Stories of Doubt: CJ’s Story

Stories of Doubt is a Doubters Anonymous series featuring the reflections of members of the community. Stories are shared in a spirit of understanding and healing, and reflect the personal beliefs and experiences of the person sharing, not necessarily the group as a whole. We are always accepting new stories and would love to hear yours at stories@doubtersanon.com. 

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For everything that happens in life—there is a season,
a right time for everything under heaven:
          … a time to tear down, a time to build up;
                 A time to search, a time to give up as lost;
       a time to keep, and a time to throw out …
[Eccl. 3:1,3,6]

Today is Sunday, and it is yet another Sunday in which I am not attending a structured worship gathering of some kind. There have now been roughly 68 Sundays like this — a vague timeline for you. To go deeper into the details will take effort … not only did I quit Sunday church-going, I’ve also quit writing, turning instead to reading and gathering and absorbing. I will do my best to not overwhelm you with the words of others. I will do my best to tell you my story, in my words, from my heart.

Before I cognitively chose a belief system to abide by, I was spiritual. I remember my first moments and places of worship: climbing the tall magnolia tree next door, the jungle gym of rocks lining the canal I grew up on, holding my breath for the sound of porpoises passing by in the fall, tending my mother’s elaborate garden, tadpoles swimming in the ditch, the white sand beaches and floating in the warm, salty water of the Gulf. I would escape to these places, enthralled, joyful, sometimes sad. I was safe here, I believed. I was safe when I was alone in the natural world, because I never actually felt alone. There was an ongoing conversation I could rejoin in my solitude. There was peace. I was me, but I was part of everything else. Angels kept me from slipping into the water. Heaven received the letters to my dead cat if I could get them to the tippy-top of the tree. Everything in my little world was spiritual.

As most stories go, I lost myself. I lost this earth-child — the true, integrated and most free version of me. I had a broken heart, a gaping hole, a home with a missing parent, a distant and sometimes emotionally volatile parent, and a big sister that couldn’t care less about my existence. Home is where life starts, and mine, as far as I could tell, was in pieces. So, I chose a masculine God to fill me and fix me and love me and never leave me. I frequented many churches in my youth, at one point attending three different denominations, and finally landing on the one with the worst reputation in my community. You know, the charismatic snake handling type. This church eventually became my new family. I was baptized at the age of fifteen, and went on to become a leader of sorts amongst my church-going peers. I wore a purity ring. I would often argue with my mother, claiming her faith wasn’t radical enough. I would confront my friends at school about their behavior (in a gentle, loving way of course). I would listen to worship music and sob and pray for my sister’s lost soul. Yeah, high school was rough. Instead of college, I chose YWAM: a missionary life for me. And it opened me. I developed deep friendships with people from all over the globe. I was able to experience the world in all of its glory and brokenness- the Himalayas, extreme poverty, cultural diversity, strange food, the Taj Mahal, the Autobahn. I rode down a mountain on top of a bus because there wasn’t enough room inside. It was the adventure of a lifetime, and I was doing it all for Jesus!

Or myself.
Or maybe both.
Or are we the same?

My questions were quite possibly birthed in YWAM. Though still blatantly and specifically christian, many of the teachers challenged us to think outside of what we had been taught. To claim our faith as our own. It’s interesting how freedom can be given to a certain point, still within the lines. I met my husband in YWAM. He was a misfit. He challenged authority. He didn’t raise his hands in worship. He was not what I thought I wanted. But he was kind, and he seemed the most likely to protect me while we wandered the Amazon rainforest – primal instincts matter. This meeting has been one of the great miracles of my life, where my heart led the decision, not my list of perfect man qualities. It makes me wonder, did I want a way out, even then?

The shit storm that then ensued during our dating/ engagement/ and early marriage days was, to put it lightly, the complete demolition of everything I knew or thought I was or thought I wanted to become. I was counseled and coached and comforted through a very intense season of change and growth. The reckoning, as Cheryl Strayed calls it. There is always a reckoning. All the pain, all the fear, all the perfectionism came out crashing, throwing things, cursing — there was so much cursing. And there was grace, love, and light mingling with dark. Suddenly, I was bare. I was breaking my own rules. I was not who I once was. At this point in time, church was my healer. I’m forever grateful for the role my community in Minneapolis had & has in my life. I would not be who I am without them and their words and their witness to my cracking open.

Which brings me to the present, I suppose. We now live in the Pacific Northwest, away from everyone and everything we’ve known. It’s both lonely and wonderful. When we moved, those 68 Sundays ago, we tried church a few times though not with much hope. I knew somehow that upon leaving the Midwest, amidst leaving our family, friends, and furniture behind, I was leaving something else behind too. Faith. Fundamentalism. Formal religion. All of the above.
I guess I could claim this as my experimental phase, since I didn’t have one of those. I smoked a joint for the first time, on New Year’s Eve, just to try it. I joined a circle of women for meditation classes, learned about energy work, and completed my first “earth walk.” I do yoga and deeply connect to Eastern teachings and practices. I love goddess tarot cards and animal totems and astrology and all the things I was once told are evil. And somewhere, in between all this newness, I can still sense a familiar presence. It’s not the God I once held so tightly- it’s not a Him. We’re not really on a name basis, actually. It’s the Divine. Love. Beauty. Truth. Grace. Yes, all of that and more. Infinite. Boundless. Everywhere.

I keep coming back to these words by Liz Gilbert, and this is where I will leave you, for now:

“‘Spiritual’ is believing in the innate divinity of every moment — and believing in the innate divinity of every moment is not something you can do WRONG… I think sometimes people get frustrated with the term ‘spiritual’ because they think it’s too wishy-washy. They think you’re lazy. They think you’re undisciplined. They think you’re unfaithful. They think you’re trying to get away with something — that you are trying to believe in God without following any rules. (Whose rules, though?) People are always looking to catch you not being spiritual enough, or not appearing spiritual in the right ways. Don’t worry about it. They don’t know. They don’t know that there’s nothing lazy whatsoever about this path. They don’t know that what you’re looking for is nothing less than EVERYTHING, EVERYWHERE and ALWAYS.”
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One thought on “Stories of Doubt: CJ’s Story

  1. This is so beautiful. Thank you for sharing your story. Also, I am so glad you found a soul mate who is just right for you. Hugs to you both on your journeys.

    Like

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