It’s been over five years since that morning at my kitchen table when I closed the Bible and pushed it away. Three years since announcing here that I had left evangelical Christianity and was embarking on a Truth quest.
And in that time I’ve given dozens of media interviews, recorded lots of episodes of the Freevangelic Podcast with Hubs, and shared countless texts, calls, emails, and cafe meetings with people who are on a version of this journey themselves – or know someone who is.
I do that because the first part of the exit journey is so isolating. Every aspect of life revolved around the church – from who you’re friends with to where you shop to what music you listen to. Building a life from scratch is utterly overwhelming and it can feel like you’re the only one. At least, it felt like that to me.
One day, though, as I listened to a show host tell me about her journey, it dawned on me that many of us go through the same steps. Our time spent on each one may differ, but the steps themselves rarely do.
So I thought I’d share those steps here.
If nothing else, maybe you’ll know you aren’t alone.
A Growing Inner Unease
The first step on this journey is becoming aware of a growing uneasiness inside. For me, it increased every time I read something in the Bible that didn’t jive with the idea of God being all-loving. The uneasiness also heightened each time I read a discrepancy or error in the Bible.
Others I’ve encountered on the journey have also cited uneasiness with teachings from the pulpit or in home groups/study groups.
Still others talk about the cognitive dissonance of there being avoidable hurt and harm in the world (or your personal life) that a “loving” God allows to happen in order to “teach” or “draw you closer to Him.”
Contrary to what many preachers preach, the inner uneasiness usually isn’t about the sinfulness/behavior of people in the pews. It comes from the Bible, the doctrine, or the theology not resonating as True.
A Break Point
Step two kicks off when something happens that is the proverbial last straw. This inciting incident makes it impossible to continue ignoring the inner uneasiness. It could be something that has already happened a million times or never at all, but whatever it is, it hits differently this time.
For me, this was once again reading the biblical accounts of David taking the census. In one, the bible says that the Lord told David to take the census. In the other account of the same occurrence, it says Satan told David to do it. That’s a glaring conflict in and of itself, and it was further magnified in my mind because of the outcome of the census. It so angered God, that He killed every adult male Hebrew who took part in it.
It’s important to note here that the break point does not come as a result of a failure to “walk the walk.” In my case and in others’, the breaking point came because of an all-out commitment to and involvement in walking the walk.
Acclimating to the Reality That a Journey into the unknown Lies Ahead
The breaking point is an awakening. Now, the person opens his/her/their eyes to a new reality. And this can be blinding. There can be a lot of shutting your eyes against it, of blinking in its harsh light, or of turning from it entirely (while you sneak little peeks over your shoulder).
Walking without the sureties of the evangelical Christian faith feels like standing on air – and the air actually holds you up. It takes a little while to accept that you can still move around and not die. You can explore new ideas and not be smote. You are as alive (more?) than you were before and that will not change if you turn your face toward this new path.
In this step, I moved from a feeling of fear or dread to an excited curiosity.
The Journey of Discovering Eternal Divine Elements
Before, evangelicalism was the arbiter for the meanings of “Truth,” “Love,” “Sin,” “Eternity,” “Heaven,” “Hell,” and more.
Now, you explore into the depths of those ideas outside of evangelical sources. You not only start learning what they really mean, but in their meaning you begin to see their timeless significance, outcome, and behavior. You find notes of them throughout the living world. You start to see how, where, and why Truth and Love are present and how they play into the concepts of present and future existence.
As your wisdom grows, these characteristics start to synthesize into knowledge of (for lack of a better way to put it) an Ultimate Being. I think this is where a lot of us struggle because trying to use words to describe something so vast is pretty impossible. Cue the “crazy woo woo” lexicon. 🙂
Peacefully and Joyfully Living in a Walk Toward Wisdom
In this phase, there’s a peace that permeates. It’s not borne of having figured it all out. It stems from knowing enough to know you really are loved just because you are.
You really are part of Something so much bigger than you and yet you are as big as It, too. In It you move, and breathe, and have your being.
The old arguments that the evangelical faith taught us to wage about religion, heaven, hell, right, wrong, yourself and politics pale. There is no massive cultural battle to fight.
I began to see how some of scripture still rings True and other parts of it are clearly tainted by misguided human motivation over time.
In this phase, it’s like scales falling off your eyes. You see how pitting people against each other blocks the ability to see and be together – really together. And that division defies the proper and good order of life.
You marvel in the sure Truth that there is no unlovable version of you that must believe dictated doctrine in order to be loved or offered divine relationship.
Your enslavement to Divine is not required.
Your existence alongside and within the Divine is what pleases It – and you. Life flows there.
And the easiest, simplest, most complex thing in the world puts you in that flow: Love.
Now the real journey begins: learning and practicing Love.