“Sometimes it seems safer to hold it all in, where the only person who can judge is yourself.” ― Sarah Dessen
I had an uncomfortable conversation with my friend Joshua the other day. In the wake of my outward break from doctrinal Adventism, Joshua—along with other family and friends—had deep concerns about my relationship with David. He’d spoken to David about them, and even went so far as to suggest that he should consider ending our relationship. Naturally, all of this came back to me: Joshua’s concerns, the worries expressed by the rest of David’s immediate family, the ‘young-married-couple-advice’ dispensed by extended family…their collective ‘concern’ for our relationship washed over me like a wave of disapproval. Joshua, however, was the most vocal, expressing his concerns more than once to David—and only David.
I suppose I should add that Joshua is David’s brother.
To be clear, there was no shunning. David’s family is warm and inviting, and since my little announcement they’ve continued to welcome me at family events. Still, knowing that no one—not one person—was really behind us, knowing that to some degree every member of David’s family believed our relationship to be ill-advised, I couldn’t help feeling rejected. It didn’t matter that they said ‘we still love you Erin,’ and ‘we only want what’s best for both of you Erin.’ Where I’d previously thought of myself as part of the collective ‘us,’ suddenly it was ‘me’ and ‘them,’ and the questions they asked about ‘me,’ and my frustrations with ‘them.’ One side-effect of the Apex is losing one’s old “We-s.”
Through many emotional talks with David and his family I’ve come to realize that no one intended to hurt me. But that doesn’t change the attitudes, and the sudden loneliness that comes with losing family approval.
“I think it’s a mistake,” Joshua said, “But I’m okay with you and David making your own mistakes.”
That’s how the words felt. Joshua’s judgment reduced my most intimate relationship to a ‘mistake.’ While I may be ‘part of the family,’ it will take a long time for me to feel at one with David’s family again. When I stepped out of my spiritual community, I stepped out of every community associated with it. By declaring myself different, by donning the mantle of the ‘other,’ I estranged myself on some level from David’s family, my family, my friends in the fold, my school, even my town. Now conversations about Adventists are no longer about ‘us’ but ‘them.’ My criticisms of the church no longer center on ‘our’ problems, but ‘their’ problems. My suggestions for the future of my community no longer address what ‘we’ can do, but what ‘they’ can do.
I try not to be skeptical when members of David’s family say they love me. I recognize that while my ideas may pain and frustrate them, his parents and siblings continue to demonstrate their care. They are still invested in me, still welcome me in their midst, and continue to claim me as family.
Likewise, I have rejected Adventism insofar as I no longer embrace the title for myself. Yet I still attend one of its churches, I am invested in the political machinations of its universities, I continue to keep up with the developments in its conferences. In short, I still care. As much as the institution pains and frustrates me, I still love institutional Adventism; for me, however, it’s a mistake.