The Risk of Becoming Real and Why It Is a Worthwhile Process

There is a certain risk involved in deconstructing one’s faith to rebuild it in a new and stronger way. You risk being misunderstood, accused of heresy, and otherwise shunned. You risk hurting the feelings of those closely associated to your own story. Committing to a deep-dive expedition of sorting through the roots of your belief system guarantees discomfort and some degree of conflict. As the beloved, classic children’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit, reflects, becoming real is risky, harrowing, and often lonely, yet enormously rewarding:

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”



 

Growing up in a relatively unstable and dysfunctional home required me to learn some unhealthy coping and survival skills. Sure, things looked okay on the outside because we learned to mask the uglier facets, but we were not a happy family. There were moments, of course, especially in my younger years when we managed to complete a family activity in relative peace. Yet, for as long as I can remember, there was an underlying current of tension, an expectation that the lid would blow at any moment without warning—and it grew increasingly heavier as the years passed. It wasn’t until my teenage years, when my sister and I referred to our father as “the man who lives in our house” (because he was physically present, but emotionally distant) that I began to realize  this wasn’t normal.

Looking back, I can see how many of my behaviors and thought patterns developed as coping mechanisms and self-preservation tactics.  Only recently have I learned that some of the things I experienced actually fall under the umbrella of trauma—including psychological, emotional, and spiritual abuse.

I know those are weighty admissions.

Believe me when I say I’m aware of their implications. But I’m tired of minimizing my experience to make others look better; I’m tired of remaining silent to keep the peace. It wasn’t my responsibility to do so as a child…but I did. As I work on healing and re-parenting my younger self, the best gift I can give her is to let her have her voice back.

In the past ten months, I’ve begun to realize just how much growing up not only in evangelical Christianity itself, but also during the height of the evangelical purity culture movement has informed my views of myself, the world, and the nature of God. While seeking growth and a deeper understanding of who I am, I hold a tangled ball of readily-accepted lies, wounds, and assumptions that formed from early childhood forward.

Not everything I learned was bad—and I believe most (emphasis on most) people who were responsible for teaching and guiding me did not have motives to harm. Many of them were merely passing on the tradition of the faith culture they themselves were fed. The problem, though, is that going against the grain or questioning the authority of those in leadership roles is highly discouraged and, therefore, taboo.

Well, I’m questioning.

And it isn’t a tidy little Q&A panel with answers handed out in neatly packaged boxes. No, this feels like a throw-everything-you-know-in-a-dumpster-douse-with-gasoline-light-a-match-and-toss-it-in season. You know how people describe working through issues as peeling the layers of an onion? This feels more like hacking the onion to death and hoping for the best.

Even in nature, death precedes growth—seeds must die before trees grow; seasons must rotate through fall and winter before the bounty of spring and summer.  Pearls begin as an irritant inside an oyster’s shell. The process of change and discomfort is necessary for transformation and beauty to be birthed. It’s a healthy, natural process to wrestle through the beliefs, patterns, and circumstances that have irritated the human soul to find the core of one’s true identity without merely accepting Sunday School answers at face value.

I hope that my readers—both those who have known me my whole life and those who have known me only briefly in person/this virtual space can respect and honor my perspectives. We certainly don’t have to agree in order to honor one another’s stories. You don’t get to sit in the cheap seats and tell me I’m doing it wrong “if you aren’t in the arena getting your [butt] kicked” too, as Brené Brown says. Because I process so much of my inner life through writing and because a lot (though not all) of that happens on this platform, I need to make this clear: I’m not seeking to cast blame on any particular individuals but rather to share MY experiences from MY perspective as well as the culminating effects of those things. I’ve spent too much of my life suppressing my own emotions, thoughts, and beliefs because I worried about what everyone else would think.

Brené also says, “You either walk inside your story and own it or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness.”

I’ve stood outside my story all my life.

Now, I’m stepping inside and owning it.

Deconstructing Faith

Deconstructing Faith

Have you ever suddenly found yourself deconstructing your faith and questioning your beliefs about almost everything? Sifting through the fundamentals by which you were raised? Picking apart the rote rituals and rules of a particular denomination? Stripping your internal structures to the bare bones so that you might begin to rebuild a sturdier, stronger structure in its place?

For lack of a better term, I’m referring to it as an awakening.

An awakening to different perspectives, broader definitions, and deeper understanding. An awakening that demands exploration, open-mindedness, and honesty. An awakening that requires examination of past wounds, current traps, and future possibilities–both welcome and unwelcome. An awakening that brings great healing, painful disappointments, and ultimate freedom.

It’s not a pretty or pleasant process; yet, it is a natural and necessary process for deep-rooted growth. And it’s where I find myself now.

I wrote this poem (a term loosely employed) as a metaphor for the complex emotions I have felt during this journey.  So, please enjoy this piece as I struggle through some big, uncomfortable questions about life, faith, God, religion, church, and the dark side of purity culture. *begin sarcasm font*This is so much fun.*end sarcasm font*

Bait and Switch

I learned to swim in these waters.
They felt safe back then,
drifting along with the current,
in an ocean with no end.

The warnings were clear:
keep inside the tight boundaries
lest my heart and mind
should veer.

I blindly obeyed–
mostly for fear
of not checking the boxes;
thus, I drank the kool-aid.

Many years later, I coasted the sea
in waters much further, much further away
where I begin to just think–maybe there’s a different,
a more freedom-filled way.

I swam deeper still into my new home,
though it wasn’t all easy
I had more room to explore and  to roam.

Until one day, I saw
with a new pair of eyes
what I believed
was built on man’s tries.

Out of nowhere, it came–
the fog lifted high;
blindsided by pain
I wanted to cry.

I’ve been robbed?
I’ve been cheated?
I’ve been lied to?
It’s true.

Now, I realize
what’s been stolen
is my identity.

Numb to the point
buried deep in my flesh,
my heart and my  mind
have agreed to disjoint.

Not feeling is easier
than facing the facts.
Yet now that I know,
I can’t sit back and not act.

The sharp taste of steel-
of blood and of shame
to the brim, my mouth fills
as my soul is inflamed.

I’ve been robbed.
I’ve been cheated.
I’ve been lied to.
It’s true.

Far above me they sat
in their suits and their ties
and threw out the sinkers
filled with hopeless white lies.

I swallowed the bait
of a pure, snow white life
that would end at the altar,
making me the good wife.

Now, twenty years on-God, that stings just to say,
I have kept my end of the bargain
Only to find they were blindly leading my heart away,
with babbling, fear-based jargon.

The ring on my finger,
the noose that would bind me.
The pledge penned by my hand,
the soul-wound that would linger.

So many years wasted,
struggling,
caught on the line.

I followed the rules,
and look where it got me–
floundering–
broken and alone.

Still caught on the line,
now tasked with a chore
of untangling myself
to find my true core.

The waters I swam in
no longer feel safe.
Even if I break free,
will the scars always chafe?

These are the questions
my soul entertains
as, slowly, I feel
the hook’s grip
start to loosen;