January 28, 2013

Feeling Like A Fake

I have a confession. For the first 4 years that I was a clergy spouse, I had serious doubts about my faith. Everything I had ever believed about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit were up in the air. Some days I couldn't even say I believed that God existed.

Having so much of my once solid faith fall away left me feeling lonely, scared, confused, and aimless. Those emotions were intensified by my unwillingness to be open about the state of my faith. (My husband was the only one who knew.) I wasn't sure how my husband’s congregations, my friends, or family would respond to me and my husband if they knew. I assumed our churches would only accept me if I was the pillar of faith that every clergy spouse is “supposed to be.” I was afraid of being either rejected or pushed to regain my faith. I was scared I would never find faith again. I felt embarrassed and confused, and no matter what I tried nothing seemed to bring me up out of this faithless chasm. I was stuck, wanting desperately to have faith, to engage fully with the people in our church, to have my world make sense again. But those things weren't going to happen overnight. So, I did what seemed like the best solution at the time: I faked it.

To all outward appearances I was a pillar of faith and devotion to God and the Church. I taught Sunday school and chaired committees. I showed up at all the services and special events. I volunteered at the local hospital. I did a great job at covering up and pushing aside my fears and doubts. Except there was one thing I couldn't push aside – I felt like a fake. I felt like I was constantly being dishonest with our churches and with God (when God and I were on speaking terms). I was doing all this church work out of habit, knowing the right actions to take and the right words to say. But I always felt like a phony and that I did not have any right to be in a position of leadership when my spiritual life was in such shambles.

I wish I would have done things differently. I wish I would have found some people early on (not just my husband) in whom I could confide. I needed a pastor or spiritual director who would listen and guide me. I needed more than just one friend who knew the truth so that I could practice being myself authentically, not the fake person I was putting out there. For a long I time I didn't have the courage to trust that anyone would treat my feelings and my soul with the tenderness required for healing.

The tide began to turn when I finally got fed up with being fake and had run out of energy to hold back my feelings. I was at an annual gathering of my denomination’s clergy spouses and found myself confessing to an entire room full of people that I had a shell of a faith and had been putting up a front for the past 4 years. I thought it was going to be awful to actually say those words out loud. I thought the room would go dead silent. Instead, what happened is that I felt liberated that the secret was out. I had a surprising number of my fellow spouses offer prayer, tell me their own stories of lost faith, or tell me to call them anytime I needed to talk. From that point on things started to get better. I don’t mean that all of a sudden my faith reassembled itself, because 6 years later, I’m still rebuilding. But I didn't have to put all the energy into hiding anymore. I didn't have to try to fix everything by myself. I was able to lay my doubt on the altar and I tell God I was done trying to solve this myself – if it truly mattered to God then it was God’s problem now. God was able to begin using other people to speak to my heart when I couldn't hear directly from God. And best of all, I am no longer ashamed of hiding or being a fake.

I share my story willingly in the hope that others will stop hiding too.


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your openness and honesty. I've been in your shoes. While I don't advocate anyone hiding who they are, I've also found that spouses still have to be selective about who to open up to in the church.