To my long lost Christian friend,
You and I grew up together, wedged between the rows of plastic seats at the back of church in our floral dresses and bare feet. We’d scribble over colouring in pages of Noah and his animals, Jonah and the whale, Mary and baby Jesus. At Children’s Church we’d make paddle pop stick boxes for our mothers and leather pressed tea coasters for our fathers. On church camps, we’d proudly chant Father Abraham as we’d make our way in kayaks through the National Park. During Christian conferences, we’d stay up late, texting Christian pickup lines to the boys we’d meet during afternoon seminars.
“I didn’t believe in predestination until I met you…”
I remember staying up all night talking to you on the phone. I’d put earphones in and my phone in my pocket and wander through the house and clean my bedroom and you’d be there with me. We’d bitch about the new girl at youth group and her cleavage which was surely tempting the boys we liked. We’d plan our costumes for the end of term party. We’d talk about which leader’s car we wanted to be in for the upcoming Easter Convention.
We’d go through stages of encouragement. I remember one month, you texted me a Bible verse every single morning. I read those messages with my bowl of Weetbix and sugar before school in the morning. The following month, you sent me a list of things you were thankful for at the end of the day. I responded with my own list which frequently mentioned things like candles and home-cooked roast dinners and saucepan handles.
On your Facebook Wall on your birthday, I wouldn’t hesitate to remind the world that you were a “shining light for Christ” and that your commitment to Him was a major source of encouragement for me. I wanted everyone to know you were Godly and that He had a special place in heaven reserved for you. It was also a subtle way to evangelise to your friends.
We used to pray together, sitting under those sky-reaching trees in the park across the road from the McDonalds we’d frequent after church on Sunday nights. Sometimes we’d pray about work, or study, or church. A lot of the time we prayed about boys, hoping that our future husbands were keeping themselves pure for us. I found my old Bible the other day- the leaves we gathered are still pressed between the pages of Hebrews.
Maybe I would have been your bridesmaid one day. Maybe I would have stood on stage, proudly telling your family and friends of the sacrificial love you and your now-husband radiate. We would have spent 6 months prior planning your wedding together, scheduling appointments with the Christian florists and photographers and cake bakers we knew. We’d talk about how a wedding was a great opportunity to tell our friends about family about the love of Jesus and strategically map out the sermon and Bible readings.
Sometimes we’d cry about our non-Christian friends, about how they were going to spend eternity in hell. We’d talk about them in Bible Study and try to devise loving plans to invite them along to church. If we were successful, we’d text each other straight away. “She said yes!! Praise God!! She’s coming this Sunday. Please be super super welcoming, she’s really skeptical about all this.”.
Then the time came where I stopped telling you everything. Where the boys I was texting became the boys I was kissing. When the boys I was kissing became the boys I was sleeping with. When the parties that finished at 3am meant that the reason I couldn’t make church was a hangover, rather than the flu.
Then I left the church.
I started to fade away. I didn’t know how to talk to you anymore, because all of your responses to my questions were recited from the Bible. I didn’t want to pray with you because I wasn’t sure whether anyone was listening at the other end. I wanted our friendship to be the same as it was but without Jesus. I realised the foundations, the walls and even the roof had been built with religious dogma. We didn’t really do anything or share anything that wasn’t religious in some way. Without that shared belief, there was nothing left. The echo of a giggle, a squashed flower crown beneath my bed, fragments of leaves between Bible pages, now dancing in the empty space where a building once stood.
The relationship was too difficult to navigate after that. I was hurting, I didn’t want a reminder of the community that I could no longer be a part of. You were hurting, because a friendship that we once believed would last eternity (houses beside each other in heaven?) was no longer possible. According to you, my house would now be in hell and I’d be facing the wrath of God in a cyclone of flames forever.
I see you online every now and then. A photo from a wedding I would have been invited to if I stuck around. Photos from church camps and conferences. I know you see me around too. I’m sure when I write or share articles like this it makes you sad, furious even. I know it doesn’t make sense and I know you’re probably fervently praying for me.
I’m not praying for you.
I stopped a long time ago.
When I was a Christian, we were always taught to be persistent with our friends that were walking away. People shared stories of their friends who had walked away in anger, and how they prayed every day for 15 years until they came back. How romantic.
I want you to let go of the hope and faith that I will return to Jesus and therefore to you, as your friend in Christ. The energy spent mourning the loss of my place in heaven is energy lost. I’m dead now, the ashes of my Christian faith are scattered across earth, carried by the wind of trauma. That energy needs to be spent elsewhere – on making the world a better place. If your Jesus wants me back in on His team, the amount of praying you do will not change whether I “make it home” or not. Jesus answers prayers, only if it is in His ordained plan, right?. And if it’s his ordained plan, it’s going to happen irrespective of your prayers.
My pride cannot reconcile the underlying desire you have to bring me back. I don’t want to feel like I keep letting you down. I don’t want to feel like you’re holding onto false hope. I know you do it in love, but just because something is done in love, it doesn’t mean it is received as so. I need breathing space.
One day, if I do come back, it won’t be because of your prayers. It won’t be because God “called me back”. It won’t be because He “used His Spirit through you”. It would be because I’ve made an intellectual decision based on an amalgam of evidence, faith and life experience. The God I’d believe in is one who would respect my ability to think and feel and believe as a free and independent agent, not a God who, if enough people prayed, would change my heart. If you believe in that God, then focus your prayers on dying children and systemic injustice.
My Christian friend, I’m sorry for hurting you. I’m sorry for pushing you away. I’m sorry I didn’t know how to navigate a friendship without Jesus. Most friendships have expiry dates – they ebb and flow as we age and experience different things. Our expiry came early.
I hope you’re well. I hold no bitterness towards you, I just hope one day, you understand.
Also published on Medium.