT* people (before I had figured out I was one myself) to healthcare to immigration, I saw a plethora of articles and words about what should be done, what the Bible said about things, and precious little attention given to people who had lived these things.
Leaders my parents followed seemed to be more concerned about figuring out a doctrinal formula and backing everything up with Bible verses than they did with engaging in the pain and hurt in the world.
They were too quick to offer the “solution” that would fix some problem and prescribe the correct theology–talking–while refusing to listen or love.
A few months after I told my parents that I was queer, we had a conversation that had become commonplace. “I know you say this is how you feel,” my mom said, her face lined with concern. “But I ask you, who is Jesus to you? Do you call yourself a Christian? How can you back up that you are a Christian from the Bible?”
My voice trembling, the pull of religious fundamentalism that will always be in my blood tugging at my heart, I replied, “I can’t do this anymore. I won’t defend my faith to you. I don’t have all the reasons and all the answers and all the doctrines–and I don’t want them. I will never be able to justify my faith or lack thereof or uncertainty thereof to you. It only ends up hurting me and not answering you. My God, when I believe in them, is not the same as yours. They never will be. I am done. Defending my faith, defending conservative Christianity, almost killed me. I can’t go back. I am sorry, but this is not a conversation I can have anymore.”
That day marked a turning point for me. I gave up trying to reconcile my beliefs with conservative Christianity. Even though my heart still longs at times for the familiarity and rules that defined life for me for so long, I know I can’t go back. That bridge is destroyed, and it is for the better. If I remain a Christian, it will be in spite of conservative Christianity. In the end, love, truth and knowledge will win, defeating the hate-mongering, fear-mongering lies sold to people to modify their behavior. Until that day, I choose to live in love and acceptance, even if that means I don’t have all the answers
Thank you so much for sharing. I definitely understand this sentiment: “I spent hours trying to convince them–and myself–conservative Christian beliefs could be reconciled with reality in the world. I came up dry.” This is why my faith eventually fell apart – I could not reconcile these beliefs with what I actually experienced in the world.
So beautiful and well written!
I am terribly sorry that your counselor told you that before she would even consider helping you with your life issues, she had to make sure you were saved. Something I have noticed with the Christian community, with my OCD and social anxiety disorder is somehow mental disorders/anything to do with the brain is somehow different than something wrong with another part of your body. If you had a huge gash in your leg, they would immediately take you to the emergency room, there would be no, well, maybe you need to rely on Jesus more, if you just prayed harder it wouldn’t be an issue, etc, like there is with mental issues.
Wow, your story could be mine! Fortunately my parents have been more open to discussing things and potentially changing their ways. Your strength is inspiring, and so is your willingness to talk about your past hurts and mistakes. Your journey ahead is going to be wonderful.