I left home at age twenty-one, at a time when most people would have recognized me as an adult, but I was in turmoil. My whole life I knew one way to be, and that was Seventh-Day Adventist. Even in my late teens when I might have been qualified as being a backslider, I still identified with being SDA. It was all I had ever known, and breaking away from it was one of the most difficult things I had ever done.
At the time I felt like I needed to make that break for several reasons. I had been introduced to several different types of religions and I was confused. How could one truly be THE religion of God, one religion to rule them all (to paraphrase Lord of the Rings)? I took a History of Western Religions course my first year in college, and one of the requirements was to visit several places of worship, so in the span of one semester I attended a mosque, a temple, a Baptist church, an Episcopal church, and a Catholic church. Each of those visits taught me more about the world, more about myself, and more about my own view of God, and that view showed me the many facets of a God I originally thought only had one.
And I was still going to my home church while the tempest roiled inside of me, with no one the wiser. I was still a youth elder, a member of the church board, a member of the church school board, and a Pathfinder leader. I mean, it wasn’t like I had grown distant on the outside, but inside I was far away, battling ideologies that existed completely inside of my head at the time. I appreciated my pastor and the other church leaders. I respected them and their views. I just didn’t know if I shared them anymore, and that scared me.
You couldn’t get much higher in the church as a young man than I had, and with that I had also been given so many expectations, so much weight was on my shoulders. Maybe I saw a way out of all that pressure, with my doubts and fears. Or perhaps it really was a true internal conflict of faith, but it served well enough either way. Within a year of taking that course I no longer held all those positions in the church. In fact, I rarely went, something that was questioned and gossiped about extensively within the church.
It’s those times of transition and introspection that prove your mettle, though, and that show you who you are. It was no different for me. I learned then which people in the church truly cared about me, and which ones were around merely to see me rise or to see me fall. Potential can be a very dangerous thing, and by the time I realized my potential might not lie within the Seventh-Day Adventist church there were a few solid rocks in the congregation who supported me all the way.
And in the aftermath, I truly found myself. Now, when I go back to the church congregation I grew up with so long ago, there are few who even recognize me. But I recognize myself, and that’s enough.