Dear Parents of Children Who Have Left the Church,

I want to begin by saying, “I’m sorry.” I’m sorry that this has been a source of such concern for you. I’m sorry that this has been the cause of so much sadness for the family. I’m sorry that there have been so many disagreements and arguments and long silences. I’m sorry that this has put up fences that seem impossible to climb. I know it’s not fun.
Dear parents of the “unbelievers,” I don’t know where to start, because this is not an easy thing. There are so many layers to this problem, and my head spins as I try to sort it all out in my own little world and in the big world around me.
It’s been about five years now since I began asking big questions about Christianity. It’s been about four years since I started shifting away from many of its beliefs and rituals.  It’s been a year and a half since I last stepped foot in a church. From a distance, it might look like this has been an easy thing for me. You might think I did not lose one night of sleep over this. You might think that the shift — from devout Christian to doubting believer to “on the fence” to where I am now — was pretty straightforward and that I went about it light-heartedly. It wasn’t, and I didn’t.
Of course, it’s not just about me and my story. Many of us have left the church. We have left the faith that we were taught since we were little. We watched it crumble around us, and we didn’t — we couldn’t — stop it from crumbling. We have stopped praying. We pick up shifts at work on Sunday mornings. We replace Bible study group with humanist organizations. Perhaps you think we’ve totally gone off the deep end. Maybe you think we’ve become lazy, careless, carefree. Maybe you think we’re “getting back” at you, or the church, or God.
I can almost hear you becoming upset, and I’m sorry that this is how things are right now. I can see that you’re wondering,Just exactly what is she saying here? I’m saying, You have not heard the whole story — my whole story, the stories of other people who have transitioned out of religion — because too assumptions are obstructing you from hearing it. When a person we love, especially a close family member or friend, leaves the faith, it is an uncomfortable, confusing, scary thing. We want to run away from the discomfort and fear. We want to put our hands over our ears and shut out the disturbances. We want to go back to “how things were.” I’m sorry that you feel that way. I’m trying to make it easier for all of us. I know, in the past, I’ve come across as defensive, angry, stubborn. This whole matter weighs heavily on me, and I guess we all tend to become a bit irrational at times. I apologize for that.
Dear parents and church-goers and pastor (and of course, dear Facebook friends….), I’ve heard the gossip. I’ve heard about your concern. I’ve heard that you are praying for me. And yet…and yet…you have not asked me why I have left. You tell me that I have to “work on my relationship with God,” that I need to “forgive those who have been hurtful,” that “no church is perfect and you cannot expect us to be perfect.” It’s not about that. That is not why I have left. I have left because there are too many beliefs and rituals that no longer resonate with me. Love still resonates with me. Grace and forgiveness and “living with purpose” still resonate with me. Church does not. Organized religion does not. All the things that church has offered to me, I’ve been able to find in other places. I know, that’s a very vague thing to say. So, if you’re curious, ask me. I am on Facebook. Call me. Make an effort with me, instead of just gossiping about me.
Dear people in my Christian circle, we’ve left because, yes, we gave in to the voices that told us that it’s okay to read, to research, to ask questions, to not leave those questions alone. We’ve learned that curiosity is a healthy thing, and that it’s okay to think through things critically.
For each of us who has left, it’s been a journey. Most of us probably read a lot. Talked a lot. Studied a lot. Prayed a lot. Watched videos. We learned about history, science, psychology, philosophy.
We read about the origins of religion — our own religion, and also other religions. We read about other religions and compared those to Christianity. We saw the differences and the similarities. We questioned which religion was “more correct,” which made more sense, which seemed to resonate or not resonate with our innermost being. We wondered if they could all be right…or if they could all be wrong.
Once our research began, we couldn’t drop it. With a mixture of fear and confusion and exhiliration and enlightenment, we pressed on.
We read about psychology. Why we do what we do, why we believe what we believe. Slowly — or for some people, maybe not so slowly — we began to dismantle some aspects of our faith. We began to question why religions held so strongly to certain beliefs and rituals. We began to question why the church emphasized certain things. We wondered if we could find things like community and purpose outside of the church…and, over time, we learned that we could.
We examined our hearts. Were we expecting too much from God? Did we have desperate urges to do sinful things all the time? Were we just frustrated with life and everything in life, including God? But no, that did not seem to be the problem. We wanted to believe, but we couldn’t. So many times, we stood up to sing worship songs along with the rest of the congregation…but the emptiness overwhelmed us, and the words just didn’t seem to resonate with us anymore. We tried to fake it, but that felt worse. We tried to stand silently while the music filled the room, and we listened to the voices around us, so confident and lively…while the voices in our own heads whispered, “I can’t do this anymore, I can’t do this anymore.”
We wanted to go back to the church, to the old ways, to familiarity and comfort. But things didn’t seem to fit as well as they used to, and we couldn’t put it all back together.
And we continued to look “outside the box.” And speaking of that box, we were starting to see that it is not “wrong” to doubt, to research, to let go of certain beliefs. We began to see that it was okay — and healthy, even — to put things under the magnifying glass, to not accept everything “on faith.”
And then, history — we began to delve into history. We read about the gods of the hunter-gatherers. We read about the agricultural revolution and ancient civilizations. We read about the Roman Empire and Constantine. We read about the dying and rising gods of the Middle East. Divisions in the church. Scientists, explorers, popes. We looked at maps and timelines. We tried to put the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together. Things fit differently than we’d expected them to fit.
Dear parents, dear pastor, dear people of the congregation. I’m not about to try to convince you to be like me. I don’t have it all figured out. I could be completely wrong. But this is where I am now, and unless I have solid reasons to go back to “how things used to be,” I probably won’t.
Dear church people, as the years go on and my journey continues out of religion, I still miss it sometimes. I miss some of you guys. I see the pictures on Facebook or something else reminds me of that chapter of my life, and some days I just want to go running back. For the most part, though, I’m happy with my life now. (But if you were to call and invite me for lunch or your annual barbecue in the summer, I’ll probably take you up on that offer!)
I wish you all the best with wherever life takes you.
Take good care.
Tania K.