When I first left my former church, I thought I wouldn’t struggle with doubts or faith. I never thought I’d come to a point of wondering whether God was real or cared about me. I was wrong, and here are some reasons why:
- When I left, I hid some of my feelings, my doubts and fears. I was busy proving to myself that I was still a Christian, and I was very good at it for awhile. The problem with that is that I could only maintain the facade for a time, not forever. Eventually the fears, doubts, and questions came out, and because I’d hidden them from myself for so long (well before I left), they kind of came out in a big jumbled mess, making them perhaps more difficult to deal with.
- When I left, I kept thinking that I would get answers, find resolution, be healed, and see new success. None of that happened, and since people had promised God would do these for me or promised these to me, I blamed God when they didn’t happen. I became disillusioned… and that disillusionment hit around the same time as the facade fell.
- After leaving, I was told too often by both myself and others to just get over it, to move on… to BE as though nothing had happened that changed my life, my thoughts, my beliefs. Walking out of that church had the effect on me that dropping a bomb on a small town might have to the survivors–I lost friends; family dynamics changed; the culture, beliefs, and perspectives that shaped a good deal of my life were suddenly in tatters; the place I’d considered safest was now seen as most dangerous–the world was turned on it’s head. “Get over it” and “move on” are absolutely ridiculous expectations in such cases, no matter how much we want to do just that.
- I suffered from ‘shell shock’–I’d hear similar things to what I’d come to recognize as danger and ‘duck for cover’ so to speak. Most people did not recognize the signs of this and didn’t want to help or admit that this might be a problem… it was perhaps as difficult for them as it was for me to admit that someone could get PTSD from a church. And they and I both thought that exposure to a similar but more positive environment would ‘fix’ the problem. It didn’t.
Unreasonable expectations are behind all of these. It wasn’t until I stopped expecting things to go a certain way that I started regaining real hope. And yes, you read that right. I actually find myself having more hope since I stopped having these expectations. Not hope that everything will be OK, not hope that things will be ‘fixed’… this is a different kind of hope, or maybe more of a peace, than Christians I’ve known seem to talk about. Maybe more of an acceptance. This is what happened. This is what is. And though I have no idea what will be, I can be OK with that. And I think God is, too.