I probably haven’t mentioned this, but I am Methodist Christian. My family didn’t always go to church when I was a child, but we began attending church when I was in fourth grade. From then on we have been shoulder-deep in church activities. I love my church and I love my religion, but there have been some points in my life when I have had extreme lapses in faith that I’d like to share.
The first is when my grandfather abruptly died of brain trauma caused by a fall when he had a stroke. This happened during my freshman year of high school, and not much explanation is needed for that one. I think most people question God after the death of a family member. He wasn’t extremely old, and he left behind a younger wife, nine children, and seven grandchildren who weren’t ready to see him go. That being my very first experience with death, I was stunned. I remember holding his right hand while my grandmother held his left as we waited for his struggle to end after we chose to remove his life support. It was a surreal moment, watching a man I’d known my entire life leave this world before my eyes.
I had no doubts of his accession to heaven. He was not only a pastor, but he was also one of the sweetest and funniest old men you could ever hope to meet. Over the years I’d begun to see him as indestructible. He’d survived multiple bypass surgeries and suffered from severe heart disease, yet he always seemed healthy as a horse. He went to the gym almost daily and worked a full time job, and was always one of the more energetic people of my family. So to see all that jubilance suddenly flatline was a shock for me.
The usual questions of “Why God?” and “What did he ever do wrong?” ran through my mind for a while after that. Eventually they faded though, and I learned to handle family deaths much better after that.
The second time I had a severe lapse in faith was not caused by a specific event, but was more of a long process that caused doubtfulness over time. I live in a big city where it is very diverse and poverty is a general problem. Because of that I’ve grown up with a very open mind and have developed an mindfulness toward all people. However, we travel half an hour to our church, which is in a town as different from my city as red is from blue.
Throughout middle and high school, I increasingly took notice of the close-mindedness of my peers at church. The town where my church is located is a very rich town by my standards (a majority of the congregation have mansions, in-ground pools, fancy SUV’s, all that good stuff). And don’t get me wrong, it is wonderful for them to have all those things and to be so well off. But for me, who grew up in an a row-home and attended public school in an inner city district, it was extremely hard for me to fit in. I’ve only ever had one friend from church visit my home because I was much too embarrassed to let people see the vast difference in our economic standpoints.
Another reason that it was difficult for me to fit in is that I’m from an interracial family. My mom is white and my dad is black. In the entire congregation of over two hundred people, my dad is and always has been the only black member of the church. Believe me when I say this, the people at my church are not racist. However, their lack of exposure to diversity over the years has led them to fear being perceived as racist. And what does that provide? Really awkward, forced conversations with people who seem to be making sure they reach out to our family.
Those two things added up, multiplied by years of attendance, grated on my nerves quite a bit. My parents were always ingraining in me that I have to be understanding and open-minded even to people who are not. However, I stopped attending youth group altogether during my freshman year of high school, and I resented going to sunday school. Anything that forced me to be with kids my age there made me uncomfortable by that point. I even tried attending a Lutheran church in my own town, opting to walk there by myself on Sunday mornings rather than go with my family to our church. However, that only lasted for a few months.
As I grew older and matured more, I began attending church regularly again, and by my senior year in high school I was very much an active member of the church. Sadly though, I never did return to youth group.
My most recent lapse in faith is still in progress. I’m recovering, but it’s a journey that is going to take some time and reflection. I’m a freshman in college, and during my first semester my mind was blown. I’m a nursing major, so I have to take a ton of science classes before I can begin my clinicals. However, I absolutely love science so I don’t mind this at all. Between my biology and chemistry courses, I learned so much that I didn’t know what to do with it all. I was tickled pink by all the knowledge and my new understanding of how our world works. But then it started combatting my religion.
It started slowly and I didn’t notice it much, until one day I had a tearful conversation on the phone with my boyfriend, Brendan, who lives back home. I was explaining to him all of these confusions I was having between science and religion. Evolution was obviously a big contender, but even smaller things began to bother me. The significance of certain numbers in chemistry started to weigh heavily on my mind, and the complexity of molecular genetics caused me to doubt any sort of plan for each person in the world. (It didn’t help that we were also studying biblical contradictions in my humanities literature course.) All my life I had easily ignored all the reasons people have for lack of faith, but suddenly it was all being thrust at me at once through my education.
I eventually started coming to conclusions that completely disregarded the Christian religion altogether. The ideas of heaven and hell seemed so far fetched in light of all the cold, hard facts I’d been learning and memorizing. Is there even a heaven, and if so, what is it like? Why would an omnipotent Lord need to test us, and since He does, doesn’t that contradict the theory that He loves us unconditionally? I kept asking myself these questions over time, and they all came pouring out over the phone that one night. Brendan sympathized with me and communicated his own doubts as well. After hours of talking, we were on unknown ground. Why are we alive? Do we even need faith?
It was hard on the both of us trying to figure out our own thoughts on religion. I remember feeling this sense of despair hanging over me the next few days after that. I’d never gone so far in my life as to doubt God completely. Yes, I’d previously doubted His intentions and reasoning, but never His love or His existence. Without my dependance on faith, I was left with no meaning and no direction. I felt horrible.
I’ve since begun to rebuild my relationship with God slowly, and attending church with my family every week when I was home over winter break helped loads. I’ve never been the perfect prayer buddy or an avid bible-reader, but in my own thoughts I’ve been organizing my reasonings between science and religion carefully. Now, instead of letting the complexity of chemical forces and our biological processes cause doubts, I let them serve as proof of the Lord’s careful planning when he created everything.
There will always be things within my religion that I don’t quite agree with, and I may not get along with everyone at my church, but at least now I have that rock to hold on to again. When I didn’t let God be there for me, it may have just been one of the worst feelings I’m ever experienced.
What are some experiences you’ve had that caused you to have a lapse in faith? Or if you’re not religious, go ahead and let me know why. In the words of my gym, this is a no judgement zone 🙂