Thursday, August 09, 2007

I ruined my mom’s vacation, and maybe life.

Or that how it feels, anyway. I accidentally “came out” to her as an agnostic during our family vacation last week. On the first day of our vacation, no less.

For months I have more or less managed to avoid getting into any kind of direct, explicit conversation with my mom about my growing doubts. As you may have gathered from other posts of mine, she is a conservative evangelical Christian. She was raised in a First Evangelical Free church in Iowa, and she raised us in the same church in our hometown. So Mom has a very well developed, and fairly black-and-white world view based on a literal interpretation of the Bible.

I love my mom very much. She is a role model in lots of ways, and the last thing I want to do is hurt or disappoint her. Which is why I have been trying to shield her from much of what I’m going through. This is not to say she’s been completely in the dark, though: she knew I wasn’t going to church regularly and that I have been dating non-Christians in the last couple of years. And I know she has been concerned about me.

But other than that, whenever spiritual topics have come up between us, I have for the most part deflected, given an ambiguous reply, or changed the subject. Not entirely honest, I suppose, but I imagine that others of you who have gone through a de-conversion process understand it – it’s really, really hard to tell people in your faith community that you’re having serious doubts and/or you no longer believe it all. Now magnify that anxiety by 100 times when it’s your family members.

It accidentally tumbled out. Mom and I were on the way to meet the family for lunch. I’m not even sure now how the conversation started: Mom was saying something about her concerns about me and my choices in life. I guess I just lost my cool. I said that I just don’t believe things the same way I used to, which led to Mom asking incredulously “so you’re saying you’re not a Christian anymore?” Followed shortly afterward with “I don’t want to talk about it anymore” as she started crying.

It was awful. And it was weird, too, because this unbidden prayer suddenly popped in my mind: “God, please help her feel better.” Force of habit maybe, or a continuing hope that God is somehow still out there, and hears our prayers? (Even though my own prayer experience is much more consistent with the idea that God doesn't really answer prayer…)

I still feel awful about the whole thing. I really don’t want my mom to spend time worrying about my soul and my eternal destiny.

But it has also spurred a lot of doubts about what I am going through: Mom said I’m just rebelling against God right now. What if she’s right? What if I am just reaping exactly what Christians say you’ll reap if you stop going to church? Stop hanging out in Christian community, stop reading your Bible, and gee, don’t be surprised if your heart hardens and you turn away from God. ...and then don't be surprised when God turns away from you. (And say hello to hell, which is what you deserve, you horrible apostate!)

My emotions and history in the faith community get so jumbled into all of this… when I write about the various things I’m questioning, I think “Yeah! This thing has never made sense to me, and the big picture doesn’t really hang together.” But then I get into conversations like this with my mom or other Christian friends and suddenly I get scared, I get nostalgic, I get wistful, I feel confused, I get defensive...

I guess all of this is to say that I’m still very much in the middle of the process, and still unsure where it’s going to lead. It also helps explain why I chickened out of inviting my sister to contribute to my blog: I'm not ready to come out to the rest of my family.

25 comments:

Heather said...

**Mom said I’m just rebelling against God right now. What if she’s right?**

I'm not sure how much you explained to her, because I know it's an emotional topic, especially when dealing with family members. But I do see the "rebelling against God" response a lot to those who are deconverting, or have deconverted, and in many ways, it doesn't accomplish anything (and it's frustrating to read/experience). It doesn't help address your doubts or your questions, it just tries to pile on guilt.

I'm not trying to attack your mother, and I do feel a great sympathy for both of you. This isn't easy. But it's also easier for her in some ways, because she has a support system to fall back on, be it her church/friends/family. You don't have that, because of your search right now. If you tried to talk to anyone from that support structure, I'm not sure if they'd listen, or ignore what you say in order to tell you the correct thing to do.

What I will say is that from what I've read, de-converting-wise, is that they say they became nicer and better people. If you do become a non-Christian, I don't see it changing how you act, how you respond, or even your morals. It shifts the belief structure.

I also think your confusion is coming from the fact that this is your mother, and she was an authority figure -- probably still is -- for much of your life. It's hard going against something like that, or believing differently, because we always catch ourselves wondering why they aren't having the same doubts/questions as us, and if they aren't, maybe it's us.

jennypo said...

Slapdash,
I can only imagine how hard this all must be for both you and your mom.

It confuses the issue so much when you desperately want to deal with things rationally and critically and not just fall back on what you've been told, but there's so much emotion and history and so many other people involved.

Although Truth must be worth the sacrifice of it all, you're not sure if you're even on the path to Truth, and yet, it seems impossible that Truth can ever be found by ignoring your doubts and questions and settling for what seems to satisfy others but doesn't satisfy you. You must wish that it could satisfy you, in spite of knowing that it can't. A step either way seems equally dangerous.

I feel the conflict, the tearing of mind and emotion, and I so wish you didn't have to go through it. I only hope, and yes, I pray, that in the end, you will come up against the God I came up against - not because you couldn't take the struggle and gave in, but because you sought for the highest and best that you knew and refused to settle for the kind of knowledge that circumvents the mind OR the soul.

If it means anything at all, this total stranger supports your struggle for reality. Because if God inhabits the Real; if he is Truth, then he is knowable by more than just feelings. Your fears are valid and healthy, but you are not wrong to search, to doubt, to question, to reject irresponsible thinking. We are body and mind and spirit. If we are to know and be set free by the Truth, it cannot be by closing mind OR heart; by ignoring any aspect of our knowing.

I so wish I could help, but this is a journey we each make alone.

Zoe said...

Hi Slapdash,

It isn't easy coming out or explaining to our Christian family, friends, community etc..

Belief informs so much of our lives that it bleeds into just about everything in our lives and the lives of others.

It is especially difficult to be totally open and honest when we know/fear/or expect our changing beliefs &/or doubts/questions will upset others. We can sometimes panic and get very upset because we know they will react in a negative way. We fear they will reject us and unfortunately, they fear that your rejection or wandering away from their beliefs means you reject them as well. Of course, that isn't true but I've seen it time & time again with those who have deconverted.

I'd like to encourage you to not take the blame for ruining your mom's vacation &/or life. We don't have that kind of power Slapdash. If your mom let it be ruined & her life is ruined she is accountable for that...it's her choice, not yours.

It's a journey, it's a process...don't beat yourself up over it. There's no hurry to explain yourself to anyone and there's nothing wrong with answering their questions with "I don't know."

When I first told my close friends that I was no longer a Christian, some of them smiled as to say, yeah right. They didn't believe me. Others said, well you sound like the way Christians are suppose to be. See, they thought being a non-Christian would show up in immorality & well, just going down the sewer. That didn't happen, in fact, they saw a more peaceful Zoe then they'd ever seen before and by golly, how could an ex-Christian ever be peaceful? :-)

Slapdash, be who you are. A human on a journey with a heart and a mind. Continue to think for yourself, ask the tough questions and continue to love those around you. They will see that you are the same loveable Slapdash daughter you've always been.

If your mom worries about you and hell, she's responsible for that worry, not you. Love her anyway.

Hugs for you & mom. :-)

Andrew said...

I have been having similar conversations with family lately (and by the way, I have been enjoying your blog). People get very nervous when you are no longer "believing" the right way.

You may have dealt with what I am about to say in other blogs, but you said "I guess all of this is to say that I’m still very much in the middle of the process, and still unsure where it’s going to lead." I am hoping that you have not limited yourself to two destinations i.e I either believe how I believed growing up, or I don't believe at all. For myself, when I found the beliefs of my youth failed to make sense, I was tempted to ditch everything. However at some point in that journey I realized that I did not have to abandon belief in God, but rather, I could believe differently about him. I have found that this requires me to let go of my certainties and live with some ambiguity and unanswered questions. This beckons me to go back to believing in a fundamental way, or not believing at all.
I hope in your journey, you might consider that the way you were brought up is only one slice of how people think about God. Evangelicals tend to focus on having a correct set of beliefs. However, they do not have a monopoly on theological thought.

Try not to let the journey stress you out too much. :) If God is there, he is enormously patient. If he isn't, well... no sense gettin stressed out over nothin! :)

lowendaction said...

slap,

Way proud of you girl! Being open and honest about your thoughts, doubts, feelings and emotions will always bring you out on top! Unfortunately your mom has been a lifelong vicitm of her own insecurities, that I would argue were planted and groomed by the very church she so strongly believes in (use of church vs God was on purpose!).

One of the most dangerous follies that Christians have somehow gotten into their heads, is that they contribute to salvation/or loss thereof. This couldn't be further from what God teaches. We are called to love first, love completely, and love only! The rest is up to God and that individual.

I wish your mother could tap in to that concept of love. My love for you should be equal regardless of your belief system. Just as I love your mom, dispite of her short-sited understanding of Christian love. However, it is natural to be saddened when one believes in heaven/hell, and she only wants the "best" for you. However, unconditional love trumps all else.

My only wish/prayer/whatever for you, is that you stay true to yourself on your journey, and that your directions are not tainted by manipulative influences of others.

For me personally, this "narrow road" of a journey, is one of the main reasons I DO follow the Christian God. Nowhere in the bible does it say this is somekind of slap-happy (no pun intended!) fun joy-ride. I believe He purposly has made it very difficult for us to find Him, so that when we finally do...it REALLY means something.

Know that you are supported and loved, now matter what you choose (unless it's mormanism or scientology...then I'm afraid I'm going to have to shun you!...*wink*).

Thank you for your courage to share this difficult trial with all of us. I for one think you're gonna be just fine.

Zoe said...

"Manipulative influences of others."

Would that be all of us who have commented here or just the non-theists? :-)

Zeke said...

All I can say is, you know you're on the prayer list rotation now, right?

jON said...

it just takes time. it was a big shock when i came out last year. uprooted everything and completely changed the family dynamic.

which is not a bad thing. i get more comfortalbe around them over time by continuing to be myself around them. (like wearing my favorite t-shirt which says, 'fucking classy' on it) that's all i can do. and it's not the "all at once" acceptance i would be hoping for, but then again, reaching my conclusions weren't an overnight thing either. many ideas i embrace now started off by being completely repulsive because they set off all the damn "morality and hell avoidance alarms" that were hard-wired in my head by family and church teachers.

took a damn sight to get them out, and now i can actually hear myself think and it's a wonderful thing. i can relax and know that i've got time to work it out and think about it.

if they need to be absolutely certain RIGHT FUCKING NOW about everything in the universe and then form concrete structured beliefs around those things, they can if they want. it's their lives. i just don't desire to join them in being that type of person.

and that's okay.

Slapdash said...

Hi everyone--

Thank you for all of your comments here. When I have a bit more time I'll respond in more depth; for now I just want to thank you all for the warmth, empathy, and support you've offered.

lowendaction said...

zoe,

touche!!!

I meant EVERYONE that might influence her to make a decision that is not truely from within her own self.

I'm not trying to cram God down anyones throat here. I'm just trying to encourage Slap to be true to herself first and only.

peace!

Zeke said...

if they need to be absolutely certain RIGHT FUCKING NOW about everything in the universe and then form concrete structured beliefs around those things, they can if they want. it's their lives. i just don't desire to join them in being that type of person.

I had to ring the bell on that one, Jon. I think that you've touched on a deep need in the evangelical culture, and one of the reasons why it has become so unappealing to me.

And so very American too I suppose. I love America, but we're not the most patient of peoples.

Maria said...

I echo thoughts already mentioned here when I say I can only imagine how hard this must be. I'm still in the stage where my family only knows that I'm not attending church regularly right now. They're convinced that at some point I'll start again. I'm not so sure and for all the same reasons I've avoided or changed the subject.

Best wishes on your search for truth. And please keep writing!

jON said...

"What if she’s right?"

beware the 'what if'. it is, in my opinion, pure evil. it will pin you down when you least expect it and put a knife to your throat and try to force you back into the mental prison from which you just escaped into freedom.

i know it is much easier said than done. but stand strong in your conviction to be honest with yourself about who you are and what you believe. because you know you're not scoring any points to say you believe something you don't just to keep the 'demons' at bay.

that only crushes your joy into a fine powder while simutaneously raping your heart and murdering your 'idea children'.

and somewhere in the background, you'll hear the faint sound of laughter...

here's to sending good energy your way to let you know you are not alone in what you are experiencing. to look into the face of the 'what if' and walk away anyway, head held high, knowing that infinite love is just too big to be quenched by bullshit like that.

Slapdash said...

***What I will say is that from what I've read, de-converting-wise, is that they say they became nicer and better people. If you do become a non-Christian, I don't see it changing how you act, how you respond, or even your morals. It shifts the belief structure.*** (Heather)

I am certainly hoping that loosening the strings of my faith will not change me for the worse. But it's something I've been thinking about recently and may write an entry about - when the foundations and origins and explanations and justifications for your sense of morality come loose, it's a very weird thing to shift it to...something else. Only I don't quite know what that something else is yet, and I haven't quite made my peace with that something else.

***I also think your confusion is coming from the fact that this is your mother, and she was an authority figure -- probably still is -- for much of your life.*** (heather)

Oh my, yes. If my mom were a Christian of a more liberal stripe, I would be much, much less stressed out about what I'm going through. I worry about upsetting, disappointing, worrying her more than anything else. For the most part, I can handle everyone else. But my mom? Ugh. It's even harder than I imagined. :(

Slapdash said...

***Although Truth must be worth the sacrifice of it all, you're not sure if you're even on the path to Truth, and yet, it seems impossible that Truth can ever be found by ignoring your doubts and questions and settling for what seems to satisfy others but doesn't satisfy you. You must wish that it could satisfy you, in spite of knowing that it can't. A step either way seems equally dangerous.*** (Jennypo)

That's a really apt description - and yes, moving in any direction right now feels scary, dangerous, even wrong given my uncertainty. It's a weird kind of paralysis - right now it feels oddly safer to stay in the questioning mode than to commit to a more certain perspective, whether back toward faith or toward real agnosticism/atheism.

***If it means anything at all, this total stranger supports your struggle for reality.*** (jennypo)

Thanks very much. I appreciate that.

Slapdash said...

***It is especially difficult to be totally open and honest when we know/fear/or expect our changing beliefs &/or doubts/questions will upset others. We can sometimes panic and get very upset because we know they will react in a negative way.*** (Zoe)

Funny - I just got done saying that I can handle everyone but my mom...except I just remembered a good Christian friend that I have avoided calling for 2 months because I don't want to tell her where I'm at... and it will inevitably come up in our conversation.

***I'd like to encourage you to not take the blame for ruining your mom's vacation &/or life. We don't have that kind of power Slapdash.*** (Zoe)

You're right, of course. I *wish* I could prevent the hurt/worry she now carries around for me, but ultimately she is the only person who can change how she feels.


***Slapdash, be who you are. A human on a journey with a heart and a mind. Continue to think for yourself, ask the tough questions and continue to love those around you. They will see that you are the same loveable Slapdash daughter you've always been.*** (Zoe)

I think this process has in some ways pushed me into a really defensive, selfish, inwardly-focused place. Yuck. Maybe it's necessary to have a hard shell while I'm working through the hardest bits of this, but I definitely hope to come out of this able to be a more compassionate and generous person. I don't think I am that right now.

Slapdash said...

***I am hoping that you have not limited yourself to two destinations i.e I either believe how I believed growing up, or I don't believe at all.*** (Andrew)

I don't *think* I'm limiting myself in this way... but part of me has a hard time imagining how to believe differently about God, as it seems like it would be me just making up whatever I want to believe, and therefore me being no better than the (evangelical) theologies I'm rejecting today. Then again, another part of me really really wants to believe there is a (good) God out there. Whether that's because I'm conditioned to think so because of my years in the faith, or because it is that innate soul-response to a very real divine being, I don't know. Still working that out, I guess. :)

Slapdash said...

***Way proud of you girl! Being open and honest about your thoughts, doubts, feelings and emotions will always bring you out on top!*** (Lowendaction)

Well, lowenD, who knew you'd come out as such a cheerleader for me? Thanks. :)

***I wish your mother could tap in to that concept of love. My love for you should be equal regardless of your belief system. Just as I love your mom, dispite of her short-sited understanding of Christian love. However, it is natural to be saddened when one believes in heaven/hell, and she only wants the "best" for you. However, unconditional love trumps all else.*** (Lowendaction)

You know, I may be selling my mom short. After all, she has been married to a non-Christian for 43 years now, and loves my dad to pieces despite his lack of faith in Jesus. That said, I know it has been a very difficult road for her given her heaven/hell theology. To her credit, Mom treated me the same as always for the rest of the vacation. On the other hand, one of the hardest things about the conversation was that she had NO interest, ZERO, zip, NADA, in hearing why I had come to question things. I really wish I could have a chance to explain what's happened for me over the last several years, but I also think that Mom would listen only to punch holes in my arguments (such as they are). She loves me...but has an extremely rigid theology.

Slapdash said...

***All I can say is, you know you're on the prayer list rotation now, right?*** (Zeke)

Ha ha - yes! No doubt she has all of her Bible study ladies praying for me, as well as some of my high school friends that still go to our hometown church...and, oh let's see, also probably our head pastor.

But you know, that's okay by me. I figure prayer isn't going to hurt me - and if God is really there and answers prayers, then great! Somehow I'll find my way back to him. What I worry about is the possibly detrimental effect of *unanswered* prayers for those who are doing the praying. That was, after all, one of the main things that got me questioning everything.

Slapdash said...

***which is not a bad thing. i get more comfortalbe around them over time by continuing to be myself around them. (like wearing my favorite t-shirt which says, 'fucking classy' on it) that's all i can do. and it's not the "all at once" acceptance i would be hoping for, but then again, reaching my conclusions weren't an overnight thing either.*** (jon)

Great t-shirt. :) Thanks for this perspective and the reminder that I can't or shouldn't expect immediate acceptance.

***took a damn sight to get them out, and now i can actually hear myself think and it's a wonderful thing. i can relax and know that i've got time to work it out and think about it.*** (jon)

Yes, hearing myself think, and actually entertaining ideas that I never let myself consider because they were wrong/bad/of the devil has been one of the best things that's come out of this process.

Slapdash said...

***Best wishes on your search for truth. And please keep writing!*** (maria)

Thanks, Maria!

Slapdash said...

***beware the 'what if'. it is, in my opinion, pure evil.*** (jon)

Wow Jon, if ever I need a quick pick-me-up, I'll just read this comment of yours a few times! Strong words, but I like 'em. Thank you. :)

jON said...

this may not do it for you, but one thought i found of great use in battling the "what if?" is this...

either the cross worked, or it didn't.

if it worked, then you're forgiven and it doesn't matter. if it didn't work, then no one's forgiven and it doesn't matter.

either way you can relax and just be the best you that you know how to be right now without fear!

Dan Sanders said...

I am loving this blog.

I'm a 40-year old, raised in church (Church of Christ, even), and now I just can't do it anymore. And I'm totally with you on the family thing - my Mom and Dad are gone (good thing, because this would have killed them), but one of my sisters just cant handle it. So I'm getting the Cliff's Notes from Apologetics 101 in my emails and comments fields daily.

I have vowed not to be a strident atheist (assuming I am one...), so I take a far less evangelistic approach to my lack-of-godness. It appears that even though you have good reasons to be where you are, you seem very fair and even about it. I only hope I can stay that way. Looking forward to catching up with your writings.

Slapdash said...

Hi Dan, thanks for stopping by and for posting a bit of your story. Indeed, the family relationships are the toughest ones. Much easier to let friendships fade out...