I really prayed for the first time in a long time last night. It’s been years since I’ve regularly done more than the occasional, “Thank you, God,” or “Please help me find my phone.” It’s been years since I’ve stepped foot in a church. In the meantime I’ve lost touch with all my believer friends.
A few moments led me to that prayer. The pivotal point was laying on my sister’s attic floor, tripping on acid, watching the pattern of the ceiling tiles dance beautifully. I suddenly remembered something my father said to me about the moment I was born. Years ago, he told me that at the moment I was placed in his arms, he felt an entirely new way to love another human being. Not a sappy man, he tried to explain to me that it feels like you could not possibly love another person more. And then it happened again. The product of that was tripping with her girlfriend downstairs when I thought about that conversation, and bawled.
Then her roommate walked in, and asked how we were doing. “Tripping balls,” I said, tears in my eyes. And my friend who was with me cracked up for the millionth time that afternoon.
I have exactly one non-family friend who I speak with regularly who is a Christian. A dude I was trying to get to love me described me as a “lapsed” Christian. Which is accurate, and not. I still believe in God and love Jesus, as I’ve written about before.
The thing is, I want to experience that kind of love. I’m not down with exiting this earth without loving another human being like that. Maybe it won’t happen for me, and that wouldn’t be the worst thing. It’s never been my sole mission in life. A stranger on Twitter described me as “not the wife and mother type,” which I totally own. And yet, I’m going to try.
Two questions arose out of my realization on the floor of the attic. The first is, what will my relationship with God look like? What will I teach my child (should I be lucky enough to give birth or adopt) about him? The second is: What will my partner’s relationship with God look like?
Since I broke up with the Evangelical Church, my relationship with God has been distant, guarded, “appropriate,” as I described it to my mother. The truth is that I did terrible things when I was wrapped up in God. I look back in horror at who I was. Self-righteous doesn’t begin to cover it. Sanctimonious. Ignorant. Of course I want to blame the church for my bad character. But the truth is that it doesn’t matter. I’ve avoided the church in part out of fear of again becoming what I once was. Half-assed isn’t my default setting. Hair-on-fire zealous evangelical is how I roll.
As angry as I am about all the bigotry, misogyny, sex-shaming, and narrow thinking I perpetrated and endured as a Southern Baptist zealot, I’ve never been able to deny God.
At night, the man I loved right after I left my husband and would ask me why I believed what I believed. As he slowly cracked opened my unthinking, knee-jerk morality, the sunlight of empiricism and skepticism shone in, disinfecting my brain and washing out so much superstition. He taught me how to think, and showed me that what I’d been calling thinking was feeling and believing. And that they were different.
Yet there remained a place which resisted skepticism and empiricism. He asked me recently why I believe in God despite a lack of empirical evidence. I told him that it was like measuring volume with a ruler.
I don’t know why I still believe in God. I don’t know why I ascribe certain experiences to the supernatural, and specifically to God. Why, as I violently broke away from any expectation that God has anything to say about the way I act and behave and totally rejected Christianity as a good basis for my ethics or morality, did I still pray those little prayers? Why can’t I be content believing in God as a deistic force, existing but removed from my day-to-day?
A heuristic is a mental shortcut that allows people to solve problems and make judgments quickly and efficiently. I’ve got a tendency to overthink bigger decisions. As annoying as those “God led me to…” people are, they’re not overthinking it. A bias toward action is a wonderful thing, however you accomplish it. I need to make some big decisions, namely who/whether to marry and whether/how to procreate. A shortcut sounds great right now.
The other reason was revealed in the words with which I began my prayer. “I miss you,” I said to the God I’ve spent the last three years denying could care about the minutiae of my life.
I’m afraid. I distrust my ability to practice faith responsibly. But whether God can be a heuristic for me, or just a tiny part of my life, is something I’d like to have settled. I’m not sure where to begin. I don’t know if I can silently sit through slut-shaming or bigotry in church. So far I’m reading Relevant and listening to Christian music.
Writing about this makes me feel about a million times more vulnerable than when I write about sex. I’m not sure why. Perhaps because it’s more important. Perhaps because I’m a million times more regretful about the things I’ve done because of religion than anything I’ve done in bed. Perhaps because my desire to separate myself from the things people will assume about me because I love sex is tiny and insignificant compared to my desire to separate myself from the things people will assume about me because I love Jesus.
But of course it’s my personality to lean into the discomfort. Like all writers, I want to expose exactly what people want to keep hidden. So I want to blog this journey. I hope I have the courage to take it, and document it.
Photo by Pawel Kadysz