Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A conflict has arisen deep within my being. Some days it feels like my spirit is winning. Others, my pain and cynicism. Right now I am just hurt and confused.

I should probably preface this with a little of my history. I became a Christian when I was 13. I knew exactly what I was getting myself into, but was desperate for change. I knew that, coming from my family background, I would be ridiculed for my decision. I knew I would lose all of my friends. I knew that my boyfriend (who was 11 years older than me) would leave me. However, I had tried everything else and God was all that was left. I saw how different people were at the church down the street and I wanted to be part of what they had. I figured that even if I could have a minute piece of what they had, I could be happy. I could be whole.

So, I dove in head first. I gave God everything, laid it all out in his presence, and begged Him to change me, to save me from myself. I felt an immediate difference. I came home and told my family about my decision and got what I had expected--skeptism and ridicule. My mom probably had the best reaction. She merely stated that once I was a little older and could really have fun, I would change my mind. (I guess that is what she had done.) However, I reminded her that I had already experienced all of the "fun" things to which she was referring (alcohol, drugs, sex, et cetera) and that I wouldn't change my mind because I knew all about the "fun" stuff. She agreed with me, but still insisted I would change my mind. Most of my family just called me names and made bets on how long I would last before I went back to my old lifestyle. My grandmother, on the other hand, said that I needed to be admitted to a mental institution if I believed all of the religious crap I was being fed. She then cut off all contact with me. That was probably the worst reaction I received. My boyfriend said sayonara once he realized I would no longer put out. My friends weren't sure what to think, but quickly decided that I was no longer any fun and slowly trickled out of my life (some much faster than others).

That really left me with no one to turn to besides God. So, I involved myself in every church activity I could find. Most days I was at church. I was there Sunday mornings waiting for the pastor so I could help turn on all of the lights and the sound system. I stayed for both services and Sunday school. I was usually the last to leave after the late morning service. Then I would go home for a couple of hours and be back before church opened Sunday night. There was puppet practice (for our youth group that went on mission trips across the U.S. during Spring Break) on Sunday nights before the Sunday night service--both of which I attended. I would usually be the last one to leave on Sunday nights. Sometimes I would even contemplate hiding out so I could stay after everyone left. On Mondays, church was closed. So, I would try to find something else to occupy my time. However, many times I ended up at the church--just walking around outside, hanging out on the playground, or sitting in the cemetery. (Ok, I know. I was an odd child.) Tuesdays there was visitation (which entailed mostly the leaders of the church going out into the community to visit (for the purpose of conversion or invitation to the church) with those who had at one time in the past attended at least one service. Wednesdays was choir practice, then youth group. I usually got to church before choir practice and set up the youth floor. After youth group, I stayed behind to help clean up. Sometimes I would even sneak into Sunday school rooms to write on their dry erase boards. I would write verses and mini sermons that spoke against temptations and offered support to the hurting and doubting. I left these writings in hopes that someone would read them and come closer to God. On Thursdays, I went with a few people in my youth group to minister to the lower socioeconomic statused Spanish-speaking population in our area after school. On Fridays there was usually a youth event that I would attend. This was also the case with Saturdays. I was also on the Leadership Council for my youth group. I went on every Mission trip for which I was allowed. I went on every youth trip and even a few adult trips. I was on the church basketball team and the evangelism team. I was always the top person in my youth group on invitations. (We had a contest to see who could invite the most people to youth group.) I left tracts in public places, slid them in lockers at school, and handed them out to people I barely knew. My stories and poems in school were somehow always spiritual, even when the assignment seemingly prevented that sort of thing. I lived and breathed church. It wasn't long before I was given nicknames--names that were meant to be degrading, but ones I wore with pride (God girl, holy roller, and Southern Baptist Bible Beater--just to name a few). I even made the chastity pledge to abstain from any type of sexual activity before marriage (True Love Waits) and attended See You at the Pole. I joined every Christian group I could find (like Fellowship of Christian Athletes), joined several Christian message boards, and regularly went to several Christian chat rooms. I broke all of my secular CDs and refused to listen to anything that wasn't Christian. I only had one New Years resolution each year: to read my Bible from cover to cover--which I completed every year with time to spare. Thanks to my Southern Baptist pastor, I knew Hebrew and Greek history and many of the original words and definitions.

After high school, instead of going to college, I decided to become part of a ministry that reached out to hurting teens. I worked crisis lines (praying with everyone I spoke with), wrote Bible studies, evangelized and led many to Christ, and worked on several Christian radio shows. After I left there, I came to a Christian college where I learned even more about God and religion. However, by the time I graduated, I was in worse shape than when I started.

What I have failed to mention until now is the fact that the church really let me down. You may have read this in my previous post. However, the short story is that my mom admitted that she was in a lesbian relationship and left my sister's dad (whom she had been with for 12 years out of wedlock). My church found out (that my mom was in a same sex relationship) and cut us off. My sister and her dad needed their support to make ends meet and be able to eat, but the church refused to help or have any contact with them. They also pulled my support that I needed to remain in the ministry and would not speak to me. The ministry I was at overworked us and treated us horribly. The leadership there spread rumors and lies about me and my family. The church that I was attending did the same thing. By the time I left the ministry, most of the volunteers would no longer talk to me as they believed the lies. (Some to this day will not talk to me.) I also experienced a lot of spiritual abuse both in the church and at the ministry. So much so that it left me questioning if God even cared or was good. After all, how can He be a good God when His followers (who are supposed to be striving to be like Him) have caused more pain and destruction in my life (and the lives of many people around me) than anyone else? How can He care when he allows so many bad things to happen? It's not that I doubted His existence, but his goodness.

I came to a Christian college, honestly, to get away from my family. I needed an out. I hoped that maybe there my relationship with God and other believers would be strengthened. Now, I will say that nothing horrible happened at the college. Everyone there was very gracious and understanding. The faculty and staff went out of their way to help others. I just don't know that a Christian environment was what I needed at the time. Yet, I tried to make myself fit in a square hole when I was so obviously oblique. In my best attempts to be "Christian," I attended several churches to try to figure out where I fit. The problem is... my city of 40,000 people has over 500 churches. If you attended a different church every Sunday, it would take a little over 5 years to attend each one once. This can be a little daunting when you are church hunting. After 5 years of church hunting, I realized that most of the churches were very similar. Yes, they did have different belief systems (as minute as some of the differences may be), but they all expected the same thing--perfection. If you weren't perfect (which last time I checked, none of us are), you had better put on a happy face and pretend that you had no problems. Quite frankly, I was tired of living in this phantasmagoric state. I was tired of pretending to be someone I'm not. So, I stopped attending.

Oddly enough, this seemed to solve a lot of my problems. I no longer was reminded of my past pains. The facade was no longer necessary. (And I no longer felt the need to group lists in threes to balance my unconscious but unmitigated longing to be united with the Trinity in my everyday life. :)) The problem is that I became more and more cynical of God and Christians. I would not listen to Christian music or read Christian books. I didn't pray or read my bible. If I heard anyone talk about God moving or worship or prayer, I wanted to vomit or run away screaming or break down crying. I closed myself off from my Christian friends and went into myself. I didn't come out of that bubble until I realized that it wasn't helping. I was still miserable. I had just compartmentalized my pain. I rationalized that if I could contain it, I could control it and, maybe one day, even master it. I was wrong. The pain forced itself out into my consciousness everytime a sensitive topic was breached. Rather than facing the pain head on, I took the coward's way out.

I searched online for topics about Christians who have been hurt by Christians. I was hoping to find a message board or website. Instead, I found a letter of apology from a Christian, apologizing to an ostrasized group. Tears filled my eyes as I realized that maybe all Christians aren't alike. Maybe it's just the Bible Belt Christians... So, I went to this Christian woman's website and read more about her and her beliefs as well as some of her other writings. Then I noticed something that astounded me: not only was SHE from the Bible Belt, but she was from my area! I had an epiphany: there are outliers even in the South! I was estatic that I had found this blog that proved my cyncism wrong. A couple of weeks later, I realized that she (and a few others) had planted a church not too far away. So, I got the details and decided to give it a try.

The problem was I didn't realize how terrified I was to be in church again until I was in the parking lot. I ended up darting at the last minute. (Told you I was a coward at heart! :)) I made the drive back home and was calming my nerves with some last minute shopping when my phone rang. It was this Christian woman calling me. So, I decided to try again the following week. This time I didn't get a chance to bolt because she met me in the parking lot. So, I attended. I liked it. So I attended again... and again... and again... Now I have attended enough times to cause myself internal agony. This brings me to the point of today's post: I have to do something about this pain and disconnect. I have reached a point to where I realize that I cannot be both cynical about God and Christians and enveloped in this pain and grow in my faith. I have to somehow work through one or let it go. The problem is that I don't know how to do this. So here I am at another crossroad. Where do I go from here and how do I find the path?

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