I'm slumped on the couch and my phone buzzes. I look down as my popcorn slowly makes its way into my mouth. I read the name beside the envelope icon. Oh shit.
It’s a text/email/Facebook message from ex-Minister/leader/Godsquad member that I'm not close friends with but once were on the basis that we shared a mutual faith. We haven't spoken in years.
How are you with Jesus? It’s been a while, but I want to make sure you’re doing okay. Here's a Bible verse that really spoke to me this week.
How is your walk with God going? My church has an event on Sunday and I’d love to see you there!
As someone who grew up sending messages like these, I know how the author feels: they are scared, they want to make sure I'm going to spend eternity in heaven and they’re worried that no one else is following up on my spiritual health.
But this is what happens on the other end:
First, I (and many others who have left the church/Christianity/spirituality as a whole) exert some kind of grumble. Or a sigh. There’s usually an eye roll in there too.
Then we think about how we're going to respond to the message. Do we ignore it? Are we vague? Do we lie? Are we honest, with no fear of the response to our honesty?
Old friends, if you're texting me, what kind of answer are you expecting? If you genuinely care what I think, how do you expect me to answer such a question with my thumbs? If you just want to do the ol' Heaven Check-Up, will a lie suffice and feed your Good Christian ego?
When you're asking questions like these, you're putting God/Jesus before my actual life. And it makes sense to do so. In your world, God/Jesus ARE before everything else. But to me and to many, it’s not always the case. When we have not spoken in months and maybe even years, asking me about Jesus (an immensely personal question) disregards the multitude of other events/circumstances/hardships/journeys that I have experienced that may actually be more important to me. I feel like my actual on-earth existence is completely disregarded, and people who genuinely love people, don't do that.
Right now, what I really want to reply with is this:
I don't know what I think and I'm scared to decide but I feel a lot of pressure because I have all these fear-inducing sermons about hell from my childhood flooding my brain and I don't understand the postal vote and I hate the angry people on my social media and I feel completely unqualified to make a decision about faith and God because I'm just a tiny itty bitty speck on this earth and I don't even know how to make a budget and stick to it let alone contemplate the meaning of the universe and whether something like heaven and hell exists. I burnt my fucking toast this morning and I can barely get up for work every day let alone go to a church building and stand and sit and stand and sit and recite prayers from projectors and wonder what the stranger standing beside me is crying about when they raise their hands in song. And then there's you who I only spoke to at my church about God stuff and now you're sending me Bible verses and pretending everything is okay but you and I have never ACTUALLY SPOKEN about ANYTHING before and I know you love me (but do you? because it seems like a throw-around word when you're essentially a stranger) and I feel like you're just doing a duty so you can sit at Bible Study and say you texted me and tick tick tick for being a good Christian. I have other friends I talk to about this stuff who know me beyond my perspective of Jesus and who I can talk to with truth and honesty because they accept non-Christian Ruby too so thanks but no thanks for asking. Trust in the God you believe in that He's got me.
What I really reply with is:
Thanks Minister/leader/Godsquad member, still figuring things out. That verse was always a banger, haha. Have a good day!
Am I jaded? Of course I am! Are the thousands of others who leave religion jaded? Damn straight they are. Our reactions and thoughts are fuelled with anger and they feel completely justified because of such a misguided approach to human relationships. This is not how things should be done. I am more than your faith.
Sometimes, no matter how pure the intentions are, there can be a bad way of doing things. Sometimes a Christmas present from your great aunt, despite the good intention, is still a shit present.
So what can a religious friend with only feint strings connecting us do? What can they do to turn that string into rope or better, a bridge?
Firstly, if your intentions are purely to bring me back to your faith, don't bother.
Secondly, don't call me. I'll probably screen your calls because I'm in denial about how I actually feel. If I do answer I'll probably feel uncomfortable most of the time because I don't know how to communicate with you beyond the Christian context.
Don't ask me out for coffee. I know the agenda. I will feel awkward on the commute to the cafe, I will feel like I need to defend myself when I'm there because I don't have answers to your questions yet. I know you'll go back to people that kind-of sort-of know me and you'll relate to them how I'm going, and whether I've well and truly 'fallen away'.
If you're going to text, there are better ways to ask about how someone is going than through Jesus. Don't assume Christianity is on my mind. Ask me about my life - ask me about the things you know I like. Ask me about writing or photography or upcoming travels, ask if I've found any new music recently. If you don't know what I like or what I spend their time doing, you're definitely not close enough to ask such a personal question about Jesus.
And you know what? What I'd really like to say is this:
Let them go.
Let God deal with it.
I have spoken to hundreds of people since writing this blog, and almost every single one has addressed the disintegration of their social spheres when they left the church, the discovery that once the glue of mutual faith was removed, there was nothing of substance left. Sometimes it's too late to recover that when your motive is rooted in bringing them back to Jesus.
If you love your brother or sister in Christ, love them beyond their faith while they still have faith. Actively involve yourself in their life, don't reject them for their sin. I have many Christian friends I am still incredibly close with, and that is because this 'love you like a sister' thing was not just something they said, but something they did, too.