As Christians, we learned divinely approved methods of coping with the stresses of life alternate to the techniques of “the world.” We tended to believe our coping techniques superior to those outside our faith in that they were prescribed by God. We perceived practices such as prayer, reading the Bible and fellowship with other believers were helpful. Maybe they gave us a sense of being cared for, counseled by a reliable authority and accepted by a community who “got it.” In retrospect, we can see the flaws – the confirmation bias we exercised in seeing evidence of what we believed (and ignoring evidence to the contrary), depending on something other than ourselves to determine our behavior (and thus not taking responsibility for it) and believing ourselves to be of the few earthlings on the “right” path (how egocentric is that?). Nevertheless, we depended on these practices for coping. As deconverts, they’re suddenly gone.
How often did we, as Christians, when faced with a distressing problem, run to prayer? We believed He was there for us, that He cared, that He had the answers. It was a coping skill. For me, there was often a sense that I had “laid my burdens” on His altar and a trust that He would guide my behavior or intervene in the situation to bring resolution. In so many instances, I perceived He did do those things. I was so convinced God would help me, I saw His faithfulness operating in the most trivial things. I even attributed my own problem-solving skills to His benevolently bestowed insight. At the time, it seemed as if all resolution came from God and much of it directly through prayer. So ingrained was this dependence on the practice of prayer that I have been tempted to turn to it, though I no longer believe in the biblical God to whom I once appealed.
In establishing new coping skills, it can be helpful to revisit the old ones and determine what needs we perceived they met. Consider the following example.
We humans are social animals. A sense of belonging is a legitimate necessity. Though belonging to a faith community specifically may have caused more detriment than it did benefit, it still addressed a basic, healthy need. In looking to establish new, healthier coping skills, we can see the value of social support and seek to establish relationships that satisfy that need for belonging, provide security that we’re not alone in our experiences and promote personal growth through looking at things from an alternate perspective… not to mention the benefits of shared affection.
Maybe your perspective can help me or someone else. What coping skills did you use as a Christian? What was the perceived benefit or for what need did you use them? Can you now see anything healthy about it or the need it represented? How do you fill that need now?