5/10/2013 | Share this article: View CommentsBy RaLeah ~
It's hard to lose your support system. You can leave behind the church, leave behind the idea of God, but your family... they're always your family.
One of the hardest parts about being an ex-Christian is that those who love you most are still fervently praying and hoping for your return to God. They're convinced you can't live a happy life without Jesus, and that hell will be your final destination if you don't come back into the fold.
We each deal with that knowledge in different ways. Maybe we keep our lack of belief a secret. Or we hint at it gently. Perhaps we're brave enough to state it openly and suffer the consequences.
Why does it have to be so hard?
For me, I know my family is expecting that God is going to somehow either woo me back or send some terrible misfortune into my path that will send me running back. So they pray and they wait. Any day now something bad is sure to happen to me, something that will break my strong will and humble me again before God.
We were rebellious, doing what was right in our own eyes, and God is going to have to knock us down from our pride to teach us a lesson.I know why they think this. We've been told the story about the good shepherd who leaves behind his 99 sheep to find that one missing sheep. He finds it, breaks its legs to teach it a lesson about not running off, and he brings it back to the fold. He tends to it, now that it knows who's boss, and once it mends, that sheep won't forget who is the shepherd and who is just a silly little lost sheep without the guiding staff to keep it in line.
So Christians expect at any moment, those of us who have left are bound to suffer some very bad consequences. We were rebellious, doing what was right in our own eyes, and God is going to have to knock us down from our pride to teach us a lesson.
Surely we will succumb to alcoholism or drug addiction. Or perhaps we'll get an STD. Or maybe cancer. Perhaps a sick child.
At first I worried about this--not that there was a God who would actually do this, but that if any misfortune at all came into my life, my family would sigh and shake their heads, and rather than offering any sympathy or support, they would only give judgment. It must be God's doing, so I must deserve it.
Since no life is free from suffering, this seemed inevitable.
And yet... over the past decade, while I've had my share of misfortune here and there, overall I've been very happy and successful. If something bad does happen, I will know it isn't God's doing, but rather that it's bad luck. Even the Bible says: "The rain falls on the just and the unjust." Good things and bad things happen to both good and bad people. And to Christians and non-Christians.
So far, I have gracefully handled each challenge, and while they may think it's because God is merciful or blessing me anyway, I know it's because I trust myself to do the smart, right thing as best as I am able, and if I fail, I don't have to feel guilty that I hurt someone or did the wrong thing, and that I'm being punished somehow. If I live a life of integrity and good work, I have nothing to be ashamed of.
At first, it bothered me to know that I'm living my life under their microscope as they wait for me to fall, but as I've become a more mature adult with healthy boundaries, I realize this isn't my problem at all. It belongs to them. Their fear for me, their superstition, their paranoia--it doesn't have to be mine.
It never did.
This means I don't have to be afraid that misfortune will come into my life and allow them to feel their superstition was confirmed. It doesn't matter to me if they think, "I knew it" or try to say, "I told you so." Because I know the truth of my own life. And that belongs to me.
As a Christian, I was afraid of messing up or looking bad, worried about what others would think of me. Was God punishing me? Using me as a lesson as he did with Job? Or was it just misfortune?
But I'm free of that now. Free of God's judgment, free of my own harsh judgment of myself, and now... free from my family's judgment too, whether it's there or not, because it doesn't matter anymore. I don't have to own it, just because they do.
I will live my life with happiness and kindness, and I will hope for them they can do the same.
It's hard to explain, but now that I'm not modeling myself on the behavior of a judgmental yet loving God, my own critical nature faded away as well, gradually replaced with sympathy and understanding. Even more surprising to me, my black sheep reputation faded quickly too. Now I'm known as a good listener, a sympathetic confidant. They each trust me with their own hard experiences (sometimes even when they can't confide in anyone else), because they know they can count on me to offer no judgment, just warm support and love.
And I can say from personal experience, it feels like a much happier and healthier way to be.
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