The Pain of Deconversion, Part II – Loss of Identity

A quick recap: Most of my experience as a Christian over the course of about 13 years seemed positive, but ended badly. When I went to the university to complete my upper division courses, I faced questions I thought I had resolved in my walk with God and new ones which poked holes in my certainty about the validity of the Christian God and authority of the Bible. Additionally, I started taking a medication prescribed for the depression that ensued the crisis of faith caused by my education. The med disallowed the mystical experiences I’d long perceived that God had his hand on my life. These two conditions combined led to my deconversion.

As an aside, it may offend Christians as it once did me that I use the word “mystical” to describe experiences of God personally intervening in my life and in the world around me. I use the term because I believe it adequately describes what happened from a more objective view. I no longer perceive that the biblical God supernaturally intervened in my life, related to me personally or imparted to me his Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, the experiences were real to me and valid in their own right. “Mystical” implies “spiritual” which gives the experiences validity. The word is inclusive of all spiritual experiences of various religions and beliefs and this is the part that would be hard for a believer who views Christian experiences of God as in a league of their own – superior to any experiences had by people of other faith. That being said, there may be few of the Christian faith who would read this blog and acknowledge my experiences as genuine. It is more likely they would view my journey through the Christian faith as a counterfeit one (as I would have when held their belief systems). Such a conclusion would satisfy their inability to explain how one who had been a true Christian would desert the faith at all.

So, on to the point of this post: loss of identity and recovery from that aspect of deconversion from the Christian faith. In my own experience, my self-identity prior to my salvation experience was self-loathing. I felt particularly inferior to others and only escaped the pain of it in fantasizing about a life where others loved me. When I heard the gospel message that Easter Sunday of my 16th year, it made sense to me in a way it never had in all the times I’d heard it before. It was like God turned on the light and was telling me he loved me – me! He was calling me! He wanted me! He wanted to make me okay. He even wanted to make me good. I believed in the sacrifice of Christ to save me from my sins and invited him into my heart that night.

I had a new identity. I was a child of God. I was loved immeasurably. My entire self-concept wasn’t transformed instantly – that would come later as I grew in the knowledge of God’s infinite love. Nevertheless, the acceptance of God could never be fully internalized because, in and of myself, as the Bible asserts, I was nothing. My positive self-concept was entirely dependent on His love for me. You can see where the problem with identity came in when I lost belief in that love.

That wasn’t all, though. My identity as a child of God gave me a sense of meaning and purpose.  I grew in this perspective as I had countless experiences of perceiving God was using me to show his compassion through loving others and his faithfulness in answered prayer. I was what others called a prayer warrior. I often perceived that the Holy Spirit was giving me his words as I prayed and felt that God’s power was moving through me. Consistent experiences of this type and myriad others over years built one upon another, bolstering not only my faith, but my belief that I was fulfilling his divine call to expand his kingdom of “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”[1]

As I lost faith in God, I had little else to instill in me a sense of meaning and purpose for living. I had a grown son who had just moved out and left me with an empty nest and a husband who loved me, but didn’t demonstrate it in the ways I most needed it. I numbed out on heavy doses of antidepressants and escaped through alcohol and gaming. It got much worse than that, but I’m not yet ready to disclose all of it.

In recovering a sense of identity apart from being a child of the one and only, all-powerful God, I focus on what’s important to me. What a freedom! No more self-chastising for wanting something selfish. I have values and I like them. I think they’re ethical and satisfy my conscience (a conscience which is not so damned demanding as it was before – freaking unrelenting!). I am developing a healthier self-concept of myself in that I count without God making me count anymore. As a Christian, it was not what I thought or believed that mattered – it was all God. Now I view my own perspectives as valid and I can internalize the acceptance I receive from me.

There are healthy things I am taking away from my Christian experience for my self-concept. One is that I believed life was “not about me.” I think this keeps me grounded. I am one of billions of humans in this world and no more important than anyone else. I do, however, see myself as having a part to play in my sphere of influence if I so choose to take it. I can have a positive impact. The difference now is I take responsibility for that contribution (and the credit) and allow myself some guilt-free self-interest along the journey. That’s a big perk.

[1] Romans 14:17

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