Tuesday, January 15, 2013

My single years after college, part 2

Many people begin questioning their beliefs and learning who they are in college. That's when the majority of us become independent, confront different people and different lifestyles, allow ourselves to try new things. Or so I hear. That's not what it was like for me. All that came much later, when I moved away. Bible college wasn't about questioning; it was solidifying beliefs. Gaining sound doctrine. Delving deeper into the faith. It's not that I never got to ponder big ideas...it's that there were certain limits and boundaries to how big I could allow myself to question things like right and wrong and who God was. I felt such an impetus to have an answer for everything--to figure out where I stood on every religious issue. That is why, with this mindset, it took me a few years past college to even get to the point where I could truly let myself relax a bit, open myself up to new ideas, reevaluate my beliefs, and begin questioning.

When I moved to Denver, the friends I made were not zealous about religion at all. But they were more like me than any friends I had before. I could be myself and do things that I enjoyed doing. I didn't have to feel obligated to believe a certain way to be their friend. They didn't care if I went to church. But I did find a church to attend. I felt rebellious and guilty with the one I picked, because it would not have been approved by my bible school friends or anyone from there, mainly because it was more theologically liberal and the services more liturgical. But I felt more at home there than at any of the Baptist or E-Free churches I attended with friends in college, and that felt really good. My introverted self was allowed to be peaceful and meditative during church, and the community welcomed and accepted me in a way that felt genuine. They weren't trying to increase their membership with me, and they didn't try to convert me to believe a certain way. I had room to breathe. No pressure.

My decision to participate in a year-long bible study at that church is what I look back on now as a big step toward my ability to become capable of leaving the purity mentality. Because it is there where I had discussions with people who opened my mind to other possibilities. I was shocked to find people who considered themselves Christian yet held none of the same things sacred that I did. Virgin birth? Inerrancy of the Bible? Original sin? If they could question the things I held as fundamental to my faith and still keep faith, then maybe my faith could live independent of the things I'd attached to it, too. As I got to know these people, I found them to be very loving, giving, and great friends. They loved God and their church, too.

By the end of that year, I had decided to take a mental step back. I would relieve myself of the pressure to have an answer for everything. I would ask "why" without feeling guilty. I'd stop caring about the approval of others and figure things out for myself. I'd allow my heart and my gut instinct to have a voice. And I would reevaluate many of the tenets of evangelical christian culture that I'd always assumed I had to believe in order to be a Christian.

That was a big deal for me, and it was slightly scary. I wondered if I would lose my faith if I began questioning everything. I never realized how much of my identity was tied up in my beliefs until I began letting them go. In the end, I think it helped me find out who I was apart from the culture I was raised in. It was incredibly freeing to be able to answer a controversial issue with, "I don't know" and be okay with that. I stopped seeing the world in black and white, and found that most things in life needed a balance: an ambiguous line drawn somewhere in the grey.

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