by Leah Clouse
Six years ago I walked out of chapel at JBC and shed my old self. This was not a premeditated act. Nor was it welcomed. This particular chapel service was nothing of consequence. It was an ordinary Wednesday with ordinary chapel words and ordinarily boring worship music. The differing factor was me. On that day, I ceased being an ordinary do-what-I’m told Christian. As I sat listening to a liturgy fall from the lips of everyone around me, so too fell the scales from my eyes. I became a Christian as a teenager. Correction… I became a Christian as an incredibly broken teenager. I’ve spoken before about how Jesus was my band-aid and God my lifeboat. These terms seem innocuous enough until you realize that God doesn’t actually save you from your pain, and Jesus doesn’t really heal your wounds. Those things take time and real effort. That wasn’t in the pamphlet…
So there I was, just a few years into this whole Christianity deal and my whole fucking world fell apart. Do I really believe everything I’ve dedicated my life around? I’d never asked before. I became a Christian in a non-denominational conservative Christian church and until that very moment (and, of course, the million tiny ones leading up to it that I hadn’t noticed) I had not stopped to question even a word of it.
Then I did. Boy did I. Not knowing how to deal with this avalanche of doubt I did what any 20 year old with a new boyfriend would do… we played hookey. Just being off campus helped to clear my mind. We went to the pet store and played with the sad inbred puppies and walked around World’s Fair Park to gain some perspective. In just one day my worldview had changed and there was no going back. I was, and have remained, forever changed. I could not be that girl again if I wanted to.
That day I laid down everything about my old Christian self. There were a lot of things I’m glad to have shed. Superiority, self-righteousness, and naivete to start. I’m proud to no longer call those things a part of me.
But I also left some important stuff. I walked away from every part of my Christian self because I didn’t know how to sift through and choose what to keep. I knew I didn’t believe what I had before, and for me that meant starting completely new. I left my old self and started a journey with an empty heart. For four solid years I wandered through the desert picking up the things I found along the way. I picked up an appreciation for study and doubt. I picked up a value in people no matter who they are or what they believe. But I also picked up some cynicism and resentment too. I felt angry at God that I could no longer feel what I used to feel during worship. I felt abandoned by Jesus for letting his band-aid glue come undone. Amidst a religious community, I felt outcast.
Rewind two years from where I stand today. In the summer of 2010 I found myself longing for something more. The desert was dry and my soul was so thirsty. I was an atheist and hadn’t prayed in years. I made this video and started a blog.
Then, as if He had been waiting all along for an invitation (go figure), my soul found it’s home. The blog I started was based on doing a spiritual activity for an hour each day. These activities weren’t limited to any one religion and my search was just for God in general in whatever form or name he decided to manifest into. I realize now that the blog was my attempt to start walking back toward the pile of my old self that I left behind. It’s been a long and rewarding journey back and I believe it’s just been in the last few months that I’ve finally arrived. Arriving, it seems, means I now have an old mess of rusty “me” to sift through. Turns out, I left some pretty valuable stuff. It’s a little worse for wear, but I’d really love to try on my joy, just for size. I’ve missed it. The other day I found my wide-eyed wonder in the eyes of an infant. I think I’ll tuck it in my pocket for safe-keeping.
The places I’ve been and the journey back again have changed me forever. I’m not sorry for the journey but I think there were better ways to have gotten here. I’m grateful for the people I’ve met who have helped me along the way. The people who live their faith and mean it. The people who are who they are regardless of who is looking. (I was looking.) The people who never cared where I was spiritually, or what god my aching heart was praying to alongside their prayers. The people whose prayers my heart borrowed when I couldn’t muster my own. I found God in them, and in them God found me again.