Losing My Religion: The Break-Up

Grete Rachel Howland
3 min readAug 11, 2015

I’ve realized we have to go back to the beginning of my time at seminary for a minute. Though what I learned while studying theology expanded my mind about doctrine in a number of life-changing ways, it was a more personal event that occurred just after I arrived that simultaneously tore down the presumptions of my heart.

Most of us have that one break-up — you know, the one in which your entire life is brought to a standstill when the person you truly believed you were going to spend the rest of your life with decides for you that that will no longer be the case? The one that causes actual physical pain in your chest, and you sincerely wonder if you will ever be happy again? Yeah, you know.

For me, it happened about six weeks into the master’s program for which I had just moved across the state. Though we had only been officially dating for a couple weeks before the move, the young gentleman (I’ll be nice and call him that) and I had been carrying on impassioned friendship (think weekly, multi-hour phone calls and daily texting) for more than six months prior. Also, we knew each other from college, so we didn’t start out as total strangers.

In any case, the connection was so intense — and he and I were so entrenched in the Christian ideal of marriage — that he started out our dating relationship with the words, “I think I might want to marry you.” I was naive, having never actually dated anyone I was in love with, and caught up in the thrill of feeling adored in the way I had always dreamt of and prayed for. He was, literally, God’s gift to me. So, when, a couple months later, he said that we gave it a good shot but it wasn’t working, I was shocked. And, when I demanded a reason why it wasn’t working and he responded with “I’m not physically attracted to you,” I was destroyed.

I could have sworn that God had told me this guy was the one. I could have sworn that God wanted me to be happy, wanted me in love and married. All of my patient, chaste waiting had finally paid off! But the guy ended it. If God was really in control, how in the world could one errant asshole ruin the plan with a single stupid decision?

Everything came into question: my ability to “hear” God; whether or not God “spoke” to me — or anybody — at all; the purpose of relationships in general; whether or not God had a plan; whether or not there was justice of any sort in the world, period. Yes, it got a little dramatic. But that’s how “that one break-up” goes. I hit bottom existentially, and that included spiritually, too.

It was really, really hard. I was miserable to be around, I’m sure, for quite a while. I guess it goes to show the level of privilege and protection I had enjoyed up until that time. But it also shows how tied I was to some version of the prosperity gospel, in which God’s main objective is success and well-being for all of his faithful followers. So, when my unexamined assumption that God grants us our prayers and rewards our obedience was abruptly demolished, I was suddenly no longer able to make any sense of my religion.

In the midst and in the wake of the anguish, I stayed on with the church for a while longer. In some twisted but effective way it remained a sort of comfort. And I moved on, eventually, from that guy.

I am grateful for that horrible experience because of the way it ripped off the ignorant layers of my worldview and grew me up as a human. I don’t know, though, if I’ll ever give in to love quite so fully again.

Originally published at http://www.weird-name.com on August 11, 2015.



Grete Rachel Howland

Reflections on growing up in Evangelical Christianity and finding freedom on the other side of belief.