I have a confession. Don’t hate me but sometimes I just can’t stand a lot of Christian blogs that are out there. I can’t stand how relentlessly happy they are. They’re full of colour and scriptures about how good God is and how wonderful life is. Even when there is a hint that the author is going through hell on wheels, they don’t crack a frown. They just keep smiling and sprouting Psalms. I don’t know why but it gets my back up. Not because I have a taste for drama, but because I have been a Christian all my life and I know one thing for sure – it isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. And we may as well be honest about it. Christianity doesn’t erase difficulty. It just gives you a friend and a frame of reference to get you through it. But gosh – wouldn’t we all be lying if we claimed we never struggled with that?
Those kind of blogs jog my memory in the worst kind of way, because I juxtapose them against the happy talk I used to sprout even when I was going through hell. For example: Three year and a half years ago, I stood in the shower sobbing and doing something I had never allowed myself to do ever. I was yelling at God. My husband and I had just suffered our fourth miscarriage. I couldn’t understand how God could see the heartache and pain I went through every time, the compounded grief I experienced with every baby I never got to meet, and still there was more heartache in store. How could He? Why would a loving Father not stop that if it was in His power to do so? I couldn’t wrap my heart around it. So I stood in the shower sobbing and yelling.
Truly, I couldn’t take it anymore. The toll had become too great. We gave up our hope of falling (and staying) pregnant naturally and booked in with a fertility specialist. Turns out we didn’t need it. A couple of months later, I was pregnant with our first successful pregnancy. All onwards and upwards huh?
Nope! Life would deal us a few blows yet. The next six months would see us plunged into a strange series of events that saw us lose our church community and what we had been promised were lifetime ‘covenant’ friends. Our family landscape dramatically changed, and we were neck deep in an existential crisis I now know is shared by many an exvangelical. Three and a half years later, I can say hand-on-heart that I’m happier than ever, and a little bit thankful for the wake-up calls life gave us.
But I can also say, hand-on-heart, that long before the first of four miscarriages broke my faith, I had lost my joy. Salvation, church, and faith had become hard, hard work. They held no peace or joy for me. I wanted to walk away from it all, but I felt like Paul – a bondservant. Couldn’t walk if I tried. So how does one rediscover joy after that? Aren’t you just stuck?
I hope I never stop deconstructing and reconstructing my belief systems, but when I was at the beginning of this steep learning curve, it was painful. I’d lost my joy long before I started this process though, and once I saw it and understood that God wanted better for me, I had a bit of journey to get back that deep sense of joy and happiness. Here are some things that I’ve gone through along the way.
Confront your bad theology.
Over the years, I’d found myself believing strange things. I just didn’t know they were strange. They’d been preached relentlessly by people I’d looked up to, and I had listened with open heart and good intent. I never scrutinised them. Where these things Biblical? Where they helpful? Now that I’ve said them out loud, and confronted my bad theology, I almost laugh at some of the things I thought. I say ‘almost’ because there’s nothing funny about bad theology.
I believed that God would remove His grace for me if I was not 100% dedicated (with my time, resources, heart, mind and soul) to His “primary assignment” for my life. The subliminal belief lying under this was that I had to earn His favour, grace and love, thus every failure or idle moment was eternally important (#exhausting). I had to behave well to earn His grace. Now I know that I can do no such thing, and my entire life I knew the scriptures that told me this. But I had turned a deaf ear to them. I believed that God cared less about my wellbeing than He cared about the rest of the world. (Hey, He can multitask). I believed God’s best for me was an exhausting life of subservience, persecution and obedience that lacked any real enjoyment. I believed that I had to lay down any of my own dreams/ambitions because ambition itself was ungodly. In truth, God placed those dreams in me. Even if He didn’t, I know He would honour any dream I pursued wholeheartedly believing it was in His service. (I.e. I could live a life I enjoyed. I could serve Him too. One did not negate the other).
There were other things in my bag of beliefs. I had to scrutinise it all. In fact, I went over everything with a fine tooth comb, deciding what I ought to keep and what I ought to discard with the help of a Bible, a conscience, a bunch of Christian friends, and a husband on the same journey. Bad theology robs joy. It robs peace. It sets your conscience against you and sucks you dry. And as I said in my last blog post, the Romans 14:17 is the barometer I use to tell me if I’m off on the wrong tangent – righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. If I don’t have all three, I need to look at myself.
Stop fighting “negative” emotions.
Another belief I had collected along the way was the belief that some emotions were negative, and therefore untrustworthy and unacceptable. I had developed a habit of shoving them under the carpet, silencing misgivings, and plunging blindly ahead when all the warning bells were dinging up a storm. Years on, I know there is no such thing as a negative emotion. Emotions are like blood. If you start bleeding, you best not ignore it. It’s a sign something is wrong and needs attention. Once you figure out what that thing is, the cause of the bleeding (or the unwanted emotion) becomes more important. You want to, you need to, take care of that.
These days, my husband and I don’t try to fix each-other if we are feeling not quite right. We just sit with that feeling, and if it leads us to a conclusion that something is off, we pay attention to that. If it doesn’t, we know that its probably grief and we just need to give that space. The irony in this is that once we embraced negative emotions and stopped trying to mute them, we were able to enjoy life much more fully. Life became more beautiful.
I’ve learned that when you try to mute emotions on the sad/frustrated end of the spectrum, you also have to mute the other end of the spectrum. Why? Love and hate, joy and sadness, pain and elation, they all come from the same heart. The same brain. The same limbic system. You are either emotionally connected to the good and bad, or you are disconnected from them both. (Hey – not talking clinically here. Just talking metaphorically. If you have depression or another mental health challenge, then don’t take this as treatment advice. All I’m saying is listen to your emotions. They are telling you something about yourself or your situation and you need that intel).
Audit your beliefs about yourself.
Oh this one is fun. Life is complicated. It might be a bad relationship that knocks you. It might be tough financial situations, abuse, grief and loss. It could be a lot of things. When faith gets tough, it might be the last domino to fall or it might be the first. Whatever the reason for your joy-robbing, faith-interrupting existential crisis, it can pop some funny little beliefs into your head.
And by funny, I mean not funny at all. The last few years have seen me having some chance conversations with a lot of people who had negative or damaging experiences with church, who lost their faith or their faith community, and who regained or reformed their faith later. I’ve heard some eerily familiar things come out of their mouths.
- It took me a long time to belief that I deserved love
- It took me a long time to stop fearing every bad thing that happened was the judgement of God
- It took me a long time to trust my own intuition again
- It took me a long time to believe that I could be loved by God and accepted by Him if I wasn’t perfect in the eyes of (my old church/relationship/etc)
These are just a few things I’ve heard. I’ve had to confront a few other beliefs of my own. But here are some truth bombs on the four beliefs I just noted.
- Romans 8:37-39 For I am persuaded that neither life nor death, nor angels nor demons, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth nor any created thing can separate us from the love of God. (Expansive list! I can’t think of anything that doesn’t fit under those categories. Also, John 3:16 has no caveats on it. The love of God is deep, and profound, and no one on the face of this Earth is exempt. Neither. Are. You)
- Romans 3:20-24 is massively long, so go read it later. But heres’ the scoop. Under the law of the Old Testament, none of us measure up in the eyes of a Holy and blameless God. But we are all justified through Jesus, and His grace covers all of us. Hey friend, if you are worrying about God and His judgement and trying to do the best you can, then you are a candidate for justification through Christ and His grace will cover you. Some things are just bad luck. God doesn’t hate you. He doesn’t want to punish you just because. (But sure, if you have something on your mind that you think you are being judged for, then bring that to Him to clear your conscience. You’ll feel better.)
- Job 38:36 talks about God putting wisdom in our inner parts, and giving understanding to our minds. Other scriptures talk about the still small voice, or refer to what discernment. This is a big area. But case in point, God lives in you. Therefore you need to trust your intuition if it is setting off a warning bell. God may just be using that.
- I guess on this final point, it was simply something someone said to me while I was comparing myself to other people and their judgements of me. “God has no grandkids.” His love for us, His care for us, His intent for us doesn’t lessen with our position in the social hierarchy of our churches. Our place in His heart is as His child. Always. No better or no less than any other.
It was this last point that made me start asking myself if my Heavenly Father wanted me to live a life that had no joy in it. Why would He want that for me? Why would Romans 14:17 appear in the Bible if God wanted me to be exhausted, miserable and self-loathing? There was only one answer: He didn’t want that for me. He wanted peace and joy for me, not just a relentless pursuit of righteousness when it was guaranteed that I would remain imperfect.
Its amazing what happens when your beliefs change
In the beginning of our deconstruction, we gave ourselves permission to skip church every now and then (ooooh ahhh). Believe me – That was a big deal. I remember one Sunday we skipped church and spent it visiting an Aunt in Melbourne. She’s not a church goer, but the conversation we had about love, compassion, and altruism taught me something about God. I learned more then than I would have learned zoned out in church. Another Sunday we skipped church and spent it with friends who are also Christian who weren’t attending church. We had wonderful conversations about how lifestyles reflect our deeper values and we can’t rely on a religious rite like Sunday church to carry our faith for us. It was beautiful, and it was memorable. I believe God smiled upon these moments.
It took us a while to lose the guilt, even though we knew we weren’t doing anything wrong. These days, I’m on the music team every other week. We love creche even on the days we aren’t feeling churchy. (Hey. Real talk.) But we always love the fellowship with our amazing tribe regardless. In the beginning it was hard to listen to some messages. Nowadays we listen with open hearts, but with a promise to be kind to ourselves if something hits home. We have spent so much time thinking the world depended on how well we responded to every word spoken from the pulpit, and we had to course correct immediately and without question or else. It takes a while to get over that kind of exhaustion and conditioning. Simply listening with an open heart is good enough for God. The rest can come later. We don’t have to be perfect now.
Put your trust in God, and the passage of time.
I don’t know what lead you to my blog. I know a lot of you are on the exvangelical journey. I know others are recovering from bad experiences. Some of you are just morbidly curious. Others, many others, I’ve never met and I don’t know. So I don’t know what you are recovering from, or deconstructing after, or reconstructing into. All I know is this: it gets easier. It’s a cliche but it’s true. If it took you years to lose your joy, then it takes a while to dismantle the habits, beliefs and mindsets that lead you to that state. If it took years for your self-worth to be worn down, then it will take some time to rebuild. If it took you years to start thinking God was this awful being in the sky waiting for you to mess up so He could get a bit of revenge and ruin your life a bit more, then its going to take some time for you to get to know the real God. But once you dedicate yourself to the process, once you tell yourself you are worth it, then time is your friend. Its gets so much better. Joy can return. Joy can be more full.
And you are worth it.
P.S Good therapists help. Just saying.
Until next time, over and out
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