In 2018 I found myself at a point in life where I was terrified upon realising that my faith as it had been for my entire life didn’t seem to be working anymore. After already suffering a few years of general anxiety (often subconsciously and not knowing any obvious cause), there seemed to be a perfect storm brewing. On top of financial worries, and the general stress and sleep deprivation that comes with being a parent, I had a health scare when I was told that I could drop dead at any moment. Our second child had just been born, and I had just been dealt the blow that would put a dose of PTSD on top of the mounting stress and anxiety that I was already facing.
The belief that I had acquired from a lifetime in church was that all of this was within God’s great plan. But I was depressed (but refusing to admit it), and all my doubts that could usually be suppressed by my faith where starting to bubble up.
I carried on with my life, job and everything as normal, and kept busy to distract myself from whatever hellish emotional existence I was wading through. I immersed myself deeper into church stuff because of the belief that the closer I stuck to God, the better position I’d be in to ‘ride out’ whatever type of storm seemed to be brewing in my life.
A year after that, my wife was the first to notice that I had really not been right since my health scare (which was mostly resolved). Life got harder, but mostly as result of my rapidly decreasing mental well-being. I ended up seeking professional help, and was informally diagnosed with PTSD, which made a lot of sense.
Then, right at the beginning of 2020 (just as some weird virus was being talked about) my wife, pregnant at the time with our third, became seriously ill, and was hospitalised just before the birth. I was also facing my business possibly going bankrupt after a construction project went badly wrong…. And a looming pandemic, which I thought would inevitably be the death of my financial stability. So this had become that perfect storm.
I’d always naively believed that my faith would be enough to sustain me through any trials in life. But here I was completely broken and at the lowest point I’d ever known – crying out to God with every last fragment of emotional energy.
I continued to plough into every element of my faith that I thought could help me through. Because it’s the only thing you can do, right? I was reading the bible more, leaving home earlier each day to have a quiet time on my way to work, attending more small groups in my church, heavily involved in leading worship, fasting regularly, praying more than ever… but it didn’t work. It only made me feel worse. I was honest about it to many people from my church, but all I heard back was to do more of all the aforementioned list. I’d piled the pressure onto myself to perform as the best Christian I could be. But it really felt like God had abandoned me – totally. In the moment I needed him the most, he was gone.
Then while talking to a friend from my church about all of this, he said “just stop trying”. So I did, not really thinking that was a permissible option, but I had nothing left. I didn’t abandon my faith, I just stopped doing any of the things I had been. No prayer, no bible, nothing related to Christianity at all. I had pressed pause on my faith. And that afternoon, my life changed forever.
While walking into town to get my lunch, it was like I could see a new reality. I felt so connected to every person around me on a whole new level, I felt ‘at one’ with everything, and like the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders. It felt like some kind of spiritual awakening. It completely changed my worldview and how I related to everyone and everything.
So I couldn’t go back to what I had, but I still was subject to the ingrained belief that Christianity was the ‘only way’. This reinstalled a certain level of fear that I had to believe the correct facts about Jesus to ensure my salvation. But over the following months I decided I needed to interrogate what I actually believed, and why I believed it. This then lead to me learning that many of the ‘facts’ I’d been brought up with weren’t always that simple, or weren’t even believed by many Christians or Jews over the centuries anyway. Everything started to change. All of a sudden it seemed all too convenient that the one narrow window of Christian interpretation that I had been brought up with – just so happened to be the only ‘true’ worldview and belief system.
Over those few months, I came across many elements of my inherited faith that just didn’t make sense anymore. I started to study like crazy, via podcasts, lectures, conversations, books etc. I was discovering that so many things that I’d been taught and believed didn’t seem to be grounded in a good interpretation of the bible. Really fundamental themes were suddenly seemingly quite blurry. The ‘black and white’ nature of everything started to grate on me. The ‘us and them’-ness of every teaching seemed uncomfortable. My new found worldview of the ‘togetherness’ of everything caused my faith to start to fall apart. The house of cards fell, i had to submit to what was happening to me, let it run its course, but ultimately I had to get out.
It was incredibly disturbing and scary to start with, but why would God let/lead me into this if it wasn’t the right journey for me? I felt a strange kind of comfort about the whole thing. But I wasn’t at all wanting to loose my faith, I was terrified of loosing it. That was the exact thing that I’d been fighting against for years. So it was an immensely confusing time. A strange combination of liberation – mixed with trepidation.
I spoke a lot to Christian friends and leaders from my church, but no-one understood. I felt pushed away. I get why – to an extent. As Christian’s, we’re always told that your life will fall apart the moment you ‘let go’, and spiral out of control. But my experience was the complete opposite. The moment I let go, my depression lifted. I took responsibility of how I was feeling, stopped trying to rely on my faith. It turns out that actually I can do it with my own strength! And I should have tried many years ago rather than allowing myself to get stuck in this pointless waiting game that was only generating a frustrating state of life-draining stagnation.
So I get why my friends and leaders don’t know what to say, because this kind of story is off the radar. It shouldn’t happen. They have no response other than concerns that I’ve ‘gone liberal’, like it’s a contagious disease! To me, what felt like the most pivotal experience of my life – seemed to others to be completely invalid.
Unfortunately, as a result, I’ve lost many friends that I have known for all of my adult life. I tried to reach out to people but it’s like I’ve fell off the earth, It’s the same for my wife who shares a similar experience too. When we visit Christian friends, it always feels like there is a massive elephant in the room. And the conversation will never feel natural or open and free when it always used to.
All I know is that life on the ‘other side’ is far better than I ever thought it could be. As far as I can tell, there is no going back. Life is the best it ever has been. I feel peace, and I feel unconditional love and compassion for nature and my fellow humans on a level far greater than I ever could as a Christian. I still get stressed, and have weird symptoms of anxiety occasionally, but I can keep it all in check by being aware of what I’m doing in my life to cause it.
The God that I thought I knew up until 2020 is not involved anymore. If God is real, and all-knowing, he knows what it would take to bring me back… and he hasn’t done it. If he’s real, he doesn’t seem to want me. And that goes against everything I’ve been taught about God throughout my whole life.
I use the phrase ‘dropped my faith’, but in reality it feels like the letting go that I did was the most faithful act I ever committed. If I could ever believe in some sort of god/divine energy/presence – and if it is in control or influencing my life, I was fully faithful to it. Because leaving my former faith was the hardest, and most painful thing I’ve ever done. Yet it felt like I had no choice. It was happening whether I liked it or not. If I’d resisted – I really don’t even like to think about what my life would be like now.
My whole perspective of life and the universe shifted, it changed me and moulded me into a better, more compassionate and loving person. And for that I am eternally thankful.