I met singer/songwriter Rebekah Gilbert the first time I participated in Write 31 Days. We bonded over our then-series: mine about breaking religion in the most Christian way, hers about simply showing up and finishing what you start; both of us pastor's daughters, both trying to find our own way with the beliefs we'd been handed at birth.
Only recently have Rebekah and I connected more intentionally around this re-wiring of our brains.
When I started my own discovery process earlier this year, I was met with skepticism because I was willingly venturing outside the walls of church and Christianity. And that was okay. I knew I would make people uncomfortable. But it wasn't until I was met with the skeptic's assumptions that my husband was no doubt suffering my choices and that wasn't okay, however, I learned the beauty of true release and letting go.
Needless to say, I've been careful to invite anyone else into my practices because I just don't need the headache, and I'm writing a book - some content has to remain a mystery. Besides, my brain is surging and aching from reformatting synaptic connections.
A little more than a month ago, Rebekah and I began Voxing. She had questions about what I was practicing and I decided rather than just tell her, I'd show her. I invited her into a 7-Day Challenge with my friend, and coach, Bri Seeley. Together, Rebekah and I are changing our minds and choosing our beliefs and learning there is so much more to God, the Universe - this infinite, ever-present spirit within us - who loves us more than our church attendance and keeping up with the guise of "good [Christian] girl".
Responses by Rebekah Gilbert
What do you believe, and why?
I believe in Grace, and I’m learning to believe in Love.
I don’t know if there’s a God up in the sky who’s listening to prayers. I don’t even know if there’s an eternity waiting on the other side of death or if the grave is all there is. I don’t know if my best life is now or after I die, so I’m learning to treat each moment as precious and extraordinary.
I believe love is when we show others the beauty and goodness we see in them. I grew up believing that loving others meant trying to win them over to my view of God and my belief system. But I recently heard someone say, “It is neither loving nor kind to try to change a person.” I believe love accepts people just as they are and covers a multitude of wrongs.
I doubt there’s a literal hell, unless you define hell as all the grief we experience in the world. We all experience loss, and learning to let go when we’d rather hold on is hell all on its own.
I believe that doubt is essential to growth; and that if doubt is dismissed, the opportunity for growth is stunted.
I’ve come to believe that somehow, some way, grace enables us to be grateful for everything, even the losses we’ve grieved.
How did you discover your beliefs?
I started falling apart at the age of thirty. My fundamentalist foundation from having been raised a pastor’s daughter in a conservative, evangelical denomination started crumbling beneath my feet.
I grew up in a legalistic bubble that instigated and perpetuated shame and belief in an angry, judgmental god. I lived in fear, and as a result, tried to be a good girl. But at thirty years old, I threw caution to the wind and gave god “the finger” for a few months. It was during my recovery from the mess I’d made of my life that I discovered the power of grace.
Old habits die hard, though. Over the next ten years, I became legalistic again. This time, I was legalistic about grace. (The irony.) I was so focused on proving that grace was more important than behavior and rules that I lost sight of being gracious. It’s what ultimately caused me to leave church three years ago.
After leaving church, I eventually left all religious activity. I quit reading the Bible. I quit listening to Christian music. Basically, I quit the Christian life.
I met former Christians turned atheists and agnostics, and had countless conversations. Those discussions opened my mind to considering the world in a way Christianity had always shielded from me. I toyed with being an atheist for a while. I called myself agnostic for a few months.
But I realized that I need to believe in something.
Now, I believe in a force greater than myself—a force that can take a history littered with abuse and trauma and secrets and legalism and broken relationships and shame and use it all for good. I call that Grace.
How do you interact with your beliefs?
When I pray, I always begin with, “God, if you’re there…” I don’t know if there’s a God listening, or if it just does me good to verbalize my doubts and my concerns and my gratitude.
I rarely go to church. It’s still too painful, like peeling the skin from a wound that refuses to heal. For me, church became the battlefield instead of the hospital. At this point, I don’t know if church will ever be a safe place for me.
I occasionally open the Bible and read a Psalm or two that David wrote. I can relate to his laments and desperation and mangled hope, not to mention his massive screw ups. Sometimes I flip over to the New Testament and read about Jesus drawing a line in the sand to shut up the religious accusers as he offered grace to a condemned woman.
Mostly, I’ve learned to give myself grace. I’m learning to love the parts of myself that I always viewed as flawed and falling short of holiness.
What do you do when you doubt your beliefs?
I admit my doubts. As a child, I never questioned whether there was a god. I only questioned my loyalty and obedience to the fierce god I believed in. Over the past year, I’ve found safe people with whom I can discuss my questions.
I don’t have to have the right answers anymore. My therapist says, “What does it matter? None of us will know for sure until we die anyway.” That response has saved me many times from the crazy-making that can come with having roots in fundamentalist Christianity where knowing the right answers was mandatory.
I have faith that my doubts mean I want to believe in something. Doubt means I haven’t completely given up hope. Like Thomas, I’m saying, “Let me see. Let me feel. Prove it to me.” There’s no shame in that.
To read more My Discovery Process submissions, you can find them here.