Sometimes I read stories by former Christians in which they say they never had the sort of relationship with God that they thought they were supposed to. De-converting just gave them permission to stop trying to hard to make a relationship happen -- they lost nothing.
But I think a big part of why I've put so much effort into this whole thing is that I did once have a relationship with God that was everything I could have wanted. And it's the loss of that feeling of relationship that makes my current state so hard.
It started when I was twelve and had my "conversion" to taking my faith seriously. I spent time in prayer daily. Reading and reflecting on the Gospels, particularly at Regnum Christi events and activities, made me feel like I was getting to know Jesus more and more. I had been so lonely before, and here I was learning that someone was always with me, someone who loved me unconditionally. It didn't seem too much to change my whole life around for this.
Before long I'd received what I thought was my "call" to the consecrated life, and I responded . . . exactly how you'd expect a twelve or thirteen-year-old girl to respond: with enthusiasm and a lot of sentimental daydreams. I wrote poems about being married to Jesus. I drew pictures of myself in "consecrated clothes." I even stopped wearing pants most of the time and stuck to skirts. And I gave the brushoff to a very nice guy who was hanging around me, because I already had a boyfriend -- a better boyfriend. And I no longer even desired any kind of sin, because why would I cut myself off from my best friend?
At boarding school, the whole Jesus-is-my-boyfriend thing was emphasized and encouraged. We were discerning the consecrated life, i.e. marriage to Jesus, so naturally we were dating Jesus. I took that very seriously, even when I wasn't as serious about the school rules. Jesus loved me and wanted my whole heart for himself, so I refused to even think about other guys. For the most part I did not need direct communication -- I mean, he created the whole earth, so flowers, trees, my favorite hymn in church, everything was a love note from him. But on silent retreats sometimes I felt extra close to him. (Pro tip: if you want the serious highs from "the opiate of the masses," go on silent retreat! Bliss is not guaranteed, but you might get some.)
When I was told to leave, it was the direct contradiction of every communication I'd ever thought I'd received from Jesus. It was impossible for me to believe that God had not really called me. But it was also impossible to believe that he could call me and then not make it possible for me to answer. I read Story of a Soul and was encouraged by St. Therese's persistence -- but all my persistence went for nothing, because they wouldn't take me back. Finally my spiritual director told me that she was sure God's will for me was marriage, and that was it. Jesus had dumped me.
I mean, sure, he let me down easy. He said we could still be friends. But who has ever been comforted by a let-down like that? I wanted more, but apparently I wasn't good enough for him. Prayer was never a comfort to me again, after that. It was just a reminder of all the things wrong with me, the things I should be doing. And guilt, for not being happy about the situation. After all, Jesus still loved me. He had still died for me. But .... there was always that fact between us, that either I wasn't capable of understanding him, or he played me for a fool by leading me on with dreams he had never intended to satisfy.
See, Jesus had been a kind of terrible boyfriend, even from the beginning. All the control in the relationship was always his, and he seemed to get off on keeping me guessing. While I shared all my secrets with him, he remained uncommunicative. Sometimes it felt like he wasn't even paying attention. And the reality was, he had all these other girlfriends, and some of them were good enough for him to marry, but not me.
So I eventually dropped talking to Jesus at all -- not knowing how to relate to him post-breakup -- and focused on God the Father. But it didn't really help; God doesn't exactly act like the average decent dad either. Now that I've been both a spouse and a parent, I can't see that God fits into those roles very well. The relationship a person has with God is not truly comparable to any earthly relationship, because there is no healthy earthly relationship where one person has all the power and insists on keeping it that way permanently. God is entirely different, and therefore it's difficult to know how to relate to him at all.
But now, I feel all the pain of that original breakup all over, because throughout it all, I had assumed that God did love me, I just didn't understand it and didn't feel it. But if he wasn't there at all, through any part of it -- if all my fervent teenage love was poured out on nobody?
I guess it's how a catfishing victim feels -- they fall in love, in real love, and later find out that not only was their love not returned, but the object of their love never existed. I was about to say "I can't imagine the humiliation," except I kind of can.
Up till this year, even when prayer was a struggle or downright painful and even when I spent all of my time feeling guilty for not wanting to talk to God more, I felt comfort in the idea that at least he was out there. That if I needed to talk to somebody, I'd never be completely alone. That whether or not I felt it, I knew for certain fact that someone did love me, did care, did notice.
It's not a certain fact anymore -- in fact, I'm uncertain enough that any attempts at prayer seem to hit the ceiling and fall back down, like Hamlet's uncle's. (Make of that what you will, Enbrethiliel.) It's the loneliest feeling in the world, and I don't know how to get used to it. I'm in mourning, mourning for the truth I thought I knew, the relationship I thought I had, the love I used to be so confident in. It's like losing a friend.
And maybe God's still out there. Maybe he cares. But I'm at a loss as to how his actions, or lack of actions, can possibly be consistent with caring about me. And since I can't actually suspend judgment about whether he's there or not, I mostly imagine he's not. There are times when I try to make the world settle back into the comforting harmony of God-breathed creation, but it just won't come into focus because I have too many reasons not to believe in it.
But the embarrassing thing is, even after all he's done to me, I'd still take Jesus back in a heartbeat if he showed up on my doorstep. He's one of those guys you just don't get over.