“Let me tell you my salvation story.”
You might have just read that sentence and didn’t think twice about what it meant. Or, maybe the religious jargon in that sentence completely turned you off to reading the rest of this post. (Please stick with me though. I promise it’s not going to be weird.)
If you’ve spent any amount of time around Christian people or in churches, it’s likely you’ve heard at least one “salvation story.” A salvation story, or testimony if you want to get technical, is an account of how a person’s religious faith developed, usually climaxing with the individual deciding to become a fully devoted follower of a particular faith. Although everyone’s story is unique, I would argue the vast majority of testimonies I’ve ever heard follow this coming-to-faith progression of development.
For Christians, salvation stories usually start with someone who is not a “believer” in God or Jesus, and end with the person becoming a dedicated, believing follower of Jesus. The basic principle of these stories is that life somehow became better and more fulfilling after they became a Christian.
Because the truth is, Jesus is enough. Faith is really all you need.
…Or is it?
For almost all my life I was a living, breathing Christian salvation success story. I became a Christian at the age of 13 and remained unwaveringly committed to my faith into adulthood. It influenced every area of my existence.
For many years, although I had my share of hard times, my faith had always carried me through. My faith gave me hope, meaning, encouragement, and satisfactory answers to my biggest questions.
The problem with the salvation stories Christians like to tell is that they don’t always end where we typically conclude them. For some, like me, life throws unexpected experiences into the plot and we inconceivably find ourselves watching our feel-good Jesus stories getting hijacked, derailed.
My faith, which had always been my ultimate guide, began losing its supremacy when after college I began noticing my boyfriend at the time was using spiritual manipulation to keep me in the relationship. Shortly after this, my faith—no matter how much I prayed or recited scriptures about hope—was not able to stop my brain from sinking into major depression. At the domestic violence shelter I was working at, the comforting answers my faith had once provided me to life’s big questions no longer held up when juxtaposed with the injustices I heard of on a daily basis.
Everything I’d learned said faith alone was enough. But faith alone was not enough for me, no matter how hard I tried and no matter how much I wanted to feel otherwise.
What do you do when, as a wholehearted Christian (or any religion for that matter), you find yourself face-to-face with the thought that your faith alone is not enough?
I had never heard another story like mine of “finding” Jesus but then somehow coming up empty. I was terrified. I felt like the chief of all sinners; I was consumed by fear and shame. If Jesus, who I believed was the ultimate source of hope, was not enough to hold my crumbling life together, what hope could possibly be left for me?
What I came to discover (after many hours spent scouring the internet) is that my experience is not all uncommon among devout people of faith. The issue is, it feels incredibly taboo to talk about something that at first seems tantamount to giving one’s faith the middle finger. Because of this, I believed I’d only find judgment and guilt, not love and empathy, if I tried to talk to my Christian friends about the issues I was going through.
What I needed, and what I imagine many spiritual exiles like me need, is permission to first and foremost just be a human being. It is so easy in our spiritual lives to get wrapped up in feeling consuming pressure to be holy, perfect saints; to be anything less feels wrong, even sinful.
To those who find themselves on the outskirts of faith for the first time, please know this: it is completely normal and okay to undergo a reevaluation of what you believe and why. Your worthiness of love and acceptance is not dependent on what specific theological doctrines you align yourself with or which ones you decide to lay aside. For everything faith can do to infuse hope, joy, and meaning into our lives, there are simply some aspects of our humanness faith alone is insufficient of handling.
Being human is not something to be ashamed of or to anxiously ignore. We are flesh-and-blood, limited beings in a physical world that is often unjust, painful, and inexplicable. The more I’ve taken time to consider just how complex we are, the more grace I have been able to offer myself for not having everything all together at this point. And from a Christian perspective, Jesus—who experienced fully what it’s like to be human—should understand that better than anyone.
If you, friend, are in a place where you feel faith is no longer enough, I am holding you in a virtual hug. I get it. I am there with you. You are NOT alone. And you are no less wonderful of a person because something inside you is telling you it needs more.
Let the tears flow. Set aside the scriptures. Journal the questions you’ve felt forbidden to ask. Walk away from the relationship. Call your doctor. Take a break from church. Schedule an appointment with a counselor. Reach out to a safe person. Put self-care at the top of your priority list. Give yourself permission to set guilt and shame aside.
You have not failed. You are doing the best you can while learning the courageous art of being true to yourself. Find your voice and tell your story. Even if it’s nothing you expected or asked for or imagined it would be, your story is uniquely yours and it has immense power.
“My story is one of faith and _______.”
My story is one of faith and self-awareness, healing, mental health, family, laughter, and art. What words would you use to describe your story?