One of the reasons I put together the page Face the Strange, detailing my spiritual journey, was for the benefit of one person who came to the game late. He hadn’t been around for the past two years, watching me rise and fall and rise again. He had questions, and he didn’t want to really speak to the issue he saw at hand until he had a deeper understanding of what I’ve gone through.
This morning I woke up to three emails from him. One long one, that was fairly harsh and completely and brutally honest and from his heart, and two shorter ones that followed up with a few nicer, toned down words that were almost apologetic in nature.
I responded immediately, telling him it would take some time for me to process his accusatory tones and blanket assumptions. He replied once more, apologizing for his tone, but not for his message.
After reading and re-reading and re-reading again, I finally think I can respond. At first I was hurt. But the deeper I reflected and the more I read, the more I realized that some of what he says is true. Some isn’t, but some definitely is. (Note: You won’t see his entire email here, I only reference his pertinent points as this is already a very long post).
It has obviously been a difficult and emotionally turbulent journey for you, and for that, you have my deepest sympathy.
It absolutely has. Even now, I question my decision. But then I realize why I question it, and it strengthens my resolve.
I think you nailed it on the head when you wrote in “All for nothing”
I’m not in this for the relationship, I’m in it for the validation.
You have said over and over that your Christian life hasn’t been real, it’s been to please other people.
A word before- I’m sure it’s more complicated than that. The devil always makes us think things in simple black and white answers that feel like these “freeing revelations.” “Wow, I never realized that ALL of my faith is just for validation”. That kind of blanket statement is never accurate.
You’re right. I’m not sure how I let myself get bogged down under such a blanket statement. There were times, for sure, where my faith was real. There were times I lived for God. The things I did and said were for Him. In my life, His existence was what mattered.
It didn’t hurt, however, that I was surrounded by people with similar opinions and lives. It became easy and routine to do “what I was supposed to do” without having the right motive behind it.
However, I think that you have a lot of insight into your life and what drives you.
I do, now. I wouldn’t have such a level of insight into who I am and how I function had I never started this blog. The deep reflection I’ve done as a result of this website have been absolutely essential in my journey. Granted, had I never started this site, I may never have ended up where I am today, but I would also be a lot less honest with myself.
I think you know that much of your life and the way you spend your time is fueled by feelings of rejection and inadequacy, and the need for approval from others.
This was definitely true in the past. The last year of my life, since my “coming out” if you will, has been completely fueled by feelings of rejection and inadequacy. I feel (yes, present tense) rejected by nearly every single one of my friends. The friends of my former life. The friends who are Christian. That has pushed me to live life pursuing different means of escape – primarily Medievia and reading. Even now, as I’ve given up Med (again), I’ve replaced it with books.
I have, however, come a long way as far as my need for approval from others. Yes, it’s still there. It’s a hard habit to break after twenty-six years. BUT. It’s less than it used to be. Proof of that is in my vocal declaration (finally) of the changes in my life. It’s a need that gets less and less every day.
You use the internet and your online life to construct a version of yourself- I have no idea how real it is.
Quite frankly, the version of me that I present here is the most real version of me that exists. Here I am, usually, unabashed. I am uninhibited. I am confident in what I say, or at least in my ability to say it. The shy/timid nature that I present in my real life when meeting people is driven by that need for approval. That doesn’t exist here. Here, I am who I am. Take it or leave it. (With the exception of my period of silence that was a necessity, lest I lose my job).
I have never met anyone who had their own .com website with their name as a blog. I’m sure it seems natural to you at this point because many of your online friends must do the same thing… But you have a whole .com website which is a web community of people who talk about your life and argue over which decisions are the best for you to make. I wonder how many of your readers you know in person. You said in some of your posts that you liked your online life better than “real” life. I’m sure this has gone up and down, and hasn’t always been true. But I find myself looking at this slick website with your nickname and middle name and this smiling picture of you…and you sign your emails “joyfully…” No one else I know does that. Especially because half of your posts aren’t joyful at all, many of them are tormented or depressed. Something in me is like…I don’t believe this. This isn’t real.
You make me sound absolutely narcissistic here. And while there’s some truth to it (no one has a public blog who isn’t a wee bit narcissistic), the goal of my website was never to be a big banner shouting, “Look at me! Look at me!” I started it because I had something to say, and I wanted somewhere to say it. I didn’t care if anyone saw it. I still don’t. I still write, though most of my posts get zero comments, whereas many of my posts before got dozens. I write for me. No one else. If someone out there reads it and can identify with what I write, or offer advice or support, then I will gladly hear it. If someone out there disagrees with me, I accept that too. It’s never been about me having a voice to shove down people’s throats.
These are guesses that I would bet money on:
1)You sign “joyfully” because you want to tell the world that your new found agnosticism has brought you joy and you want to express that…
2) That’s why your blog is called “Free to be me”, because when you believed in Jesus you were “bound and held back” but now that you don’t you are “free to live life and be happy and express your true self.”
Then you would be wise to get your money back.
1. I sign “Joyfully” because it used to say “Joyfully His.” Once I could no longer call myself a Christian, I could no longer call myself His. So I changed it.
2. My blog is called “Free to be Me” because, after a year of silence, I don’t have to hide anymore. I can speak freely and publically about the choice that I have made and the journey that got me here.
You have an extraordinarily developed web personality which is not based around selling a product or helping others, but it is totally based around telling other people about your struggles and having them affirm you.
It’s not about affirmation. I post here regardless of whether people agree with me or don’t. In fact a good portion of this blog has been spent talking about differences of opinion and belief systems. If all I was after was affirmation, that would not have been the case.
Like, for instance, a pastor at my church has a web community based around her…but the point of her website is to share her wisdom and provide mentorship materials for women with dreams. But your .com website isn’t about that- it’s just about you and your ups and downs, and you have a crowd of people who read your stuff and argue with each other about what you should do, but both sides are cheering you on telling you you are beautiful and that you should be yourself.
So now you’re holding me accountable for what my readers do? That hardly seems fair.
It’s also clear that you aren’t familiar with my online presence at all. There was a significant chunk of time where I was wholly transparent about my personal life and the struggles I was having. And the people who had become regulars to read all of the things I had written that had nothing at all to do with my personal life rallied around me to support me. That’s a good thing, even though you make it sound so negative here.
The whole thing screams affirmation. Amanda, I’ve got news for you. If you really liked who you were, you wouldn’t need to name your blog “Free to be me.” Those are fighting words- words used to declare independence and fight for an identity that you want to have but you feel might be stripped from you by someone- maybe “God” or an old boss or someone, I don’t know. And if you really liked who you were, I doubt you would spend so much time online blogging everything that happens to you, in detail.
Everything? In detail? I do? Wow, you really haven’t spent much time around here. When I started this blog, I averaged 50-60 posts a month. Now, I’m lucky if it’s 3 or 4. That’s hardly “blogging everything that happens to [me], in detail.”
In fact, I’d say it’s pretty much the opposite.
But you are right in that I don’t like myself. I like myself better than I did 6 months ago. And each day is better. But self-worth has always been something I’ve struggled with. Some days I have it. Some days I don’t. But you know what? That’s life.
Life is so much better outside of the computer, but it’s super scary for intelligent people who have deep, unanswered questions and who struggle with inadequacy- people like you. So online seems so much safer. Especially if you are good with the web and are incredibly articulate, like you are. If you have those qualities, the internet is a dream come true. You can construct a whole world for yourself and use fonts and colors to decorate your eloquent words to form an identity for yourself online.
I have put a lot of thought into the whole “create your own web personality” thing. It’s so much “safer” than real world relationships. But just to say this, I believe in real world relationships more than internet relationships. My closest friends are in the real world, not online, and I remember the days when it wasn’t that way. It was horrible!
Look Amanda, *I* am an intelligent person who has deep questions and who struggles with inadequacy. I have had numerous close friendships that were based on online interaction, including several this year, which ended badly. I know the game you are playing. And I’m calling you out on it. You’ve said on facebook before that you didn’t have much of a social life and that you lived for a while in a place without making many friends. So your web personality is your escape and your outlet.
It is horrible when your closest friends are online, not in the real world. I can absolutely agree with you there. But what’s your point?
So far all I’ve really seen you say is that you thing my blog is a horrible idea, grounded in my narcissistic need to feel liked, needed, and affirmed. What does that have to do with my relationship (or lack thereof) with God?
What’s been the point of anything that you’ve said so far, other than to tell me how crappy I am? You’ve made a lot of assumptions about who I am based on a small portion of the picture. If I’m not mistaken, you read only the listed links on the page I sent you… which is how many? 30? If that? Out of a total of about 1,000 posts on this website. Is it possible that you don’t have all of the information you think you do?
What’s the point of me saying all this? Is it to fry you and make you feel terrible? No. The point is that you have junk in your life, just like everyone. Everyone has junk, and so do I, and you do too, a whole lot of it. But if you want to move forward in life you have to face your junk and own up to it and say “this is MY junk, I have to deal with it.” That means dealing with the rejection, dealing with the inadequacy and the fears and the need for affirmation. It means stop taking advice from musicguy and techskeptic and going to an actual counselor who can help you and telling them, “I need to deal with my pain. I need to deal with these fears.” And realizing that your real fears aren’t about theological issues- your most terrifying fears are actually about whether or not you are lovable and whether or not you are valuable, or if you are worthless and hateful.
So you do have a point. But here’s some news for you. This is my outlet. This is how I deal with my junk. You have no idea how freeing (there’s that word you don’t like) this whole thing has been for me. In my life before the blog, I kept everything inside. I had no self reflection. I hurt all the time, and I didn’t do anything about it. I never knew why I hurt. Now? After writing so much and looking within and without, I know who I am. Sure I still have doubts and struggles and questions, but they are out there instead of stuck inside, killing me.
After reading your blog for several hours I’m convinced, along with you yourself, that most of your relationship with God was just you trying to deal in some way with your feelings of inadequacy and rejection. And some of the time when you considered yourself a “believer”, all that meant was that you intellectually assented to God’s existence and love for you while you were in a place of not praying and of living a lifestyle of unrepentant sin. And in this state, you were unconsciously dealing with God being like your dad, who did something hurtful to you, and like your mom, too, and maybe some others, who all hurt you, and trying to get this “God” who was supposed to make you feel better about yourself and solve all your problems to actually live up to what was advertised. And I’m guessing you had Christians all around you the whole time praying with you and telling you “God fills the void” and stuff like that and that he would do it if you just believed or worshiped in a certain way or read the latest Rob Bell book or went to the right church. So you followed around the books and churches and small groups trying to get God to fill the void in your heart. And it wasn’t working so you would write about it on your blog and your atheist friends would give their atheist advice and your Christian friends would say “God will fill the void, He loves you” and stuff and you would go around and around. The one stable thing during all this time is your internet personality. This whole process has been documented on your website in your blogs in your online life, because real life wasn’t cutting it.
You keep going back to this blog as being some sort of source to my problems. I’m not sure why you have such a hard time understanding why a blog is a good thing. Or why you think it’s such a bad thing.
When I started this thing, I had a great social circle. For two years, my real life social circle was very much a part of my readership here. The online friends trickled in and gradually, together, they created my readership. They created the community that I found here. That community is now gone, but it was certainly not the detrimental thing that you seem to suggest.
I will concede to your statement about my relationship with God having been a wholly intellectual one. It was something that in my mind I knew I should have, but I didn’t feel in my heart. Or at least, it got to the point where I didn’t. When it started… it was everythiing it should have been. There was repentence. There was salvation. But as time passed, things changed.
My advice to you is to find a good counselor and talk about your parents. Talk about the divorce, talk about your feelings of inadequacy and your need for approval. Deal with your junk! If you don’t deal with your junk, you will continue to live your life on the computer. I would love to see you discontinue your blog because you got so busy with great friends and an amazing life. Not that blogging is bad- it’s just that for you, it’s a crutch. Your blogging is not an exciting sharing of the cool stuff that’s happening to you in the real world, a journal of the adventure you are on with God and amazing friends- your blog is a journal about your turmoil and struggles and you have a community of other internet personalities who go through it with you. It should be flipped around. Your real life should have the friends who help you through life, not your internet life. Does that make sense?
Sure it makes sense. That’s what this used to be. That’s the problem with coming in at the end of the story (well, the middle, since hopefully I’m far from the end of my story). You don’t have the whole picture. You’re judging me and my choices based on a small sampling of the picture.
I think that if your issues of rejection and inadequacy actually started to get dealt with, you would be getting at the root of your whole “faith” struggle which really wasn’t about faith at all- it was about your self image. And because your Christian friends didn’t help you enough with that junk, no matter how much theology they knew or how many books they read, you thought God wasn’t helping you with it.
You have a point. But I don’t agree with it. I think what you’re talking about here is true, but merely a…consequence of what ultimately happened. One inherent flaw in this entire email to me so far is that you’re assuming that I still believe in your God. You’re assuming that if someone can get to me well enough, that I’ll realize that God never left me and suddenly be healed of all of the hurt and anger and doubt that I’ve had.
If I believed in your God, this might be possible. But I don’t. That belief is gone. To the bottom of the ocean. It’s just gone.
Why did I say all of that? I’m sure it sounded harsh. Here’s the reason: You can’t overcome anything you don’t confront, and you can’t confront anything you don’t identify. I am calling you out, Amanda. I’m calling you to “get real”- i.e. get off the internet and get and be your real self. deal with your brokenness. deal with your pain, and go to someone who can help you with it. Get rid of the façades and the html tricks to make you look more appealing and put together. God sees your brokenness and he sees your sin. And he wants to help you and move back into your life even though you have rebelled against him. But the problem is you have held onto your sin because you don’t trust God because you don’t know him. You don’t really know God and you never have, because you thought he was like one of your parents or something. And you have always been afraid that he was going to reject you or didn’t like you or something- you never really *knew* him because your sensors for knowing God were broken because of your terrible self image and your feelings of rejection and worthlesness. And he is calling you to himself but he is saying Look Amanda, you don’t know me. I can help you but you have to trust me. He is calling you to repent of your sin and your blasphemy and rebellion even though you can’t feel his love or his presence- because the truth is, your senses to his love and his presence are broken, because your soul is broken. He is going to bring you to a place of choosing, and you are going to have to choose to either actually repent of your sin and choose to live a life repenting of sin [and accept all the temporary struggles that entails, including temporarily feeling worthless and unloved because you have to accept the idea of being sinful- until you are healed- because right now you can't fully comprehend what it means to be loved and valuable and sinful at the same time] or to continue in your online game and the façade and the fakeness and everything.
This is the single most frustrating paragraph out of your entire email to me. You have me all wrapped up in a box tied with a neat little bow. It starts well. Your initial statement is true. Maybe even a little profound. But you’re wrong in laying the blame in my online life. My online life, what it is currently, is the escape from the problems. My online life here, has helped me deal with my problems. My problems being what has happened in my real life. You’re right to point out my family, my childhood, and my friends as all having had something to do with it. I don’t need a counselor to tell me what I can see as plain as the nose on my face.
Because the truth is, he loves you. He loves you so much. And you expect so much of him. You expect him to just come in and make you feel happy and complete just because you prayed a prayer or believe in God or read your Bible. Well it doesn’t work that way. It’s a process- you have to deal with your junk and get healed for it to work.
I never believed that. I never believed that all I had to do was say a magic prayer and God would magically make everything better. But after I started having doubts, after I begged and pleaded and cried and screamed and hoped for God to show himself to me… he didn’t. He wasn’t there. Even when I decided that the problem must be me, for surely God wouldn’t forsake me, and I continued to walk the path of faith, even though I couldn’t see Him or hear Him or feel Him, He never showed up. So I was forced to come to one of two conclusions. Either 1) I had rebelled too far and God would never again forgive me or 2) there is no God. And all of my Christian friends at the time were quick to loudly proclaim that 1 couldn’t possibly be true, because God is love and would never forsake someone who was open to Him. So that left me with option 2.
There is no God. At least, the God that I grew up believing in, the God of the Bible, doesn’t exist. And if, somehow, I’m wrong, and he does exist? I want nothing to do with a God who would let me go through what I have, the begging and crying out to him – the brokenness, and leave me that way.
Now I know you sent me yet a final email, re-iterating what you had stated above in a slightly kinder way. But I’m not going to rehash the same things over again.
The fact of the matter is that yes, I want to believe. Reading the words that you wrote to me about God loving me and wanting me was wonderful. I want that to be true.
But it isn’t.
And no amount of me “dealing with [my] junk” is going to make that true. Giving up this blog won’t make that true.
I have problems, certainly. But so does the rest of the world. This space that I have created here has helped keep me sane, hell it’s helped keep me alive. And I won’t be made to feel bad for it.