The first post in this series can be found here, or you can just keep scrolling down the page till you find it.
Once my wife and I were officially withdrawn from, we were simultaneously relieved and devastated. It was nice to no longer have to pretend to believe or worry what people might do if they found out about our doubts, but virtually all of our personal relationships had been ripped away. We had very few friends that weren’t part of the church of Christ, so we felt completely alone.
Again, this was in early December of 2010 — the Christmas holidays were approaching. Our families really wanted us to reconcile our differences with the church quickly so we could get back to being a family again. We wanted to be with them too, but we simply didn’t believe Christianity was true anymore, so that left us at an impasse.
Ever since my wife and I got married, we’ve done Christmas morning in our own home, so that part of Christmas day would be no different from previous years. But my wife’s family lives in the same town we do, and we always went to her parents’ house for Christmas lunch and would spend the rest of the day there. We weren’t able to do that after being withdrawn from. My wife’s family still wanted our children to come, but we didn’t feel comfortable with that. Since they were only 7, 5, and 21 months, we hadn’t told them about the fallout within our families, because we didn’t want to portray our parents as the “bad guys.” So we felt that if we allowed our kids to go to the Christmas get-togethers that we’d all gone to previously, they’d wonder why my wife and I weren’t there. Also, we didn’t want to spend any part of Christmas away from our children. At the same time, we didn’t want to keep our kids from their grandparents (something we were accused of anyway, as it turned out). So we let the kids go over there at a different time, when the rest of the family wouldn’t be there and our absence wouldn’t be so conspicuous.
We ran into the same problem with my family. My parents live out of state, and we always went to their house for New Year’s because it was the best time for all of us to get together. My parents wanted the kids to come for the New Year’s weekend that year so they could visit with everyone. Again, we weren’t comfortable with that for the same reasons mentioned above. At one point, I tried to work out a compromise where my wife and I could stay in my grandmother’s basement (she lived next door to my parents), so that the kids could visit with everyone, but we could also be there if they needed us. That would also have given us an opportunity to visit with the few family members who either weren’t members of the church, or didn’t believe in the practice of withdrawal. But my parents weren’t okay with that idea, so none of us went. My parents came over and visited the kids for a few hours about a week and a half later.
That first Christmas and New Year’s was difficult. But since then, things have steadily gotten better. My best friend lives close and has never been religious, so he was a great source of support during the worst of it. On my mom’s side of the family, I have many aunts, uncles, and cousins that are not part of the church of Christ — my mom was converted to it by my father when they were dating. Luckily, my wife and I live near most of that side of the family, and they’ve really stepped in as surrogates for us. One of my aunts even invited us to her house for Christmas last year, and we had a great time. We’ve also begun making new friends with some of the other parents at our daughters’ school. We still miss our parents and siblings, but we’ve finally reached that feeling of community again, and we’re very happy.
When we were going through our actual deconversion and trying to navigate how to tell our families, or even if we should tell them, it was very distressing. We really wanted someone to talk to who had gone through it before, but that’s hard to come by. And even when you do find other people who have left religion, their stories are often quite different. Some of them never tell anyone that they no longer believe; for some of them, their families remain rather accepting of them despite their beliefs. Each situation is different, and it’s hard to know how to advise someone in their specific situation.
But if anyone were to ask me for advice on how to handle relationships with family and friends when dealing with a crisis of faith, I’d recommend complete honesty. More than likely, this life is the only one we have — do you really want to spend it being someone you’re not? You really need a support network if you’re going through a deconversion. My wife and I went through this process together, but I know not everyone is so lucky. Online communities help, though it’s not the same as interacting with them in person. Each time we met a non-believer through the internet, we kept our fingers crossed that they lived nearby… none of them did. However, we soon found out that Meetup.com is a great resource to find nearby skeptic communities. And if you have a Unitarian Universalist church in your area, that’s another great place where diversity of belief is accepted with open arms.
Looking back on all of it now, my wife and I are both very thankful to have gone through it. Having our family relationships ripped apart has been simply awful; there’s no getting around that, and we wish it could have been avoided. But despite the difficulties we still face in those relationships, things are peaceful within the walls of our home, which is much more important. We see the world very differently now — everything just makes more sense. The world contains much more beauty and wonder than we had realized before. I know many people have that experience when they come to religion, but for us it was different.
Even though the story is pretty much done, I have one more post I want to do. I’d like to talk a little more about the feelings I had during the deconversion process. Did I feel a since of loss? Didn’t I worry about being wrong? All will be answered in the next (and final) post.