Archive | September, 2013

When You Lose Your Faith

30 Sep
Death

Death (Photo credit: tanakawho)

This is a re-post of something I wrote for Reverie Slice last October.  Just thought I’d post the full text here as well.

 

I think when we lose faith, faith in God, faith in an institution, a book, a person…it hurts.  As Gerald Sittser has said, “All loss is loss”.  No matter whether it’s a relationship, your cat, or a loved one.  Losing something you loved hurts, including your faith in God.

For me, I’ve had to come to grips that in one sense, I will never totally be over the loss.  I will always have a certain amount of unease between myself and believing friends and family.  I will always feel the loss of community that was once church.  I’ll never have what I once had, in quite the same way.  It’s gone…forever.

Loss and hurt is something we tend to avoid at all costs.  When I was younger, I imagined myself living to be a hundred years old.  My thinking was, if I could eat right, take care of myself, and live a good godly life-then I could put the inevitable loss of life on the back burner.

My faith in God was another way to try to avoid the reality of loss.  I mean, if God was just collecting all my friends and family for a big party in the afterlife, then why did I have to feel so bad about their deaths?  Death wasn’t a time of sadness, but a mere interruption of our eternal existence that was to be reunited after my own death.  I believed this with all my heart and even felt that showing emotions such as sadness or tears were signs of weakness and lack of faith.  Needless to say, for someone who was very emotional, trying to keep any emotions hidden from sight was an enormous effort, and depressing at times.  I didn’t feel safe crying, let alone crying in front of another human being.

I was only 18 years old when I got my first taste of death.

Pop-Pop

My Pop-Pop was a kind old likable soul.  He wasn’t a central figure of my life, but he was someone I always loved and enjoyed being around.  We would be at his home for almost every holiday and it was a great time to be together with all of my cousins.

Sometimes Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop would visit us on our Jersey Shore vacations and he would let me pepper him with questions about the good old days.  It never occurred to me that someday Pop-Pop might get sick and die, it was if I couldn’t even believe that death would ever visit me and my loved ones.  But like all gambling houses, the house always wins in the long run.

Sickness and the Smell of Death

I was just finishing up my first year of college when I got the news that my Pop-Pop was sick.  He had suffered severe heat attacks but always recovered to the point of drinking and smoking again, this time would probably be no different…right?

My mom called me and asked if I wouldn’t mind staying the Mom-Mom to help her care for my Pop-Pop.  I told her I wouldn’t mind and jumped in my car to travel the 15 minute drive to my grandparents home.

As I walked in the front door, I smelled it for the first time.  That smell that can’t be washed off and disguised no longer how hard my Mom-mom tried.  It was the smell of death.

Pretending Not to Notice

As I settled in for the weekend, I did what I always did when confronted with uncomfortable reality, I pretended.  I told myself to ignore the smell and just act normal.  I spent most of my time reading Utopia by Thomas Moore and being ready to help my Pop-Pop get out of bed to go to the bathroom or to go to the couch to watch TV.

At nights, I tried to sleep, but I was restless between trying to ignore the death in the air and being ready to help my Pop-pop get up and go to the bathroom.

On one of these trips he nearly fell over and I grabbed him and steadied him.  He thanked me and sweetly told me how he would have fallen over if I hadn’t been there.  I shrugged off the compliment and acted as if I did this sort of thin all the time.  A couple of days later, my time of helping out was over and I went back to my life at college.

What I didn’t know was that I would never see Pop-Pop alive after those moments.

A Funeral Without Tears

Within a week from my time with Pop-Pop, he was dead.  I don’t even remember the official cause of death.  I didn’t cry, I didn’t do anything except ask for the essential info about the upcoming funeral.  I told no one about the loss and I continued life for 2 or 3 days as if nothing had occurred.

On the day of the funeral, I traveled to my parents home and made the journey to the Catholic church 2 blocks over from where he used to live.  It was a sunny, warm fall day and I sat through the mass, emotionless.  Imagining to myself that somehow withholding my tears was an act of mature faith.

At one point I approached his open coffin, looked him in the face and stoically accepted that death was finally here.  It was here to stay, but somehow faith would shield me from the grief.  I turned and walked away as we prepared to carry Pop-Pop out of the church and drive him to his place in the earth.

At the gravesite, I played an instrumental guitar piece I had written as a farewell to a man who loved music, but never truly mastered any instrument.  Most everyone was crying and hugging me.  But I was stiff and cold towards the show of emotion.

It would be over a week before I actually cried and admitted the sense of loss that ached in my chest.

The Wonder Years

If you’re gasping at how emotionally immature I was, you’d be right to be surprised.  The depth of my emotional immaturity was great.  But I’ve overcome many my fears about loss and I’ve learned to live in the wonder of life itself, while knowing that life can not last forever.

So while loss hurts, I no longer deny that it hurts.  I no longer feel obligated to keep my tears from flowing or my heart hidden and locked away for only God to see.

And loss of faith has been no different.  It has had it’s share of hurt.  But instead of denying it, I’ve learned to embrace the loss and let it teach me about what I really find true and worthy of my time.

And here’s what I’ve found….when you lose your faith, you regain a sane perspective about life and the one’s you love.  I’ve found that I no longer feel an urgency about God and his will.  Instead of striving to know God through church and quiet times,  I strive to listen and love my wife and children.  I look at them and know that I will not have them forever.  But until that day when there is no strength in my bones and breath seems like a burden, I’m going to love and enjoy them for the wild, crazy people they are.

My hope is that when I leave this world, they will sit and weep, laugh, and curse me for the person I was and the person I wasn’t.  I hope they will feel the freedom to let their emotions flow and say to each other the things that need to be said, lay me to rest, and say goodbye with deep affection.

In short, I’ve found that when you lose your faith, you get back your life.

A life that has no guarantees and can hurt like hell, but a life full of wonder, surprises, and adventures that can only be lived with eyes wide open, instead of a life spent holding back and waiting for death to truly begin to live.

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And Then He Was Gone…

24 Sep
Depression

Depression (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had another dream about him last night.  Even after all these years he still haunts me.  Not that I mind, it reminds me that I cared about him and care about those he left behind.

Keith-My Cousin

Keith was my cousin, but I didn’t meet him until his early teens when his Dad married my Aunt.   It was my first experience with a blended family.  Two sisters and three brothers now occupied my Aunt’s hallways when before there had only been the girls.  Those early years of visiting my Aunt’s (and new Uncle) home was filled with a ton of activity and excitement.  Of the three new cousins, Keith was outgoing, but not overly so like his younger brother.  But he could also be shy and sensitive, but not as introverted and awkward as his older brother.  He was like the perfect blend of my other two cousins; he was well liked and very talented.

The first time I ever envied him was after he was chosen to appear in a local TV ad for a very popular candy company.  In the ad, Keith was shown walking with a pretty blond-haired girl, walking and talking as the shared a tasty treat.  The ad aired during the broadcast of a local sporting event, and I was instantly jealous that my new cousin was on TV.  I grew even more envious when I learned he had been paid hundreds of dollars to appear in the commercial.  He was so lucky….I was so boring and broke.

As we grew older and went to college, I only ever saw Keith at the holidays when we would gather to feast on my Uncle’s cooking.  At these events, I’d catch up with Keith about college and other small talk.  But I sort of lost touch with him other than these few family get-togethers.  One year, he was trying to earn some extra cash by selling Ginsu knives.  I remember my family being gracious and even a few sales were made.  Keith was always so good natured and humble.  I thought he had the world at his feet.  But I was wrong….

Personal Demons

I really was unaware of Keith’s inner struggles.  I had just seen him at my cousin’s wedding.  He was handsome and looked sharp in his suit.  He was quiet, but spoke of his job and plans for a hiking trip with his brothers.  We laughed across the table at the wedding reception and had a generally good time in each other’s company.  I had no idea he was struggling.

Later that summer, my folks called to ask me to keep Keith in my prayers.  He had lost or quit his job (we never really found out) and moved back to my Aunt’s to live, at age 34.  My folks also said that Keith was struggling with depression and that my Aunt and Uncle were very worried for him.

I immediately began to pray for Keith.  I prayed that he would come to know Jesus and that the demons of depression would be bound from his life.  I prayed for him every day and even considered going over to visit him now that he was back in the area.  But I never got the chance.

Darkness

A few weeks later, my Aunt was home early from work and decided to check on Keith.  He had been staying in their basement converted apartment, while he tried to find new work and sort out his struggle with depression.

She called out for Keith at the top of the stairs…but no answer.  She decided to go down and check on him.  Opening the door to his room, she saw what no earthly mother should ever have to see.  She saw Keith hanging from the ceiling; lifeless, dead, gone.  The darkness of depression had won.  My prayers had failed.

Keith had taken his own life by hanging himself in my Aunt’s basement.

Why?

It’s been almost 20 years since my cousin’s death, and I still can’t tell you why he chose suicide over life.

Was it the loss of identity because of his job?  Was it because he was gay (something I didn’t know until after his death)?  Did he have AIDS?  Did he get fired for being gay?  Was he just a mentally depressed person by genetics? Why didn’t my prayers of protection and binding work?  Why would God allow this?  Why did God allow my Aunt to find him?  Why didn’t God do something?  Why, Why, Why!!!!????

The Dream

In the dream, we were all sitting around my Aunt’s kitchen table.  I think we were playing cards at the beach house, like we used to when we were all kids.  But this time we were all grown up.

We all seemed to be having a good time when Keith’s face appeared around the corner of the kitchen doorway.  It startled me a bit, because I remembered that Keith was dead.  But for a brief moment, he appeared around the corner and was being pushed towards the door in a wheelchair, by a man no one knew.  As he was wheeled through the kitchen, Keith turned his head slightly and acknowledged us with a slight nod.  A nod that was knowing, knowing that this might be our last goodbye.  We all nodded back in deathly silence, acknowledging his injury and his movement towards the door.

Maybe there was nothing that could have been said to stop him.  Maybe he felt like a cripple with no hope of ever rising to walk again.  Maybe the mystery man was death, a welcome friend at this point in Keith’s life….I just don’t know.

He then turned his head, the mystery man escorted him out of the house…and then he was gone.

And I awoke.

Vaccines-A Video

23 Sep

Leaving faith behind: a reader’s story

3 Sep

A story that I can really relate to…Matthew shares the emotional side and relational pain of realizing that one’s faith is not true.

Why Evolution Is True

I’ve exchanged a few emails with reader Matthew, who has his own website called Confessions of a (former) young earth creationistHe originally sent me pictures of himself with monkeys from his childhood in Africa (this was prompted by yesterday’s girl-with-baby-gorilla post), but also mentioned something about being the son of missionaries and how he gave up his Christianity. When I asked him for more information, he sent me a detailed account of how he was weaned from faith, and how painful the repercussions had been.

This reminded me that my own “conversion,” which was virtually instantaneous, is not the norm, and that many of the deeply religious have to sever many ties, with great difficulty, when they abandon their faith.  It also reminds us that, despite the claims of accommodationists, learning science and evolution can be a powerful way to lever people out of religion.

We often hear…

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