“Even though my freedom dawned within me like the gentle sun rise, when I made it manifest in my outward life it was like throwing open the door to a winter storm, and it blasted me and everyone around me.”
~The Liberation of Sophia, David Hayward
Below I share from my spiritual journey. I do not wish to offend anyone nor is this an attack on any belief system. My intention is to share with utmost vulnerability & authenticity my experience of departing from a belief system which had a severe impact on my mental, spiritual & emotional health. For the next 3 posts (or so) I will be talking about something that is very near and dear to my heart, with a special type of reader in mind. I want to speak to my brothers & sisters who have journeyed out of a religious structure and lived to tell. It is for you that I write.
When you grow up in a deeply religious environment as I did, religion is like a member of the family. Or another limb, even.
I was raised an MK. A missionary kid. At the age of three my parents relocated to the Philippines, where my father pastored a small church.
As a child I had deep faith. I remember feeling connection to God and as a very little one I used to see angels. I experienced sacred and holy moments throughout my youth, many of which were within the context of church. What I know now is that God meets people where they are at. Organized religion throughout history has (among many other things) served as a powerful catalyst for Spirit to commune with flesh.
Even as a child though, I often pondered the finer points of Christian theology, and as I grew older those questions intensified.
But I loved the parts about Jesus in the Bible. I loved his embracing of the outcasts and the unimportant, like prostitutes, adulterers and children. I always saw in Christ the kind of love that my soul longed for. Unconditional. Empowering. Humanizing.
He saw those who were invisible in society, and people responded to that.
My father was a pastor who gave up literally everything to bring Jesus to Southeast Asia and we were the pastor’s kids, heavily involved in all things church related, always being watched. For high school I was sent to a school for missionary kids in Manila, where the codes of conduct were very strict, self-expression of anything other than what was considered “Biblical” was completely taboo and where (with some very bright shining exceptions) legalism and fear-mongering were used to control and suppress the student population. I made the intentional choice to only apply to large secular colleges instead of the smaller Christian schools who were very generous in their financial aid for MKs. I needed to figure this stuff out for myself.
When I left the Philippines to attend Boston University I immediately plugged in to a church and even led a Bible study on campus for awhile. While I loved the sense of belonging, the community, the relationships, try as I might I struggled to come to terms with the fundamental questions in my heart. And no matter how many books I read on apologetics or Christian leaders I talked to, I got to a point where I simply could not sit in church without feeling squeamish and uncomfortable.
I felt like a sinner. But I felt like a liberated sinner.
As my reservations deepened, I could hardly stomach the fork in the road. If I continued to profess this faith, I would sit in the pew week after week feeling like a complete hypocrite. If I decided to denounce my religion, I would be completely alone. To me, leaving Christianity was synonymous with leaving God. Letting go the Jesus that had been my rock for so many tumultuous, precarious years did indeed seem like losing a limb.
Within months of graduating from college, I stopped going to church.
And my spirit heaved a massive sigh of relief. I felt like a sinner. But I felt like a liberated sinner.
I did not know where I was headed, or what I truly believed other than in a higher power with great love for us all. I knew that Spirit was all around me and probably didn’t hate me, but I did not think wanted much to do with my back-sliding ass.
And it was such a deep loss. I felt lost, unanchored. While relishing a new sense of emotional freedom, this first ever opportunity to explore life outside of a myriad of “shoulds,” l also found myself feeling very, very alone.
For the healing of all,
Special thanks to David Hayward who has given me permission to share some of his work throughout this series. His writing and drawings in his beautiful illustrated book “The Liberation of Sophia” have been a great source of comfort to me, reminding me that I’m not alone. He also gave me the gift of the terminology of “deconstruction.” Maybe it’s because I am a lover of words, but having verbiage around something that has been so difficult to explain is incredibly empowering. Follow him on Instagram @nakedpastor. His book “The Liberation of Sophia” can be purchased on Amazon and make sure to check out his Etsy store www.etsy.com/shop/nakedpastor.