So You Left The Church. What Next?
It was Easter Sunday, 2013. I was sitting in a friend's backyard. I can still feel the grass underneath me and the warm air caressing my skin. 9 years before, on another perfect Easter Sunday I stood in front of my church in a white frilly dress and confessed my faith in Jesus Christ. Moments later, I was baptized "being buried with Christ and raised to new life".
Years later, that faith I had so reverently dedicated my life to was tearing me apart. "Screw it" I said to myself and promptly broke up with God. I told Him I was sick of the crippling panic attacks about going to Hell and the constant fear of not being good enough. I didn't understand these people around me who treated my LGBTQA friends so terribly and I was tired of seeing only men in the leadership of the Church. I told God I was done.
Suddenly, I was overwhelmed with relief. My journey out of the Church ended up being the best thing I could have done for myself. From a mental health standpoint, leaving allowed me to recognize that the obsessive thinking about Hell and the need to be perfect were signs of underlying issues, not God punishing me.
From a spiritual standpoint, leaving the Church saved my faith (although that may not be the case for everyone and that is okay too). Making the choice to walk away from what had been my truth for so long was scary.
My whole life up to that point had been defined by evangelical Christianity. I didn't know how to do anything else. If you're finding yourself in that place, this piece is for you. By no means is this an exhaustive list of coping strategies (nor should this replace getting mental health treatment). This is just a starter list of what worked for me.
Breathe. Yes, I am serious. Step outside and place your feet firmly on the ground. Fill your lungs with air. Know that this not the end of you, but simply a beginning. Exhale. Know that you are not the first nor will you be the last person to walk on this journey. History is full of courageous people like you who looked at powerful institutions like the Evangelical Church and said "This is not okay".
Make a plan for Sunday. When you've spent your whole life going to church on Sundays, the simple act of not going can feel disconcerting so make a plan. Meet a friend for brunch. Go to a yoga class. Take your dog for a walk. Finish that book you've been meaning to finish.
Grieve. Give yourself the time and space to grieve. What you're experiencing is almost like a death and it's okay to feel awful. Just like a death, you'll finding yourself walking through the five stages of grief. Don't rush yourself to acceptance. This isn't something you can force.
Educate. One of the most pivotal effects of my deconstruction is the fact that I started listening to people that I would have never listened to before. I learned words and phrases like "purity culture" and "spiritual trauma".I learned about race in a way that I never had before and begin to acknowledge my privilege and biases. I even started to realize that maybe evolution wasn't such an absurd idea after all. So go check out a book you never would have dared to read before. Allow your mind to be opened.
Find community. With the loss of faith oftentimes means the loss of community. I promise you, the church isn't the only place where you will find a home. Many areas have groups for those who don't identify with a particular religion to hang out and listen to lectures and the like. If you're not comfortable with that, join a book club or a yoga studio. Community is out there.
Last November I found myself once again in front of a Church confessing my faith, but this time I wasn't doing it to escape hellfire. I was doing it because I have found a home in the Episcopal Church.
Your deconstruction might look different than mine. You may never step foot in a church again or you might find a faith practice that is life giving to you. I promise, things will get better, but you have to make that first step. It's worth it.