I was always told that a relationship with God was the most amazing thing in the world. My mother’s face glowed as she described how the God of the universe personally spoke to her or showed her a vision. My dad smiled as he told me he felt God guiding his direction in life. My friend gushed about how she’d felt God’s physical arms around her. I wanted all of that for myself, and I was promised I could have it—all Christians could experience God’s direction and presence, and I wasn’t exempt.
At least, that’s what I’d been told. I spent most of my childhood and teenage years searching desperately for any scrap of God’s presence. I prayed, sang worship songs, even (in desperation) flipped the Bible and jabbed my finger down on a random verse (usually in the midst of a murder scene, which proved amusing but unhelpful). I spoke to my parents, learned to speak in tongues, and even got down on my knees and begged.
I remember being around nine years old and pacing my room, tears running down my cheeks as I asked God why he didn’t love me enough to be with me. “Have I done something wrong? If so, I don’t know what it is, and I need you to show me.” He never did, which was, as you can imagine, quite troubling for my young self. It was hard reading Bible verses about how much God loved little children and then looking up at the heavens and wondering why God didn’t love me. I was sure I had done something wrong—something worse than most other humans—and I had no idea how to fix it. Worse, the God of the universe wasn’t going to tell me.
I kept struggling, seeing no other options. I attended a special meeting with my mom, one where ladies got together to talk about Jesus and pray in tongues. At the end of the meeting, some of the women received a “word from the Lord” and called up various audience members to pass that word on and pray for them. I went in the hope that God had a word for me. My mom was selected several times. I was never called up, even though my hands were shaking and my heart beating fast as I leaned forward, longing, longing . . .
My depression worsened as my self-hatred and my frustration grew, and I wonder how much my religion contributed to my lying in the back of an ambulance on the way to the hospital because I was no longer sure I wanted to live. Perhaps you can understand why I developed severe depression and a firm sense of self-loathing, even as a child. There were other events involved, but I believe my religion played a firm role in messing with my mind and emotions. There were even times I was convinced I’d heard from God, and those were the times that made me feel all warm and fuzzy and kept me hoping I was on the right path. In hindsight, most of those moments were either coincidence, commonsense, or mind-over-matter.
For instance, one day I was struggling to find my mom the perfect Christmas gift. I tried everywhere, and then I felt as if I should check out this one particular store. I had such a good feeling, I went, and lo-and-behold, I found my mom a present! But was that God? Or was that common sense? Did I know subconsciously that this store had items my mom would like? Or was it a coincidence? Did this store just happen to have the right items, and because it did, did I attribute the solution to God? Or was it mind-over-matter? Did I believe it was God and therefore was I more likely and in a better mood to find something in that store? It’s hard to say which it was, but I doubt it was God.
When I was a kid, I used to imagine Jesus was with me, sitting on the edge of my bed or holding me in his arms. I was so desperate to be loved unconditionally. It’s a little funny in hindsight, but I became so wrapped in these fantasies, even my charismatic parents grew alarmed! They told me these fantasies might be dangerous, but that just made me more confused. I was told to have a relationship with God, but when I found one (which, in hindsight, was no more than an emotionally involved game of pretend), it was too dangerous and unacceptable, so I had to try again.
I can’t say how much damage this did to me as a child, and I feel sorry for any kids not given the option to believe what they see fit. For myself, it was believe God, or go to Hell. Of course I chose God, even though I knew I didn’t love him—even though I realized later, after many years of experience, that I couldn’t force myself to love him. I knew, too, that for whatever reason, he didn’t love me. I was doing something wrong—something apparently so terrible, the God of Love didn’t want to be close to me. And that’s pretty hard to swallow when you’re nine years old.
I tried talking to my parents about it, but my mom’s response was, “Well, you don’t trust God enough.” Which helped my self-esteem immensely. Or she’d say, after I described how hard I’d tried to get God to love me, “You shouldn’t have to try anything.” That just left me more confused than ever. If I didn’t try anything, God didn’t come. If I did try, he still didn’t come. I felt no powerful arms around me, no sweet whisper in my ear, no guiding nudge in the Bible verses I read.
My depression worsened as my self-hatred and my frustration grew, and I wonder how much my religion contributed to my lying in the back of an ambulance on the way to the hospital because I was no longer sure I wanted to live. I’m upset my religion caused me such deep agony and left such gnarly scars. Satan is called the Father of Lies, but for a while, I liked him more than I did God. After all, at least with Satan, you knew what to expect. I found out a couple of years ago that God himself is (as best as I can judge) a lie, and one more powerful than any Satan could have concocted. It makes me angry realizing I could have lost my life to it. Thank goodness I walked away. Since leaving religion, I’ve regained my self-esteem, my dignity, and that little hole (the supposedly God-shaped one) in my heart is steadily filling in day by day.
I remember having one last conversation with God when I began to leave Christianity. I said, “If you’re really out there and want a relationship with me, let me know.”
He hasn’t yet, and at this point, I hope he never does. I’d often thought that if God were a boyfriend, I’d have left him long ago, and what’s the point of pleading for love from someone who doesn’t want to give it? Or from someone who doesn’t even exist . . .
I chose to leave agony behind, and I don’t even feel tempted to look back. I have finally found bliss.
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