Although I would date the beginning of my deconstruction from around 5 years ago, in reality it probably began over a decade before.
I didn’t grow up in a Christian home as such but had a Christian Granny who was definitely an influence. My teenage years were far from happy ones but involvement in Christian camps and events gave me a sense of belonging that I struggled to find elsewhere and the desire to fit into their worldview fuelled what I believed (I realised this on reflection, but then it was just life to me). I continued in the same vain for some years.
In my mid 20s I committed the cardinal sin of falling in love with a someone who wasn’t a Christian and although many were supportive some saw my boyfriend less as a person and more as a conversation project. The actions of some really put him off and also really hurt me, but I clung on. I discovered the likes of Rob Bell and Brian McLaren around this time and spent many years doing the whole both/and rather than either/or.
The relationship ended and I doubled down on my faith again. I reengaged with Purity Culture, as it is in the UK, but chose to sit under a lot of more extreme teaching from the States. As a result I spent most of my 30s miserable and full of shame over my past choices. I was single and longing to not only be married but be a mum. It was made more painful by the fact I am a midwife, so I spent my life watching others get my dream. I kept being told to wait for the one and that it would come from where I couldn’t see.
During this time I also burnt myself out serving in my Church and battled what I now realise was high functioning depression, but I kept hearing the message that I’d feel better when I’d sorted “my stuff”. Being caught up in a fairly Charismatic church meant I sat under a culture that enabled people I trusted to pray things over me that were deeply harmful and too often I felt like I was totally exposed to those who were seen to be highly prophetic.
I pursued experiences and the Charismatic in the hope to have a moment where in a flash everything would change, but I became more and more weary as it didn’t. I did in those times discover the teachings of the Fatherheart movement and this still brings comfort now.
5 years ago I was burnt out and I took myself off to Mozambique to attend IRIS ministries Harvest School. This was where the wheels quite unexpectedly started to come off.
I could write so much about that summer but in short I sat listening to teaching about the overwhelming love of God but also about the eternal conscious torment of hell that left me fundamentally questioning God’s Character, even though I had for years not even held that view of Hell. But I felt it was under this theology that I had seen the most moves of God, as I recognised them. And again some of the things said there were incredibly damaging to me.
I came home with no answers as to what to do next (I had spent the summer asking, but God although seemingly saying a lot, never said anything I needed).
That Autumn the Trump election campaign was in full swing and seeing Christians sing his praises and support him left me feeling embarrassed to even call myself a Christian.
With the wheels coming off my faith and going back to a job I hated left me hopeless and depressed. It was the closest to wanting my life to end I’ve ever been. I would say that if this is my life, I don’t want it.
Going to church was painful and I opted out more and more and since I worked a lot of weekends my not going wasn’t noticed. I felt I couldn’t discuss where I was theologically as I didn’t want to be fixed or misunderstood or rejected for my beliefs. I was scared I would be lonely as all my friends were in church and I had no energy to really get involved in anything else. I felt pretty trapped in my life.
I eventually gathered the courage to see both my doctor and seek counselling. For me I sought out a Christian counsellor (although properly accredited) as I felt so much of my struggle was wrapped up in my faith I needed them to understand that bit of my life without me having to explain it. I lucked out with a hugely empathetic counsellor who was also in a similar place theologically.
I was able to throw off the shame and embrace who I was, not who people wanted me to be and not care so much what others thought. At this time I transitioned to a different job that was hugely rewarding.
I continued to go to church but entirely disengaged from the teaching and only craving the community.
Lockdown forced me to face the fact it was time to move on from the Church I went to as taking the social aspect away left nothing there anymore. Released from the need to be someone I wasn’t I more and more embraced who I was becoming and accepted that I didn’t have and didn’t need to have all the answers. The friends that were true friends have stuck around and those that were just church pals have drifted away.
I still call myself a Christian but one in a very different theological place that feels more akin to the character of God I encountered in the years where I was unhindered by the myriad of questions that come with that now. I still feel in transition and still not sure where I will land, if I will ever land, but I am ok with that. I find myself lately feeling the grief of things I have lost. I was a worshipper and heavily involved in worship but so many songs now are laced with the church from which they originated and I can’t sing them without getting angry or sad. I think the loss of this is the most grief I feel as it was the way I connected with God and the way I expressed how I felt about him. I stumbled upon the UK Blessing from lockdown last year and found myself weeping over something I missed so dearly but not sure how I would ever find a way to engage with.
The happy place I am in now is with someone I love and can share life with, and with the current tatters of a faith I no longer understand but patiently try to explain and work out. We have moved to a lovely area with loads to do and I definitely feel I don’t need church to fill a void that was there before. I plan to use the extra time to be more healthy in my lifestyle both physically, emotionally and spiritually and don’t plan to burn myself out serving again.
As restrictions ease we plan to try and find a church and that currently is causing me some anxiety that I will either not fit theologically or am not accepted for what I currently believe. It’s as uncomfortable as all the questions but I’m learning to accept the discomfort and embrace where it takes me. I no longer care what other Christians think about what I believe, but at the same time find great comfort when I find I am not alone in my thinking.
I’m still a work in progress and probably will be for the rest of my life, but that’s ok.
– Gillian Crossley