My Struggle with Christianity

Photo courtesy of MaryBeth Hedstrom

Photo courtesy of MaryBeth Hedstrom

My holidays this year have been overshadowed by a spiritual crisis. I’d like to personally thank Phil Robertson for helping me to forget the reason for the season. Because in the midst of the celebration that is supposed to be about the Christ I’ve come to know and love, I felt disillusioned about who He is and what He thinks about me. This is not a new struggle for me, so Phil is just a catalyst, he’s not the cause. I struggle with the Christian faith. And, personally, I believe struggles with dark nights of the soul are quite normal. If I don’t ever question and grapple with the truth, how do I really know what I believe. And, I believe God wants me to come to him fully informed.

A little kid that I love asked me the other day if I was divorced. “Yes, I am,” I answered, knowing full well that this Christian lad was about to grapple with the teachings of his faith and this woman that he loves. “So you are not going to go to heaven?” he asked. Ouch….. ouch …. ouch. I looked at his father, and his father commented that it was much more complicated than that. But, there I stood …. a PROBLEM in the discussions of faith and what is right and wrong and what happens when you do wrong. This is the problem with rules. They are never really that simple. And, when somebody breaks a rule and maybe you feel it’s justified, then how do you explain the rule. So, there I am, standing in their kitchen, unexplained. I don’t know if they heard it, but I felt the silence was palpable. And my guilt was extremely painful.

I grapple with the rules all the time at work. We want to make something mandatory. I hate that word mandatory. Because, for every good rule, there is a great exception. My neck tightens every time we start a conversation about making something mandatory. And I ask my list of questions …. WHY is it important?…. WHAT are we going to do if they don’t do it?… Are we prepared to go on without them? In my opinion, if we can’t answer these questions and accept the fact that we may have to let an employee go as a consequence, then we don’t need to make it mandatory. Ultimately, if we say something is mandatory, it has to be mandatory. Otherwise, it is just a suggestion.

A friend of mine has found a new church that she loves. She’s involved in a couple of the ministries. She’s making friends. A few weeks ago, she told me that she was feeling conflicted about whether or not she wanted to stay at that church. I was a little surprised since she seemed so happy there. She told me that the minister had preached on divorce that Sunday. She didn’t have to say another word. I knew the feeling. I knew the OUCH that comes from being condemned publicly. No matter the message, everybody knows you’re divorced. If you’re married, you can sit comfortably in your pew and revel in the knowledge that you’ve made it work. But, if you are divorced, you cannot undo it, and you are the example.  The guilt is unbelievable. The embarrassment is painful. The fear that God does not love me is torture. For there is no “but” in scripture. It is mandatory. My first reaction is always to flee.

I left the Christian church when I was younger because I couldn’t handle it. I couldn’t live by the rules, and I didn’t want to be a hypocrite. I decided to embrace the real beliefs that I had and find another path. I found my way back to Christianity via a radio station that is a recovery ministry and a Christian counseling organization. They understand mental and emotional disorders and the way that they color the mind. They provided a path of healing to get back on track to a better way of life. They provided an image of Christ that I could love and that loved me. A lot of people talk about Christ’s love and forgiveness, but they harp on the rules so much that the forgiveness gets lost in the rhetoric. I personally came to believe in Christ but I struggle with church, and I struggle with some Christians. Unfortunately, the ones that speak the loudest are the ones that push me away.

I believe that God hates divorce. I believe that God hates anything that creates a rift between me and Him. But, I have to ask if staying married at all costs is mandatory. When I think of WHY he hates divorce, what I come up with is that he hates anything that causes pain to people. He hates it because I have to live with the guilt for the rest of my life. I have to put “divorced” on my marital status. I have to explain why I divorced to save face with friends who think it is mandatory to stay married. The divorce itself is very painful, and it takes years to get through it. It hurts everybody. I believe God hates that. But, I don’t believe He thinks I’m evil even if I chose divorce for the wrong reasons. He provided paths for me to leave my husband that were obviously supportive of my choice. And…. if I’m wrong …. if I’m wrong about why God hates divorce … if He wants to condemn me because I made a hard choice that goes against His wishes…. I don’t want to believe in a God like that. A good friend of mine who was a Methodist minister used to say, “I’d rather believe in a tree than a God like that.”

At this point, I’m still struggling with my faith. I sit in 12 step meetings, and I am cradled by a God that loves me and all the troubled masses enough to provide a place that meets us where we are. I believe that God inspired Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, to create a place for all the “sinners” to go when they couldn’t walk into a church. For every sin that Phil Robertson called out, there is a 12 step group that reaches out to those people who want a way out of their lifestyle. Some churches are now offering their own recovery groups to help people, but it’s been a half a century in the making. The 12 steps are principles straight out of the Bible. What I know about guilt is that it can be a catalyst for change. But, shame, its wicked stepsister, is a catalyst for relapse. The more shame I feel, the worse I feel about myself, the more likely I am to self-medicate with whatever compulsion makes me feel better.

Yes, I believe Phil has every right to say what he believes. But, I would like him to know that his words …. his quotes of scripture …. have caused a rift between me and His God.  Yes, there are people who are evil. But, they are living in their own hell and aren’t listening anyway. The ones who are listening and really feel your wrath, don’t deserve your condemnation. They deserve your compassion and help to find a way out. Part of that compassion may be allowing them to suffer their own consequences. You see, that’s the harder thing to believe. To walk a gray line where right may not be right and wrong might not be wrong is difficult. To really believe that it is “much more complicated than that” is a harder road to navigate. To believe that we know the heart of GOD with our small little minds is arrogance at its greatest.

I am in your list – and God’s list – of those who will not inherit the kingdom, Phil. Like my little friend said, I may not go to heaven if scripture is correct. I’ll just have to live with that. If I’d lived my life by the rules, life would be much easier. I could sit in church and not feel guilty when the preacher talks about fornication, divorce and drunkenness. But, for whatever reason, I didn’t live by the rules. I’m trying now, but not because they are the rules. I’m trying because I know the other way involves pain. The biggest motivator in my life is avoiding pain. And, right now, I’m struggling with the pain that is involved in being a Christian and being divorced.

For awhile, I was really attracted to going back to the Catholic Church. I called to get information, but I knew the biggest issue was my marital status. I talked with the woman in charge of helping newcomers to the church, and I told her my concerns. “Well, eventually you’ll have to talk to the priest about it and deal with it,” she said. I hung up the phone and, sadly, I knew I couldn’t do it. I’m at a place where I don’t want to “deal with it” anymore. It’s done, and I feel supported in my decision to divorce by God. I want to avoid the shame that I’ll feel during that conversation. It’s chicken, I know. Maybe I’ll go to hell. Maybe I won’t. Maybe I’m already in it. But, I’m not choosing to go to hell of my own accord. I’m sorry. I just won’t do it.

33 thoughts on “My Struggle with Christianity

  1. My dear friend, you are correct. YOU can not do it. That’s why Jesus came, to pay the price you can not pay. To FULL-fill the covenant you can not fulfill. To become your ransom. That is the good news of the gospel of Christianity and the need for a Messiah, a Christ. You have been ransomed. Jesus has fulfilled the covenant; He has paid the price; you don’t have to do it; it is done and there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. That’s why he said it is finished.

    • Thank you, Bill. That is the way I’ve understood the Gospel, but it is not the message that is “marketed”. When I see Christians vehemently support the words of that Duck guy and label them scripture, I have to ask if we are worshiping the same god.

      • LOL, most of the same people vehemently supported the lady with the cooking show, they are more concerned with their entertainment than anything else IMHO. Are they practicing “critical thinking”? I don’t think so. Are they as energetic and passionate about understanding people of different persuasions, or spreading love and goodwill, or focusing on the gospel message of Calvary? Who knows, but in most cases I seriously doubt it. And organized “churches” in this day and time? Who needs ’em? Keep on keeping on.

  2. WHOA! I am a born and raised Irish Catholic with a seriously strong faith. My theory is God is going to look at me/you on judgement day and say”Well, did you do the best you could with the gifts I gave you? Made a few mistakes, did you? You tried and that was all I asked. I don’t believe that Jesus, who hung with “fallen women”, a bunch of guys who were laborers, and the poor is going to condemn you because you got out of a marriage that He probably thought you ought to get out of, too. Do not pay any attention to the supercilious, awful creature at that Catholic church you called. I know all kinds of divorced men and women who go to the Catholic church and are deeply comforted by the fact that there is a place to go where you are accepted. Cut yourself some slack…. cg

    • Thank you for your kind words, Carol. I actually have cut myself slack, and I feel okay with who I am. But, I’m a big people pleaser, and it is very difficult to be in a space where I’m not fitting in. I struggle with the church. I remember when my Mother left the Catholic Church because she needed to use birth control. It was a deep wound for her, too. But, she could not go somewhere she didn’t believe in the doctrine. I suppose I may have inherited that trait from her. Thanks, Carol.

  3. Sharon, we humans are sinners….no sin is allowed in heaven. You must be perfect and sin free to get in. That’s why we need a savior! We can’t do it on our own. Jesus is the key to heaven! He died so that we could be forgiven. Christians aren’t perfect…..just forgiven:)

  4. Sharon, wow. A couple of thoughts: Your relationship with God is yours alone. If you believe in a God Who has made Himself personally approachable through the sacrifice of His Son, then I encourage you to embrace what Jesus did for you at Calvary and work out your own relationship with God. What we see in others like the duck guy, for instance, and your loved ones with the child, for instance . . . it is a mistake to allow the opinions of other people, including church members and church leaders, impinge too much upon our own understanding of God’s grace in our lives.

    Bless you.

    BTW, when will you get rid of the damn snowflakes?

    • Haha… I love the snowflakes! January 4th, they will disappear. Thanks, Mark, for your comments. I feel very grounded in my beliefs about God and where I fit in His heart. I struggle with the church. If I remember correctly, Jesus struggled with it, too. I appreciate your taking the time to support me. 🙂

  5. I also struggled with being divorced and feeling like I was no longer free to join those who go to church for fellowship and worship of Christ as a Christian. I had screwed up, did it wrong, didn’t fit in with those who had it all figured out and were doing it right. When I remarried, I felt like that marriage could not be blessed by God because the first one was the only one that really counted. That struggle went on for years and years. Then, one day, I spoke to a Christian co-worker about my doubts and insecurities. His response was so simple and so right. He asked me if I was a Christian, had I accepted Christ as my savior and believed that I was forgiven for my sins? I said “yes”. He said that God continues to forgive us for our sins, we will never not be sinners, we must strive to walk in faith and be mindful that others are watching us and we should always try and make sure that we lead others towards the same salvation instead of in the wrong direction. BUT, we will sin. We must confess those sins and ask for forgiveness and guidance and keep our faith. We can do that in a church at an alter, or at the kitchen sink while we are washing the dishes….it doesn’t matter where….just that we do it. God continues to forgive us and bless us, we just need to be mindful and know that we are forgiven and blessed beyond belief. But first, we must accept Christ as our savior and know without doubt that we have asked for his forgiveness and then accept that it will be granted. I hope this helps a little. It truly is about faith in the fact that we are loved by a God that loves us, even though we often can’t figure out why.

    • Thanks, Jean Ann. I guess one of my issues is that I don’t feel like divorcing was a sin. I don’t feel the need for forgiveness. I was seriously unhappy in one relationship and abused in the other. How is it a sin to say I want out? It is legal in this country. With my second marriage, I did not get married in a church because I didn’t want to confuse my commitment to this relationship with my belief in God. That’s one of the bigger struggles I have with the church. Why do I need forgiveness for taking care of myself?

  6. We have no concept of how big God’s love is for us! “Agape” is not a big-enough word. “Supercalifragilis……” is not a long-enough word. One drop of Jesus’ blood at Calvalry was enough to pay for the sins of the whole world….past, present and future! That’s every sin that has ever (or will be) committed. When Jesus died on the cross for us, ALL of our sins were future sins. That’s too much for a tiny human brain to comprehend. The new pope just might be on the right track: Churches and preachers should not spend so much time on the negative!

  7. Well, for me, I stood, as a Christian believer, next to the man that I was about to marry, in a church with a pastor officiating a ceremony before other Christian believers where we entered into the covenant of marriage as a couple with a promise to each other and to God that we would love and honor each other and proceed through a lifetime together, walking in faith and service to God, until “death do us part”. We believed that marriage and all that came with it (sex, children, sickness and health, etc.) were blessings and gifts from God that we were about to claim and cherish throughout said lifetime. All of this occurred, because we believed in the teachings of Christ that we learned as children and young adults raised by “God fearing” parents who taught us what they believed was right. So, the guilt that I felt and struggled with came from my own acknowledgment that I had broken my promises to my husband, our families and friends and to God, I had committed some clearly defined and undeniable sins in the process, and I needed forgiveness, but I certainly didn’t feel as though I deserved it. That was my guilt and my shame, and I carried it for a really long time. There were rules, I understood, believed in and followed all of them, then I broke them and that was that. It was never about what anyone else made me feel, it was about accountability for what I knew I had done wrong.

    I’m reading and re-reading your post, looking for the “i did something wrong” equals “guilt/shame”, equation and I can’t put my finger on it…but I think that’s because that’s how I perceive guilt/shame. If you don’t believe that you did something wrong, then no, you don’t feel that you need forgiveness. I can’t question your faith, your belief system, your assessment of right/wrong, your Christianity or your commitment to your marriages, that would put me in the position of being judgmental and I know that you know that I am not that. I think I can ask you to assess what you feel and determine if it is really guilt or shame. I can speculate that you may have let other people’s beliefs, rules, perceptions, etc. make you feel something that does not feel good, but I wouldn’t call that guilt or shame, particularly when you don’t feel that you did anything wrong. Does this make sense? I hope that you hear the “ME” in this, that you get that I’m only questioning your feelings (or how you define them)….not your morals or your values. You know I love you and I want you to be happy and resolved…confident in yourself and your goodness. 🙂

    • Good questions, Jean Ann,and I know you ask in love. Because of my makeup, I don’t really have to believe I did something wrong, but I allow others to shame me. That’s my stuff. That little boys comment really affected me in that way. What I was really trying to point out in my struggle with Christianity is that the rhetoric pushes people away that really need God and community. As far as my guilt over my divorces, I tried so hard to make them work that I made myself sick. I don’t feel remorse over failure. My heart was in the place of making that commitment stick. So it really irks me when people tell me I’m forgiven for it. Forgiveness would assume I’d done something wrong. That’s the problem with rules. They are too black and white.

  8. Hi Sharon, dang…I hear your disappointment and fear…I’ve been there too – confused and scared by other Christians words or behaviors. God is love…God really only asks us to love him and love others.
    In some way im sure they mean well…an it can also make us feel better about our own shortcomings and sins. … Timothy Keller said something like, those that often voice their judgments on others for not being “Christian enough” are those themselves that not being “Christian enough”. The ultimately display and/or proof of a believer is a heart that desires and chooses to love God and love others, period. People say they wrong thing sometimes… We don’t really know if he meant what he said in the way it has been sensationalized. Time will tell.
    We are all a work in progress my friend… Do what Love would do…. Forgive and keep shining in all things and in all ways.

  9. I learn more about you everytime I read your bloc and just wish we’d spent more time together when you lived here.

    I, too, am divorced and remarried. I have never felt that divorce would separate me from the church or heaven. I didn’t believe that God would want me to stay in a relationship where my husband had threatened to kill me and so I left and got a divorce. Never felt guilty or separated from God or my church family. It may be different in African American churches. I can say that I know that God loves me and that I love Him and that’s all that matters to me.

    God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in the time of trouble. That’s any kind of trouble

    to me. Believe me, there is a church somewhere in Baton Rouge that will be accepting and loving because of who you are. As someone already said

    • What a lovely message, Jan. I do think it’s different in African-American churches. I felt it when I visited in Memphis. And I have found it in some churches. I chose to visit churches where gay men could attend openly and feel comfortable. That seems to be a barometer for a open church. I actually have not had a bad experience in church. It’s more in the social conversations and posts on FB where I see the judgment. I also know that the radio station that I listened to had a firm belief that you shouldn’t remarry after a divorce unless adultery was involved. I went to one of their conferences, and the counselor that was with our group was going through a divorce. She said the ministry actually held a softer view on divorce but that churches would withdraw their support if they didn’t draw a hard line on air. That all just seems so crazy. Why are churches drawing lines at all?

  10. One of the greatest struggles that the Christian church has in today’s society is it’s inability to communicate a message of love without beating people over the head with Old Testament law. That’s part of the reason so many churches are empty on Sunday.

    As Bill Sibley correctly stated in the beginning YOU cannot do it and only Jesus can. I would tend to use more colorful language calling them out, but this has a overtly Christian message, so that would be a little inappropriate here.

    • Thank you! You are right. There does seem to be a marketing issue with the message. And, I, too, could have used a little more colorful language, but I have to remember my audience, and I’m not trying to turn them off. I’m trying to turn them on!!

  11. You probably should have taken up the Lady from the Catholic Church’s advice and taken the step to talk to the priest. It amazes me how people take a certain position on something that they truly haven’t explored. I also see people choose to carry their guilt and some choose to give it to God knowing that both Old Testament exist to lay out the guidelines for us and the New Testament gives us Jesus who was sacrificed for our sins and guilt. I have never been to a Catholic Church where gays or lesbians aren’t accepted or welcomed with open arms. What will it take for people to understand that a church service is not for you or your feelings. It is a time to learn more about the God who created you and his Son who can save you and to give THEM glory, praise, and Thanksgiving. Our Catholic Church is full of sinners like myself who choose to hear The Good news every Sunday and let go of the guilt of their sins. Phil Robertson made my Christmas more special with the knowledge that there are some who read scripture still and try their best to live it. There is sin, there is forgiveness, there is freedom!

    • Thank you, CCH for posting. I have a place to go where there is all off what you describe. I am not saying I am shut out. I have an alternative, and I’ve been doing Gods work there for many, many years. I do not feel it is a second rate place to meet and find God. I feel His Presence there always. You and I have discussed my attraction to the Catholic Church, and maybe one day I will explore it. But, please don’t put me in a category that I’m not practicing my faith. I am. And there are plenty of people outside the church walls who do as well. About my divorce, I actually am at peace with it. I lived up to my vows except for the til death do us part bit, but not everything is in my power in a relationship. God knows that and is using me to help others.

  12. I can relate to much of what you say, Sharon. As a recovering Catholic, I am not always comfortable taking my divorced self to mass. When I remarried, my mother got me the paperwork to fill out to have my first marriage annulled. I knew it was important to her, but there was no way I was going to negate that marriage – all it had meant to me, all I had learned from it and especially not the precious child we had made together. I know my work on this is not finished, but I am as yet unwilling to ask forgiveness for simply being human. The God I choose to believe in accepts my frailty and mistakes.

    • I so understand your reaction to the annulment. I’ve known people who’ve done that, and it just seems so inauthentic on the surface. I talked with several people yesterday about my struggle and their own, and there are so many people wounded in so many different ways by toxic religion and/or church doctrine. It just seems that many churches ignore the harm that is done in the name of religion and just expect people to get over it. It’s very insensitive and not realistic at all. Thank you for sharing.

  13. It is such a terrible disservice when religious institutions push people away from God. I think you are on the right track: God is Love and God wants his people to feel loved and to give love to others, regardless of their circumstances. The greatest commandment: Love God with all your heart and soul and love your neighbor as yourself. We are all sinners, of one flavor or another. Being divorced is no different a sin than any of the others. So it isn’t “more complicated” in my mind. YES, you are going to heaven! The only requirement is believing in Jesus who died for your sins.

    I read this about divorce that you may find helpful: “Although the church forgot…, every Jew in Jesus’ day knew about Exodus 21:10-11, which allowed divorce for neglect. Exodus says that everyone, even a slave wife, had three rights within marriage—the rights to food, clothing, and love. If these were neglected, the wronged spouse had the right to seek freedom from that marriage.” It is from this site: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/october/20.26.html?start=1

    I pray you find a church community that will support you, and not judge you.

  14. It is very likely not your cup of tea but I would suggest you stop by here http://www.marysadvocates.org/ and here http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/defendingmarriage/info.

    Your soul is what is important not your feelings. This is not, at all, to say you should be miserable but your feelings are temporary. The disposition of your soul is eternal. People in these situations relativize God. It is a mistake and a potentially eternal mistake. Please, do not project feelings my way and insinuate negativity because of the seriousness of my response. I am not saying you will do this but I see it happen alot.

    I laugh alot, but I cry alot too. Laughing edges out the crying. At my place of work, I am about the most conservative person. However, I am about the most merciful. I am also the resident clown and live my life on the edge of political incorrectness. I am a regular guy pushing sixty who has five wonderful grown
    children, four daughters and one son. I have been blessed with nine grandchildren and three children who have come with the second marriages of two of my daughters. Two of my daughters are expecting. I just attended the convalidation ceremony of my oldest daughter and her hubby. She is about the most extraordinary woman I have ever had the good fortune to meet and to know. This is not to give the impression that she matters more to me then my other four kids. She does not. Her journey has been interesting in ways that are different then her siblings. I will leave it at that. I LOVE my kids and they know it!!

    I am a divorced husband and father. My wife divorced me when I was thirty-five and our children were 9, 7, 6, 4 and 1. They are now 33, 31, 30, 28 and 25. I walk the walk. I know the feelings. This post is not from a book, it is from a brain and a heart, both terribly wounded by divorce but more concerned for what is truly good rather then what appears to be good because we want it.

    God bless you in your struggles.

    Karl

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