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The Shoebox

By Tania ~

In three weeks, it will be one full year since I last attended a church service. It was almost one year ago that I pulled over to the side of the highway a few hours after that service, shaking, crying, telling myself over and over, "I can't do this anymore, I really cannot do this anymore...." It seemed too drastic to promise myself I'd never go back to church ever again, so I promised myself I'd give it a break for one year. I made a note on my calendar. I wrote about it here on ex-Christian.net. I told some friends. I kept an open mind. And I loosened my grip on what I thought "should" happen. I let go... rather, I'm learning to let go. Sometimes, in a moment or two of sadness or frustration or fear, I want to go running back and hold on so tightly again.

When I'd made that promise to myself, I added a couple exceptions -- I'd still go to weddings and funerals. After all, that was the church I attended regularly from age 10 until age 27. I moved to another town at age 27, which, coincidently, was also around the time that I deconverted from Christianity. But in any case, it was my "home" church. In some ways, it still is. Almost two decades of community and celebrations and worship and prayer don't just disappear so easily.

Early this year, a long-time friend got married in another country, and a few months later, she and her husband spent a month here during their vacation. The church ladies put together a little post-wedding party for my friend. I attended -- of course I attended. I chatted with the church ladies. We ate tons of good food. Then we gathered together, and they sang and prayed and read Scripture. I guess it was appropriate given the circumstances of a young Christian couple who had just tied the knot and are venturing into this chapter of their lives. I understand that. It was done with good intentions. I felt the love, the best wishes, the hope. Those are all good things. But still...it just didn't feel quite right to me.

Of course, being the decent human being that I still am, I did not interrupt the party with an obvious refusal to join in with the prayers (I did a good job of closing and opening my eyes at the appropriate times) and songs (I did a good job of holding the sheet music), and I did not mention that I think that many aspects of Christianity are out-dated and unhealthy and just plain outlandish. But I couldn't help but feel that I don't fit in anymore. I don't, and I can't. And perhaps in another place and time, I could just sit beside my friend at the church ladies' party for her, and I could just go along with it without blinking an eye, or raising a question in my mind, or mulling over the dozen things that just seemed "off" as we sang to Jesus and read poems about God's ideas of marriage. I don't know. Maybe some day, I'll be able to do that. And maybe not -- and maybe that is a good thing, this indication that something isn't quite right and that we need to discard certain beliefs and rituals...and not be so silent about it!

The bulk of my sadness and anger and confusion about my own journey out of Christianity is, I think, dealt with. It no longer occupies my mind every waking hour. It no longer sends me on frantic searches on Google. I've learned that there is a time and a place for religion for some people, and if that makes them healthy, happy, compassionate, hopeful, well, then, that's all right, I guess.

A few months ago, an acquaintance and I were talking about Christianity, and he told me about a shoebox. It's a shoebox you can fill with your religion-- the good parts, the parts that advise you on how to be a better person, the parts that offer comfort and hope, the parts that make life beautiful...and okay, maybe some of the stuff in that shoebox is a bit out-there (ahem...not mentioning anything in particular...) but you aren't quite ready to discard all of it. And when you need to reach into that shoebox, it's there. But for the most part, you leave it on the shelf in your closet, and you go about this business of living in the real world, of making the most of this brief encounter we have with life, of connecting with all that is here, right now.

I have no shoebox right now. I don't know if I will in 30, 40, 60 years. Probably not. If I do, it'll most likely be the tiny shoebox from a cute pair of boots that I bought for a friend's baby. I think I'll be okay with that.


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