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Giving Up God

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A blog post from our next guest, author, agnostic and mama, Sarah Henn Hayward. My faith has been a journey since the beginning, with my beliefs and thoughts constantly being assessed, examined, and morphed along the way. I've always taken my spiritual life very seriously, spent time praying, reading the Bible and hundreds of spiritual books, learning, and growing. As a young woman, I believed in a loving God - but that love was only extended to people who chose to believe in Jesus. Anyone who chose not to - or who never heard the name Jesus before dying - was doomed to eternity in Hell.  


Cracks started to appear in that mold as I traveled the world and met devout people of different faiths who believed as reverently as I did in their respective religions. I had a hard time reconciling a God of love with someone who would let all these faithful people suffer for eternity. I wondered if I even choose my religion, as where I was born seemed the biggest factor. How cruel that someone could be doomed simply for being born into the wrong place/family/religion. I began to believe there must be more ways to connect - that Jesus was a human man, yes, but also a spirit. And the Spirit of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, must be able to convict and communicate with people outside of Christianity.  


My faith loosened its possessive, exclusive grip on eternal life. 


I was also meeting people I would have classified as "sinners" -  gay people - who still claimed to be Christian. Could something I believed in fervently from my youth be wrong? I looked into it, read the 6 passages of the Christian Bible that mention any semblance of homosexuality (not that that concept or word had been invented yet), read books and watched documentaries, and updated my beliefs. Science confirmed that people are born wired for sexual attraction of different types. This exists in abundance nature, with over 450 species identified who display homosexual behavior. If that's how people are naturally made, then God must have made them and loves them the same as all of God's children.  


My faith became less judgmental. 


Then I sat for a moment one day and thought about actual Hell for 30 seconds. Could I truly, possibly believe that a human who lived a mere 45 years of life on Earth and never "prayed the prayer" or committed their soul to God would be doomed for all eternity?!? Actual millions and billions and trillions of years of torment and suffering because they didn't make the right choice in their brief blink of life? That seems incomprehensibly cruel and the exact opposite of a God defined as Love itself. If God is Love, as the Bible states, I couldn't possibly believe that Love would allow eternal suffering. Some other way must exist. I didn't pretend to know what that might look like - purgatory, refining fires in Heaven, scandalous grace and mercy for all - who really knows?  


My faith became less black and white. 


And then I educated myself a bit on evolution. When the topic came up in high school, I had righteously covered my ears and ran to the Creationist history teacher I knew for solace and confirmation, and missed out on that education. After reading a book on the human fossil record, I saw how many links exist who aren't exactly human, aren't ape, but rather something distinctly in-between (Australopithecus sediba, homo habilis, homo erectus, homo heidelbergensis, neanderthals). Did they all go to Heaven too? 


My faith became filled with mystery.  


And what really is Heaven by the way? We've seen far out into space enough to know there aren't mansions in the sky anywhere close. It must not be a physical place. Is it in another dimension? The spiritual realm? Do I even really want to go there? Singing Glory to God for eternity sounds like it would get boring pretty quick. 


And who really is God by the way? Richard Rohr pointed out that many modern day Christians really still believe in a pagan god - Zeus up in the clouds, watching us with love or judgement, ready to rain down blessings or punishment. It hit me like a ton of bricks - I believed in a God who was essentially human. I thought there was a person of some kind who knew me, made me, loved me, cared about me - but a person. Rohr says that God isn't so much a being, as being itself. 


So if what we call God is the force of life that animates and gives us all soul, consciousness - being - then why am I praying to God and not gravity? Gravity is this invisible force that is holding us all together, keeping objects from floating off into space. It's constant and omnipresent, ensuring none of us gets lost in the emptiness of space. My concept of God was starting to feel comparable to gravity. There is something that makes us sentient. Humans may be more than mere physical bodies. There may be a spiritual realm out there (although I'm questioning that as well). But is that force really a person-like figure somewhere out there who has a personal relationship with us? 


If life itself is divine - if we are all divine by the fact of our existence - then that changes how I look at my fellow humans. That changes how I live and operate in this world full of living creatures. Suddenly I don't care what label you choose for yourself. I don't care about religious labels, gender labels, national labels. We're all humans, no matter how we look, where we live, who we love, or what we believe. If we are all a part of this mysterious, beautiful, at times horrific, thing called Life - we are all connected at the deepest level. Every living thing is animated by this same force that brings Life - God, Love, Creator, Consciousness, Universe, however we choose to label it. 


I heard an analogy along this idea: that we are all from a single Source - this unifying, animating force of Life - that can compared to the Ocean. And our human life on planet Earth is like being a drop flung from the Ocean in the spray of a wave. For a moment, we have our own, unique, individual consciousness. We can revel in the feeling of life - of flying through the air, taking in the blue sky, the sights, sounds, and smells of life - before dropping back into the Ocean and rejoining the Source.  


I love the imagery of that. Our life is a blur, a drop in the bucket of time. There's no denying that. And no one truly knows what comes next any more than any of us remember where we came from before birth. But for now, we are flying through the air, above the crystal blue water, and can try our best to make that flight full of love, joy, and peace rather than fear, judgement and pain. 


There are so many things we have no control over - where we are born, to which family, how we look, the amount of wealth and power we enter life with, natural disasters and our physical health - and many of us suffer through no fault of our own. Life is random. Certain groups of people have clawed and clutched all the power to themselves, are self-centered and unwilling to look out for the greater good. Good and bad things happen to good and bad people. But we have some control over our response, our attitude, our ways to function, believe and live in this world.  


I choose to live my splash through the air with freedom - freedom from "shoulds," from cultural expectations and restrictions. Freedom from categorizing, judging, and comparing my status to others. Freedom from shame. Freedom to be who I truly am, however that looks and sounds. Freedom to be open and vulnerable with my fellow drops of water. I don't know what happens after this, where "I" will go when my splash rejoins the great Ocean. But I will chose Love, light, joy, and freedom at every chance I get. 


 

This Week on the Podcast: We are meaning-making machines. Chaos is uncomfortable, and thinking that everything that happens to us is due to random chance feels cold and impersonal. The brain seeks out patterns and order when they are not necessarily present.” Sarah Henn Hayward

Our guest this week is Sarah Henn Hayward. Sarah is a mom of two, an author and our first self-proclaimed agnostic/atheist on the podcast. To say that our conversation was fascinating and enlightening would be an understatement.


On this episode, we explore these topics:

  • Unpacking the realization that so much of our former faith was about control and distraction from the realities of life. We were looking for safety and consistency and a formula to explain all of life’s pain.

  • Embracing the uncomfortable choas/mystery/the "I don't know"

  • What happened when Sarah finally said the words "I don't believe in God" out loud

  • Deconstructing faith when it leads to actual de-conversion or agnosticism/atheism

  • Navigating parenting with a partner who is still believes in God.

Our favorite words from this podcast episode were things like "mystery" and "peace" and "wonder" and "what if." Find out why when you listen.

You can find Sarah at the following:



Instagram:  @shaywardwrites


Facebook:  Sarah Henn Hayward



 







 

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Resource Alert:


After 35 years as a devout, self-proclaimed Jesus freak—spending summers on mission trips, leading Bible studies, and joining the church leadership team—Sarah Henn Hayward has stopped believing in a Higher Being altogether. 


She found herself grieving the loss of her core identity and struggling to see a way forward without God at the helm. While she remained grateful for her former faith and the many ways it shaped her, she needed a new lens through which to process good and evil, purpose and meaning. 


In Giving Up God, Sarah wrestles for a new identity as she resurrects herself from her former beliefs, exploring new vistas in physics, philosophy, and alternative theologies and drawing inspiration from the natural world. 


 

Our podcast guest, Sarah Henn Hayward has also created a children's book series geared toward ages 6-9. The first three books in the series, Sedona and the Sloth and Boston and the Beaver , and Evelyn and the Elephant are out on Amazon.


The series is a playful look at common afflictions that kids may face, from being over-scheduled, to laziness, to working together as a team, to impatience, to being too timid to get out there and try. 

Each book will take a child on a transformative journey, turning them into an animal or aspect of nature from which they will learn a valuable life lesson.


 

Can't wait until Tuesday and need just a little snippet from our podcast episode that's coming up on Tuesday, May 14, with Sarah Henn Hayward.


 

One last thing. We want to remind you that we are so glad you are here. We wouldn't be the same without you. You will always find GRACE for where you've been and who you are now, and SPACE for who you are becoming and will be.


Carry on, our new-found friends. Welcome to the twisty-windy, full -of-adventure faith path that's laid out before us all. Love,

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