(This is Part 4 of My Shifting Faith series, where I deconstruct my faith journey using the framework provided by Kathy Escobar in her book Faith Shifts.)
A few years before my faith began Unravelling, I had a strange dream where I was giving birth. But it wasn't a joyous occasion. I was afraid of the pain but most of all, of being alone while I had the baby.
The dream ended, but somehow I knew it was one of Those dreams. You know, the dream where your mind somehow touched God's, and He was trying to tell you something in the most maddeningly oblique way possible.
As someone who has spent most of her life crafting sentences that were brief and to the point, I've always wondered why God didn't just hand us a memo, or hey, even a Tweet, when He wants to tell us something.
A part of me believes that it's because He is terribly creative and He just can't help it. Also, He has a sense of humour - it must be fun to watch us trying to figure out what He's trying to say. It makes Him harder to ignore!
Here's another theory: Perhaps He knew that while words faded away, images tend to stay in your mind.
The dream has stayed with me till this day; in fact, I credit it to helping me hang on to God through my journey of Unravelling.
I wouldn't bore you with how I came to understand what He was saying, but here's what I got: "You will be going through something very painful. You will mostly be alone when you go through it, but from this, you will birth something new and wonderful."
Mind you, I was thick in the Doing stage where I was all out serving in the Church with stars in my eyes when the dream came. The thought of some distant calamity that will cause me pain panicked me quite a bit. And being someone who is loves security, I immediately thought a financial disaster was coming my way.
Of course, it turned out to be something more shattering. It was the complete unravelling and disintegration of my theological beliefs, faith and support network.
Here's another reason why God is so vague sometimes, I think. If He told us the whole deal, we'd probably run away shrieking.
After I decided to exit the Sunday service system of doing church, I found myself without friends. This is not unusual if you had spent most of your free hours serving in church. Doing Church is your social life. When you exit it, guess what happens?
Some friends, confused and maybe even angry at my hard questions and scathing remarks, pretended I did not exist. Some chided me for dishonouring the church by publically voicing my caustic opinions.
And because those that you do church with don't necessarily progress beyond acquaintance stage (despite all that deep sharing in home groups), they didn't bother to stay in touch when I stopped doing the same things with them.
As the scales fell awayand I started to aggressively embrace my true nature, I found myself wanting to just blab my feelings of hurt and betrayal to the world.
So I began to blog.
My blog, Messy Christian, became my little therapy centre. I was pretty sure nobody would read my rants, but one of my early posts ended up being picked up by a very prominent Christian blogger and suddenly I was read by people around the world.
I even met some of them during my jaunts overseas for work.
It was a heady time because not only was I using my writing to express what I've kept hidden for so long, I was making friends with people who understood me. Sometimes I get heart-felt emails from people suffering from spiritual abuse, asking me: "Are my feelings legit?" Helping these people through such a hard time was really fulfilling.
ENFANT TERRIBLE OF THE CHRISTIAN BLOGOSPHERE
Still, the rage wouldn't go away. I tried to hold my anger in checkbut most of the time I failed. I was a massive couldron of rage, and there was no stopping it - it leaked out through my posts.
I started swearing.
Even on my blog.
Each time I did it, it felt like a pressure valve was being released. (Incidentally, Kathy Escobar lists swearing as one of the symptoms of a faith shift. I chuckled out loud when I read that!)
I tried to return to church. I really did. But everything in it made me either angry or upset. The music was too loud. The pastor's sermon was abhorrent. The cards that ushers wanted me to fill out pissed me off. I once screamed at a home group leader who wanted to reform my "incorrect view of sex" by sending me to a seminar.
The peace and excitement I once had while in a Sunday service? Gone. Poof.
I also obliterated a few relationships at this stage. Everyone pissed me off.
A CREATURE TO BE PITIED?
During this time, there was a remnant of friends from the Old Way of Life which looked upon me with great pity and who dealt with me thusly: "She hasn't attended church for years. Let us flood her with invitations to church so that she can be overwhelmed by the stupendous marvel of our church programmes and be reformed to the right path. Let us talk to her as condescendingly as possible about how being out of church meant that she is no longer quite a Jesus follower, and is on the slippery slope to Hell."
These years were the spiritually driest of my life. Naturally, being a person with Pentescostal roots, I thought I must've pissed God enough by my heathen behaviour and He has turned away. Or maybe it's that statue I bought from Bali...
AND GOD SAID...
A year passed. Two. Three. And the next thing I know, I have been a non-pew warmer for five years. In the fifth year I stopped blogging. There was so little "spirituality" left in me that I ended up talking about ghost stories on my blog. And frankly, I was just bored about talking about my ups and downs with faith. I thought I should just put the blog out of its misery. And I did. Goodbye, Messy Christian. We had so much fun!
I did life the best I could, but God who was so central to my life was absent, and it felt as if I was missing an arm.
One night, one of my friends who never gave up trying to get me back in the pew called me to invite me to an Easter event.
I tried to reassure her that no, my spiritual health was just fine, thank you, without attending one of those moronic programmes, but my friend was insistent that I needed it because clearly I was becoming one of those backslidden people.
Suddenly, a couldron of rage bubbled up from beneath the numb lethargy I've been in for so long, and I began yelling: "Damn you, why can't you understand that I hate Him! I hate God because He allowed this to happen to me!"
I've said those horrifying words: I hate God.
I waited for a declaration from the heavens that I would be excommunicated and be tossed to the Pit.
Instead, after so many years of not hearing a whisper, I felt God speak to my heart: "Finally."
Just one word. Finally.
He actually sounded amused. Relieved, even.
I'm not sure how He does it, but God has this talent of communicating a lot with just one word. I felt (well this is what I think) that He had been waiting for a long time to hear those words from me. And once I said it, it was as if I broke through a wall that had kept me captive.
In a fit of rage, I had ripped away that Deferential mask I put on when I speak to Him and had shaken my fist at Him.
And He was okay with that.
And just like that, the anger that had been my constant companion left me.
God did not explain to me why I had to go through five years of spiritual anguish. (He's not much into explanations, I find.) But that night, as I watched the stars from my apartment window, I felt as if God was watching the Heavens with me.
I got the message loud and clear that night: "It's going to be okay. Because I'm with you."
Next in the My Shifting Faith series: Returning: Holding out for hope (March 22). Do bookmark the blog series post schedule or subscribe to the blog to have the posts delivered to your inbox so that you do not miss a post. (You will also receive my posts outside the blog series.)