Perceptions, boundaries, and relationships.

Perceptions, boundaries, and relationships.

Appar­ent­ly, word among my for­mer peer group from church camp and beyond is that I’ve cut off most peo­ple from my past life. (I’m intu­it­ing, per­haps wrong­ly, that the per­cep­tion is also that I’m a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent per­son than I once was and might be rude if some­one were to reach out to me. I could be imag­in­ing things, though.)

This per­cep­tion of me both­ers me. A lot. I can count on one hand the num­ber of peo­ple I’ve delib­er­ate­ly cut out of my life — and even then, I’d still have fin­gers left. Those that I did remove from my cir­cles were because of emo­tion­al abuse, lack of bound­aries, or because it was sim­ply too painful for me to remain in con­tact when it was clear our rela­tion­ship would nev­er be as it once was.

I lost a lot of friends when I got mar­ried. Some of them, I’m sure, was just because it’s not unusu­al for there to be friend­ship casu­al­ties after some­one gets mar­ried. But many of them thought that I was mak­ing a mis­take in get­ting mar­ried. That hav­ing sex before mar­riage cloud­ed my judg­ment, that I was no longer capa­ble of mak­ing good deci­sions. (After all, if I could have sex out­side of mar­riage, what else was I capa­ble of doing?!) And I’m sure that it was clear I was strug­gling with my faith after my return from BJU. When the answer to any­thing faith-relat­ed is, “Read your Bible and pray and go to church,” and all of those things make your faith weak­er and your depres­sion stronger, I sup­pose it’s nat­ur­al for advice-givers to grow uncom­fort­able and blame the per­son for not get­ting bet­ter.

A cou­ple of years ago, before my decon­ver­sion (but in the midst of it, to be sure), I vis­it­ed my church camp dur­ing a real­ly big con­fer­ence. Lots of my friends were there. Many of them seemed hap­py to see me. Hugs and greet­ings from many. But the con­ver­sa­tion seemed…stilted. Every­one left after just a few min­utes, seem­ing­ly eager to get away from me. (Maybe I’m para­noid. Maybe my social skills are com­plete­ly and utter­ly lack­ing.) All I know, though, is that I tried to engage with these peo­ple I used to share my life with, and with­in half an hour I found myself utter­ly alone, look­ing at my hus­band in con­fu­sion and pain, leav­ing qui­et­ly as no one noticed.

That’s been the pat­tern, hon­est­ly. It was the pat­tern before then, but less pro­nounced. And it’s grown more pro­nounced since.

I recent­ly was in a set­ting sur­round­ed by mem­bers of one of my old church­es. I won­dered, on the dri­ve to the event, whether it was com­mon knowl­edge that I’m an athe­ist now. A lib­er­al athe­ist at that. (Do they know there’s even a dis­tinc­tion?) My ques­tion was answered imme­di­ate­ly upon arrival. We were giv­en a wide berth as peo­ple either stared open­ly at us or point­ed­ly away from us. Some fam­i­lies lit­er­al­ly pulled their chil­dren clos­er to them, as if I might snatch them up off the path of right­eous­ness. Amused though I was at this recep­tion, I was relieved that a for­mer men­tor greet­ed me with a hug and act­ed like we were old friends — because we are! Maybe thing won’t be so bad, I thought to myself. I spot­ted a group of friends. Peo­ple I thought were friends. Made my way over to them and asked if I could join them. They exchanged unhap­py glances and shrugged. I tried to engage them in con­ver­sa­tion, and was met with terse one-word answers. They seemed reluc­tant to even face my direc­tion: I most­ly spoke to the sides of their faces. My amuse­ment was long since gone as sad­ness and pan­ic began to engulf me. I could have wept with relief when a friend — an actu­al friend — joined us, talked to us. I was equal­ly grate­ful for a peer who approached me as he was leav­ing to say hel­lo, how nice it was to see me, exchange just a few pleas­antries before he had to take off.

There are, of course, a few peo­ple who have attempt­ed to “reach out” to me. And I don’t doubt their sin­cer­i­ty for a moment. But these are peo­ple with whom I was nev­er close, peo­ple who don’t seem to under­stand bound­aries, or respect my expe­ri­ences or my beliefs. Peo­ple that make me feel like a project, a lost lamb, that if they just show me some prop­er amount of care mixed in with “remem­ber how good things were when you were a Chris­t­ian?” that I’ll come back into the fold and every­thing will be how it once was, some­how. Or even the friends who seem to be accept­ing of me, only to sud­den­ly say that they’re sor­ry for how Chris­tians have treat­ed me, for how I’ve lost my faith. They mean well, and I love them, but I have no response that feels appro­pri­ate.

I don’t know how to han­dle these sit­u­a­tions. I have no wish to be rude, but I also have no patience for pros­e­ly­tiz­ing or manip­u­la­tion. I have no way of know­ing how to say, “Yeah, Chris­tians were pret­ty awful, but not all of them, and that’s not why I lost my faith. It may have con­tributed, but it’s not like it was the only fac­tor or even the main fac­tor.” I don’t want to feel like I have to defend my unbe­lief. I simply…want to have a rela­tion­ship with peo­ple whom I loved and who I thought loved me for so many years. I don’t under­stand why my lack of faith neces­si­tates that our friend­ship must now be void. I don’t know how to han­dle the over­whelm­ing grief that I feel for the friend­ships that seem to be for­ev­er lost to me. I don’t know how to approach some­one and say hon­est­ly, “We shared so many years and moments of our lives togeth­er. Is noth­ing of that worth sal­vaging, just because we no longer share the same faith? Am I worth­less now that I’m not a Chris­t­ian?”

Part of me (or, truth be told, the voic­es of for­mer friends and men­tors and fam­i­ly) says that I can’t be upset about this. That I shouldn’t expect any dif­fer­ent after mak­ing my lack of belief so pub­lic. That I have done some­thing that is so hor­ri­bly wrong that of course my entire for­mer faith com­mu­ni­ty can­not asso­ciate with me, because I have offend­ed them and cut them off. Because appar­ent­ly if I don’t love God, I can’t pos­si­bly love them.

How can I explain that it’s not like I expect you to nev­er men­tion your faith? Of course you’ll talk about it. It’s impor­tant to you. It’s a gov­ern­ing fac­tor of your life. But that doesn’t mean it has to be a gov­ern­ing fac­tor in my life, and it doesn’t mean it has to be the focal point of our rela­tion­ship, does it?

Am I worth­less to you now that I’m not a Chris­t­ian? Am I some­how less-than-human, with­out feel­ing, with­out moral­i­ty, with­out any good thing? Does my lack of belief mean that I am the dark­ness with whom you can have no fel­low­ship? Am I com­plete­ly lack­ing light just because we dis­agree?

In some ways, I def­i­nite­ly did expect this. I was a Chris­t­ian once. I was an assem­bly girl. I believed all of this. I prob­a­bly would have done the same thing. And any­way, it’s not like this all is super sur­pris­ing, con­sid­er­ing that the major­i­ty of my friend group went mys­te­ri­ous­ly silent and absent after my mar­riage.

And yet I can’t help but hurt. Grieve.

I just wish I could find a some­how non-offen­sive and non-hurt­ful and non-inva­sive way to say, “I don’t believe in your god, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still love you.”

Posted in Fat Girl,