Leaving Christianity – Part Four
When I was 19, I moved into my own apartment and started living by myself for the first time. I had a map on my wall, and all the countries I’d been to were marked. I wrote a Bible verse in big letters and hung it above the map: “My ambition is to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard.” (Romans 15:20, NLT)
I stared at this map every single day. I looked at the countries I had been to, remembering the experiences I had preaching the gospel. I especially looked at all the countries I hadn’t yet been to, dreaming about what I could do there for God. Every time I looked at the map, I felt inspired to keep sharing the gospel everywhere I went.
From the time I was a child, I believed God was calling me to be a missionary. That’s why I traveled around the world preaching, leading worship, praying for people, and participating in projects. Even at home, I would tell people about Jesus or pray for them – servers, cashiers, strangers walking by. I saw myself as an evangelist.
So I distinctly remember the first time that I looked at the map on my wall and read the Bible verse written above it, and it invoked nothing in me. I had already been questioning my beliefs for some time, but was still holding on to them as firmly as possible. But suddenly, I felt no desire to do missions. I felt no desire to go out and preach the Good News. I felt nothing.
It freaked me out, then devastated me. What’s the point of my life if I don’t do missions? What’s the purpose of being alive, if not to tell people about Jesus?
I like Christianity because it gives every single person a sense of purpose. No matter your background, education, skills or qualifications, you can do something for the kingdom of God, and God has a plan for your life. A Christian never has to struggle with the classic question, “What is the meaning of life? What is the purpose of my life?” Since leaving Christianity, this is a question I’ve turned over in my mind many times.
Christians have easy access to a wide range of opportunities. Through my church, I could quickly connect to people and groups and find interesting ways to volunteer and help others. Now, I often ask myself, “Where do I go to help people? How can I make an impact in other people’s lives?”
I also liked how, as a Christian, I was always able to help my friends and family when they were going through a difficult time. Even if I was far away and had no resources to help in a practical way, I could pray. It made me feel like I was helping them, and it made them feel like they had my support. Now when I’m in that kind of situation, I wonder what I’m supposed to do.
But there are a few negatives to this strong sense of purpose as well. For one, it comes with a huge sense of responsibility. When you know that it’s part of your job to share Jesus with the world, and that those who don’t know him will go to hell, it can feel like an overwhelming task. As a Christian I was often afraid that I would do the wrong thing or miss an opportunity that God wanted me to take.
I remember the first time that I asked myself, “What do I want to do with my life?” The answers that came up surprised me. I realized that the path I was heading down – the path that I believed God wanted me to take – was one that I didn’t want to take at all. I was already unhappy there, and I hadn’t even followed it very far. It hit me that God wouldn’t want me to do something that would make me unhappy.
Slowly I’ve been un-learning and re-learning where to find purpose in my life. I’ve been learning to ask different questions and approach opportunities in a different way. More than anything, I’ve learned to allow myself to be happy with where I’m at and what I’m doing in the present moment. Letting go of Christianity meant temporarily losing my sense of purpose, but it also meant letting go of a lot of heavy responsibility and expectations. “What is the meaning of life?” has become for me not a disheartening question, but a constructive one.
To Christians: Are you happy with what you’re doing and pursuing? If not, do you think God wants you to do what makes you happy?
To Christians who are questioning: Think about what you’re doing, what you believe God wants to do, what you want to do, what makes you happy and what you enjoy doing. Are they all the same? Allow yourself to ask the question, “What do I want to do with my life?”
To those who left Christianity: In what ways do you find purpose? How can you return to the kinds of opportunities you had and enjoyed as a Christian, but in a way that’s not based on religion?