My parents didn’t raise me to change my mind. They raised me to follow God and the people who claim to love him more than I do blindly, with no doubts or burning questions taking up space in my mind where the faith it supposed to live inside me. My parents raised me to believe like them.
But I don’t.
I remember sitting in Sunday School after we finished singing just the right songs to please God. I remember the doors of the sanctuary closing behind me as I went off to be with the people my own age and learn the same stories I’ve heard my whole life. Over and over again, the same message replayed in my mind. It went something like this:
Are they fucking with us?
Maybe I didn’t curse as a child, but the sentiment was the same. My imagination ran wild with visions of adults sitting behind those closed doors, erupting with laughter as soon as they were shut. We’ve fooled them again, everybody. These kids don’t suspect a thing. One more week of them believing in a God we told them to believe in.
I knew that wasn’t true, I knew it wasn’t all an elaborate ruse to get us kids to believe in something they themselves didn’t, but I thought about that almost every Sunday for a long time.
After a while, I stopped going to church with my parents. I couldn’t stomach it anymore. None of it was what I believed, not really. My heart couldn’t love a God who threatened Hell at every turn. My self-esteem couldn’t handle the adults commenting on the way I looked or the things I said I wanted to be. Truthfully, my ego was too big to be sitting in a building with people who deep down didn’t like who I was or where I wanted to go in life. My dreams were bigger than the ones allowed in the walls of that church. So I left.
But I didn’t realize that until much later. At the time, I just left because it felt right. Not going to church felt better than being in church. I loved God more when I wasn’t there, loved myself and my neighbor more, too.
There was one night where everyone was kicked out of the church building because a young woman was possessed. I remember that so clearly and maybe it didn’t happen this way, but I still see it replay like this in my mind. Everyone filed out neatly like it wasn’t the most awful sounding thing in the world and a group of men stayed behind. Behind those closed doors, these men were exorcising a demon out of a young woman, that wasn’t kept from me or anyone else. It wasn’t ideal, but it wasn’t the most offensive situation. Just another day in pentecostal Christianity.
Some came out and said it was terrifying, others didn’t say anything, like it was just another day on the job. Thinking about it years later, I only pray that it really was a demon inside that young woman. I pray they didn’t misdiagnose something worse to stroke their religious egos and I hate that I think about it that way, that these men would do that. But they would.
There were hundreds of prayer nights that went late into the evening, even more weekends confined to this building and just a few less nights of music rehearsals you had to show up to if you even had an ounce of talent. My whole life was expected to be wrapped up in this church, but I don’t remember it being encouraged to be wrapped up in God the same way.
My parents left that church eventually and we’ve only ever gone back for funerals. Most people we knew left after a while, too.
The last time I stepped foot in that building, I roamed into every door, every Sunday school room. None of them had really changed much since I was a kid. Everything was almost exactly the same as when I sat there thinking my parents were trying to trick me. I needed a cigarette pretty bad after walking through all those doors, but I knew better than to smoke in front of the same people I grew up with in that building. I knew what they would say.
I was never going to be the good little Christian girl they wanted me to be. Never ever was I going to live up to the reputation my parents made for themselves there. My clothes were never going to be normal, my words were never going to be quiet and sweet. These tattoos and beers and cigarettes all damned me to Hell a long time ago.
It took a while after I left for me to find God, but I found Her. She was in the arms of people who liked me the way I am, in the hearts of people who didn’t agree with everything I said, but respected my humanity anyway. God granted me an education where I could make my own decisions and cultivate my own beliefs. They’re not the beliefs of my father, but they leave room for me to think that the difference is okay. It makes life more interesting.
My God taught me that it’s okay to evolve, but it’s not okay to be stuck being someone I am not. She only loves me when I am who She made me to be. Whether they wanted to or not, these people kept sending me straight to Hell. But my God sent me to myself.