The night I almost stopped being a Christian, I sat alone, at midnight, in the living room of the house I shared with three other women. I was twenty-two, almost six months out of college, depressed, and despairing.
I’d discovered I was depressed in my therapist’s office the summer before. The revelation was like a pin to my natural, balloon-like buoyancy. When my happy-go-lucky image of myself popped, my life imploded. I looked at everything and everyone with suspicion.
Family first. But after that, God.
My faith had been so cheerful, so earnest right before my therapist exploded everything. I thought the Bible was an instruction manual I should follow. I thought if I was filled with the Spirit, rooted in Jesus, immersed in God’s Word, sharing the Gospel, praying without ceasing, and taking every thought captive, nothing could go wrong.
I thought earnestness about Christian things came with a guarantee.
To discover that they did not filled me with rage and bewilderment.
I’d kept going to church, and even to a local twenty-something’s group. I was looking for someone to prove my suspicion wrong. I was looking for God to prove me wrong. I was looking for—God, I didn’t even know what I was looking for.
Perhaps I was looking for hope.
The night I sat alone at midnight, it was almost Christmastime. Christmas had always been painful: as a child, my brother and sister visited for a week around the holiday, bringing their usual absence into sharp relief. As a teenager, when my siblings mostly stopped coming home for the holidays, Christmas emphasized that my “family” was more idea than reality.
Now, estranged from my parents, too, I felt a complete void.
I was alone.
Was God going to do anything about that? Were any Christmas platitudes worth a damn? Was faith just so much whistling in the dark?
I don’t have to be a Christian anymore, if I don’t want to, I thought. I can choose to be something else.
This thought filled me with terror, of course. I’d thought Jesus was going to save me, was going to change everything, and now to admit to myself that he might be a figment of my imagination was like a cold knife in my heart.
But it also filled me with an incredible sense of power.
If I didn’t like this faith anymore, if I didn’t believe it, I could choose.
Can I mention how compliant I’d always been? In high school, when I heard a party I was going to would have alcohol at it, I insisted my friend take me home before we even arrived. I asked my mom for permission before cutting class, and when she said no, I stayed in school.
Also: I kept quiet about our family’s secrets. I kept so quiet about my own feelings I didn’t even realize I had any before I started therapy.
The idea that I didn’t have to be a good Christian girl anymore made me sit up straight and take notice.
Did I want to do all those Christian things? The Bible reading, the evangelism, the beliefs that choked me like a vise? Did I want to carry that heavy yoke of obligation on my back?
The truth was, I didn’t. I couldn’t bear that yoke anymore.
Before that night, I’d sat on that couch in the dark a few times, wishing I was dead. But this midnight, oddly, I saw an open door up ahead, filled with light.
The sign above it said YOU HAVE A CHOICE.
It was then that I had this thought-not-from-myself.
You don’t have to do anything. it said. You don’t have to do anything ever again. All the Christian things. You’ve done more than enough already. You can just be with me.
The thought didn’t blame me for my traitorous ideas. No, it seemed to understand exactly why I wanted to jump ship. I felt its grief for everything I had tried to carry.
Everything of mine is available to you, it said. No matter what you decide. I’m not leaving, no matter what you decide.
I hiccupped, and began to weep.
I’m not leaving, no matter what, it repeated.
The room, so familiar in its insomniac darkness, lost its menace. My terror about Christmas receded a few paces. My life, which in the span of six months had shriveled into something pathetic and shameful, took on the luster of black volcanic glass.
I could choose. I could choose to stay with Jesus without boxing up my heart. I did not have to change into a better person. I did not have to get my act together. God was with me, no matter what.
I wept for a while, and thanking God in the dark. Wondering, with awe, what life with Him would be like if I could be exactly who I was.
Wondering, with a spreading sense of peace in my chest, if this was what real hope felt like.