Several months ago, one of my high school acquaintances went through a spiritual crisis. She revealed to me that she had started questioning her faith and whether or not God even existed. This was a big deal for her because up until then, she was a staunch Christian. She grew up in church and pushed it on me many times. She even quoted scripture in everyday conversations. Of course, I was surprised by her admission. I wasn’t sure what led to the breakdown of her beliefs but I liked it.
Then some of my own Christian guilt bubbled up. I felt bad that I felt satisfied by her questioning. But I also felt relieved. I wasn’t alone. Or at least this was the first time someone publicly acknowledged their struggle with their faith. Usually that kind of thing is kept to one’s self.
As she spoke to me about her questions and conflicting feelings, I listened and mentally checked off every inconsistency she mentioned, comparing my own list to hers. I realized we shared many of the same reservations regarding our religion. I could relate to her struggle. And I felt, for the first time, someone could relate to mine.
My town is divided up into 3 groups: devout believers, devout non-believers, and those who don’t care either way (the smallest group). But I felt like the single soul who actually fit into all 3 categories yet still didn’t belong to any of them.
There was a time when I believed. And then there was a time when I rebelled against my religion. And then there was a time when I think my religion rebelled against me.
I used to be a Christian. And then college happened and changed the course of my life and I became so bitter that I turned my back on God. But, as I always did when I got into a spat with my savior, I went back and tried to reaffirm my faith. But it never lasted. With each blow to my life and/or body, I got angry again. I reached out to God, prayed, meditated, and generally tried to feel God’s presence. And I got nothing in return.
So when my high school acquaintance told me she had been going through the same type of trials, I felt relieved, especially because it was her. If someone so strong in her faith could one day waiver, it made me feel like I wasn’t the biggest piece of garbage in the universe.
And in the moment she told me about her struggles, she became three dimensional, more real to me than ever because she wasn’t just spouting scripture or pushing church on me. No one is perfect in their piety. I saw her not as a holier-than-thou Christian (which often annoyed me) but a human with a hurt heart.
She was also someone I could talk to about my own struggles. As I mentioned earlier, not a lot of people were in my camp when it came to Christ. I knew the believers would not listen to my questions but instead encourage me to pray harder or stick out the sickness in my heart. The non-believers would not have listened either and would have just told me the brain washing was finally wearing off.
But like me, this girl believed and wanted to keep believing despite the hardships that hewed into our hallelujahs. We had long conversations about our questions, about the things that didn’t make sense or didn’t seem fair to us. We discussed religion and philosophy and how it sometimes conjoined and sometimes conflicted with real life. I saw her go through this journey I had previously endured. I felt her catching up, opening up to a real world that she was finally seeing without her rose-colored stain glassed windows.
It was nice to be able to get such things off my chest, as I’d only had a computer screen to vent to previously. But to say it out loud and find agreement and understanding was a wonderful thing. It was validating and empowering.
But soon my doubt buddy resurrected her spiritual stance.
Several weeks ago, we had dinner together and she told me how she thought Jesus was stalking her, how she couldn’t get away from him no matter how hard she tried. She told me how she went to a church concert and all these visible, tangible signs of God were all around her. She said it felt good. She said it felt like home. She said it was reassuring, that it helped calm some of her doubts.
As she talked, the twinge of jealousy kicked up. Oh, how often I prayed for such signs, only to be given nothing to work with or hope for. I had all the ingredients for an intervention. I had an open mind and a desire for the divine. But I must have had a haphazard heart. The things that were supposed to be there were no longer operational. I was a cheetah with no hind legs, a tongue without taste buds.
I remember my acquaintance specifically telling me she tried to run away from God and he chased after her. Yet I sprinted toward God and he hid in the broom closet, a devastating game of I’ll hide and ye shall seek and never find me.
It was another kick in the gut to hear about someone else coming back around to their faith, especially when they weren’t necessarily trying to.
The whole thing made me feel worse and while she told me she was still confused, I can feel her returning to her Christian ways. She’s attending church again and participating in youth groups. And good for her. But that leaves me alone again. I no longer feel comfortable talking to her about my doubts, especially as her doubts have been assuaged while mine have only intensified.
And again, the guilt propelled itself forward. Shouldn’t I have been happy for her? Why was I reveling in her religious confusion and envious of her Christian comeback?
Sometimes I think it would be easier if I could just be an atheist, to just wash my hands of the whole thing. But God has been too ingrained in me to go that route. Instead I’ll probably always believe but I’ll probably also always be angry at a God that seems to pick and choose who he wants to believe in.