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By Emily ~

I'm 19 years old and have attended an Anglican church all my life, having been bought up in a Christian family. Honestly, being part of a church has almost always been an enjoyable experience for me, particularly as a result of the wonderful people I met there, the friends I made and the fantastic feeling of community.

I do, however, remember a strong period of doubt I endured when I was around 12 or 13 years old, where I began to question the existence of God and everything that I had been taught about him - for some reason I just felt that my faith, which up until this point had been so secure and almost unshakeable, was falling apart - and that scared me. However, I persevered, and spent time talking through my worries with my parents and got myself 'back on track.' Then, when I was 14 years old, I decided to be christened and for the next year or so things concerning my faith ran relatively smoothly.

In the summer of 2012 I attended Soul Survivor, a week long Christian summer camp with around 10,000 other youths. I'll be honest, the experience was pretty overwhelming and added a whole new perspective to my faith. It was the first time I had ever properly witnessed the 'power' of the Holy Spirit. During the worship and prayer times people were crying, screaming, laughing, shaking and falling over all over the place! On the final night I finally worked up the courage myself to go up to the front to be prayed for. I had my eyes closed as a group of people gathered round me and laid hands on me, but instead of it filling me with joy and faith as I'd hoped, what I actually experienced felt like evil. There was one point where one of the women praying for me basically reached out and poked the base of my neck, making me jump, and it honestly felt like a burning sensation ran through me,leaving me feeling sick, dizzy, numb and terrified. To this day it is an experience which has damaged me, making me fearful of people laying hands on me to pray for me - especially if I don't know them, and leaving me uneasy and unable to focus on what God was saying, if he was even saying anything.

However, for the next few years I managed to block this experience, although it bothered me greatly because not a single youth leader I had spoken to had managed to give me a reasonable explanation for this encounter. I even attended Soul Survivor a couple more times, working as a youth leader, although I never went back up to the front and tried to distance myself from all the holy spirit stuff which seemed more and more ridiculous each time I encountered it.

It was when I reached 6th form that my faith really began to go downhill - I wanted to go out drinking and partying with my friends, without having to feel guilty if I got drunk or worrying about what my parents would say if they saw me like that. I wasn't allowed to stay out late or walk back from nights out with my friends - my parents always came to pick me up, leaving me feeling on edge for the whole night and counting down the hours I had left until I'd have to leave.

Probably one of the biggest things which turned me against my faith was when I started dating an atheist guy who had been a close friend and someone I had fancied for a while! I despised the fact that my religion condemned me being with him, I started feeling guilty about it all the time, beating myself up for kissing him and constantly worried that God was judging me. I always felt like I had to choose between him and my faith. Our relationship only lasted a few weeks, as we mutually decided that it simply wasn't going to work, but we still remained good friends.

Over the next year or so I still kept up going to church, I genuinely enjoyed going to youth group, although I was gradually becoming more aware of church politics and it infuriated me at how nasty, bitchy and hypocritical these so-called Christians could be. Eventually it reached the point where I was the only one left of my age group regularly attending church - I had long chats with a close school friend who had dropped out and we discussed our doubts together. I also often spoke to a fantastic girl who was our church intern for two years, and although she was very traditional in her views she really supported me and tried to help me get my faith back - because to be honest at that time it was genuinely something I still wanted, I had just let things get a bit twisted.

I started university last September and came with the full intention of going all out for God - joining a fantastic church and cramming in as many Christian events as I could manage - it was my chance to start over and do things right this time around. But I also recognised that I was still 'on the fence' concerning my beliefs, and student culture made it particularly difficult to uphold all those restrictive Christian standards. A few weeks in and I started dating another atheist guy, I wasn't sure how I felt about him at first and my lack of experience made me nervous, shy and uncertain, coupled with the guilt fuelled by my faith. I slowly began to open up to him and like him more, and he 'officially' asked me to be his girlfriend, yet all the time my Christian friends were warning me he was a bad idea and wasn't in God's plan for my life.

I was clear from the start that I wasn't going to have sex with him and to be honest kissing was as far as I had been planning on going but as time passed we kept pushing the boundaries further and further. Then, after a month or so we had a chat and he admitted that although he really liked me he was struggling with the lack of intimacy in our relationship. In the end I felt so so guilty that my faith basically forced me to break up with him, even though it was the complete opposite of what I wanted and we attempted to remain friends.

However, attempting to simply be friends with someone who I had come to care so much about, and who I knew also cared deeply about me was torture. It only lasted about a week before we basically found ourselves in an 'unofficial' relationship again. I'll admit that it was often drunken nights where we would end up kissing - because only then was I brave enough to ignore the faith which had become my cage. The guilt and the fear about the way I felt about him basically turned me against myself - I honestly hated myself for being such a terrible failure and let down for God, and I was terrified of ending up in hell.

We talked basically everyday over the Christmas break, and I have honestly never met such a lovely person as him. Where as my faith makes me feel trapped and guilty and miserable, being with him makes me so happy and brings me release. With him I feel the love that I never felt from God. My confidence has grown enormously - he tells me I'm beautiful every single day and I've lost count of the number of times he's said he loves me, we've even talked about the future together. He's respectful and kind - to be honest the only encounters I've ever had with Christian guys have been negative and disturbed me. He has supported me hugely through all of this, and although for now I still don't want to have sex I am willing to be open to it in the future, and he is willing to take things slowly and be patient. In the meantime, the guilt concerning the things we do do together is lessening and I'm incredibly grateful for that.

However, I am still not totally free, and fear of hell still binds me to some extent to my faith. There are days when I am scared that by moving away from faith I am making a terrible mistake, but I'm just sick of feeling so trapped and restricted all the time, I just want to be happy.

So there's my story, and at the moment I still stand undecided concerning my faith - mainly because I'm scared to leave behind what has always been such a huge part of my life. Any encouragement or advice you can give on how to break away completely would be greatly appreciated! I still fear that I am making this choice for the wrong reasons, that I'm being selfish for wanting to be happy now, but I just can't keep sacrificing the things I love for a God that I have absolutely no relationship with!

Lastly, I just want to say that this website has been a huge help to me and thank you so much for reading this!

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