On Rebuilding

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How do you rebuild? When nothing particularly terrible has happened to you. No fire has ravaged your home. No disease has taken hold of your body. You’ve been born with privilege and advantage.

How do you rebuild the way you view your small world. How do you rebuild a faith?

Nine months — or maybe nine years — into my rebuilding process and I still don’t quite know the answer.

When you’ve spent your formative years being told to be meek. Be a servant. Be married. Be pure. Be submissive. Be feminine. What do you do when you grow up and don’t check all those boxes?

The first answer is that you find a fucking great therapist. The second answer is that you get a little lost. You have to. At least, I had to.

But the hardest part is re-learning how to deal with difficult times when the only way you’ve been taught is to “Give it to God.” When I broke with the church, I broke inside. I wanted to deal with my problems on my own. I ached to take ownership over my hurt. I wanted to be as far away from that all-knowing Father as I could be. I didn’t want Him to feel the shame I carried so heavily on my back for falling short of agreements I never chose for myself.

When you can’t breathe in the scriptures and churches and arms you used to find all your solace in. It’s hard. It’s so hard.

I spent almost a decade being angry. A decade unsure of who I was. I would go home and be asked to circle up for prayer. I’d feel my insides recoil at the grip of hands on either side of me.

When I’m asked to pray out loud today. The words are ashy in my throat and dry out my lips. “Be in this place, Father,” “Fill us up, Father,” “Be near to us, God.” I don’t really know what those words mean. And I don’t think I ever really did.

They always felt foreign. But they always gave me comfort.

When I first brought up my faith with my therapist a year ago, I still felt shame over the loss of it. I gave my canned response, “I’m spiritual but not religious.” Then I gave my honest response, “I miss it.

I missed the camaraderie, I missed the feeling of belonging, I missed the solace I felt buried deep in my bones. A comfort so strong it snaked around my muscles and tendons like vines run loose in a summer garden. If I felt such longing for the faith that had cut me — had burned and blistered me — why couldn’t I enter a church without feeling the heat of those scars?

You know, you don’t have to go to church to have faith,” my therapist said.

She told me to read books, experience different religions, find groups of people who were just as confused as I was, study it. Study my confusion. Study the hurt.

I’ve never been one for groups of strangers, so I picked books. I read Bell and Miller, I read books on eastern religions, books on meditation, and ones on Christianity. I read fiction and nonfiction. I talked about the books with dear friends and I cried over pages alone on my knees.

What I found was embarrassingly simple. It doesn’t have to look like it did. And with that very obvious realization, I greeted a part of myself I hadn’t been able to look at in years.

It’s small and it’s ugly. It’s weak and easily distracted. It’s been cut down and confused. But it cries out that it believes. Not what it’s been told to believe. Not what it did believe. But it believes in a goodness that transcends expectations. A peace that settles into the marrow. It believes in acceptance and love that doesn’t know how to hate — but acknowledges when it fails. It believes in those things, because I do. And it cries out to a Holiness that sees nothing shameful in my past. It is a love that is whole.

And so I’m rebuilding. I still don’t know the right words to pray. But, you see, part of the problem was that I thought there was a right way.

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