Thursday, May 5, 2011

Finding Our Way in Our Own Way

My husband and I continue on our respective and divergent paths as we seek to understand God and our relationship to Him. My husband's path is leading him through turmoil, despair, and feelings of rejection, while I journey on in relative calm, like a curious child, stopping at whatever point of interest I find. He doesn't doubt the validity of Christianity as I do, he questions whether he is beloved or rejected by God. He has openly expressed his pain and his questions to numerous others, especially those in leadership at our church. He's met over lunch with ministers, elders, and friends. It's no secret that he's struggling with his faith. I, on the other hand, began my questioning in private, reading books and blogs and speaking to no one. When I did share my questions with others, it was tentatively and with only a few trusted friends. Never did I approach the leadership of my church. I didn't want attention drawn to myself nor did I want to open myself up to judgment or criticism.

My husband, on the other hand, has never hesitated to bare his soul. In his "living out loud" style, he has felt the need for his public life to honestly reflect his struggles, so he believed it necessary to step down from teaching on occasion in Bible class and to step down from his role in leadership in the education program at church where he was helping to develop curriculum. He recently attended an elder's meeting and informed them of his intentions and the reasoning behind it. Thankfully, they responded in a positive way, mainly with hugs and prayer. This put a little attention on me in that a few people have asked him how I am doing. Though he hasn't shared details, he has let them know I am asking my own questions. No one has uttered words of condemnation or anxiously sought to bring us around to their way of thinking. I've greatly appreciated the responses. However, my husband has found some of the leaders reluctant to follow up or pursue his concerns in depth, which has caused some resentment for him.

I've been surprised at how comfortable I've been with additional people becoming aware of our current state of being. It makes me wonder whether I'm underestimating my family's ability to handle a greater awareness of my evolving beliefs. Over Easter, my husband's mom could tell that he was down in spirit about something and asked us about his mood repeatedly until he told her in a very general way about where he is spiritually. She was supportive and concerned and later left a voicemail for me expressing her care for us. However, I let my guardedness and discomfort over addressing it with her keep me from calling back to talk directly with her. I wimped out.

My husband has found a minister at another congregation who seems comfortable walking along this path with him and they are planning to study weekly together. My husband has enjoyed visiting this church recently. When he visits there, he has none of the accompanying resentment he has felt at our current church. In fact, he's resumed attending on Wednesday nights with the boys now that he's found this new congregation. Mercifully, he hasn't insisted that I join along.

I'm happy for my husband to find a place he enjoys instead of dreads. However, I am reluctant to invest energy into meeting a new set of people and connecting to a new church with a new set of ministries when I am questioning the fundamental basis for it all. I don't really want to change congregations, and my husband hasn't asked to do so. I love many aspects of our congregation. If I did make a switch, I'd rather it be after my thoughts settled and I actually had a better sense of my beliefs. It would also be awkward to enter a new church with this new role of "doubter." We are accustomed to being a couple who is counted on to be involved and committed to the mission and ministries of the church. We would not be in a very enviable role as Mrs. Doubter and Mr. Faith Crisis! Sadly, I must admit that my ego rebels a bit over occupying this lowly state. I don't want to be viewed as any one's project or fall in the "to be saved or rescued" category. I don't particularly feel a need to be rescued or saved. However, I do like the idea of having no expectations on me for being or believing in a particular way!

My husband and I each have our unique spiritual path that we choose individually, and yet, our way clearly shape the path of the other, making it even more difficult to predict what lies ahead.

And that's how are paths are meandering about these days.

9 comments:

  1. "My husband's path is leading him through turmoil, despair, and feelings of rejection, while I journey on in relative calm, like a curious child, stopping at whatever point of interest I find. He doesn't doubt the validity of Christianity as I do, he questions whether he is beloved or rejected by God."

    That is exactly the difference between my wife and I as well. My wife struggles with her trust in God's love, and turmoil results, from time to time. The turmoil for me was almost entirely relationally, brought about by changed beliefs. I also worked through things privately, but my wife's turmoil ended up keeping me from the kind of secret approach I would have preferred. Everything became quite public.

    "We would not be in a very enviable role as Mrs. Doubter and Mr. Faith Crisis! " That's us, just reverse the genders! No, it is not an enviable role to be in. Though we left the church was my hope-ed for rescue was the focus of relationships.

    Glad to hear of the peace you have found along the way. It sounds like you both, and those you have encountered, have shown a lot of maturity in the process.

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  2. I probably relate more to your husband emotionally, but you intellectually. I'd love to hear what you think of all this as a psychologist. I am finding it is just too hard to seek any more within christianity b/c of the cultural and emotional battles. I would describe my husband as belonging in neither of those roles. He has transitioned to progressive christianity with little turmoil, and is also quite content to have me wherever i'm at in my journey, even if it includes atheism. He does get more angry at the church (such as our experience on sunday) whereas i keep it all inside. Interestingly, i seem to relate well with liberal christian female friends who have athiest husbands...i almost take the role of counselor, as paradoxical as it might sound.

    I would be interested to listen to your perspective on all this as a psychologist, and how do you approach those that have emotional issues ...is it wise to seek therapy and medication, or just give up on christianity. I struggle with the fact that i was fine before, and there were definate triggers and an abusive church environment. When is grief no longer grief? And what does this all say about the evidence or lack of evidence for god.

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  3. atimetorend,
    Well, we're not alone anyway! So what have you all done? You said you left your church. Did you find another, or do you all just not go anymore? I'm interested to see how you've worked things out so far.

    Like a Child,
    Knowing when to throw in the towel is a tough call. The truth is that therapy can be used for working through whether or not to gie up on Christianity. Also, one thing to keep in mind is that giving up on Christianity may or may not alleviate your turmoil. You may be left with anxiety over whether that was the right choice. I've noticed that your mind never stops!

    Sometimes we do just need to lay down a problem for a while, cease struggling and just accept that we don't know what else to do with it. That doesn't mean forever abandoning it. As I've read your posts I've thought to myself that a break from church attendance for awhile might be good for you. It so regularly provokes feelings of despair and worry for you that I think you might need some healing from past experiences before you could have a positive church experience.

    For a tecnical answer to your grief question, grief is considered depression 3 months after the loss and if the DSM criteria for depression is met. Grief really can turn to depression, esp when there are complicating factors involved, such as trauma. There's also such a label as "complicated grief" or "traumatic grief". Usually it surrounds a traumatic loss, like when someone is murdered. However, I don't think it has to be that dramatic. Truthfully, where trauma is involved, the best course of action is typically to get in therapy as soon as possible. But what else would you expect a psychologist to say? :) You can stop going to church, but the pain from the abuse will likely continue until it gets addressed in some way.

    Of course, the big question you asked is what all this says about the evidence for or against God. From where you're sitting, I imagine the evidence is looking mighty slim. I don't believe it counts on either side of the ledger. However, I think we are wired to value our personal experiences over eveything. I think it's generally a good survival skill. So, it's hard for people to deny spiritual experiences and it's hard for people with no experience of God's presence to believe He's there. Is personal experience enough? I tend to think it makes sense to weigh all forms of evidence that we may have at our disposal. If there is a God, which is how I lean usually, He clearly isn't big on handing us all the answers and protecting us from suffering and growth pains. What this means for the character of God, I can't say. I just know suffering, death, and pain are here to stay and are often inherent and necessary parts of the life experience. I wish I understood and could give you a satisfying answer.

    Can you explain what you mean by "I struggle with the fact that i was fine before, and there were definate triggers and an abusive church environment" I wasn't sure where you were going with that.

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  4. Doordonot: thanks for the response. I am indeed taking a break from church or reading books...unfortunately, i felt it would by unfriendly to not attend church with the family we were visiting. It simply wasn't an option...and i figured ...how bad could one little church service be if i was going with friends. How i was proved wrong!

    With regards to the unclear quote, i mean i have generally lived life content until the church abuse, loss of faith, and facing such a life-altering decision of leaving conservative christianity. You know, your time estimate for grief rings true for me ... About 3 months after start of dark night of the soul. I do not feel depressed anymore. It is the exisistential, nihilistic thoughts that now get to me...and of course, church.

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  5. Like A Child,
    I'm glad you're no longer depressed, that goes a long way in helping you regain some peace. I've observed that moving through the existential questions can be quite a process. I still am in that place myself. Human beings need a coherent world view to make sense of themselves and their world. It's disorienting and hard to go about daily life without that. I think people often underestimate just how significant a crack in our world view is.

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  6. A coherent world view... Is that even possible??? lol

    I have wondered a lot about what I would do if I were married and going through this. It seems to me that it would be quite difficult to have a close, intimate relationship with someone who didn't share the basic same world view as me. I mean, how you approach every decision and value judgment clashes. I'm not sure I'd be in for that much dissonance.

    However, my faith journey these 50 years has been so convoluted that it would be impossible to expect anyone to go through the same stages and phases that I go through. It makes me nervous about marriage though. I guess I'm just not that stable with it all. (I sometimes fear I have Borderline Personality Disorder traits... shudder. Then again, it just might be ADHD.)

    This is what makes agnosticism so difficult. You can't pick any world view to live with. However, I think agnostics meld agnosticism into it's own world view, if that makes any sense.

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  7. evangelically incorrect,
    How about semi-coherent world view :)

    My husband and I have certainly had disagreements. THankfully, we're at a place where we can give each other space to be where we are now. You know, though my theology is changing, my basic values haven't changed much, which helps in maintaining some harmony in the home. The biggest differences likely to occur will be over what to teach the kids doctrinally. There will likely be bigger differences over time, but we're in a better position to handle it now than 15 years ago.

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  8. "It would also be awkward to enter a new church with this new role of "doubter." We are accustomed to being a couple who is counted on to be involved and committed to the mission and ministries of the church. We would not be in a very enviable role as Mrs. Doubter and Mr. Faith Crisis! Sadly, I must admit that my ego rebels a bit over occupying this lowly state."

    This bit jumped out for me. Historically, my wife and I have always been involved in our church in one way or another. Though recently that has diminished to almost zero for various reasons. For me its the simply fact of no more faith. I haven't attended church for several months now, and frankly I don't miss it, but then that's as much to do with not enjoying the man at the front and objecting to a service that lasts 2 hours or more as it is to rejecting my faith.

    Anyway, on to my point, mt wife and I relocate this summer so we'll be in a new town and will be finding a new church and my past reasons for non attendance will be null and void, so it'll be off to church I go and honesty is going to have to raise its ugly head.

    I'd never stopped to consider that going to church as a doubter instead of a reliable engager would or could be a challenge, I guess I'll find out soon enough.

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  9. Limey, thanks for stopping by.let us know how things go for you this summer.

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