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Why I Miss Christianity: Imaginary Jesus

Leaving Christianity – Part Six

It sounds silly to say that I miss Jesus. I know.

For Christians, it sounds silly because Jesus is always there. Any time I want to, I can just speak to him, and he’ll hear.

For anyone else, it sounds silly because Jesus was just a man who lived and died a long time ago. How can I miss someone I’ve never met?

So I guess what I really should say is, I miss the idea of Jesus that I used to have. Maybe I could even say that I miss the Jesus I thought I knew.

When I was a kid, my favorite thing to play with was imaginary friends. I had a lot of them, and I drew them all in a notebook so I could visualize them better. I used to pick a different friend every day to “take with me” to school. Any time I would get bored or frustrated with my schoolwork, I would talk to my imaginary friend. My parents knew some of my imaginary friends by name, because I spoke about them – or to them – so often.

Possibly the most devastating point in my de-conversion from Christianity was when I realized that Jesus, for me, was basically just a glorified imaginary friend.

As a teenager and adult, long after I outgrew my childhood imaginary friends, I “took Jesus with me” everywhere I went. Whenever I drove around by myself, I imagined that he was sitting in the passenger’s seat, and I would talk to him as I drove. I would go for walks and imagine him next to me, sometimes even holding my hand as we walked. I disliked the common image of a white Jesus in a white robe, so I gradually adjusted my view of him. I came to picture him as a dark-skinned hippie with a messy black man bun, wearing ripped jeans and sandals. That was a Jesus I could relate to. I talked to Jesus constantly, fully believing what the Bible and the church told me, that he was always there, listening to me, loving me.

I never heard the voice of Jesus in my ears. I never physically felt the touch of his hand. I never saw him standing beside me. But my imaginary Jesus got me through a lot of tough times. When I was deep in depression, surrounded by people who didn’t understand me, I turned to him. He was sometimes my only friend, the only person who would listen to me. When I didn’t know how to express myself and even I didn’t understand what I was going through, I relied on him. I believed Jesus knew and understood me better than I did myself, so he was the ideal person to vent my messy thoughts and emotions to.

In the good times, I also pictured Jesus being there. Smiling at me from the crowds as I graduated Bible school. Winking at me from the corner as I raised my hands in worship at church. He was the one who I knew was proud of me for following God’s plan for my life, even when other people in my life weren’t sure about my choices. He was the one who was ready to support me in everything I did. I just couldn’t wait to get to heaven and finally give him a hug.

Months after walking away from Christianity as a whole, it finally really hit me that this Jesus was imaginary after all. I thought about the many, many times when I would have felt scared, alone, and lost without Jesus beside me. And I realized that, during those times, Jesus actually wasn’t literally beside me like I had imagined. And, for possibly the first time in my life, I felt really, truly alone. I cried, grieving the loss of a Jesus I never really knew, and crumbling from the shame of allowing myself to rely so heavily on an imagination.

Sometimes I really do miss my imaginary Jesus. Sometimes I wish I could still be caught up in the illusion that he’s real. Sometimes I want to talk to someone who instantly understands me perfectly, who will automatically be there for me whenever I’m scared and alone, and who I know will never abandon me for any reason whatsoever. But losing imaginary Jesus did three very important and beneficial things for me.

Firstly, it taught me how to be alone. I mean really alone, with the full knowledge that there was no one there but me. Being alone, with no one to talk to but myself, I finally got to know myself. I slowly learned what to do with my swirling, sometimes overwhelming thoughts when I had no one to vent to in that moment. I learned how to quiet down my mind, how to let myself be in the moment, all alone, and yet, at peace. I had to overcome a lot of anxiety and fear to learn to be alone, but now, I’m glad I did. I’m comfortable being alone, which enables me to appreciate time spent with others in a deeper way, too.

Secondly, losing imaginary Jesus drove me into deeper relationships with real people and improved my communication skills. I turned to a therapist with my rubber-band ball of emotions, and she responded with the tools I needed to begin to untangle it. Without Jesus to automatically understand everything about me, I had to learn the vocabulary I needed to describe how I feel and how I experience things, so others could begin to understand me. In this way, I not only developed stronger connections with people I already knew, I also connected with new people who had similar experiences to my own. I learned to reach out when I felt lonely. I learned to speak, and I learned to listen, too; after all, imaginary Jesus had never given me a response.

Thirdly, I finally began seeing who Jesus really might have been and what he really might have taught. I say “might” because what we actually know about the historical Jesus is very little. But I had been blinded by my preconceived notions of hippie Jesus for so long, and I was so focused on his death, resurrection and presence in my life, that I completely missed his actual message. Separated from imaginary Jesus, I saw Jesus’ teachings and actions in an entirely different light and learned much more from them than I had before.

Jesus wasn’t meant to be our imaginary friend. He wasn’t meant to be our go-between with God, our pastor or even our savior. He didn’t ask us to worship him or build our identities around him. Jesus was an exemplar and a teacher. He taught a message of love, acceptance, non-judgement and absolute oneness with God.

“When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty.” (Gospel of Thomas 3)

Jesus said, “I am with you for only a short time, and then I am going to the one who sent me. You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.” (John 7:33-34)

To Christians: Do you know yourself? Do you know how to be alone?

To Christians who are questioning: What would it mean for you if you didn’t have an “imaginary Jesus”? Can you allow yourself to reach out more to the people around you, and can you allow yourself to experience being alone?

To those who left Christianity: In what ways can you get to know yourself better and be more comfortable being alone? In what ways can you establish deeper connections with people? In what ways can you learn from the teachings of Jesus, now that you have some distance from them?


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