I still wake up terrified.
This is my default setting: hyper-vigilant. The moment my eyes open each morning, my brain begins its relentless scanning: look for threats, stay alert, watch therefore for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come…
Yes, my brain still thinks in KJV English.
I’ve been preparing for the End of the World since I was a little girl. I gotta be honest, I’m super disappointed Jesus didn’t show up in 1988. Or even Y2K. I was ready to go, man. Grab me my Rapture ticket and blast straight on up to Glory-land.
But the End of the World didn’t go according to plan. I’m still here. The world’s still here. And the news is still bad. The only thing that’s changed is now I spend money on therapy instead of stockpiling.
Whenever I tell my story to Christians they are predictably shocked or concerned. They express sympathy. They feel compelled to tell me not all Christians are legalistic fundamentalists. The normal, happy Christians quickly distance themselves from their wacky, fundamentalist brethren and assure me that their church is different. “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater,” they tell me.
I appreciate their concern. I’m thankful that at least Christians are listening to my story. But I’m here to tell you that what I experienced inside fundamentalism happens everywhere. No church is immune to the fundamentalist mindset and cult-like behavior. My story isn’t as unique as many Christians would like to believe. My story is everywhere—you only need eyes to see.
And sometimes? Sometimes the only way to “move on” is to completely deconstruct everything. Sometimes it’s not enough to try a different flavor of the same religion. Sometimes before you rebuild you must question everything.
I dared God to prove that the Real God was different than the God I knew. I dared the Real God to show me love.
It didn’t happen in the usual way Christians find God—or, at least, not in the way we most commonly hear Christians talk about their conversion experience. I didn’t have a mountain-top moment of enlightenment. I never once heard the voice of God speaking directly to me. Nothing magical happened. Perhaps the best way to describe it is that I experienced a slow dawning awareness of mystery. I began to see differently.
Fundamentalism crushes mystery. It beats out the exquisite beauty of faith by trying to codify and contain God. It takes the inexplicable and binds it in tidy, black-and-white explanations. But if faith is the substance of things hoped for, by very definition it cannot be bound. It cannot be perfectly explained.
Eventually, I found my way back to faith in Jesus Christ. Or, rather, the love of Christ found me and carried me safely Home.
And though I still wake up terrified, I’ve learned that if I gently turn myself toward God, the fear dissolves into awestruck wonder.
Elizabeth Esther is a mother of five, award-winning blogger and author of Girl at The End of the World: My Escape from Fundamentalism in Search of Faith with a Future. Her writing has been published in newspapers, parenting magazines and online. In 2011, she appeared on Anderson Cooper’s TV show to advocate against abusive “Christian child-training.” She lives in Southern California. You can find her at www.elizabethesther.com or on Twitter @elizabethesther.Leave a Comment