I knew I had reached a new stage in my own recovery when I had a surprising dream. For a long time the process of extricating myself from the hold of fundamentalism had meant guilt and fear. At the same time a very urgent part of me was insisting on breaking free to a more expansive way of living.
In my now-cherished dream, I died and found myself in heaven. Surprised to be there, I said "Wait a minute; I don't believe!" I thought there had been some mistake; I'd left the fold a long time ago, after all. Then I had a gradual sense of God's presence. I felt comfortable and welcome. I realized that he liked me-a lot. He explained that people have long misunderstood the criteria for getting into heaven. It has nothing to do with being good and following rules, he said. And it's not a deal you cut-a salvation formula. "Instead," he said, "You're here because you dared to live." That dream was my first deep realization that I was on the right track. Although I had rejected many of my traditional beliefs and worked on developing a new set of values, and even though I felt more consistent and true to myself, I had had lingering doubts: was it to forge my own approach to life? I had been taught that there was one way-the revealed truth-and to believe otherwise was arrogant and risky. My unconscious conflict between safety and integrity had been resolved by an unspoken agreement that if I chose to live in the way I thought best I would have to take the risk of going to hell.
"God's" message in my dream was very different. It confirmed what I have come to believe-that we are here on earth to live life fully. It helped me respect myself, and stop feeling wrong for doing what felt right. I never returned to religion and I don't believe "God" is judging me. When I consider some kind of life-force, I now believe that she/he/it supports me in being who I am. There are no easy answers and life can get tough at times. Yet despite the ambiguity, we all need to plunge ahead and do it anyway. We can find the courage and discover great joy.
My hope is to convey this message of acceptance and courage to you. If you have left a religion that provided all the answers for you and you now want to take more responsibility for your own life, you too can feel blessed to follow your own path. There can be problems and wounds as a result of religious training, but there are strengths to build upon as well.