[TW: worship music, evangelical-specific memories and descriptions, suicidal ideation]
I haven’t intentionally listened to worship music in well over three years. Bethel, Hillsong, Maverick City, Upper Room, Elevation, Passion, Jesus Culture, all of it. Considering that music has been a core part of my upbringing, both personally and in church, it was weirdly easy to cut worship music out of my life cold-turkey.
While scrolling through Instagram stories today, I saw someone reference a former Bethel artist. For some reason, that prompted me to search and to see what they were up to now, and consequently, I ended up on a few other former Bethel artists’ pages.
I noticed one had released an album a few months ago, a collection of worship classics from the ’80s and ’90s to memorialize their deceased father. Because it wasn’t produced by Bethel and all the songs were familiar, almost without thinking, I queued it up and headed out for my walk.
Grey clouds. Rainy scent in the air. Feet moving. Press play.
The simple melody of “I Love You Lord” starts playing.
As each song began, a fresh wave of memories played like a movie screen in my brain, almost as if this entire album was the soundtrack to portions of my life. I was glad the dreary weather was enough to keep most of the neighbors inside; anyone walking past would have seen a gasping, shoulder-shaking sobbing mess, nose red, eyes with hot tears spilling over, frantically trying to wipe them away just to see clearly enough to walk straight down the road.
“There Is None Like You” starts; I’m 7, sitting on a peachy carpet in a living room, the scent of casseroles from the potluck still wafting through the house. Weeknight family small group begins and Mrs. Shepherd plinks the chords out on their out-of-tune spinet piano and the whole room begins to sing the familiar words.
“As The Deer” follows and I’m 19 in my bedroom; it’s the middle of the night and I’m, once again, sitting at my keyboard, headphones plugged in so the music doesn’t bother the rest of the house (it’s probably 2AM, after all), playing this song – any song – as an urgent prayer while I wait for yet another wave of suicidal contemplation to abate. I’m too scared to act on it (“What if it doesn’t work? I don’t even know how to do it.”), but I can’t tell my mother because she would pray against any “spiritual darkness” attacking me and then call the police and what if I run for public office one day? I can’t afford for that to be on my record and the praying part just makes me feel even more abnormal. So I self-soothe by desperately playing any song that comes to me during those hours of mental chaos and torment. Music calmed King Saul, so it should work for me too.
“Come Let Us Worship and Bow Down” begins and I’m transported to my grandpa’s lap, a little toddler, leaning against his chest while listening to his gravelly voice sing this song as he rocks me back and forth, lulling me to sleep.
The “Care Chorus” (“I cast all my cares up on You, I lay all of my burdens down at your feet . . .”) plays a bit later and the faint childhood memory of a Psalty the Singing Songbook episode plays in my mind’s reel.
As each memory rolled on top of each other, fresh pangs of grief uttered a secret insecurity – “Weighing how much you have lost and left, what if deconstructing isn’t worth it?”
That album reminded me of what it felt like to love a Being with my whole heart and mind. A strange spiritual nostalgia, if you will.
I’ve been out of the evangelical church industry and actively deconstructing for almost three years now. I can be angry and point out flaws and unlearn harmful theology all I want, but at the end of the day, there is no denying that Christianity is my heart’s mother tongue.
Sure, I can blame that on childhood indoctrination. That doesn’t change the fact that the name “Jesus” still evokes an emotional and physical response of peace and delight from my being.
Yes, I feel so much more free to be – to ask and learn and listen and change and flourish beyond all I’ve known – since deconstructing so many elements of my religious upbringing. And yet, I still miss it. The simplicity. Emotional response brought by intentional chord changes or not, I still felt something in those moments. What that was, I don’t know. Perhaps I never will. But I think it was something Divine.
I still consider myself a Christian, although it looks quite different from my upbringing. I haven’t been able to shake the beauty and hope I find in the recorded life and teachings of Jesus. “Post-evangelical,” I call myself.
But I still miss the certainty of that world.
And this is where the remnants of caring about my image creep in – I don’t like admitting that I’m still grieving my evangelical past because I don’t want them to say, “We told you so. We knew your internal world would fall into disarray the second you wandered outside the fold. These are the natural consequences of your doubt.”
I don’t want to be a prodigal story for my love for Jesus to be good enough for them. I’m not a prodigal in the first place, and we all know their version of the story is hollow anyways. It’s not about Jesus, it’s about returning to their pre-approved notions of acceptable belief and behavior.
The love of the Divine isn’t dependent on my coming or going. It simply is.
Undoing the lies that Divine Love can be formulaic and deduced into a behavioral script takes a lot of work. It’s an uphill battle some days, pushing back against the gatekeeping of who gets to be loved by God – stick to the script and you’re in. Any deviation, you’re out. And that internal surveillance shit? The whole “take every thought captive” stuff – that does a number on you. It’s almost like you’re not allowed to wander down the halls of your own mind without a ghost trap, as if your own ponderings about the world and its workings had to be approached in fear and a conquering of self instead of embraced as keys to unlocking the wonder and beauty and glory of you.
I don’t know where I’m going with all of this. Maybe this is just one of those posts I needed to jot down to process some things vs. needing to share a coherent message.
For all the freedom it has given, deconstruction still hurts sometimes. Overall, I’ve been in a pretty chill zone the past several months and most days are breezy. Today was not one of those days.
I’m tired of feeling like I’m the problem. If I could just stop asking so many questions or noticing the inconsistencies or just keep my thoughts to myself, maybe I could go back to the way things were. I didn’t ask for any of these epiphanies, they just . . . happened. This isn’t my fault.
I’m tired of second-guessing my spirituality. As if you could be “right” about it.
I’m tired of wondering if I’ll ever love Jesus like I did back then. I’m tired of the fear that creeps in and wonders if the way I love Him now is love for Him at all just because it shows up differently than before. And I don’t even know why I’m scared of that notion anyways, I don’t believe in hell anymore and most days, I don’t really care if there’s any form of an afterlife in general.
I’m tried of feeling like I’m not deconstructing “correctly” just because I’m still holding onto crumbs of my Christianity while exploring new ways of believing and being. If I’m still able to recall Bible verses that could apply to a particular thought process, have I just falsified my critical thinking skills and independent thought?
I don’t even know how to explain the feeling of being intellectually split down the middle – fully aware that all spiritual pursuits are based on conjecture, that all religious dogma is man-made, at the end of the day. None of it is equal in weight to the laws of the universe, contrary to what religious establishments would prefer me to believe. And yet, I’m continually being pulled in the direction of my childhood faith. As much as I want to ignore it sometimes, there’s still a warm ember of belief. Is an awareness of a Higher Power just so embedded in my psyche at this point that it’s hopeless to try and fight against it?
Ahhhhhh. It’s just a lot sometimes.
Well, this was chaotic. I’ll be fine tomorrow, I think.