Sadness to Anger to Apathy to Hope by Tyler Harvey
In the midst of a pretty tumultuous year in 2008, I was given this quote, which until recently I haven’t fully understood it, but at the same time has been a big part of my life: “A pilgrimage is a way of praying with your feet. You go on a pilgrimage because you know there is something missing inside your soul, and the only way you can find it is to go to sacred places, places where God made himself known to others. In sacred places, something gets done to you that you’ve been unable to do to yourself.”
My pilgrimage, or deconstruction, began that fall when my parents got divorced. (This is not a sob story about divorce) So when the divorce happened I was rocked pretty hard. Everything familiar was gone. It was almost like I was starting over. My unrealized pilgrimage began with sadness. I was really sad, and worried that if my parents couldn’t make it then how could I? But nonetheless I continued to go to church, and pray, and plead with God hoping this feeling would go away.
When it didn’t, my sadness turned to anger. Anger toward God, anger toward the Church.
I started reading a lot of Donald Miller and Brian McLaren, and was refreshed by their perspective on religion and Christianity, but at the same time it perpetuated my anger toward what Christianity had become. I can remember a specific time in my Christian Faith class where we spent the entire time debating things like whether or not it’s correct to drink wine or grape juice during communion, or the correct way to baptize someone by submerging them in water or sprinkling water on them.
I left early that day. I couldn’t believe how far off that conversation was. Like any of that actually mattered more than the reasons behind doing them in the first place. I called my dad shaking and almost in tears and said “Dad, I’m not a Christian anymore.” We continued the conversation from there, I explained why, and he was able to calm me down but that was sort of a turning point in my spiritual life. And I’m thankful for that. The “what ifs?” started becoming more prominent. But I was still in a dark place. I started going to church and chapel just to be able to play devil’s advocate and try to point out mistakes or things I thought were ridiculous.
I wrote my senior thesis on the difference between the emerging and emergent churches that semester, and prided myself on being knowledgeable. The first comment I heard after I presented it was, “I think this is a load of crap.” My anger became tiresome. As I neared the end of grad school I figured what’s the point. I was looking forward to moving away from life in a private, Christian bubble and experiencing the real world. So anger gave way to apathy. I hadn’t gone to church in a long time, but was no longer making a point to tell people about my dissociation. To be honest I was a little excited about my apathy. It felt freeing. I had spent my whole life trying to be good and follow rules.
After grad school I moved to Denver. I looked forward to getting to know my girlfriend’s group of friends. Many of whom had experienced church like I had, and had a falling out. One friend explained that he left the church because he felt like the “outreach” felt more like winning souls. He went on to say that he thought that was just how you should live life. That people weren’t numbers. I’m glad we are friends. People like him have helped me transform from apathetic to hopeful. Hopeful that even though I still don’t go to church, I’m ok. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with going to church anymore, I’m just not ready, and I’ve experienced, and have seen others experience God in many other ways.
The only way I can explain it is being in the zone, or in my wheelhouse. I’m in my wheelhouse when I’m on a long run in the evening, when I’m at the dog park in the mountains with Lisa, when I’m with my friends. That’s how I experience God. And I think that’s what my friend was realizing about experiencing God, that it’s not about bringing someone back to church but the act of spending time with them. That it doesn’t matter whether you dip your wafer into the wine (or grape juice), it’s about giving thanks.
So as much emphasis I had put on “pilgrimage” being a physical act of getting away, I’ve come to realize that this type of pilgrimage is spiritual; and that it’s necessary to struggle on that path, and it’s ok to ask questions. So maybe if you’re currently in a dark place, whatever pilgrimage you’re on will lead you to hope.