First post! Here are my answers to your questions:
I allowed myself to get far too busy with ministry to take the time to address any concerns or questions that arose. This went on for years. There reached a point where my pastor was talking about drawing a line in the sand for the leadership team over a minor grey area issue, and I disagreed with him. Because I knew he was going to be forcing the issue, I sat down and searched the bible to determine exactly where I stood and why. The bible showed the pastor to be wrong. This situation started me acknowledging that it was probably not an isolated thing for this pastor. Meanwhile, my husband hit a big, crisis-level question in his faith, and I had no substantial answers for him. This launched me into facing the full realization that I had no real answers to far too many questions. I decided at that point to stop attending church, and face these questions head on.
My search for the truth only led into a frustrating quagmire of history and controversy. Why would God allow his church to become so horrifically fractured over the centuries -- from the beginning, even? Who was right? They couldn’t all be right. I got sick of it all after a while (this was compounded by the explosion of leaving-church drama). I took a bit of a break from doctrinal searching and just tried to sort out a new life outside of what I came to realize had been a consuming, cult-ish church environment. I was able to embrace aloud many liberal views I had kept hidden from my pastors (believing in evolution, marriage equality, etc).
My subsequent reading and watching on some of these topics continued to further distance me from the conservative worldview my former church held. I was learning so much and there came a new passion to understand the world around me without limitations of what someone else said was appropriate or what would cause me to “fall into deception.” I watched evolution vs young earth creationism debates and was sickened by how pathetic the voices of Christianity could be.
For some time, I still thought I was a believer. I saw my process as dismantling the lies and abusive doctrines of my past, seeking freedom in a God that was higher than everything else. At some point, though, I realized I never prayed and didn’t actually care about God or Christ. They had faded to symbols. I started asking myself if I even believed in God anymore, and it occurred to me that I did not and likely had not for quite some time.
It was a light-headed, heart-pounding moment when I first stated out loud to myself: “I am an agnostic.” I did not fear hell or grieve a loss of faith -- I was just in shock that I had become what I never expected to become. It was a core existential shift that left me dizzy.
I don’t think I was ever disappointed or angry with God. Certainly much anger directed at people. Guilt and shame for taking so long to do this. I’ve wasted decades in church and my life is behind where it should be. So much catching up to do.
I had not been feeling God much for years leading up to this, but I blamed myself -- I wasn’t the best at daily devotions and if I could get better at that, I would be stronger in my faith. I had some experiences in the past that had been powerful at the time, but looking back I can easily explain most of it psychologically. I saw, too, that some of the “gifts of the spirit” I operated in and attributed to God were actually just skills I posses. Other things that would be more difficult to explain could be coincidence and childhood hallucination -- both far more plausible explanations than the supernatural causes.
The hardest emotional part about leaving has been trying to navigate how to discuss all of this with friends who are Christians. I live in a very secular city, work in a secular job, and much of my family and inlaws are secular. But all those years in church mean that we have some close Christian friends. I don’t want to reinforce their fears that questioning will lead to apostasy. And, I don’t want to be witnessed to.
The hardest part in terms of effort is all the playing-catch-up with life and learning, and the unpacking of a lifetime of indoctrination to figure out what the fuck my opinions are on anything and everything.