Loss After Religion
Abi has always been a bit of a wanderer, but no longer sees that as a bad thing. After over 30
years of living, breathing, and teaching Evangelical Christianity, she stepped out of it all and into the wide wilderness of deconstruction. She now views spirituality and life as a journey rather than a destination, values good questions more than good answers, and is working towards creating a life she is proud to have lived.
-Abi from Wandering On The Way
We experienced a loss this past weekend. At first, it had seemed like a longshot and not something I expected to happen, but then, for a moment it seemed like it might. I started out cautious enough, but despite myself had gotten excited. I sheepishly bought a few things to get ready… then a few more… then a few more… There were ups and downs, but eventually we got to the point where it looked like this might just work out!
But it didn’t. And then I was sick in bed for two days. And it just so happened that this all took place in the middle of an expansion project I had undertaken for my garden, which would have been fine except that we had two days of torrential downpour which washed a good portion of the freshly placed 10 cubic yards of garden soil and mulch down the newly formed slopes right into our pool. And then, at a graduation party I was late to because I was shoveling mud off of our pool patio, instead of a fun family reunion, I was met with coldness and dismissal over conflicting values around the recent political and social unrest in our country and the world. So, I think a fair assessment is that I've had a rough few days.
Over the past several years I've been going through a process of deconstructing my faith, losing my religion, some might say. Brick by brick I've been dismantling the worldview I've held my whole life. At the moment I find myself without a religion, without a divinity I can name or describe, and without a theology through which to view the world as a whole or a clear-cut answer to the question of loss.
I used to find such peace in my religious way of viewing pain and loss. I could blame it on destructive spiritual forces sent to test and torment me. Or I could say that God was teaching me lessons that I needed for the future. Or, that he was using this hardship to make me more like "himself". I would have cried out to God in my distress and begged him to give me what I wanted. I would have sought out answers for why this situation turned out the way that it did or questioned what lesson there was to be learned. I would have practiced acceptance, sought for purpose, and pursued the ultimate expression of spiritual maturity - joy amid suffering. I would have said, "If every 'good and perfect gift' comes from God then this gift that I wanted must have been neither good nor perfect enough for him to give me." (And that, my friends, is an excellent example of "spiritual bypassing".)
Now, with all of that no longer an option, I wondered, what I would do with loss? At many points of my deconstruction I deeply felt the loss of my religious certainty, simple answers to complicated questions, and the absolute assurance that God was on my side working this all for my good. My greatest fear for the future during that time was what I would do when I inevitably faced loss without the comfort of my beliefs? I was about to find out.
With this new loss, and none of my familiar coping mechanisms, how would I find a way to move on? Would I simply crack under the pressure of it all? In what or in whom would I find a sense of hope? The answer was different than I had expected.
To my surprise, I didn't feel the hopelessness or despair I was told that those without God experienced in the midst of pain and loss. Make no mistake, I have not been enjoying this experience, but honestly, I don't think these past few days were any better or worse without religion, just different. I didn't have my usual coping mechanisms to rely on, but neither did I have the stress of trying to determine what went wrong and what caused this series of unfortunate events. Was it God or the devil? Was it my righteousness drawing persecution or my sin demanding discipline? Without religion there wasn't anyone to blame, it just happened. I didn't have the "comfort" that this tragedy was actually permitted or even orchestrated by a divine being, specifically with me in mind, and that somehow he was redeeming it into something good. I also didn't have the trauma of believing that said divine being had intentionally planned this series of events that led to such pain in an attempt to gaslight me into believing it was good for me. Without religion, there isn't always a silver lining, but that also means I can stop pretending that I've found one when I haven't.
The human experience is made up of both joy and pain, triumph and trouble, gains and losses. This is universal. This is life. I no longer feel the pressure to justify or understand why hard things, painful things, or bad things happen. They just do. I used to think that this type of reasoning sounded hopeless, but not anymore.
Now, a few days out, I absolutely can look back and say that this most current situation has given me some valuable information about myself, my surroundings, and how I would like to deal with similar situations in the future. So, maybe I have learned something, but I no longer see that as the reason, justification, or catalyst for the hard things in my life. Learning something is simply the result of going through this experience, not the purpose. I am learning and have the opportunity to grow from this, not because this was something good for me, but because this bad thing happened, I survived, and I'm going to keep going.
My hope is no longer that in some unknown, distant future I'll understand, I'll be glad, or I'll see how this was all part of God's perfect plan. My hope now is that I woke up this morning, which means I get to experience yet another day of life, with all its joys and pains. I no longer see today as a waiting period for a perfect afterlife, I see today as a gift to be lived and experienced. For me, this is loss after religion.