The more serious I got about my faith and the more I let it change my life, the more the church hated me.
I was taught to follow Christ no matter the cost – turns out the highest cost was betrayal from Christians.
On Sundays we sang “I have decided to follow Jesus … though none go with me, still I will follow… no turning back, no turning back”. Yet when I went alone I was accused of going rogue.
When Acts 2 and Acts 4 inspired me to give up an individualistic and consumerist lifestyle and pursue interdependent community living – I got called a socialist.
When I decided my faith should shape my life, I was accused of relying on works to save me.
As I let God’s love break down my prejudices and biases, I saw the Image of God in all people – so I got labeled a universalist.
I couldn’t deny anymore the non-violent message of Christ and the pacifist lives of the earliest Christians – and was told I was getting too wrapped up in “non-essentials”, and getting my faith mixed up with hippie politics.
Studying American history, I came to the difficult conclusion that the US had never been a Christian nation, and that it could never be, as empires are always in direct opposition to Christ. I was attacked and called anti-American.
Christ said to love everyone – so I put people before doctrines. But I quickly found I could only love Church-approved people – white people, straight people, able-bodied people and wealthy people – without being reprimanded for following popular trends.
Humbly I decided I need to be a truth-seeker more than a truth-preacher, but now they said I was losing my way.
When I noticed the church pledges allegiance to politics more than Christ, I was called a libtard and snowflake.
I took Jesus seriously when he said to take in the stranger and help those in need – but Christians cared more about protecting borders than protecting lives and apparently if I didn’t like it here, I should move.
When I expanded my definition of family and did life with the people God put in my path, I was accused of breaking down family values.
I asked hard questions like Jesus did in his parables, but I was shunned for going astray.
When I emulated Christ the most closely, I was accosted with “We don’t recognize you anymore! You’re not one of us!”
The more I sacrificed to do the right thing, the more I was called selfish.
The less popular my convictions became, the more convinced they were I was taking the “easy path”.
The more fervently I followed the Spirit’s leading, the louder the doors slammed behind me.
Following Christ got me kicked out of Christianity.
I’m not finding myself, but finding my worth
I’m not lost, only trained to be invisible
It takes courage to be who you really are
Just you and nothing and nobody else
Unveiled for the world to see
No facades, no apologies
I’m learning to love myself again – or maybe for the very first time
I’m rewiring my brain to believe I am good – not disgusting or evil or broken
I can trust myself – and they were wrong
I was created with inherent glory and nothing, no one, can strip that away
That’s what it means to be made in the image of God
“How far are you willing to let Truth change your life? If something is true, and good and right, would you want it, even if it demands a response? What if responding means changing your way of thinking? What if embracing it changes how your family and friends see you? What if it changes your job security? But if it is true, would you want it regardless of the cost, or would you rather live a comfortable lie? Whether we like it or not, each of is faced with this question and will need to decide: How far are you willing to let Truth change your life?”
Does this sound like something you heard as an Evangelical? Does it flash you back to when pastors implored you to “pay the cost” of following Jesus? Urging you to give up the comforts and pleasures of this world for sacrificial faith? Commanding you to turn away from the popular ways of secularism and selfishness for the narrow path of life?
It sounds like that to me. But actually, I wrote this in 2013 one month before graduating college, and I wrote it about following newfound convictions that became my catalyst for walking away from the conservative church. Alone in an evangelical world, I was burdened with epiphanies that led to my deconstruction. My eyes had been opened and I couldn’t un-see how anti-Christ mainstream Christianity had become. The more I learned about what Jesus actually stood for, the more I saw how unlike him many churches really were.
Jesus said “put down your sword” but churches supported guns and war. Jesus said “how hard it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven”, but churches praised the rich and criticized the poor. Jesus said “let him who is without sin cast the first stone”, but churches judged relentlessly and ripped apart people’s lives with their gossip. I tried to ask questions or make points, but most Evangelicals were defensive and closed off.
I wrote this piece about seeking truth regardless of the cost – but in the way that an ex-Evangelical refugee has to pay, not as the face of pious religiosity staring down imaginary oppression.
I had been warned that the world would hate me, but actually it was the church that did. They taught me that persecution would come from doing the right thing, and it did – from Christians. I was trained to think secular groups would try to influence me and control my beliefs, but found that no one on the outside really cared what I did with my private life – only the church obsessed over that.
Christians had always told me that following the truth would be unpopular and cost me greatly. That’s exactly what happened – following my convictions became a deeply unpopular journey because my entire life was filled with Evangelicals who disapproved. The cost was losing everything and starting over from scratch.
I didn’t plan on leaving the church – I simply had committed to learning, growing and being driven forward by my conscience. As I learned new things, I changed accordingly. But there was no room for change in conservative Christianity. At the slightest hint of going my own way, I was accused of taking the easy route – ironically, deconstruction was the hardest thing I had ever done.
Hands trembling, I pulled opened the gate standing between me and vast, lonely unfamiliarity. I took a deep breath and stepped forward, answering the Spirit’s call into the wilderness. I knew Evangelicals wouldn’t let me go easily. I knew they would hunt me down and terrorize me (and they did), but I mustered my courage and went anyway. I gave up my community to venture ahead solo. I lost my friends and made some enemies. I let go of my status and reputation to be slandered and blacklisted. I faced my fears and trusted that Truth is good.
Maybe I should never have looked back, but I still desperately wanted to make a difference in the Christian communities I had known and loved. I did everything I could to gently and slowly expose whoever might be there with openheartedness to the Christ I was learning about – inviting them into curiosity. After all, someone had done that for me.
But I had to be careful. Being too open was dangerous. I wasn’t fully escaped yet. That would take years. I became skilled at using conservative language to express my progressive Christian ideas (knowing all too well that with just one word outside their lexicon, the arrows start flying). But conservative-coding everything I said made it difficult to know how much of my message actually got through. It took so much energy to find ways of creatively weaving new threads of discovery into an old tapestry of tradition, hoping the right people would find it or even recognize what it was.
Eventually, I had to heed the scriptural advice: “do not throw your pearls before swine.” Over the years my writing has changed – because my audience has changed. Now I maintain only those circles of influence characterized by mutual openness, learning, curiosity and reciprocity.
In those early days the mantra that kept me going was “I will follow Truth wherever it takes me” – a moment-by-moment response to reverberating internal echoes of “How far are you willing to let Truth change your life?”
“We are alive only to the degree to which we are willing to be annihilated. Our next life will always cost us this one. If we are truly alive, we are constantly losing who we just were, what we just built, what we just believed, what we just knew to be true… I cannot hold too tightly to any riverbank. I must let go of the shore in order to travel deeper and see farther. Again and again, and then again. Until the final death and rebirth. Right up until then.” – Glennon Doyle
I have died four times in my life thus far. Each time a little less painful than the last. The cost always greater than expected and the reward always better than imagined. Never the death itself the most painful as much as the reason for it: decisions I never should have had to make, behavior I should not have had to take a stand against, people who should have been there to help resurrect me and weren’t, the ones who should have been celebrating with me on the other side but chose to criticize and accuse me instead.
I have died four times and I suspect I might still have to die a little more. Each time a moment of truth; a finale of sorts, the end of trying so hard, the end of cooperating and submitting and negotiating and bargaining. Those moments that come so rarely for peacekeepers, those moments where standing up and speaking out is worth losing everything for, because if you don’t, you will lose your own self.
I have died four times in my life, four big times and lots of little times. Each time my mind getting a little stronger, my voice getting a little louder, and my boundaries getting a little clearer.
I have died four times, each time losing the thing I wanted to keep the most, in order to find the thing that mattered more than the world itself.
I have died four times; losing and regaining my identities and beliefs, leaving harmful relationships, losing several communities and finding new ones, being alone sometimes, drawing lines in the sand.
I have died four times. Each time leaving its own scar, each time healing a little better.
Age 19, bewildered and alone; excommunicated from my family’s church, the only community I had ever known. It’s so easy to fall from grace.
Age 25, quitting my dream job and walking away from the ministry that saved me and believed in me through my darkest days. Years spent there were the best of my life but the community wouldn’t grow with me. I was too progressive. Apparently their love had a limit.
Age 26, trying to appear more confident than I felt entering the divorce attorney’s office. I made my final decision, no turning back now. Leaving the man I had built my life around who had no room for me in his anymore. The man whose arms I had fallen into because he accepted me when the church didn’t.
Age 29, my heart, my world, taken from me in an instant with a coroner’s knock. Grieving the love of my life was infinitely worse than any previous trauma – my soul ripped in two. Loving him for even a day was worth the heart-stopping pain of missing him for a lifetime. The risk of love is a hill I’m willing to die on any day. But the death I’m talking about here isn’t my soulmate’s, it is my own. Losing the part of me that died with him was easier to accept than losing him. Losing my grip on the last shreds of a traditional faith expression would have been unexpected at one point but made sense now. Losing more of me was inevitable, I just never could have imagined the catalyst; nor would I have ever wanted to.
I am a new person now. Not all for the better, but ultimately being renewed every time I rise again, each time proving I am alive.
I have died four times, and never have regretted the hill I chose to die on.
“No, you won’t treat me that way.”
“Absolutely not – you will not control me.”
“You will not reduce me, shrink me down, or keep me quiet.”
“I refuse to be shamed. I renounce that narrative.”
“I utterly reject those lies, that watered-down version of reality, the downplaying of what I went through, the narrowing of my future.”
“That is not the God I know. That is not the God I will follow.”
“This belief used to define me, but I’m getting acquainted with the new me now.”
“You will not capitalize on my grief, wielding it against me, attempting to drag me back into what I escaped. I do not give you that power”.
“Grief has turned my life turned upside down, but all you see is vulnerability. All I am to you is a conversion opportunity. Nope. That stops right here.”
“I’m building a boundary line between you and me. I won’t let you touch me with your shallow and offensive theology.”
“The life I’ve made is good. I am good. I know who I am. I know what I believe.”
“These are my decisions and values. These are the things I am willing to die for.”
I have died four times and each time have found it is not until I know what I’m willing to die for that I truly know what I’m made to live for
“I notice I celebrate my womanhood a little more each year than the year before. I’m becoming more comfortable in my femininity. I’m cherishing the ways I’m “traditionally feminine” but also the ways I just don’t fit in. I’m growing to love my body and accept it. I’m learning sacredness. I’m apologizing less, disagreeing more, and rarely ending my statements in question marks these days. I’m bolder, more opinionated; discovering I was never as nonchalant and indecisive as I was led to believe – rather I was oppressed, suppressed, and cornered into submission. Infrequently now do I spend the energy defending my choices and beliefs. I don’t really give a shit about who I’m “supposed to be” anymore. I am who I am and other people’s reactions have nothing to do with me. It was damn hard getting here, but now that I am, the possibilities seem endless. I feel powerful. I’m grateful for the brave womxn who have gone before me, laboring to carve out the path that I more easily climb up now. I’m proud of women everywhere and I’m proud of myself.”
I wrote the above paragraph about a year into exploring empowered womanhood after escaping patriarchal evangelicalism. It’s exciting to see the subtle differences in how I talk about my femininity in 2020 versus in 2019 (posted a few days ago – see “Caricatured and Erased”). The tone is direct and fierce. I have less questions and uncertainties. I focus less on the sorrow of oppression and more on the beauty of design. I’m unapologetic about my journey.
However, in 2020 I still had a long way to go. Much further than I would have expected at the time of writing.
I had no idea that six months later when my partner expressed an interest in having children it would trigger in me overwhelming panic, and anger toward the church mothers who raised me to believe women were valued only for our ability to serve men and give them children. I didn’t realize how trapped I still felt by institutions that preached self-neglect to women under the guise of “selflessness”. I hadn’t fully grasped how scared I still felt of my own biology – constantly waiting for the day my female body or female mind would turn on me, transforming my into an anxious, subservient puppet – a hollow vessel, a fragile vase.
I had no way of knowing I would struggle in 2021 with the most intense trauma-induced gender dysphoria I had ever experienced, leading to an official medical diagnosis, or that the dysphoria would make mensuration so triggering that the sight of blood each month would tempt me to end my life.
I couldn’t have planned for the confusion that would come knowing I didn’t want to be a man, but hated being a woman – so much so, I would feel urges to escape myself even if that might bring me dangerously close to self-harm. I didn’t know how many more days there were ahead of me where I would feel dirty, broken, weak, corrupt, defective… Everything the church wanted me to feel.
In 2020 I had overcome so much and I’m proud of that version of me. But I wasn’t aware how much self-loathing still lurked deep inside me and how much farther I felt from God’s favor than men were. That is, not until my progressive church at the time explored God’s gender and pronouns. During a visualization exercise, I broke down into tears seeing God as a woman. She looked like me. I was truly made in her image. Woman are powerful and mighty and sacred. Sophia – the biblical name for the Holy Spirit – was here and she was majestic. It was still hard to connect to God as Mother because of all the trauma I had with human mothers. But it was a start.
After being diagnosed with gender dysphoria in 2021 I embarked on an EMDR therapy journey in early 2022 specifically focused on gender trauma and the mother wound.
I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Even my name feels new. I could never connect with the meaning of Sarah as “mother of many nations”. But now I feel empowered as a life bringer whether physically, spiritually or emotionally. I am a portal between the spiritual and physical realms – both spiritually, and physically.
I still have fears and insecurities around my gender and sometimes I’m unsure of what I want for my life and my future. But things are different – I feel good. Not good in spite of my womanhood, but good because of it.
I am the sacred feminine. I am the image of God. I posses the gift of divine motherhood in all its forms.
When I wrote the first paragraph in 2020 I truly felt every word. But now in 2022 there is new depth to the concept of celebrating my femininity that makes my insights then feel shallow in comparison. At that time I couldn’t imagine healing beyond what I had already achieved. I certainly never thought I could get here. In fact, I didn’t know it was even possible to feel this way.
Will I look back again sometime in the future and see how far I still had to go today, in 2022? Absolutely. But I’m celebrating and honoring each element of the goddess within as I uncover her and lift her up. I am her and she is me – the sacred feminine.