Faith Forays

Why You Never Really Leave Your Faith

I pull into the parking lot at just past five, and sit idling in my car for a few minutes. I’d looked up the service times online and knew that if I wanted to be serious about attending this church tonight, I’d be able to better manage my anxiety by slipping in the back once everyone else was already occupied.

I finally get out of my car and walk around to the front entrance. I try a few wrong doors – every building in this complex looks fancy enough to be the main sanctuary. Is this place well-funded or is that just every Episcopalian church? I choose to try this particular church out because it reminded me of the tiny Presbyterian congregation I sang in while in college, the one with the rickety wooden pews and the organ in the loft. That was the first church I’d felt safe in since leaving my parent’s faith, and I was hoping that this place might feel the same, in my new city.

I open the correct door and poke my head into the sanctuary. Candles burning, voices humming, the sunset plying through the stained-glass windows. This seems perfect, the best setting for spiritual contemplation. No one will yell at me. No one will scream that I’m a sinner until their face contorts and spit stains their cheeks. This seems peaceful, quiet. Safe.

But I can’t go in.

I try, and I just…can’t. I spin around quickly, all but running toward my car. I leave the parking lot like I’m being chased, and it’s not until I’m over the bridge that I start to calm down, opening the windows to breathe the spring air.

I haven’t left my faith. I’ve left behind an angrier version of it, and I can’t seem to make sense of where I’ve ended up. I came from fundamentalism, an us-against-the-world branch of American evangelicals. It was a system that promoted shame, intolerance, and in some cases, outright hatred. I was born into it, and it chewed me up and spit me out.

I keep trying to walk away from any belief whatsoever, because part of me thinks it might be easier. Never have to wonder about God again? Awesome. Sweet. Sign me up. But I can’t get away from it, and I go back and forth between thinking that it’s because I’m a hopeless case of child indoctrination, or that it’s because something in the idea of faith calls out to me no matter where I go.

I wrote in the beginning of this year about giving up on going to church. So why do I find myself still hovering outside its doors? I’ve said many times that I’m no longer able to stomach anything about the theology and politics of the evangelical church. I am, if anything, “post-evangelical.” So why do I find myself volunteering to sing for a friend’s Easter Sunday service?

I can’t help but wonder if there are many others stuck in this middle place, in between faith and leaving it, in between church and not. I think that I can’t be the only child to have grown up and looked back in horror at the faith they were raised to believe in, only to discover that walking away from it isn’t easy at all. Maybe it’s typical of this age bracket, maybe it’s a generational thing, but I like to hope that I am not the only one hovering outside of church doors on a Sunday morning. I hope there are others like me, still wondering, still questioning, still searching. I hope I’m not alone.

  • Amy Gunkler

    I might encourage you to stop thinking of your religion and your faith as one. Religious institutions, as the product of people, have obviously made many many mistakes throughout the years.. I would assume these sorts of human mistakes are part of what have affected your view of religion and caused you to feel judgement from and aversion to God. As a total stranger, I’m not going to get pushy about what you should believe, but I would encourage you to at least try to separate your negative impressions of religion from any future thoughts on spirituality.

    • Leah Michelle Harney

      Agree, @Amy Gunkler!

  • Courtney Firestone

    I love reading your columns because they remind me so much of my own journey away from faith. I was raised in a very traditional Jewish setting, and I was completely confused like you for a lot of years until two things finally helped me embrace atheism. First, realizing that your notion of religion and spirituality is completely dependent on where you are born (I probably wouldn’t be a Jew if I had happened to be born in Egypt). Secondly, as I’ve progressed through my scientific studies, I’ve found it essentially impossible to reconcile God with science (although I know people do, I don’t think it’s rational). I highly highly recommend The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins – I know it’s cliché, but I found it very well-written and very convincing. It’s scary to read something you think might make you question everything you’ve held dear, but it’s doing yourself a disservice to deny yourself the opportunity to learn about the other perspective. And of course, if you don’t find it as convincing as I did, then you’ll have some new arguments for hanging on to your faith. But if this is any encouragement – you’re right, it’s MUCH easier to let go of faith altogether, and it gives this lifetime such a bright new meaning. Whatever you decide, if you ever want to talk about faith or lack thereof, there are tons of people to reach out to, and I’m always down to chat!

  • Dusti Kemp

    Coming from a charismatic preacher’s daughter…I got sick of being the goody-two shoes girl that everyone, even I, knew I was. I tried leaving. I tried to go and do just about everything a good christian girl shouldn’t do to make myself more in touch with the world and less with this “jesus stuff”. I’m here today saying that it didn’t work. I couldn’t leave. Why? Because I had already met Jesus and he changed my life. After trying to leave, I realized that I had found the real thing in Christianity, and anything else I tried would just be counterfeit. You keep coming back to church because the truth is in you. Try a non-denominational church…it just might do the trick. God is so much more than just a “religion”. I learned it the hard way.

  • Ursula Victoria

    I just read a bunch of your articles and I love what you have to say! You’re not alone, I struggle with my faith every single day. Sometimes I am totally comfortable sitting in church and other times I think to myself, what am I doing here? How can I possibly agree with what they are saying? I’m Catholic and there are a lot of things my church preaches that I disagree with. While Benedict XVI was pope, I wasn’t going to church. I find myself going more because of Pope Francis but I still struggle. I hope it gets better for you and that you are truly happy, whether you go to church on a regular basis or not!

  • Raina Shannon

    I feel a lot like you. I have a hard time reconciling my personal beliefs with what I call, “American church.” It feels too pushy, too holier than thou, too hateful, that being said, I know many wonderful Christians, and, for me, I still hold to many of my Christian roots. These days I prefer reverent, quiet places, like chapels or Traditional Catholic services, if I go to church, in order to find my own divine path. I feel more holistic, honestly, more keen on the Native American idea of God. But I’ll always have my roots, and that’s okay, no matter where your journey takes you.

  • Katie Lynn

    It’s hard. My heart breaks that your past has seemed to left you bruised. Something I have learned in my own journey through faith and transitioning from growing up in a church to making my own decision to be a part of the Church is that churches are run by broken people and attended by broken people. Churches aren’t perfect, the people in them make mistakes, some churches are sick; their theology is flawed and far from what God intends the Church to resemble. Others are bruised and healing and striving towards becoming the Church. I get how it can be scary and intimidating.

    Maybe try listening to an online church service. Exploring from the comfort of your own home might help you to become more comfortable to venture out to join a church community. One of my favorite services to “attend” can be found at They have created a service that is specifically catered to the online audience with live people available to talk to through the chat feature. These people range from pastors at the church, church staff, volunteers, and other attendees. There is even a private chat option if you wanted to ask any questions or talk to someone privately.

    Ask the questions, and have the struggles, there is nothing to be ashamed of.

  • Leah Michelle Harney

    You are not alone Becca Rose!! Might I suggest you check out Rachel Held Evans and her book “Faith Unraveled” previously titled “Evolving in Monkey Town”. Check out her Facebook page and her website I think you’ll find a whole community of people that understand you and will support your “wondering, questioning, and searching”. Much love!! <3

  • Christine Henderson

    I also grew up in a very conservative church. It was a wonderful community full of loving people where I felt like I had an extended family that I didn’t have at home… least until I hit about 16 years old, became heavily involved in the theatre community, came out as bisexual, and started questioning their perspectives on homosexuality, other religions, politics. All of a sudden it was no longer the warm and welcoming place I thought I knew.

    I became very anti-religion for many years and threw myself into Wicca, tarot, Goddess based religions and the like almost out of spite. Unfortunately what I found there was its own dogma that I also couldn’t buy into. I realized that while I have a deep pull to spirituality and connecting with my inner self, any religion that tried to tell me there was only one way (which of course was their way) was not for me.

    Since then I bounced back and forth in spiritual traditions and communities, I continue to use the tarot as a personal meditative tool, I studied shamanism and deep breathwork meditation, and I have landed in the Unitarian Universalist church as my spiritual community. It has a familiarity to it, with the services and small group education, and service based volunteerism, but they have no dogma that everyone is required to believe. Their dogma is Love – love each other, love the earth, love yourself, act from love and live in love and find the spiritual path that makes you feel the most whole and you will have a good and giving life. There are people there who identify as Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Atheist, Agnostic, Spiritual, Seeking, and everything in between and everyone is welcome and safe.

    I highly recommend anyone who is struggling with the strictures and judgment of a traditional church to seek out your local UU congregation and just see if it speaks to you. I am happy that I have again found a place where I can explore my spiritual side, have friends who are like minded in their openness and path, and I can have that positive community that church really provided for me, just without the extra dose of hatred on top 😉


    Hey there! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow
    you if that would be okay. I’m definitely enjoying your blog and look forward to new posts.

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