(this post is inspired by a recent post on Michael Mock’s blog)
Dear Mom and Dad,
It will soon be nine years since I pastored a church, nine years since Polly was called the “pastor’s wife.” This Thanksgiving it will be four years since we attended a church on a Sunday. I know this dramatic change in our lives frightens and troubles you. As devout Christians, I am sure you pray for us daily. Maybe we are even on the Church prayer list.
Knowing you like I do, I am sure our current life breaks your heart and you have shed more than a few tears over the state of our soul. I am sure you believe that God is faithful and that he will honor your prayers and move in our hearts bringing us to repentance. I have no doubt you fear what God might have to do to us to get our attention.
Perhaps you blame me for all of this. You have known me for a long, long time. You know my strengths and weaknesses. You know about my struggles with depression and you know how up and down I can be. Perhaps you think I have always been a “troubled” person. Surely, I am to blame…
I can’t stop you from blaming me. I have many faults………but….don’t we all? Polly has spent most of her life being treated like she is a lemming. She rarely, if ever, is given credit for thinking for herself. I guess I understand this. In the Independent Baptist world, the man is the head of the home. He is the decision maker. He rules the roost.
When I met Polly 36 years ago she was a quiet girl that rarely talked. She kept her opinions to herself. She starting dating a fast talking, ever talking, opinionated, temperamental man. Six month later we were engaged and 34 years ago we married. For decades our marriage was a typical American Christian marriage. I was the breadwinner, the head of the home. Polly kept the home, took care of the children, and made sure there was food on the table every night for dinner. She was a perfect picture of the good Christian wife.
So I understand when people think that Polly left Christianity because I did, that she doesn’t believe anymore because I don’t believe anymore. This makes sense IF the Polly of today is the same as the Polly I married in 1978.
The Polly of today still bears the image of the young girl I married 34 years ago. She is still a quiet, loving, and kind person. She is still willing to selflessly sacrifice for her family. In many ways she is her mother’s daughter. (and that is meant as a huge compliment)
In other ways though, the Polly of today is very different from the Polly I married. She is much more assertive. She is much more willing to make decisions on her own. Having to enter the workforce helped with this transformation as did having a sick, disabled husband. Going back to college fulltime, while working a fulltime job, did more for Polly than anything else in her life. No longer was she in the shadow of her preacher husband. No longer was she the “pastor’s wife.”
Polly is a supervisor at her place of employment. She received this promotion because of her hard work, Her work, not mine. She did well in college because of her own hard work. She has learned though all of this that she can stand on her own two feet, she can be her own person. No longer is she the wife of Bruce Gerencser, the pastor of such-and-such Church. Oh, she is still my wife but she is much more than that now.
Polly and I had to leave the ministry and Christianity to find ourselves. Our lives had been swallowed up by our religion, the church, the ministry, and the expectations everyone had for us. Simply put, we lost ourselves in Jesus. Our thoughts and emotions were swallowed up by “thus saith the Lord.” Of course, such a life was encouraged and applauded. We had died to self and were alive unto Christ.
Polly and I agreed together to stop attending Church. At this juncture in our lives I made it clear that I would no longer be the spiritual leader or guide for our family. Everyone was free to choose their own path, to answer the “God” question for themselves.
This was new ground for us. For decades I was the “final answer.” I determined what everyone believed. I was, after all, a God called, Holy Spirit powered pastor. Now everyone, Polly included, was free to be whatever they wanted to be.
I spent a lot of time re-reading the Bible and re-investigating the claims of Christianity. As always, I read a lot of books. Over time I came to see that the Bible was not a supernatural book and that the supernatural claims of the Bible could not be sustained.
As a result of carefully considering the claims of Christianity I came to the conclusion that the Christian God did not exist. I knew I could no longer call myself a Christian.
Polly read “some” of the books I did but she has never been a big non-fiction fan. I have never questioned her about the process or the reasons “why” she stopped believing. I accept her decision to not believe without question. She is free to believe whatever she wants to believe. If she wanted to go back to church I would not have a problem with it. When I says she is FREE, I mean totally, absolutely FREE. (as are our children)
We talk frequently about religion, the Bible, church signs, and this or that book we are reading. Now that Polly is done with school she will have a lot more time to read. When we talk it is not in an attempt to convince one another of anything. We just talk…….and leave it at that. Sometimes we have serious discussions and sometimes we spend time talking about the past, our lives as pastor and wife. We talk, talk, talk……..and then Polly starts snoring.
In many ways Polly is more adamant in her unbelief than I am. I know this is hard to believe. Granted, she isn’t a writer like I am, but with her actions she shows the strength of her unbelief. On more than one occasion I have said,”would you like to go to Such-and Such church to see ________________” and the answer is always a quick, terse NO!
Polly is her own person as am I. After decades of living under the thumb of Jesus we are now free to embrace who we really are. We are free to be Bruce and Polly without any modifiers added to our name. We have had a rebirth, a rebirth that allows us to freely embrace life as it is and this us allows to be authentic human beings.
Does this mean we are radically different people? Yes and No. How we think and what we think is important has changed dramatically. No longer does our priority list begin with God, the church, and the ministry. Now our priority list begins with self, family, and friends.
In many ways we don’t live much differently than we did when we were Christians. We still have many of the same values we had when we were Christians. Yes, our politics have changed. We are much more liberal these days but this change began while I was still a pastor. We are still the same kind, loving, giving, compassionate people we always were. Maybe even more so now since our motivation is no longer, “to please God.” We do what we do because we want to.
When it comes to the social aspects of life, what we are “willing” to do has changed a good bit. Our language is saltier. We no longer feign offense when someone cusses on TV or when there is a sex scene. We are now free to watch what we want. We no longer consider “what would Jesus do?” The only criteria is, “what do Bruce and Polly want to do?” And our sex life? Well…..all I dare say is that life is g—o—o—d!
In most every way, we are happier now than we ever have been. (not that we were extremely unhappy before) Our marriage continues to grow and mature. Yes, we still fight. Yes, we still have conflict and disagreement, but we love each other more today than we ever have. When I tell you our marriage is great, awesome, fantastic, believe me, it is. We have struggles just like everyone does. It is not easy for Polly having a husband that is disabled, a husband who can’t drive, who can’t do many of the things he used to do. It is not easy having a husband that struggles with depression most every day of his life. And it is not easy having a wife who thinks you put oil in the car when the red light comes on.
We have learned to accept the deficiencies we each have. We have stopped trying to change each other. We are who we are, and we do our best to ignore the things in each other that irritates us. It is not easy. In many ways, we are very, very different from each other…….but we make it work.
We take seriously the vow we made to each other 34 years ago…….til death do us part. Some days we want to make til death do us part happen real soon, but most days we live in hope of some day seeing our great-great grandchildren.
Don’t worry about us. We are fine. The root of our marriage runs deep and we are resilient. We continue to walk hand in hand, even if my hands are on the armrests and Polly’s hands are on the wheelchair. (and even if Polly is thinking…hmm……I am sorry officer I just lost control of the wheelchair and it rolled down the hill)
While we no longer share a religious connection with you, we still remain your children. Nothing can ever change that. We love you, and no matter what happens in your life we will be right by your side. As we have told you many times, if the time ever comes that you can’t live in your home, our home is your home. Like with our marriage, our relationship with you is “til death do us part.”
While we may not share your religious beliefs we respect your beliefs. I know I have written many strong words about the Christian religion and I make no apology for doing so. That said, we have no desire to rob you of your sincerely-held religious beliefs. That’s why we don’t talk about religious matters with you or around you. If you ask or want to know we will be glad to talk about religion but unless you ask we will never utter a word.
We share so many things in common. A love of nature. A love of travel. A love of good food. Grandkids. You are not young any more and neither are we. Instead of allowing religion to divide us or ruin our relationship, let’s focus on the things that we have in common. I know this might not be easy for you. You worry about our soul. You worry about God judging us. Let your God handle those things and let’s enjoy the shared life we have. Life is short. Let’s lustily enjoy what life remains. The days, hours, and minutes are clicking off so quickly now. Let’s not put off til tomorrow those things we want to do together.
Here’s what Polly and I want from you, what we have always wanted from you. Your love, and as much as lies within you, your support.
I know it is hard for you coming to terms with this “new” life we have chosen. I don’t know of any way to make it easier for you. Both Polly and I are on a journey. Sometimes we journey together and other times we wander off on our own. Our desire is to walk the path of life with honesty and integrity. Wherever the path leads we want to go, even if we end up walking a path less traveled.
With much love,
***My parents are dead. Polly’s parents are still alive. Communication has always been difficult and over the years we took to writing letters to convey our thoughts and feelings. We were told a few years ago, please no more letters, so this letter is what I WOULD write if I was sending Polly’s parents a letter about our deconversion from Christianity.