I quit trying to follow someone else’s pattern for my life, because it was killing me. I got out of the most abusive relationship I’ve ever been in – my so-called ‘relationship’ with God.
Do you know why people stay in abusive relationships? Sometimes they don’t know anything better. They’re scared of being alone. They are convinced that it’s all their fault, and if they can change themselves, it will all get better. They want things to work out. They see other people in good relationships and they study them and try to figure out what to do differently to achieve that.
Maybe you can tell where this is going.
My struggle with Christianity looked a lot like that in the last two years.
I wrote this at the tail end of it a couple months ago:
My experience of spirituality has been almost bipolar. Vacillating between manic highs of spiritual conviction and determination to follow an external code and an invisible, unreachable God, and devastating lows of nothingness that wreck my inner peace and leave me crying out from my bed for hope and comfort.
Looking at it from the small distance I have achieved since I quit my daily Bible reading plan, and determined to kick the habit of prayer-as-reflex, my behavior bears scary resemblance to a victim of an abusive relationship.
I’m hurting, to the point of physical distress, longing for a spiritual relationship that is supposed to fulfill all my spiritual needs, and make my worldly needs look infinitely small. And it’s not working. I’ll have a moment of peace because I’ve mustered up all my emotional reserve to sit patiently, and I’ll think, “This is not so bad, I can do this.” And then it all comes crashing down and I know it’s my fault. I’m not doing it right. I’m trying to save myself. I’ve said all the right things, I’ve believed them in every sense of my knowing what it means to believe, and everything is still all wrong. But if I could just believe it better, or deny myself more pleasure and accept more pain, maybe God would accept me, or meet with me, and it would get better.
I just didn’t have what the other Christians had, or seemed to have. I was in search of this mystical connection with God, and it always eluded me. I tried so hard. I wanted to know God, whatever that means. But for me it was not whether I tried Bible reading, endless hours in prayer, going to church, or meeting with other Christians to talk about getting close to God. It was all a meaningless exercise that was life-draining instead of life-giving.
Plus, I’m gay. And even though Christians try to tell me that doesn’t mean I can’t be a Christian or know God, in my experience trying to be a gay Christian is torture. I grew up hearing only terrible thoughts about gay people from church. Being gay was maligned as the worst sin. It’s hard to shake off that influence.
I didn’t come out until a couple months ago, and even now lots of my friends don’t even know because it doesn’t always come up in conversation and I don’t dress or talk like a stereotypical lesbian, I guess. I also tried to date some guys in my attempts to conform and fit in.
When I first told some really close friends that I was attracted to girls, it was through sobs. I was already in the middle of some pretty tough doubts about faith, and saying it aloud made it real. In the Christianity that I grew up with, gay people have to be asexual. They have to ignore all the thoughts and feelings and desires that come with being a PERSON. In desperately trying to conform to this standard of the model Christian, I was losing my own humanity. I was trying to see myself as God supposedly sees me, and it seemed all I heard was that God wouldn’t be able to look past the gay. It’s a culture of complete self-loathing, and it is not healthy. I found that I would have given anything to just be straight. It was taking over.
Living as a Christian meant some weird priorities. I carved out time for two bible studies, church on Sundays, and volunteering efforts, and it all felt like a box to check off. I attended those things, almost always at the expense of missing things that I was actually passionate or excited about and found much more life-giving.
Christianity kept drawing lines in everything. These are the good friends, the Christian ones, it said. Those are the friends you should try to be a good influence on, but don’t get too close, because they’re not Christians. These are the people you can date. Those are the ones you have to always reject. This whole concept of sharing the gospel was always hard for me, but I had an epiphany about it, strangely enough, after watching Pitch Perfect for the eighth time. I thought the movie was so hilarious, I wanted to share it with everyone I knew. It came up so easily in conversation, and I was always willing to watch it again so a new person could see it for the first time. I think sharing the gospel is supposed to be something like that. But I had no joy in my personal experience with Christianity, and I found that rather than wanting to tell everyone about it so they could share in the experience, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemies.
Anyway, the point is I’m done waging war with myself, and no surprise, I am healthier and happier for it. I still believe in God, but I’m done fighting to get to him. If he wants to be in a relationship with me, he can come and get me any time he wants.
In the last couple weeks I’ve been more conscious about correcting people when they make a straight assumption about me. It’s kind of exhausting, but once they know, it’s very freeing. I can finally be myself. So the status update on Olivia's mental health is…I am very happy because I am finally learning to accept myself completely.