Karissa has a moving story to kick us off on this month’s theme of wanderings. I hope you’ll hold her words carefully and kindly. I love to open up Circling the Story to honest inquiry and wrestling in the moment. Here’s a bit about Karissa: Karissa Knox Sorrell is a poet, writer, and educator from Nashville, Tennessee. Her poetry and essays have appeared in Catapult Magazine, Think Christian, Relief Journal, St. Katherine Review, and Gravel Magazine, among others. Her poetry chapbook, Evening Body, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. Karissa is a wife, mother of two, and ESL teacher. Follow her on Twitter @KKSorrell or read more about her faith-wrestling journey at her blog.
As a preacher’s kid and missionary kid, I have a lot of experience with moves and wandering. I lived in three different states as a child and at the age of eleven, moved to Bangkok, Thailand. While there, I was also able to visit Malaysia, the Philippines, and Singapore. Even though my college experience brought me back to the US, those years were peppered with trips back to Thailand as well. I first traveled alone internationally when I was only seventeen years old. I can navigate any airport and can usually adjust to new situations and cultures. But none of that prepared me for the greatest transition of them all:
I think I am moving away from faith.
It feels like a crime to even write that, much less say it out loud. As a child and teenager, I was the perfect Christian. I had devotions daily, memorized scripture, and witnessed to friends. I was proud of what my parents were doing and wanted to be a part of their ministry. I was earnestly seeking God’s will for my life. During and after college, I did go through a questioning phase, but I never lost faith. Instead, I changed churches: from evangelical to Episcopal to Eastern Orthodox. With each of those changes, the landscape of my faith changed a bit, but it was always there.
It was in the midst of writing a spiritual memoir that my faith began to come into question. I pulled out my old teenage journals and was shocked to find they were full of guilt and fear that I wasn’t a good enough Christian. As I wrote my memoir, I was paying attention to the Christian blogosphere to get to know the market and eventually it all just felt like a lot of soapbox shouting. In addition, an old friend and I were having conversations about the church we grew up in, and she began telling me about her movement toward atheism.
It was as if suddenly, everything I believed began to unravel. Adam and Eve? It felt like a ridiculous myth. God’s plans in Jeremiah 29:11? That message seemed to be constantly taken out of context and used to simplify difficult circumstances. A religion whose starting point is how evil we are? Hard to swallow, given how much creativity, love, and grace I see in my friends and family – even those who are not Christians.
I finished that memoir, but then I put it away. It wasn’t my story anymore. I had become a faith-wrestler, grappling with deep doubts and nagging questions about the Bible and theology. I’ve been in this process for about two years now. I thought it was a phase, and maybe it is. But more and more, I feel myself turning away from faith. Most Sundays I’d rather stay home to sit on my deck and read than go to church.
I don’t have some easy, happy way to wrap up this story. I don’t have answers. I feel like I’ve gotten lost in a landscape I used to know by heart. I don’t know what I’ll believe in a year, or five years, or ten. I know that I want to believe, but what used to come to me easily now seems difficult to grasp.
For now, I simply honor the transition. I am writing a collection of poetry that is rooted in my spiritual struggles. I have found a community of other doubters like me who encourage me. Mostly, I let myself experience whatever I need to experience. Sometimes I let myself question, wrestle, and think. Other times my spirit is more quiet and calm. If there is a God, I believe I’ll find him again when I need to. And for today, that belief is enough.
Make sure to submit your own reader story for August soon! Themes and more info can be found here.