Lightness, Closer to God, and Fresh Perspective
The most SURPRISING things about people's faith Shift
Last week I invited you to share with us what surprised you most as it pertains to your Shift’ing away from conservative/evangelical Christianity
I was not prepared for the responses, y’all! 😭😭
Both the quantity and the quality of your responses floored me. Thank you for showing up and opening yourself in this way. Your beautiful and vulnerable shares moved me.
I want to do the same thing today that I did last week and attempt to reflect back to you all my observations on what came up most in people’s responses (from all the sources: email, Substack comments, Facebook and IG comment section).
Speaking of last week, my question was, “What was the hardest part of your Shift”, and your top three answers involved Loneliness, Belief, and Relationships. Check that out if you missed it.
With regards to what surprised you in your Shift, the most common answers had to do with feeling lighter, being closer to God, and gaining fresh perspective.
One theme that came up over and over again in people’s responses had to do with genuine surprise at the peace and joy that resulted from being both liberated from old ideas and from embracing new ones.
Reading through these comments I kept thinking about Jesus’ words, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” -Matthew 11:29-30
As I see it, there’s something about the Way of Jesus that should, well, feel light.
If instead there’s a heaviness, a burdensome list of do’s and don’ts, or a series of boxes that need checked, then I don’t know y’all, that just doesn’t sound like the easy yoke of Jesus.
I love how one person on IG put it,
“The pressure is off!” -mikayla
Yup. The pressure is off.
Now, this often gets misunderstood within conservative/evangelical spaces to imply, “once you become progressive you get to do whatever you want!”
Pfffff... I blow that straw man over, thankyouverymuch.
That is so not the point. To speak of the pressure being off is, in the words of Amy,
“I used to feel awe and fear, but now [what surprises me most is] the Joy.” -Amy
These are not only fruits of the Spirit, but they are legitimate emotions and experiences that people have when they’re no longer forcing themselves to try and believe things they know cannot be true.
“I thought I would feel lost and shame forever. But the other side [of the faith Shift] is really there, and it so freeing” -californiadreamer
I’m not suggesting that no conservative Christians ever know peace or joy or the fruits of the Spirit. Obviously that’s not the case. But I don’t think we should dismiss the myriad accounts of people like Amber Lee who say that what surprised her most about her Shift was the,
“Peace & genuine happiness that I couldn’t ever seem to quite grasp before. And strangely a greater hope for the world.” -heyamberlee
Amber is not alone. Many of us feel/felt that. There was a peculiar lack of levity to evangelical theology that appeared once we started Shifting away.
Suddenly, following Jesus felt... light.
We feel freer.
Freer to be.
Freer to love.
Almost as though Shift’ing towards ideas that are more True can lead to more freedom.
“You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” -John 8:32
Or, as another person put it,
“The freedom and depth of love for myself, others, creation, and the Divine that eventually came” -jamjmiddleton
Closer to God
While I anticipated the above responses about being surprised by all the lightness and joy and peace, I’ll confess I didn’t expect that just as many people would report that they were suprised by how their Shift lead to them feeling closer to God.
“The most surprising thing about my shift is that I feel closer to God” -Perry
“I feel much more grounded in my relationship with God” -Melanie
I love how Paul phrased it, he was surprised at
“How much more I appreciate God and everything that is God” -Paul
Even to the chagrin, I’m sure, of our conservative siblings in the faith, some Shift’ers report that they now feel even
“closer to Jesus” -David
as a result of moving away from evangelicalism. 😱
I wonder how much of this has to do with the way in which the evangelical conception of God is one that is domineering, almighty, and super judgy. A God who, honestly, is hard to get to know. Hard to draw near to.
I know, I know, they tell you that God is love and kind and compassionate... but then they follow that up with, “But He’s ALSO Just and Holy!”
I reflected on this in Chapter 4 of The Shift, titled, “Talking, Thinking, and Feeling about God.”
“In The Lego Movie, the character Bad Cop/Good Cop reminds me of how I used to feel about God. Which God do I get today: the nice one who loves me and delights in my well-being, or the scary one who’s raging mad because I lusted during that Carl’s Jr. commercial?
The world many of us came out of teaches this sort of dual-natured God, a confusing combination of loving and merciful, yet wrathful and just. (“Just” in this context always meant “dispensing punishment to wickedness,” as though the highest form of justice resembles retaliation and consequences. Progressive Christianity gifts us with the renewal of the biblical vision of restorative justice, which maintains that true justice looks like renewal and restoration, not doling out death sentences to evildoers.) With a straight face--and I know, because I must’ve delivered the line a hundred times--pastors and theologians pontificate that God holds these two (clearly mutually exclusive) postures at the same time. One imagines God jamming to Gnash’s 2017 hit as Olivia O’Brian belts the hook, “I hate u, I love u, I hate that I love u.”
Which is it? Does God hate us or love us?
Many of us were sold the lie that the answer is yes.”
So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that leaving behind such a confusing God would lead so many to feel closer to the Divine.
Plus, as one reader put it, abandoning the anti-LGBTQ beliefs of evangelicalism allows many people to finally be themselves and accept that they are loved just as they are:
“I feel closer to God now than I ever have because I have allowed myself to be authentically me.” -Merissa
The other thing that came up a lot in people’s answers I’ll call a “fresh perspective.”
They were surprised, in other words, at either seeing things in a new way for the first time, or, seeing how they used to believe in a whole new revealing (and unflattering) way.
“[I was surprised by] realising how much internal discomfort and distress I was willing to live with” -Tiffany
I hear that! I remember being so bothered by some of the ideas of evangelical Christianity, and yet because it was “Biblical” we just had to suck it up.
Or, as another reader says, she found great comfort in realizing that the world
“actually is as complicated and grey as I thought it was.” -Bethany
For Susan, who says she has always needed “clear cut answers,” she’s been most surprised not just by the fact that she can no longer give a definitive list of what she believes, but that such lack-of-definitive-answers is okay with her!
Fresh perspective indeed, when we let go of the need for certainty.
Other readers were delighted by how their Shift opened up all new ways of seeing and appreciating the Bible.
“What surprises me the most is that I now get to embrace a new journey through the Bible” -gratefully_me
Or, as Phil put it, he was surprised at how diving deeper in to the Scriptures became the catalyst for his Shift.
“It was my respect for and dedication to the "authoritativeness" of Scriptures that led me down this path, by listening to the Scriptures themselves, what they actually say,” -Phil
Then there were those who have been most surprised by how the people from their old communities (aka, conservative/evangelical Christians) now shine with a whole new, unflattering light. Such as one reader who now feels like the evangelical world from whence they came
“supports everything that Jesus would be against.” -ellamouras
Or another person on Instagram who said,
“I think it was most upsetting to see who was really a friend & who was just a "brother/sister" of Christ and never really cared when you left.” -mrsmelissadixon
Yeah, I can totally relate to all of that.
I’ve been shocked at how un-Jesusy so many of my former “people” are.
Finally, I’ll end with this.
One reader shared that she has been most surprised by the way her Shift has impacted her husband (who isn’t currently on a Shift’ing journey himself). She noted that he’s been picking up a few things here and there about how her faith Shift has changed her, and it’s slowly doing a transformative work on him as well.
Not to get too Bible-y (pfff, that’s never stopped me before), but I’m reminded of Jesus’ words, “let your Light shine before people that they might see your goodness and... (the text here says, “and glorify your Father in heaven,” but if I can attempt to retranslate that in a way that gets at the heart of Jesus’ intent, while also avoiding some theological baggage, I might say) ... and celebrate that which is most Real, most True, and most Good.”
What I’ve learned is that many Christians, on the other side of their Shift, end up looking like, sounding like, and embodying much more of what I imagine Jesus was actually like in real life.
I know that’s been true for me, and I’m oh so grateful for it.
This Week’s Question
Here’s the question for this week:
What are you most grateful for as a result of your Shift?
Again, feel free to take this question in whatever way you’d like.
You can email me back (if you’re reading this in your email), you can leave a comment here on the article’s page, or you can tell me over on IG/FB when I get that post up later :)
Let’s spend some time reflecting on how our lives have been improved as a result of Shift’ing away from our more conservative/evangelical past.
The Faith Shift of a Pastor: Live with Pastor Josh Scott
Josh Scott is the lead pastor of Gracepointe Church in Tennessee, a progressive Christian community. But prior to that, he served as a pastor for more than a decade at a conservative evangelical church in the heart of Kentucky.
I’m gonna talk with Josh today at 2pm PST about what it was like for him to Shift while being a pastor.
Hope you’ll join us!
New Short Film
Recently I premiered a new short film I created called, “I’ll be Your Vera: A Love Letter for Former Conservative Christians”
It tells the story behind the making of legendary jazz pianist, Keith Jarrett’s record smashing album, “The Köln Concert,”
and I suggest that this story (which is soooo good, y’all) is a perfect illustration of the journey of the Shift.
I hope you’ll check it out.
There are a few things:
I don't have to ignore the uncomfortable feeling I used to get when I felt like something was wrong when anybody, especially from the pulpit, said things like "wives need to submit, practice humility and be modest" or "God created sex to be enjoyed between one man and one woman inside of marriage. Oh, and by the way: no anal, no masturbation and especially, no porn". The last was never explicitly stated but everyone got the message anyways :D
Also, I was getting more and more lackluster about reading the bible, listening to sermons and thinking about Jesus and how to live my life following him and I couldn't pinpoint why. Now I have words and concepts to express my doubts, my thoughts and my feelings without feeling guilty over it and the Bible once again fascinates me! I listen to people on youtube talk about Jesus, the Bible and social issues all the freaking time (looove God is grey btw).
But this is the absolute number one: knowing and believing that God will not send people to eternal hell if they don't believe in his "gift of sacrifice", I can actually focus on listening to people, loving them and encouraging them; instead of constantly having to think about how to fit "oh, by the way, you are a terrible sinner and overall just deserving of eternal wrath and suffering, but do not despair! Jesus, who is the Son of God born of a virgin died for you on the cross 2000 years ago and you have to believe that with your whole heart and speak these specific words with me in order to be saved" into any given conversation. It really does sound horrendous any way you look at it and I totally understand why people were so annoyed with me back then. So thanks for giving me peace for not pestering people anymore :D
Colby Martin: P.S. Maybe you can have a podcast addressing this topic I have asked below.