I grew up on the mission field, the child of a mennonite mother and a baptist father. My parents have always loved me and cared for me, and of course they were careful to assure that I was "trained up in the way I should go." Praying before meals, going to church on Sunday, tithing, and reading stories from the Bible at night were all inviolable traditions. Anyone who didn't perform these practices adequately couldn't be REAL Christians, I thought. My Dad would talk about people who only went to church because they came from a Christian family. I looked with suspicion upon people who only showed up halfway through a service, or worse, only came at Christmas and Easter. I have always had an elitist streak, and I often took comfort in the fact that I knew the right behaviours. Christianity, then, was all about "reading your Bible, praying everyday" as the songs goes.
Of course, that was only half of the story. I was well aware that there were certain things that one mustn't do, like saying "gosh" "darn" or "heck." I grew up with a strong concept of purity (again, I think of a song... "oh be careful little eyes, what you see"). If one did something bad, one had to ask forgiveness and mend one's ways. Needless to say, I grew up with a lot of guilt. I knew that, in order to get to heaven, you had to pray and "ask Jesus into your heart". I was often so terrified that somehow, I hadn't done it right, so I would sometimes sit and repeatedly ask Jesus into my heart, just to make sure.
Growing up on the mission field had its interesting quirks. I developed a strong sense of fear towards the things of Islam and Hinduism, a sense that I have yet to shake. I remember being frightened when we would drive pass the orange temple with the painting of Hanuman, and I remember the chilling sound of the Muslim call to prayer. I was reared in a grand world of angels, and demons, and "spiritual warfare" that intersected into daily life. The icons, practices, and relics of false religions all had demonic powers behind them, powers that had to be fought with weapons of prayer and faith.
Thus the spiritual world was very real to me. Stories of miraculous healings, visions, and even resurrections were surprisingly commonplace, but no less exciting for it. Everyone had a story about how God had intervened in their life in a spectacular way. Everyone... except me. Of course, I learned how to read miraculous explanations into almost anything, but there are some things even an active imagination can't fix. I remember being at a Christian summer camp for kids where we were taught to sit and wait for God to speak to us. I would screw up my eyes really tight until brightly coloured patterns formed against my retina. If I tried really hard, I could sometimes make out vague images, but nothing like the vivid, detailed visions of others. Sometimes I figured my heart must not be right. Still, I never really questioned the existance of miraculous phenomena as far as I can remember. (Isn't it funny how Christians will scoff at the superstitious beliefs and practices of others, while remaining so blind to their own?)
When I became a teenager, my faith went through a metamorphosis of sorts. I was beginning to have a "personal relationship with God" that went beyond songs and rituals. My faith became something I was deeply concerned about, and I tried hard to be a spiritual person. I would go on walks and talk with God, I would study the Bible, and I would search my heart for any iniquities. I started becoming more personally involved in worship instead of just spectating; I began taking communion, I would raise my hands during the songs, I would seek God's will in every area of my life. Of course, all this time, I thought I was a terrible Christian. I thought I was stubborn, selfish, and lustful, and I felt so sinful and so inadequate. I entered a viscious cycle; I would look inside myself until I found some shred of pride or sin, then I would struggle to "give it up to God". Of course, once I finally relinquished control of my life in one area ("dying to self..." what a joke), I never felt any sense of spiritual satisfaction or increased intimacy with God; I only became even more aware of how far short I fell of what Christ demanded.
Emotional exaustion and nagging doubts were beginning to take effect. When we finally left the mission field, I was sixteen, and enrolled in a Christian college (homeschooled, go figure). A lot of stuff happened that year. First, I was obsessed with sex and with sexual purity. Any men around here will know how debilitating that can be, always hoping for purity, always falling on your face. Loving every sexual sin and hating yourself for it. Second, I was terrified of God. My greatest fear was that Jesus would return in my lifetime. The possibility of going to hell was besides the point; I was too fond of this earth and my life on it to want it to end. Third, I was experiencing increasing increasingdoubts as to the validity of Christianity. Yes, I was going to a Christian school, but while it may be conservative on paper, things such as the theory of evolution and the documentary hypothesis are regularly taught as fact, or at least plausible explanations (to the consternation of many students, but that's another story). Things just weren't adding up for me. Perhaps it was because of the emotional stress and exhaustion, but I kept an open mind because I was deeply unsatisfied with my faith. The peace, joy, and love that it promised were always so very absent.
To make a long story short, the next few years saw me becoming increasingly liberal. My deconversion progressed slowly, often taking ten steps forward, then nine steps back. I remember being an atheist one week, then interested in paganism, only to return to some semblance of Christianity the next. I was clinging to straws.
So here I am today. I've been an atheist for more than half a year now. I still go to a Christian school, but no-one save a couple of friends (who have grown similarily liberal with the passage of time) know about it. I told my parents a couple months ago, and they were pretty heartbroken. Thing is, I was very vague, and I'm certain they don't know the true extent of my apostasy. I feel cut off from everyone. I want to talk about how I feel and what I think, but I have no clue how people will react, so I shut up. I'm still putting off telling my Christian friends at school where I stand. But do I really stand anywhere? Nothing I found has really satisfied me. Atheism seems like a dead end, but I see no other plausible explanation. I'm deeply unhappy. I don't miss the Bible at all (good riddance), but I sometimes miss Jesus, and I definately miss God. I feel very lost; I don't know what's true anymore, and I don't know what's right or wrong. The night I told my parents, I went to bed half expecting to wake up and find that the past three years had been one long dream. But when the morning came, I was still as atheistic as ever.
That's my story so far. No happy ending, but at least it's true.