When you reach eighth grade, you’re at the top of your game: You have an amusing case of senioritis that provides an abundance of confidence and slackitude (yes, that is a word today). Compared to your 7th and 6th grade peons, you’re mature, smart, attractive, and “have it all together”. While they’re still in training bras or hoping a chin hair will suddenly appear, you’re at the top of the food chain, dolling out advice and wisdom to whatever child will take it. You’ve found your niche. You finally feel like you have a voice. Eighth grade was one of the best school years of my life. I loved it.
And then you become a freshman. Suddenly you’re thrust into an unfamiliar environment with people bigger than you who know more about absolutely everything. You can’t even find your way to the water fountain, much less lead a clique or have control over your life. Books are heavier, assignments are longer, and you are suddenly taught something called “critical thinking” (well, in some schools, anyway). Not everyone is like you anymore, and you feel lost, intimidated, and insecure. You have a lot of growing to do. I remember hating my high school for months before I finally accepted the transition into the new environment.
For me, leaving Christianity was a lot like graduating from eighth grade to high school.
My Christian walk had passed puberty: I was experienced, educated, well-rounded, and thoughtful. I studied the Bible voraciously, enjoying theological discussions and asking digging questions. My circle of Christian friends admired my insights, and I easily fit into any group of Christians in which I found myself. I was spirit-filled, excited, and cocksure. My family thought I was going to make an impact on the world for Jesus. I was in the zone, and I loved every second of it!
And then I became an atheist. I left Christianity in a childhood tantrum: kicking and screaming, crossing my arms and stamping my foot in stubborn refusal to change. I was afraid of leaving my comfort zone and having to start all over again with nobody there to be my clique, my support structure, my guide. I didn’t think I possessed an identity without my faith. Who was I? What was happening inside of me? I didn’t like it.
I was very happy being the respected one in my faith-filled circle. Little did I realize just how small I could feel being the one asking all the questions, chanting “I don’t know” like it was my mantra, and constantly discovering ways I needed to mature and expand as a person. It was a reality check that has never stopped. I had to face being inexperienced and awkward all over again. I admired the people whom I read and listened to; they seemed like the juniors and seniors in the school of atheism. They were mature, knowledgeable, and skeptical thinkers. I longed to be more like them! I still do.
I am still a freshman in many ways, but I’ve finally calmed down about the transition from “pompous know-it-all” to “itty bitty newb”. I’m not trying to hold onto faith any longer–I’m emancipated and ecstatic! I feel the same passion and eagerness to learn and discuss as I ever did. My brain has never been more full. Not only do I keep the knowledge I had as a Christian, but I also have a new way of examining what I’ve learned and a new appreciation for those studies. Life is good. (And now I can at least find the drinking fountain.)