A Bringer of New Things

I want to learn all I can, live as wisely as I can, and savor every moment on the journey.

My Story

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Like the roads in my home state of West Virginia, my journey in life has been dizzyingly curvy so far. There’s a lot to tell, so buckle your seatbelt!

From my preteens to my mid-twenties, my life was entirely consumed with being the holiest Christian (fundamentalist Baptist) I could be. Every choice I made was based on what God, via the Bible, would want me to do. I loved God and knew that He loved me, and I spent hours of every day in prayer and Bible study. I volunteered at every church function I could. I didn’t know any non-Christians, but if I met any, I would try to convert them. When it was time for college, I went to a remote, missions-focused Bible college in northern Wisconsin. I wholeheartedly believed that my life was not my own, but God’s.

Then I got a string of illnesses, from mono to pneumonia, that seriously broke down my health. But steeped (or someone might say “brainwashed”) in an environment that encouraged self-denial, I did not listen to my body and take care myself as I should have. Instead, I struggled onward at the same fast pace, mentally pushing myself (“relying on God”) to keep up with all the required activities of Bible college–early morning devotions, daily chapel and classes, evening prayer meetings, church ministry activities, and so on–when my body was just not able to. This unsustainable situation eventually drove me into depression. When I could no longer hide or bear it, there was no choice left but to leave Bible college and get treatment.

There I was, depressed and separated from my Christian world by the increasing severity of my illness(es), when through treatment I was introduced to more open-minded, tolerant, and compassionate mindsets. I felt great sympathy with the other patients in my therapy groups, and for the first time in my life I was able to see non-Christians as more than only lost souls in need of Jesus. I became open to the possibility that maybe other people could have good lives despite not sharing my beliefs.

As time went on and my body and mind began to recover, I began questioning my beliefs and thinking for myself for the first time in my life. I started out with mild questions: for example, was my particular church denomination the “right” one? But the more questions I entertained in my thoughts, the more questions came up, until I was questioning the basic doctrines of Christianity and even the existence of God. My doubts were accompanied by agonizing guilt, so eventually I consoled myself by setting out to study Christianity more deeply–not just the Bible, but also theology, Christian history, other Christian denominations, and religious studies from an anthropological perspective. I began all of this study fully convinced that it would confirm my previous beliefs and eliminate my doubts once and for all. But it didn’t. The more I learned, and the more I thought critically, the more I began to see that my beliefs were not only false but also seriously toxic to my health and happiness.

So eventually, I had to leave Christianity. I adopted a new life purpose: just to live as healthy, happy, wise, and good a life as I could. It was daunting and rocky at first, as I was alone and everything was new. I had no friends and no guidance for how to live without my old religious worldview. I also no longer had a plan for what I was doing with my life. I moved around the country a few times, trying out different schools, career paths, and relationships. (States I’ve lived in besides West Virginia and Wisconsin include Indiana, New Mexico, Florida, and Kansas.) Finally I worked up enough courage and security in who I was to just come back home and create a new life for myself here.

Now, thankfully, my life is stable and happy. I have great new friends and a wonderful husband [and–update–twin baby daughters!], and I’m committed to taking care of my body and mental health as my first priority and trying to grow and live as wisely as I can. I’m working a good day job and (sometimes) taking online classes toward an eventual bachelor’s degree from West Virginia University. In my free time, as I’m able, I’m working with my friends on building a local humanist community. And, of course, along with my other hobbies (such as reading, knitting, music, letter writing, and being in nature), I WRITE.

And oh, how I love to write! Writing reconnects me with my childhood—my pre-Christian days—when my world was a colorful adventure of stories, poems, books, and imagination. So, in this way, I’ve come full circle.

13 comments on “My Story

  1. Ginene Nagel
    April 29, 2014

    Sarrah,
    Please remember that your God and mine are the same God, and mine doesn’t ask any of that from me. Man has messed up a lot of relationships between people and God with their interpretations and man-made religions.
    Part of wonderful thing about blogging is that we grow by putting ourselves out there for other people to see. It’s like saying, I am who I am and this is who I am meant to be. I can see you already have a lot of wisdom and common sense, so your life’s journey may be filled with questions and answer-seeking and that is all good. Jesus asked a lot of questions, too.

    Like

    • Sarrah J. Woods
      May 9, 2014

      Oh, I somehow missed this comment earlier, Ginene. Thanks for your thoughts!

      I’ve had many Christians tell me what you said, understandably, and I agree that if “my God” had been more like how other, more relaxed Christians describe “their God,” I would likely not have had so much anxiety weighing on me during those difficult years.

      I will admit, though, that I raise an eyebrow at non-fundamentalist Christians’ lack of logic here. If the Bible is not all literally true, then why believe any of it at all? If “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” and other verses to the same effect are not actually true, they why believe any of the Bible is true? (For non-rational reasons, of course: indoctrination, wanting it to be true, etc.) If the Bible contains true teachings and not-so-true teachings, then it’s not true: logically, not true means false, and true + false = false.

      I’m not meaning to offend or judge here, of course. I value freedom of thought and mature intellectual disagreement: I believe what I believe, you believe what you believe, and that’s just fine.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ginene Nagel
        May 9, 2014

        I believe that, too; all of it must be true or none of it is true. We can’t pick and chose. I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic school so we had nuns who answered a lot of these questions for us. I am in agreement with you. They taught us that we strive to be perfect like Jesus every day, but that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” I was just trying to comfort you and hoped that you weren’t giving up on God because of a religion that made you feel over-whelmed and consistently anxious that you can’t always hit the perfect mark. God is Love in all religions, I would hope. Keep fighting the good fight!

        Liked by 2 people

  2. thewritertracy
    April 30, 2014

    So happy to hear you are feeling happier and healthier. And congrats for being strong enough to share your very personal story here. I am not a fundamentalist Baptist nor have I been to bible college but it sounds like guilt may have been used here as a motivator to serve. To me, as a believer, God does not work in this way. Who could take that kind of pressure?! Especially when faced with illness. We may believe differently but I respect your bravery here.

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    • Sarrah J. Woods
      April 30, 2014

      Tracy, thanks so much for reading, commenting, and encouraging me about sharing my story!

      I know what you mean about the different viewpoint there; I think many Christians would say the same thing. Who knows, my story might have been different if I had received compassion instead of judgment (and been taught to treat myself that way too), but also maybe not. Additionally, the judgment wasn’t just from our particular Christian beliefs that life was all about serving God and denying yourself, but also from the nature of my illness. Even now, everywhere I go, people who haven’t lived with or near CFIDS tend to think it’s not a real disease. I sure wish they were right and it really was “all in my head.” Then I could get rid of it!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Denise
    April 30, 2014

    I appreciate your story and I relate with a lot of it. Specifically the close-mindedness of fundamentalism in religion. I’m encouraged that you’ve found a more open and loving lifestyle and wish you all the best. Thanks for sharing your story!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sarrah J. Woods
      May 1, 2014

      Thank you for your comment, Denise. I’m glad my story found a welcoming audience!

      Like

  4. Annecdotist
    February 23, 2016

    Hi, Sarrah,
    I think you’re brave to write so honestly about your escape from Christianity, and so eloquently too. I wonder if you’ve come across this lovely novel published in the UK last year, A Song for Issy Bradley, about what happens when grief hits a Mormon family.

    Like

  5. Ruth
    April 3, 2016

    You may not remember me, but we were friends a long time ago. Somehow, for reasons I cannot fully explain, I was reminded of you while unable to sleep and browsing ancient Facebook posts. One of those “whatever happened to so and so” moments. A google search later, and i came across your blog. I am a Christian. I am not going to try to persuade you in any way. I just want to say, I’m sorry you went through all that with your health etc. Just wanted to share and say if you’d be interested in renewing a friendship, I’m still on Facebook,not sure if you are or not. Either way, I wish you well.

    Like

    • Sarrah J. Woods
      April 3, 2016

      Hi Ruth! Thanks for reaching out! I have had a few different friends named Ruth through the years–though I’m thinking you might be the one we used to call “Ruthie”?–but I would be happy to renew friendships with any of them. With anyone, really. Enough time has passed and wounds have healed that I harbor nothing but love for all the people in my past. However, I am not on Facebook, because I found that its “social broadcasting” style of interaction really drains me of emotional energy. I vastly prefer to keep in touch one-on-one style via email, letters, phone, or in person. And I figured anyone who really wanted to find me would figure out a way to, by asking the right people or doing a good internet search, and it looks like this is true! I’m glad you reached out, and I would definitely like to keep talking with you and hear how your life has been since we last connected! I think my blog can tell me the email address of anyone who comments (though I haven’t looked at yours yet; I’m typing from my phone); would you like me to email you?

      Like

      • Ruth
        April 4, 2016

        Yes, I’d like that! And yes this is Ruthie. I mostly go by Ruth now though.

        Like

        • Sarrah J. Woods
          April 4, 2016

          Okay. I will email you as soon as I have time–this week is super busy, but I might get a minute to write. Looking forward to reconnecting with you!

          Like

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