Separation from Church: Lessons from My 14-year-old Self

When I was 13 I became a Christian with all of over exuberant fervor of an awkward adolescent who had never previously identified with any community. My mom, who is insistent that I was “raised Baptist” despite my own contrary recollection, appeared to enjoy my newfound religiosity, although it seemed she enjoyed the accompanying self-righteousness less. You can imagine how distraught she was when I began to refuse church when I was 14. I believe that she cried. Her own distress at my rebuff of her religion, however, paled in comparison to mine. It was not an easy choice.

I was an inconvenient age for the church we attended, with two peer groups I was cleanly separated from by a span of three years each–too old for the children’s group and too young for the high school group, I found myself in yet another lonely in-between place. Perhaps if I had been more charismatic, tougher, better adjusted—perhaps if I were all those things now I’d be able to reach back into my memory without seeming to put my younger self down. Regardless, I was old enough to realize that I’d rather be lonely and alone than lonely and surrounded by people who kept declaring how much they loved me even as they avoided talking to me. Even my hunger for knowledge was stymied at church: when I asked two different pastors what I now recognize were unanswerable philosophical questions, both refused to engage and told me that I’d find the answer if I read the Bible. If they’d listened to me, they may have realized that I had the questions I did because I was reading the Bible.

My whole life, I’ve needed a minimum of three reasons to do something. The third reason I stopped attending church came in a conversation with the youth pastor. He had told the high school group (of which I was newly a member) that we could call him at anytime for any reason. So, I did. I got up my nerve, and called him. It may have come out as a whiny complaint, “why doesn’t anyone like me?” but I meant, “why, if God’s love is so abundant in this community of believers, do I feel so insignificantly, so insurmountably alone?” He answered my question by telling me I ought to try harder, identifying and inextricably lodging the problem inside of me with a solution so thin and vaporous that to this day I still fail to understand how I could have tried any harder. Ashamed of my own failure, isolated, and full of unanswerable questions with no guide in sight, I began to miss Sundays until I wasn’t going at all. It was too hard to hear about how I was supposed to be filled with God’s love now that I knew my reality was my fault.

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