What don’t I want?

I used to know what I wanted. In life, I mean. I had that figured out. One of the benefits of religion is that it provides you with those big-picture answers. And I was super religious.

But then something happened: I lost my faith. Ever since, I’ve spent most of my time figuring out what I don’t want. I don’t want religion. I don’t want church. I don’t want religious people. Above all, I don’t want reminders of my former religious life.

This was an important process for me, as historically I’ve allowed myself to be persuaded into decisions that I wasn’t really sure about, particularly when it came to religion. So I had to be clear about the ongoing role of religion in my life. It was a categorical “no”.

Unfortunately, that clarity came a bit late for me. I had started and ended my ministry career at a church in Illinois. (I’ve written about this before: the short version is that it was a traumatic experience that catalyzed the loss of faith I mentioned above.) My family and I moved away soon afterward, eventually settling in Texas.

Then one day, we got a call from our old church. They had a new staff position available, and they wanted to hire my wife for it. Which would mean relocating back to Illinois. She was excited; I was not. But the prospect of redeeming my past experience at this church was seductive. Even though I was agnostic-leaning-atheist by this point, part of me still wanted to believe that everything had happened “for a reason”.

So we moved back. And it was a disaster. Not only did I fail to reconnect with this church that had once been the hub of my social, spiritual, and professional life, but the same thing happened to my wife that had happened to me years before. She found herself marginalized and out of a job less than two years into it.

We had bought a house here. We had a mortgage and a new car payment. We couldn’t afford to be without my wife’s salary. So she found the first, best thing she could. She started working at a Starbucks, as a store manager. Which in practice meant that she woke up while it was still dark, and was in bed by dinnertime. For the next year, as she was dealing with the trauma of the experience, and as I was dealing with the re-traumatization of watching this all happen again, we barely saw each other. It took us the next several years, including a separation, to come to grips with the experience and its effect on us.

This is where my clarity came from. No more religion. No more church. No more religious people. And above all, no reminders of my former religious life.

That last part has been tricky. When we moved back here, we had chosen an area that would place us as close to the church as possible. Which means that my wife and I now play church roulette every time we go out somewhere. We never know who we might bump into, and what awkward conversations might ensue. (Both my wife and I have been berated for giving up on the church.)

And for me, this entire area feels poisoned. I have years of memories attached to this place, most of which come from my time in the church. But lingering behind it all is a nagging sense that I didn’t really choose to be here. That I was too passive, and allowed this to happen. And now I’m stuck here.

Now, I realize that saying “I’m stuck here” may itself sound too passive, but it’s the honest truth. We don’t have the money to relocate; even if we did, the kids are settled here, my wife has a great job here (not Starbucks), and we’ve started to put down roots again.

Well, at least everyone else has. I’ve been holding back on that. Avoiding emotional investment. I still have a telecommuting job that enables me to work from any location. And I’ve stayed with that job long past the point of necessity, primarily because I don’t want to give up that hope of escape. Even if it is only illusory.

The net effect of which has been that I feel disconnected from my own life. I’ve gotten very good at identifying what I don’t want, which I oftentimes confuse for what I do want. But “I don’t want to be here” isn’t a direction. It’s the absence of direction. It’s nothing.

What am I to do? The part of me that sounds wiser tells me to give up the job, find something here, and accept that this is now my home. The rest of me, however, tells that part of me to go fuck itself. It wants to move to the Southwest and start over.

This is where I have to leave it, because this is where I am right now. This is where I’ve been for years. I don’t have an answer yet. But I need to do something. I’ve done “nothing” long enough.

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