When There’s Nothing Left To Do But Burn It All Down

Sometimes there’s nothing left to do but throw all your experiences, beliefs, and structures in a pile, light a match, burn it all down…and then go about the heavy lifting of sifting through the rubble and rebuilding.

During the last few years, I’ve learned so much about myself through a variety of self-help books, personality theories, personal growth tools, retreats, goal-setting exercises, belief vs. lie exploration, journaling, and conversations with trusted friends. I’ve realized how much childhood trauma and the beliefs we develop early in life affect us in adulthood. I’ve learned how the body remembers emotional pain. I’ve learned the importance and worthiness of loving myself just as I am…without judgement or shame.

I had lunch with a friend this week that turned into an afternoon-long discussion of how my perspectives have changed during this de/reconstruction. Let me tell you, the whole conversation was a balm to my soul. I allowed myself to be honest and open and gave myself permission to answer whatever questions she asked.

We were both nervous to broach the topic at first, because it’s just plain scary when your close friends start deconstructing their belief systems. If you’ve not deconstructed and reconstructed your own beliefs, you’re suddenly faced with a choice: distance yourself for fear that the actively deconstructing person is no longer someone you can relate to or enter open, respectful, and honest dialogue to learn from one another.

We chose the latter. I invited her to ask me anything she wanted—and she did. My answers flowed readily and freely; when I came to an issue I’m not yet clear on, I said so. When I knew I had a strong conviction and opinion about other issues, I said so. During our entire conversation, I neither apologized (or felt apologetic) for the views I expressed, nor did I feel compelled to convince her to agree with my viewpoint.

As a dyed-in-the-wool former evangelical and an Enneagram type 9, this was HUGE for me—especially since some of the things I said regarding gender roles, sexuality, purity culture, and the nature of God were things I never fathomed crossing my lips. Yet, as soon as they did, I felt more freedom to stop hiding behind the fear of what I’m supposed to believe and live as the person I was created to be, to have my own thoughts and opinions that were formed through careful thought and personal intuition rather than merely absorbing and adhering to the traditions handed down the family line and presented as the only possible worldview.

Layers upon layers of these beliefs entangle every aspect of my life because I was so entrenched in environments that sheltered me from any other perspective including attending conservative, evangelical churches in the bible belt; being home-schooled; employment at Christian institutions; attending a conservative, evangelical college; growing up in a dysfunctional home with emotional and verbal abuse; witnessing borderline physical abuse; both witnessing and experiencing religious/spiritual abuse; experiencing psychological abuse; the principles of purity culture; patriarchal hierarchy; and body-shaming.

It’s an absolute dumpster fire and I’ve come to the place where there’s nothing left to do than light a match and burn it all down so I can rebuild a healthier, stronger structure in its place.

God gave me a brain and the mental capacity to use it to think critically…and that is exactly what I’m doing. Looking at all sides, considering different perspectives, and following the path of my personal curiosity about the world.  I have an innate desire to learn; I’ve hungered for information and words and texts since I learned to read. I enjoy hearing other perspectives and sifting through them to find the pieces that resonate with me. Majoring in English taught me not only how to approach literature from a myriad of perspectives and theories—it taught me how to approach life and all its intrinsic complexities with many lenses.

I can’t speak for my friend, but I know that I walked away from our conversation with a deep peace, a better understanding of my deconstruction process, and the hope that it won’t cost me everyone I’ve ever associated with in conservative, evangelical circles.

Will there be disagreement?

Yes.

Will there be awkward moments of stumbling through new territory on the shifting sands of deconstruction?

Absolutely?

But I think it’s so, so worthwhile to wrestle out your faith and find the truth that resonates in your own soul. If we refuse to do the hard work of examining our own lives, we grow stagnant in beliefs that are no more than ill-fitting, old hand-me-downs from the past. So often, I’ve witnessed proclaiming Christians berate and belittle others who do not believe as they do, demanding they fit into a prescribed box and shunning them when they do not.

Is God not bigger than the containers we’ve built to hold him in a way that our finite capabilities can process and accept? If God is as powerful as we say we believe he is, is it possible that all the legalistic, fundamental chains we’ve bound ourselves in don’t exist in his plan for us?

So, although I am still very much in the process of deconstructing the beliefs that were thrust upon me from the very beginning of my life and reconstructing them into my personal beliefs that I can firmly stand on, I want to record some of the things I am actively adopting and/or working through. These may serve as an outline for future blog posts as I dive deeper in this process.

Here’s where I’ve currently landed:

I believe God exists.

I believe God created us in his/her image.  (On that note, I suspect God is more non-binary than we’ve realized. And yes, I know that’s going to be a very hot button for a lot of people. I’m not going to try to convince you…I just invite you to be curious enough to wonder whether he is all-encompassing enough that we could have missed the mark on this with our finite human capabilities.)

I (think I) believe Jesus was born to a virgin, crucified, and rose again.

I believe that salvation/relationship with God is more of a journey than a moment/recitation of the sinner’s prayer.

I believe the bible is more of a wisdom handbook than a black and white road map for all issues humans might/will face. It is a collection of texts written by many men, across thousands of years, to address a variety of cultures, people, places, and periods. It is more fluid than it is rigid.

I do not believe in the absolute hierarchy of the “umbrella of submission” whereby a wife is to submit, without question, to her husband. I believe humans fall under the submission of God once they profess their faith, but on equal footing as men and women rather than God–>man–>woman.

I believe “sin” has been mis-defined to some degree by the church and that God is concerned about it on a far more personal level than what we’ve taught. (Less checklist-y, for sure, and perhaps more cognitive-based than behavioral. Again, I’m not [yet] saying this is absolute, but worth considering.)

I believe that Jesus is love and believers are to live in that love, thereby exhibiting the nature of the trinity to others.

*deep breath*

When you’ve been raised not to question the authority of the church and those who stand at the pulpit, putting forth questions and unpopular beliefs like some of those above, it’s terrifying. You wonder where the debris will fall when you’ve blown up everything you were told and oppose what you are expected to cling to. You fear losing people because they just don’t understand where you are or how you got here.

I’ve spent my whole life making sure everyone else was okay. I’ve avoided conflict like it’s my job. I’ve sat down, shut up, and suppressed my emotions, thoughts, opinions, and voice since I was a child. I’ve listened to the voices—both internally and externally–that told me I was too much, not enough, irrational, rebellious, too sensitive, making things up, not saved enough, allowing satan to build strongholds in my life (yeah—as an eight-year-old…fun times). I was made to distrust my intuition, taught to equate mental health with spiritual health, robbed of my dreams, and promised that the ultimate end goal, the fatted calf of the church—marriage and a family–would be mine if I just followed all the rules.

I pasted on a smile.

I buried my heart.

I disconnected mind from body, from soul.

I made myself small. I disappeared.

Enough.

I’m waking up.

And I’m no longer apologizing for being me.

This is who I want to be.

 

 

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*Note: I am open to respectful, thoughtful discussion in the comments both here on my website and on social media; however, I reserve the right to remove any dismissive, cruel, and polarizing comments. I’m not interested in perpetuating unhelpful and hurtful religious agendas. *

I Kissed Dating Goodbye, Too: A #ChurchToo Story

The #churchtoo movement is attracting a lot of attention these days. Like many others, I have my own story of spiritual abuse in the church. In recent years, I’ve recognized it as such and begun to talk and write about it. Yet, as strongly as I feel that these stories need to be brought into the light, I’ve been cautious in sharing because I am grateful for many aspects of growing up in the church. I just wish the adults who helped shape beliefs had known better so they could have taught me better.

I came across this article from Josh Harris this morning; it struck a nerve and lit a fire that needed to be channeled into words. In 2003, Harris released a book that spread like wildfire through the evangelical church: I Kissed Dating Goodbye. It was shoved into the hands of adolescents throughout the Bible belt as an added safety measure against “sinful behavior.” Rather than offering practical support to almost-adults navigating opposite-sex relationships, youth leaders and parents touted this book as a manual for purity.

As a teenager who grew up in the Southern & Independent Baptist church in the late 90s/early 2000s, I was taught (and bought into–hook, line, and sinker) this whole “dating is wrong” worldview. I read this book and Harris’ follow-up book, Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship (a rather convenient amendment to his original stance once he began dating but needed a more acceptable term). The first research essay I wrote for a college English class argued the necessity of casting aside dating and committing to serious courtship with marriage as the goal. (I cringe at the thought of my naivete, but it is true that you don’t know what you don’t know.)

As a “good, evangelical Christian girl” my sense of self-worth was entirely tied to “guarding my heart,” “remaining pure,” and “waiting for the right one,” and “living with my parents until I was married.” (How, exactly, does that happen when you aren’t allowed to find “the one?” This still baffles me.) Rather than learning to live out my God-given identity as a woman, the messages I heard from every authority figure pointed back to a checklist of items I needed to adhere to in order for God to magically give me the desires of my heart.

They weren’t harmful suggestions in and of themselves, but they were presented as a rule book wherein God kept track of my behavior as a measurement of my faithfulness. If I didn’t follow the rules, I didn’t deserve good things.

At 34 years old, I’ve never dated (except for that one hilariously bad blind date when I was 22-ish), I’ve never been kissed (did anyone else hate that movie?), never slept around (or with anyone at all for that matter), never this, never that. I wore the TLW ring (the “one ring” of the evangelical church.) Side note: none of the guys in my youth groups had TLW rings. Hmm.

Why would I put this in print for all the world to see? Why would I share these intimate, vulnerable details of my life?

Because I know I’m not the only person who has considered herself unworthy, unlovable, rejected, and hopeless because she was fed the rhetoric of kissing dating goodbye. (And let’s not even touch the notion that girls/women were/are considered responsible for the way a boy/man conducts himself. Was I at fault when the youth leader who was a handful of years older than me put me in a headlock, taunting and laughing as I struggled to get loose as my peers watched? He lorded his perceived superiority over me like a trophy. You can’t wipe away the damage of a scenario like that from the heart, mind and, soul of a 17-year-old girl.)

It’s instances like these that have me reconsidering my belief system from the ground up, un-learning the “truths” that aren’t actually true and re-learning what is. The reality is that I, like many others, have experienced abuse at the hands of the church. Reconciling those past hurts with who I am today is hard but necessary work as I heal and become the person I was created and redeemed to be.

I still don’t have the “desires of my heart” in this area of my life. Maybe I never will.

And it’s only been the last six months or so that I’ve allowed myself to admit that this skewed thinking has caused a significant accumulation of emotional and spiritual damage.

I’m wrestling with the implications of how this viewpoint has driven deep-rooted lies about the character of God into my soul; it has caused me to believe that my singleness has made me less-than.

I don’t have any solid answers or solutions of how to reconcile my past beliefs with the truth of my identity other than the slow process of allowing God to re-parent my heart in this area.

I just wish I could tell 16-year-old me that she’s a human and that God placed those desires to be loved, accepted, pursued, and protected in her DNA. She’s not weak; she’s stronger than she knows.

And he’s not hovering over her with a checklist of her successes at following the good girl rules.

She is enough as she is.

She is worthy.

She is loved.

She is accepted.

She is pure.

She is pursued.

Whether she kissed dating goodbye or not.