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What I learned through deconverting (and funerals)

By Tania ~

It has been about 2 ½ years now since the start of my deconversion.

I had been having questions and doubts about many of the Christian doctrines for years leading up to this, and I'd had many struggles with God and my relationship with Him; yet at these times, I sensed that these things were just building blocks to a stronger Christian faith, and I worked hard to become “the kind of person God wants me to be.”

In January 2011, something snapped. It was something small, in the scheme of things, and looking back on it now, I'm grateful for how things worked out in the end. But, nonetheless, I believe that it was the thing that marked the start of my unbelief in a God who intervenes in the lives of His children. What happened was small: I was interested in a young man; I felt that God had placed him into my life and that we would end up together, eventually, as husband and wife; said man expressed, three months into my infatuation with him, that he was not interested in me. And this hurt. It hurts to be rejected. And it hurt that it had seemed like such a “God thing,” only to be crushed. I remember going into my bathroom and looking at myself in the mirror, crying, angry, asking, “Really? Really, God? What are you doing? What ARE you doing? Where are you? Are You even there?”

It seems like a small thing. It was a small thing. But, also, it wasn't really a small thing. I've heard that it often isn't long after we start doubting God's goodness that we start doubting His existence. And that is what happened with me. It really had nothing to do with the young man, because just months later, I was over him. But it was a spark, a starter to my deconversion.It made me look back on other events in my life and consider whether things that had happened were, in fact, acts of God; it made me replay things that happened and see where – if – God fit into them. And more often that not, I couldn't place my finger on how God was really and truly involved.

I was accepted into a school program in June 2011, and I remember smiling as I re-read the acceptance letter. And two seconds after that, I remember thinking, “Oh, right, I have to thank God for this!” Or did I...? Was it Him? Was it me? Was it just life unfolding as it will? I was grateful for the acceptance letter, but for the first time in a long time – or perhaps ever – I wasn't quite so certain to whom I should direct my thanksgiving.

That summer, I delved into all kinds of books that I thought would steer me back towards the God in whom I was starting to doubt. I'd read many, many books over the years by Christian authors. But those books just didn't seem to be addressing my bigger questions. A lot of them seemed repetitive, superficial, comforting, yet...questionable. And so I did the unthinkable and read Harris. Dawkins. Dennett. Gretta Vosper. Victor Bugliosi. I read about psychology, philosophy, death, agnosticism, atheism, creation versus evolution, cognitive dissonance, Osiris, hell, Islam, Buddhism, Mary, prayer....and then one hot summer night, around 2am, sitting at a little table in my living room, a paper and a pen in front of me, the thought struck me, “What if, just what if...God's not there?” And I prayed. And I thought. And I wrote. And I prayed. And I read. And I eventually went to bed, knowing very well that something big had just happened.

Since that time, it seems as though there has been an overwhelming number of events that took place and a lot of changes – in my life, in my mind – that make me realize that I will never be the “believer” I once was. I can no longer label myself in the same ways I did before.

The things that have happened in my life are by no means remarkable compared to what other people have gone through, of course, but they have changed who I am in way I never imagined.

In September 2011, I started taking courses for funeral service – funeral directing and embalming – which involved online studies and seminars across the province. A few months later, in January 2012, I left a job I'd been at for six years, and moved two and a half hours south to work in a funeral home. Shortly after my move, I met, became friends with, eventually fell in love with, and was engaged to a man who turned my world upside down, who made me laugh like crazy, who made me see the world in unique ways (he has a brain injury and is in a wheelchair), with whom I learned what it's like to actually relax and have fun - a foreign concept to me lately. (After a brief whirlwind of an engagement, we called off plans for marriage, and at this time, we are not together.) At the funeral home, among countless other things, I had the opportunity to assist with embalming, meet with many families who had just experienced the death of a loved one, do transfers at all hours of day and night, talk with coroners and funeral directors and nurses, help set up the lowering device at the cemetery, assist with cremations, expand on my hospice volunteering experiences, add to thoughts about what I want my own death and life to look like.

And sometime in between all that, I had countless conversations with people who have either deconverted from their religious backgrounds or who were never affiliated with any particular religion. I struggled with the despair that often comes when life becomes too much to handle, when things look absolutely hopeless, when all things that used to be enough to help get through difficult things no longer are enough, when facing the day or the hour seems impossible. Without intending to, I lost quite a lot of weight – for the first time in my life, being distressed made me lose all interest in food, rather than binging like I used to. I became angrier than usual – at life, at God (who I didn't really believe in anymore), at my employers, at the man I was dating, at myself. I yearned for sleep, for rest, for silence, for life to slow down or just...end.

I think that at times, the universe or something or Someone out there senses that we need to be lifted out of where we are, and we are forced to uproot. After ten months at the funeral home, I left my job. A few things happened in the relationship between my fiance and me, and we decided to call off the engagement. I moved to another city, a bit closer to my hometown, where I started a job doing what I was doing before, working as a food service worker in a nursing home.

I'd like to say that it's gotten easier over time, but in many ways, it hasn't. The full impact of what this change in my “status of faith” has had on my life seemed to have hit a while ago...and then I later realized that it could hit a bit more...and then I realized it could it a bit more. I have learned to let go of former beliefs, to accept that our journeys of faith are, as is all of life, not stagnant, to appreciate beauty and nature and goodness in wonderful new ways...but there is a certain hurt there that persists and that, at this time, I don't think will ease up for a while.

I've learned a lot since that winter when I starting questioning all things "God." Working in the funeral home taught me a lot about the fragility of life, about holding our relationships above everything else in our lives, about embracing the beauty and mystery of death. M reassured me that I am still a good person and that I'll still make it to heaven (if there is a heaven). My friend AN reminded me recently that God (if He's there) exists outside the walls of a church, that other people aren't in a place to preach to us what exactly we “need” to believe, and that I will eventually find my niche when it comes to this journey of faith.

As I've learned from others who are in the same place as I am in regards to deconverting from a faith, it is not something I would have chosen – it had not been my intent for things to let go of the God I knew. What I have learned is that I do have choice in how to go about making the most of life's happenings, both the wonderful and the heart-breaking. I've learned that until we've walked many, many kilometers in someone else's shoes, we are in no place to judge them. I've learned that love, above all, is what counts, and that it looks past labels, doctrines, and worldviews that only make up a small fraction of who we really are.