Updated: Jan 31, 2021
Image by Chapman Chow
Growing up in a southern black American family during the 1980’s, I had my fair share of Sunday mornings spent in church, Wednesday Bible studies and Sunday morning children’s church activities. In our home, the Lord’s name was never to be taken in vain, the rod was rarely spared, drinking alcohol was considered a gateway to a life of sin and praying in tongues was a must for everyone. If we ever doubted the necessity for these rules, the Ten Commandments were framed and hung by the door to our kitchen; that’s at least three times each day that we were reminded of the Bible’s “non-negotiables”. As a family unit, we upheld the belief that anyone who challenged or deviated from “God’s word” would be condemned to hell for their sin.
By age 9, I developed many questions as to why I rarely felt happy, calm or safe. I felt that there were gaping holes in the explanations offered by the religious doctrine we followed. I wanted to know more, but I didn’t dare verbalize any doubt in the faith I was taught to live by. Still, I knew that there was something much more to my existence than a life spent trying to earn a spot in heaven and avoid eternal damnation to hell.
In spite of my doubts, I quickly learned to appease those around me who expected me to “act like a Christian”. To make others happy, I mimicked the “tongues” I heard spoken in church, memorized and recited scriptures, and put immense pressure on myself to follow the rules I was taught to “be a good Christian”. However, I never truly valued doing such things because I observed that they brought little to no benefit to my own peace or to our home life, as there was a great deal of dysfunction. Alcoholism, sex addiction, physical abuse, verbal abuse and emotional abuse were issues within our home. If the goal of following our faith-based practice was to have joy-filled lives, something was terribly wrong.
My search for help and truth came from the necessity to salvage my own mental and emotional health. I suffered from anxiety since age 6 and first attempted suicide at age 7. Whenever I explained that I was having difficulty, I was told to pray, recite a scripture, or to trust Jesus for a miracle. The culture in our home was to allow our religious traditions to blind us from truly knowing and understanding ourselves and each other. We thought the work was done if we went to church. We considered ourselves wonderful people for attending Bible study. We had no concept of what Self-love was because we expected our emotional needs to be miraculously met through our faith.
“We quoted so many scriptures by memory, sang hymns and gospel songs by heart, prayed in tongues and almost never missed a Sunday church service, yet we were completely unable to identify and meet very basic needs within ourselves and as a family unit.”
Image by Avel Chuklanov
Now as a 39 year old woman, I no longer identify as a Christian. Admittedly, I have an issue with labels of any sort, but regarding faith, I refer to myself as “spiritual”. People who are curious about my spiritual journey often ask me, “Aren’t you afraid of going to hell?” I can’t help but chuckle a bit inside when I hear this. To have entered my world years ago during my childhood and adolescence, you would have witnessed complete dysfunction, along with turmoil and abuse. That is hell. I lived in a hell-state of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts while attending church, praying in tongues and reciting scriptures.
When you are in a complete state of misery, there is no fear of going to hell, as you genuinely feel that you are already there and you have nothing to lose. In addition I observed so much hypocrisy, lies, and deceit within our church communities, that I often doubted that the main focus was on genuine emotional and spiritual growth. It seemed that more time and effort was dedicated to fundraisers and paying tithes and offerings, than teaching meaningful strategies to help members of the congregation to flourish and thrive.
"When you are in a complete state of misery, there is no fear of going to hell, as you genuinely feel that you are already there and you have nothing to lose. You can have heaven or hell here on Earth."
There is a silver lining to all the misery I used to feel each day. Having suffered so much depression and anxiety, I’m now willing to do the necessary work to heal and grow. Living in a personal hell motivates the human spirit to rise above and never subject itself to that sort of anguish again. My journey of spiritual growth has accelerated me past fear, allowing me to explore my own supernatural powers without any religious confines. I have so much more self-understanding, peace and joy than I ever knew was possible. I’m not only grateful to be free from hell, but to be free from the fear of it as well.