4/02/2011 | Share this article: View CommentsBy Kelsi ~
Wow, I'm so glad there are other people out there like me. I know people who have left the 'faith' before, but I wasn't allowed to talk to them, and my parents and the church were very judgemental of them. I was terrified at the thought of leaving, knowing I would become one of those who was to be talked about and judged, but I just couldn't do it anymore.
I'll start at the beginning. I am the youngest of four children. My mother's family are all very strong 'open-brethrens' (I still have no idea what that really means - it's kind of baptist but really really strict).
My father was brought up in a non-christian household and was 'saved' when he was drunk in a bar and a christian put a tract in his pocket at about 18. He then went to a youth group and the rest is history.
There he met my Mum - they started dating and Dad asked my grandfather for Mum's hand in marriage. The answer was no. Not long after, Mum found out she was pregnant, and they had a very hasty 6 week engagement and then got married.
Fast forward 20 years, I'm six and have been to church every single Sunday since I was born. My father is an elder in our church (I think he's still trying to prove to Grandpa - who has since passed away - that he IS in fact, good enough for Mum). We regularly have other 'important' people in the church around for lunches and dinners. We also welcome the 'newcomers' into our home (to suss them out and gossip about them to the other members of the church). My parents are leaders of a bible study group every week as well.
At a particular session in Sunday school we learnt about hell and how, if we want to go to heaven, we must 'ask Jesus into our heart'. So that afternoon I told Dad I wanted 'Jesus in my heart' so he prayed for me, and there were lots of hugs and 'congratulations'. Pathetic now that I think about it now. It’s bizarre that they truly think that before that moment I would have gone to hell, but all of a sudden, from that moment forward I’d be going to heaven.
I firmly believed everything my parents told me about God and the bible. Who was I to question them? They were adults and knew everything. It wasn’t until I was 10 or 11 and I started getting bullied for being a Christian (I was at a public school) that I started to have doubts. I started hiding the fact that I was a Christian and began swearing at school to prove it, but playing the Christian game at home in front of my parents. I still believed in God, but cared more for my reputation and being liked.
Once I started High School, things changed. Two of my closest Christian friends from church started my High School with me. I could no longer pretend not to be a Christian, in case it got back to my parents. (I was terrified of disappointing them. I had no idea what they would do if it happened, but I’d seen what happened to my older siblings whenever they did something worldly and was truly frightened of them). So I was a ‘goody-goody’ again. I got baptised at 14 with those same two friends.
They moved away from town a year later, and it was just me again. I had no Christian friends at school, but a couple of my friends were ‘new-age’. Which, as I’m sure you can imagine, my parents didn’t like at all. They only reason I was allowed to be friends with them was because I told my parents I was trying to ‘witness’ to them, and that Jesus told us to ‘be a light’. They amazed me. They were members of Greenpeace, sponsored world vision children (even though both their families were extremely poor) and stood up for what they believed in with such conviction. I felt really fake compared to them. My parents were very wealthy, ‘blessed’ they called it. We lived in a big beautiful house, had flash cars and never did I see them donate to charity or do anything good in the world, besides what they were seen to be doing by the church – e.g. supporting missionaries. The church was so fake too. Whenever there was an issue within the church, the elders got involved. E.g. a couple were having marriage issues, a teenager was having sex or whatever. Then all issues were put into the ‘prayer-chain’ which is when the person at the beginning of the chain receives details of all the problems within the church, they phone up the second person to tell them all the issues going on and pray about them together – and then that person rings the third person and so on. Essentially a gossip chain. Everyone knows about everyone else’s private problems. It’s sick.
Once again, I began to have doubts. I couldn’t understand how we knew we were the one religion who was right. Every other religion also thought that they were right.
At 16 I went on a ‘Word of Life’ mission to Fiji for 3 weeks. Going into schools, preaching my testimony, doing songs and skits and puppet shows. We learnt how to answer some of the ‘trickier’ questions that people ask Christians. You know the ones: “how do you know that there really is a god?” “it’s like the wind, you can’t see it, but you can feel it – how could you not believe there is a creator when you see a beautiful sunset”. While it was fun, I felt like I was just going through the motions. When we prayed for each other in group settings I felt it was stupid – like we were just trying to come up with prayers that were better than other people’s prayers. A competition to see who could use bigger words, and the winner was the person who got the most ‘amen’s’ throughout the prayer. It was this trip that made me realise I wasn’t a believer anymore. I remember asking what happened to Christians who left the faith and became non-believers, and our mission leader said that there was no such thing – that anyone who leaves was never a Christian to begin with. I wanted to argue this point, but didn’t. My other question I struggled with was ‘if God knows every decision everyone is ever going to make, why does he bother making those people he knows are going to end up in hell?’ I could never get a straight answer out of people. It would just be ‘mumble jumble free will mumble jumble God’s plan mumble jumble’ which didn’t sit very well with me either. It just didn’t make sense.
So I came home, had to give recounts of how ‘amazing’ Fiji was and how ‘inspired’ I was to do the ‘Lord’s work’. I continued to sing in front of the church on Sunday mornings, go to night church on Sunday evenings, go to youth group leader’s meeting on Monday nights, host my own girls group on Tuesday nights, go to youth group bible study on Wednesday nights, sit in on my parents bible study on Thursday nights, be a leader at a 9-12 year olds club on Friday nights and go to youth group events on Saturdays. I was also trying to sit my high school exams, go to piano lessons and singing lessons. I was beginning to burn out.
I started skipping classes. I stopped doing homework and studying. I discovered that if I pretended to walk to school, but instead went home half an hour later, both my parents would be at work and I could spend the day to myself and do whatever I wanted. I wrote fake notes and signed my parent’s signatures and handed them in the day after. It got to the point where I was only turning up to school 60% of the time. I intercepted the first few letters from school, but eventually my parents found out. They were absolutely furious. They wanted to know what was going on with me. I mumbled “I don’t know”, not wanting to admit that I was actually burning out from trying to be someone I knew I wasn’t. They cried and prayed and I eventually realised it would be easier on all of us if I just kept pretending I was the person they wanted me to be.
In my final year of High School, my parents went overseas for six weeks. I was 18 and my parents decided I could stay at home by myself, as we lived not far from my school and it was during my practise exams for my finals. To this day I still don’t really know what happened. I was gifted intellectually throughout school, receiving top marks in all my exams up until this point. But I just didn’t care anymore. For 6 weeks I could finally control my own life. I still went to church, as I couldn’t talk my way out of not going, but I didn’t go to school and didn’t show up to my exams. I searched for a way out so I could explain myself when my parents found out. I found the answer in a course that was only offered at the other end of the country that didn’t require me to finish school. My parents found out sooner than I expected. One of my teachers had a daughter who was good friends with my sister, and contacted her, who then told my parents about me not having showed up at school for weeks. They phoned me from the UK, distraught, trying to work out what was going on with me, to the point where they were going to come home early (I’m still SO angry with the teacher for this). I managed to talk them around, and also managed to convince them that the course was what I really wanted to do and ‘why waste my time at school if I don’t have to, when I could be working and saving money instead?’ I am still amazed I was able to do this – but I think my parents were just blind and wanted to believe I would never do anything to hurt them.
So again, I am still pretending to be a Christian, going through the motions and biding my time until I leave home before I tell my parents I’m not interested anymore.
However, my parents were cleverer than I gave them credit for. They insisted I moved into an all-girl Christian flat. I couldn’t argue, because, as a Christian girl, why wouldn’t I want to be surrounded by like-minded people?
The owners of the flat insisted that we all went to their church and went to their bible studies each week. They had our parents’ phone numbers and threatened to call them if we didn’t. So once again, I was imprisoned. The rent for this place also cost a lot more than the average place, so I had to work 25 hours a week on top of my course to cover all expenses.
Nevertheless, I still had a great year. The girls were great, as some of them were in similar boats, and I am still very good friends with them. But by the end of that year though, I knew I was getting closer to revealing my true self to my family. And I was getting scared.
I started going out with a guy in October of that year. He had been brought up in a farming family, having gone to church as a child out of tradition – much different to my parent’s faith. He is agnostic now, and doesn’t really care about religion. We started a normal secular relationship – for the first time in my life I felt like a normal girl doing normal things - still feeling shameful about having sex outside of marriage though. That had been drummed into me from such a young age and it is hard to unlearn it.
The flat we were living in was for one year only, so it came time to decide what to do for next year. Most of the girls wanted to go to a new place with the same people. But they decided on the rule ‘no guys staying over’ (which was obviously the rule in the current place too). They knew about me and my boyfriend and my non-christian life, and I decided to finally break away from all things Christian. Plus, the houses they were looking at were far too expensive. My parents wanted me to keep living with the same girls, but, once again with the gift of the gab, I managed to convince them I would be better off living with some of the guys from my course. The rent was a lot cheaper, and it would only be short term – until I found different Christians to live with *cough*. This house was across the road from my boyfriend’s house too (although I didn’t tell them that, lol).
That Christmas I made the decision to tell my parents that I wasn’t a Christian anymore – and also that I had a non Christian boyfriend. I was very nervous and anxious but when the time came I just couldn’t go through with it. They did manage to get it out of me that I had a boyfriend though.
Dad’s first question was, “Is he a Christian?” to which I replied
“um.. kind of” (yeah, I know, pathetic).
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN KIND-OF!! HE EITHER IS OR HE ISN’T – WHICH IS IT!!!???”
“um.. not a Christian? But-he-was-brought-up-in-a-church!”
“You have to break up with him, he’s not in God’s plan for you”
“you can’t tell me what to do, I don’t live with you anymore!”
“But GOD wouldn’t want you to be with him, you’re going directly against GOD!!”
Mum then intervened with, “I don’t know if now is the right time for this, it’s Christmas”.
And it wasn’t mentioned again.
My parents decided to visit me that April.
I wanted them to meet my boyfriend, as he was a big part of my life. Mum seemed a bit interested but Dad shot the idea down, as there ‘was no point’ since I was going to have to break up with him anyway. Mum did ask me a few questions about him though, about his family and what not. When I mentioned his mum had been divorced twice, dad made a snide comment ‘it all sounds a bit weird if you ask me’ which infuriated me, because I really admire his mum.
They wanted to visit my church, so I took them to a big city church which had so many people it wouldn’t be odd if none of them knew my name. Unfortunately the sermon was all about sex before marriage, so that was rather awkward for me, even though I knew my parents didn’t know.
They left just before Easter, and they asked what my plans were. I told them I was planning to go up to my boyfriends Dad’s farm for the weekend with him.
I got a phone call just before I was due to go up to the farm from my father. It started off fine, and then Dad said that he had been praying about my situation with my boyfriend and that he was uncomfortable with the idea of me going up and staying in the same house as him. To which I replied, “oh, don’t worry about it, it’s fine”
“no, I mean it. I don’t want you going up to the farm”
“But I’ve done it before, it’s fine, you can trust me”
“I forbid you to go up there. The bible says you shouldn’t lead yourself into temptation and also that you should listen to your parents. You are disobeying God by disobeying me”
“I don’t care, you can’t stop me from going”
“you are disobeying GOD”
“I DON’T CARE”
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU DON’T CARE”
“I MEAN I”M...I’m not a Christian anymore” (I didn’t mean for it to come out this way, it just did)
(by this stage I am sobbing) “Dad, I’m sorry, it’s true”
“I don’t believe it”
“I – I just don’t believe it. This will kill your mother”
“I’m so sorry Dad, I’ve wanted to tell you for ages”
“THIS IS BECAUSE OF THAT BOYFRIEND, ISN’T IT!!!???”
“NO! It’s not, I promise, this is all me! It has nothing to do with him!”
“I WILL NEVER WALK YOU DOWN THE AISLE IF YOU MARRY A NON-CHRISTIAN”
I can’t remember exactly how the rest of the conversation went, but there was lots of yelling from him and crying from me, and I eventually hung up on him, because it dawned on me that I didn’t have to sit there and listen to the abuse.
The next few conversations we had were fine. None of it came up – it’s like it never happened (which was the way my family often dealt with their problems – by pretending that they weren’t there). However, in June, my flat fell apart and I had to find a new place to live. My boyfriend asked me to move in with him and I said yes.
That night my mum rang. I told her about the situation with the current place, and that I was looking for a place to live with my boyfriend. Well, all hell broke loose. Apparently, Dad hadn’t told her about the conversation we had had, so she had no idea. Once again there was the yelling and the crying and the “Where did we go wrong?”
“We can make this right, just tell us what you want us to do”.
Then the threats came:
“We don’t think you should attend your brother’s wedding next month”. Like hell I won’t – what, just so that they don’t have to tell their friends what I am? They’re afraid of me ruining their golden reputation?
“Your father is an elder – this will ruin him – how can he go on witnessing to people and leading the church when his own daughter has gone astray!?”
Then the punch came:
“Your grandparents (my father’s parents) are unbelievers – how can we be expected to convert them now that you are living in sin? They are old, they will go to hell now because of you!!”
And I’m thinking ‘right, because you haven’t converted them the last 30 years, all of a sudden it’s my fault?’ but I take it, and let them go on and on. They eventually calmed down a bit and said,
“but you were baptised, you made a public declaration of faith” to which I responded
“I was 14, I did what was expected of me, I had doubts but I just did it anyway. I finally know who I am and what I want – and it’s not this life I’ve had to lead for the last 20 years”
and I hung up on them. I was a mess. It felt good to get it out, but I felt terrible for the grief it caused my family - but I was sick of hiving up my own happiness for theirs. There comes a point where you stop living the way other people want you to live and you start living for yourself.
I went to my brother’s wedding, and told my extended family that I was living with my boyfriend – as they all knew nothing about it. My parents, again, hoping the problem would solve itself. My Dad’s family were delighted, and told me that Dad had tried to convert them all 30 years ago and pushed it so hard that they have all tried to avoid him since – I had been oblivious to this my entire life.
This was two years ago now. Since then I have had many letters and books sent to me. Most of which went straight to the rubbish bin. My partner has met my parents and Dad managed to corner him and have an hour long prayer session with him in his office (much to my horror). They’ve started a new tactic though – they realised they were just pushing me away by turning every conversation we had into an argument. They’re now trying to convince us to get married, and they’re trying to convert my partner (in doing so, ‘bring me back to the lord’). We find it quite amusing. (I haven’t told them that, if we do ever get married, we are going to go overseas with 2 or 3 friends – not them).
I still haven’t told them that I’m an atheist and don’t believe there is a god at all – that will be another blow to them I expect. They currently think I am just not interested in God for now.
So, that is my story, I know it is very long and in far too much detail, but it felt good just to get it all out.
There is still a lot of built up anger towards my parents and all the things they have said to me since I ‘came out’, and I am very anti-christian - for now, anyway. I don’t know how long it’s going to take me to get through that. I only talk to my parents rarely - maybe once every 5 or 6 weeks, I think they find it difficult to relate to me, forgetting that I am still the same person. But my partner's family (as dysfunctional as they are at times) have been brilliant, and more of a family to me than mine have ever been.
I am glad I’ve found this forum though. It’s really good to know that other people have been through similar experiences, and I look forward to reading and writing more posts throughout the site.
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