Anguish and despair

Strong and painful words from a former seminary student …

Right now I am in a dark place. Having been raised in an evangelical Christian home, I feel my background crushing me. I am married and have a child. My wife does not exactly share my same background and has always been more liberal in her beliefs and feelings. She feels more comfortable in a Christian setting in which there is no judgment, open an inclusive to all, very high regard to the sacraments and less so on the message/sermon. Growth to her is in acts of justice toward humanity or the oppressed and downtrodden. I have come from a tradition where judgment while maybe not verbally mentioned is an underlying attitude. Each person sizes each other up and we are so concerned about what the other person will think that we stay in the bounds of our tradition for fear of being seen as different or fallen away. Growth becomes buzz words like “holiness” or “sanctification” and a dread of works to such a degree that none are ever done! We call other churches dead, but what has infested my tradition has created an even worse deadening that I continue to feel daily, but can’t put a finger on.
I really like some of the ideals – I say ideals because I believe there is some idolizing of this position – of my wife’s view of Christianity, but am always drawn back to the pressures of my own background and tradition. I am also in the process of ordination as a chaplain. I feel that if I were to leave my tradition it would hurt my job as a chaplain, and also bring the condemnation of my family as well as those that I have always sought the approval of in my tradition. But I am unhappy with the Christianity that I have been living. As I try to bring hope to those in the hospital sometimes on their deathbeds or to a family member who just suffered a loss, I feel that I am completely false—I don’t have the hope that I am selling. I can’t escape my feelings of guilt for not living the way I was raised. I cannot even stand walking into a church anymore. I prefer to stay home and not subject myself to the disheartening experience.
As a new father, I want my child to have a Christian faith of his own, but then I think why do I want to pass on something that has been oppressive to me? The chains are becoming too heavy to carry and I am drowning under their weight. I guess my view of God has been tied in with the background that I have been raised in. I know that God is not this way, but deep down I revert to seeing him as such. How can I teach my child of this loving God that I have lost touch with?
I know my thoughts and questions are becoming ramblings, but my life feels as if it is rambling on just waiting for an interruption. I don’t even know why I am writing you except that you taught a week long module at my seminary a number of years back when I was a student there and I felt as if you were one person who could understand my struggle. The only problem is, my struggle has become worse to the point where I sometimes wish I did not have faith so that I would no longer be searching, trying to figure out what is wrong with my faith. I don’t expect an answer from you, I just needed to write out my pain in words and it just seemed right to have these words read by someone else.
In anguish and despair,

Everyone who reads this will feel as I do, that our heart goes out to you, and that we want you to get the help and support your need. I’m quite certain that a lot of people will be praying for you as they read this … and that many will feel they have been in your shoes, and many still are. So thanks for sharing this.
My strong counsel would be that you find a spiritual director – someone outside your tradition who is trained in helping people do needed soul-work. (You might be able to find someone in your area via a simple online search.) And often, spiritual depression relates with emotional depression, so because you’re using strong language like this, I’d encourage you to consider the possibility of getting some personal counseling too. You’re obviously a smart, articulate, and sensitive person, so I’m sure you’re thinking of these things already … It’s clear that your situation isn’t sustainable or good for you, or others, and you’ll be setting the best example of all for your child by not allowing yourself to remain trapped where you are. Again, thanks for letting us read your words and modeling the kind of openness and honest that many folks have yet to discover.