I Wish I Could be Hopeful About Dating

I wish I could be hopeful about dating.

About even the possibility that it could happen.

But the reality is that it feels very much like a pipe dream to me. 

Because the hard truth is that I am so very inexperienced when it comes to relationships.

I feel robbed of the opportunity to experience the carefree, exhilarating thrill of young love.

I feel weighed down by the baggage with which purity culture teachings saddled me.

I don’t have any past evidence that I am worthy of pursuit and emotional investment.

I am plagued by anxieties and fears and questions.

Am I enough for anyone?

Am I capable of being in a healthy relationship?

How the hell does a woman in her mid-30s with no prior dating experience meet an eligible partner who isn’t a creep without bar hopping and scoping church singles groups (both of which seem like an incredibly bad idea to me)?

(But for real.)

Is it worth dreaming and hoping for someone to share my life with? Or am I just increasing the sting of inevitable disappointment?

They [the church, both in general and my own specific congregations] built an altar to marriage and said it was good.

They taught me to be submissive—preparation to be a good wife.

They took my body and told me it was not mine, but my [near] future husband’s. I belonged to him and him alone.

They said if I kept my heart locked away, he would find me and unlock it with the key.

They told me I was a jewel, a treasure to be found.

They warned me that my appearance made men lust and I was responsible for his actions and reactions. They taught me to be passive, waiting for the fairy tale to begin.

And when I crossed an invisible line of no longer being a hopeful, young, virgin-in-waiting, they pushed me to the edges where I became a faulty, inexperienced, perpetual single.

They boxed me in, stole my femininity, made me small, and rendered me invisible.

Now, I realize that the fear-filled and shaming approach of purity culture produced shame, fear, and scarcity. [These are not the fruits of the Spirit.]

Now, I panic when someone mentions dating.

Now, I see the harm and the damage they caused.

Now, I weep for the innocence I lost.

Now, I fight to take back my power.

Now, I unlearn what I thought was the only way.

But is it too late?

It feels too late.

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.

 

 

———-

*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. *

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.