Finding Faith After Leaving Religion

So, I'll let you in on a little secret. I tend to thrive at starting things. The continuing piece, though... Well, thank God we just came up with some new resolutions again, you know? 

I'm not talking about completing projects. Oh, I'll follow through with a commitment. It's just routines that require my dedicated attention over a long span of time that I struggle with. Like, I've completed a Color Run before... You heard of it- The "Happiest 5K on the Planet"? Well, I was all in, bro. 100%. 
Wore the tutu, crossed that finish line, about died in the pretty- yet severe- powder storm, and danced around like a crazy person. But... that was nearly 10 years ago, and I haven't run another 5K since. Just couldn't seem to keep up with the necessary training. 
(I'm working on it. Don't shame me too much, ok?)

Anyhow, my point is, I want to use some Thursdays as the day to answer some questions or just say a few things that have been on my heart and mind for a bit. Take them or leave them. I don't claim to be some great philosopher or have all the answers to life. I'm just someone who has experienced more than most probably realize, and I'd love to share some of what I've gleaned from those experiences with anyone who'd want to hear. Several of these topics will be highly geared toward conservative, religious communities, whether previously or presently involved. That's a huge piece of my past and in such, a large piece of the girl that I shed to become the woman I am. 

A generous amount of these posts will revolve around sexual abuse and what I've overcome, but also those lifelines I wish I'd had in the moments that were significantly hard.

There will be posts about infertility and how it can affect someone. What you may or may not know about foster care and/or adoption. Narcissism. The enneagram. Difficult family. The raw struggles with faith. Leadership. Workflow. Home life. 

I hope I can make time each month and find inspiration enough to make this more than just a clever little slogan I put on a picture. 

If you haven't read my last post, "The Girl That Started Using Her Voice," you probably should for any of this to even make sense. To summarize, I've let fear and brainwashing convince me to stay silent about too much for too long. I'm starting to speak up about how certain events in my youth still affect me today in hopes that others can grab onto some encouragement, or better yet, discover the strength they have within themselves to know when it's right to make hard choices, too. 

Some people have asked questions like, "Why do you have to say anything about how you were raised?"

Well, it's Thursday... so I'll tell you. 

There are too many dealing with the same struggles I fight through each day, because no one was brave enough- or observant enough- to speak up about issues that needed to be addressed when that timing mattered most. I want to see the chains of that cycle obliterate into nothingness. I want to draw attention to specific things more than you could imagine. Some have convinced themselves certain topics are miniscule, deceptive, or wrong. They refuse to heed any warning signs from those on the outside. As long as they continue to listen to the people in the same ship as them, they think all will be okay. But they're sailing their own Titanic straight toward an iceberg.

Today, I want to elaborate a little on what I meant when I implied that my religious upbringing took away my voice.

To put it simply, when you take away someone's ability to freely make choices without fear of some form of retaliation, in essence you steal who they are as an individual. You silence them. 

Growing up, I envisioned so much for myself but only for a short while. I became highly aware of people's expectations and the fact that I was required to meet them. When I look back, I realize that I'm a little angry, heartbroken, and jaded. People took more than I gave them. The life that could have been was stolen from me.

Don't get me wrong... as I mentioned in my last post, because I kept fighting and clawing and rising again and again, I stumbled into a delightful place I never thought possible. Nonetheless, I wonder what doors I could have walked through if I was allowed to have dreams and encouraged to chase them. 

Instead, they were squashed by this generalized, misleading comment, "You have to keep God first."

While my religious walk looks different than it used to, I still have a high reverence for God. I believe in a higher power wholeheartedly. Mere words couldn't clearly define how much I love Jesus. But, I'll be the first to tell you that religion as a whole has become a breeding ground for manipulation, narcissism, misogynism, and loads of confusion.

Comments like the one above work well on a vulnerable soul desperately seeking to please their Creator when you have a plan for them. 
Tell them they shouldn't take that job because X, Y, Z, so they can be available to do 1, 2, 3. 
Tell them they shouldn't move there, because they could do (insert anything) here.
If you use those words, please make sure you check your own heart for a hidden agenda. They may come from a sincere, genuine place. But too often people place God in a tiny box and try to throw the rest of the world in there with Him. 

Why is it impossible for someone to "keep God first" as they pursue art, nursing, architecture, or journalism?  
That thought set my soul on fire. I wanted to travel the globe and write the most intriguing stories. I longed to meet people of every culture just to understand the world a little better. Taste all the food. Do all the dances. Spread all the hope. Share all the joy. Experience all the things. 

I'm a little peeved that I graduated with a 4.0 GPA, valedictorian, and couldn't apply that hard work to the school I really wanted to attend. Remembering someone stomp out that fire, convince me I couldn't turn out good if I went to NYU is infuriating. 
That's still happening to kids today. If people spent more time teaching them to think for themselves and learn who they are and what they believe, you wouldn't have to place so many "safeguards" around them for fear that they'll walk away from their faith.

But is it their faith? Or is it your set of rules that they follow blindly because that's all they know? The thing is, I wasn't shown how to have faith. I was instructed to meet standards and decipher every possible code of expectations known to man. 

I found my faith after I left my religion.

Religion is like fencing in your yard and never leaving, because it was put there for your protection.

Faith is like walking around everywhere freely and breathing in all life has to offer, because you're surrounded by bodyguards that keep you safe.

I know I don't have kids, but I was one at one point in my life. So was my husband, my siblings, and apparently all my friends. A few of them also live with nearly full-grown children of their own who have shared things with me on the regular, so I feel like I can speak about this just as much as the next person. 

If you don't allow your children to find out who they are, they will have lots of questions and severe frustrations one day. Are you choosing every single thing for them? Do you have severe limitations on how you allow them to express themselves? Are you steering them in a direction that you know others would find acceptable? 
Obviously, raise them to be kind and good... teach them about right and wrong... train them up how you think you should. But please save a little energy to ensure you're not suffocating their potential with another man's limited set of preferences. 

I know girls today that are more bendy than Mrs. Incredible... but they'll never be able to pursue any sort of gymnast life, because someone convinced them that God just wouldn't be pleased seeing them in anything other than specifically approved attire. They can't play sports, do karate, get into horseback riding or rock climbing... the list honestly goes on.
Boys can't pursue much either. If they have to miss a single service for a game, they're terrified that they'll grow up believing faith just isn't that important. 
Look within yourself and honestly ask- what are they allowed to go after?

When I look at people like Tim Tebow, Simone Biles, Chris Pratt, etc... my heart begins to ache for the kids I know that could make it there, too. A world-wide stage to show their faith, hope, and wishes for the human race. The financial ability to do so much good for whatever causes they'd see fit. The joy of doing something they absolutely adore. 

And we take all that away? Why? Because someone else at one point in time said we should? Some have gotten so caught up in "setting themselves apart" that they are setting the next generation up for disappointment. They have isolated themselves on an island where they're honestly unable to make an impact. They're so far removed from society that they have become unapproachable and unrealistic.

I don't say that with anger or disdain. I say it with a deep sadness, because I've been where they are and have experienced the difference. A difference bursting with wonder and fulfillment... things that were entirely foreign to the girl I once was. 

Can we talk about those safeguards I mentioned earlier? 

Why do we feel it's mandatory to live by such a strict set of rules? Are you really so scared that you'll stop loving Jesus if you pursue a career, write a novel, travel the world for a month or two? Are you really convinced that God would punish you for allowing your kids to chase a dream that doesn't involve traditional church ministry? Or are you terrified of how that might set you back with those unofficially appointed to a seat at the round table? How your world might crumble for a bit because of the lost connections?

While you've been told to focus on working "out your own salvation with fear and trembling," don't pass over two important words: 


No relationship, at any capacity, is identical to another. I'd say it's safe to guarantee that's also true when it comes to matters of faith. 

If you're someone that grew up without a voice, and you're struggling to find it now, keep making noise. Even if it's barely a whisper, don't stop. Learn what it is you've felt burning in your heart and go after it. Realize that it's never too late to start over and that God can still do incredible things in your life. You can accomplish whatever you set your mind to do.

If you're someone raising a little human, please listen to who they are. I know you know, Mom. 
Dad, pay attention to what brings about a genuine smile and a sense of pride to your kids. You see them... Let them know you do. Don't put out their fire because you sort of, kind of think you need to because of fears that were never intended to be a part of your faith life. Don't put them in a box that's closed off to the world. If you really do have faith, trust that God can make Himself real enough to them that they can sense His presence at every stage of their lives. 

They're going to grow up one day... They're going to ask questions. Please be satisfied in the answers you have to give. 

Faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen, right? Let's dig a little deeper into that key word.

-Evidence- the available body of facts indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or valid.

They need their own substantiation. Help them walk out their own faith. Teach them to listen for their own convictions. If you force upon them every man-made ideal that you've heard, you're only teaching them to always follow after someone else's experience. The kicker? No two lives will ever be the same. They have to become strong enough to know who they are and Whose they are on their own so that when they are out there facing real life, they'll be confident enough to travel their own roads and know how to achieve the success that was meant for them.

I know it's scary. I know there are questions. No doubt you've been convinced that any other way will lead only to failure and destruction. 

I thought that, too. 

But today, I know true joy and unshakeable faith. I'm figuring out who I am and how I can use my talents to help spread a little good and give me a little purpose. My marriage is strong. Success is tangible. Stability is inevitable. Friendships are raw and real. Life is messy but so good. I get to embrace my little quirks and live authentically. No matter what passions we pursue, I can carry my faith with me. It's resistant enough to come out of the box it was taped up in for too long. Sure, sometimes it gets heavy. I drop it every now and then and have to polish it a bit. It's a little beat up, a little fragile in some areas, but it isn't weak. And since it's now visible and a part of everyday life, I get to share it a whole lot more, too. 

Religion is like staying in the house because it's raining outside. 
Just stay put. Stay dry. Avoid anything out there that could possibly be inconvenient or scary. Stay where it's familiar and where you won't be bothered.

Faith is like wearing a hooded yellow rain jacket and your favorite rubber boots. 
You can walk right outside in a torrential downpour and be almost entirely unaffected. 

There's no need to avoid or fear experiences, because you're covered from head to toe.

You shouldn't have to work so hard to protect your faith. Faith in and of itself is there to protect you.

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