This entry was originally posted at my personal blog: RagingRev.com where the original comments and the response from the pastor can still be seen. As a side note I think it is important to say that this pastor and I now regularly have lunch together and are developing a very good friendship built on mutual respect and understanding.
JG provided me with the sermon from August 8th that you gave regarding a Warrior Mentality and Persevering Till The End - in it, at around the 21 minute mark you made a mention of JG's atheist friend - that friend being me.
I don't know precisely what conversation it was that you followed that helped you come to some of the conclusions that you did...but as I listened to this sermon a flood of memories engulfed me as I pondered the most difficult time of my life.
Words often fail to express what those two years were like, when god was fading away - when I was losing my grasp of a worldview that I was absolutely sure of. I'm going to do my best to explain it though. I'm going to try to avoid tears the best I can in doing so.
Part of your premise was that for many believers turned otherwise the point in which they "quit" is a result of bad life circumstances, or an idea that when the going gets tough we simply bail out. This premise seems unreal to me, as I observe this country and this community I see people clinging to their faith or searching harder to find one during times such as these - the worst that have occurred according to quite a few generations. Tough times, it seems, is a catalyst for people to become MORE devoted to their faith - I don't know that I was any different than the majority of believers in that way. My trials put me on my face, bowing before what I knew to be the almighty - weeping for his guidance.
No, tough times had little to do with the final destruction of my deep faith. Mine was ultimately rent asunder by nothing more than a desire to know god better, to feel closer to him, and a willingness to accept whatever purging was necessary to get there. If you will, imagine Isaiah 6 and desiring nothing greater than to be within the perfect and whole will of god. My every thought and action was intended to be a devotion to him...I just wanted to be in the Throne Room. - I'd bet that you can't name one person in your congregation more willing to die to self than I was.
It was that greatest desire to know god intimately that allowed me to doubt the beliefs I had previously established. From that point on those glorious yet painful doubts were able to redefine everything about my world.
For two years I wished I had left well enough alone and been satisfied with the faith I had. For two years I felt the agony of darkness and emptiness fight with the god I once knew. For two years my heart was crushed by the weight of the burden of watching the only Father I had ever known die excruciatingly by my own hand. For two years I grasped at the remnants of my faith with no idea that I could ever live a life without my god. I don’t like to claim that I’ve felt a pain that is particularly worse than anyone else ever has, but I find it hard to imagine any pain greater than that which I felt during these long two years.
Much like you might hurt when you lose a family member and you go through the stages of grief, so did I. I denied the reality of what I was experiencing, made excuses for it, called it a trial and convinced myself that I would come out of it eventually with the closeness that I had originally desired. I felt all the pain and guilt that comes with death and leaving behind a ministry and I blamed myself for everything that had occurred. In my anger I bargained for a change in this reality and although it did take two years I eventually worked through it, found peace outside of god, found happiness again.
I did not endure those years because I quit. I endured them because I couldn’t let myself quit. Your sermon made it sound so simple, so easy, and I can’t dare sit back and let that idea be promoted. That simplification of what I experienced hurt me far more than I thought it would. I wouldn’t want anyone to be fooled into thinking that this road is either a choice or an easy one. This is the last thing I ever wanted – but now I can’t go back. I cannot believe. I don’t want to believe anymore but more than that I am simply unable to and when I wanted to I couldn’t. Please, don’t dare make it sound like I took the easy way out. The easy way out would have been a bullet through the temple…and I weighed that option more often than not.
You can’t know this unless you’ve been there, so I forgive you for your lack of understanding and for making this sound easy – trivial even. If you would like to use any portion of this message to make an illustration I ask that you do so with kindness, and if you have further questions about a falling away – especially my own, I ask that you ask me rather than make assumptions – I promise to be honest in my answers.