by Hye Sung
Sometimes I feel alone. Like there’s something wrong with me. Like I’m a bad person, a misfit – not fit for friendship. I feel that way tonight. I feel bad.
I think it’s because I’m remembering.
I grew up in the Unification Church. We believed that the Reverend Sun Myung Moon was the second coming of Christ. We were called Moonies.
My parents dedicated their lives to the cause of Rev. Moon – a man I called True Father. Their lives were directed and commanded by leaders in the church, and their marriage was arranged by Moon. Our church community was tight-knit, and even though my life was mostly normal, my identity as a Moonie was central.
Growing up, every morning started with a full bow to a picture of Moon and his wife. I would read his words. When Moon was in the States, we’d go to his mansion in New York and listen to him speak. To make space for all the members to fit in the room and to be as close to Father as possible, I’d sit seiza-style, legs folded under the thighs. I made several pilgrimages to Korea, the Fatherland. These trips cost thousands of dollars. I believed they were worth it. Someday, my parents would arrange my marriage to another member born into the church. Together, my wife and I would join in the work of building God's kingdom on earth.
At least, that was the plan.
I cut myself off from the church when I was 16.
I let go of friendships I had formed. I refused to bow to the portraits hung up throughout my house. I spoke out against the church, anonymously running a blog exposing the corruption. I was threatened by members of Moon’s family, but I thought that speaking out in this way might make me free. I don't know what I thought freedom would feel like, but I didn't think the church would haunt me the way it does – the way it always has.
This is how religious trauma works. My family’s isolation in service to the church shaped my entire childhood and my identity.
I have friends who eventually left the church, just like I did, and they understand me better than most. Sometimes, when I have a chance to see them, I imagine what it will be like to be with people who know how it feels, and I find myself hoping each time that I might feel OK when I’m with them, that I might feel whole. Sometimes, I just want to process with them what I was never able to process on my own – to make what we went through make sense.
But it doesn’t make sense.
And they don’t want to talk about it.
It makes me feel even more isolated, and in times like these, I remember how frequently we were told, growing up, that the outside world would never understand us, that we needed each other.
It’s true. We need each other. But this is how religious trauma works. It takes away your people. It leaves you alone.
I remember what it was to feel alone even when I was still in the church. Monitoring my behavior, trying not to give anything away, restricting my queerness. But I couldn’t do it, and I felt like a failure. A mistake.
At some point in my sloppy transition out of the church, I fell in love with Jesus. I remember the night I said yes to him. I fell to my knees, captured and intoxicated by grace. I prayed, and I felt heard. I remember how my feeling of aloneness fell away that night. I felt seen. I felt known. I felt loved.
Eventually, though, the aloneness crept back into my life.
I graduated from high school and enrolled in an evangelical Christian college, where I hoped I might find a fuller sense of belonging. I believed that Christianity was a glorious circus of mismatched, complicated people who were swooped up by this same grace that overwhelmed me. I expected a permanent sense of excitement on campus, an inextinguishable joy. Because we knew Jesus.
But my zeal made people uncomfortable. Also, I was still not at peace with my queerness. I did all I could do to shut it out. I had friends lay hands on me. I had a mentor to help me navigate my “same-sex attractions.” I went through a deliverance ministry. It didn't work.
I began to experience intense social anxiety. There were several points in my second semester that I didn’t leave my dorm room for over a week. I ate a spoon or two of Nutella a day, cried, ignored phone calls, and slept.
I was afraid, I was tired, and I was alone.
Sometimes I still feel this way. It happened recently. I’d been sick off and on for several weeks, and I was exhausted, so I slept in, hoping I’d wake up refreshed. Even my bones felt tired. Eventually, I shuffled up to my kitchen to make some food, but as I attempted to make packet ramen, I started crying. I felt so impossible. I felt so overwhelmed. And I returned to that place of feeling like I couldn't make sense in this world. And then my boyfriend held me, as I broke down while boiling water, as I shook and struggled to breathe. He told me he loved me, that he was proud of me. And I felt less alone. I felt at home.
Do you ever feel this way? Do you ever feel haunted by aloneness?
Because this is what I’m remembering. In those moments of feeling alone, people sometimes show up and embrace me. They tell me that they love me, that they’re proud of me.
One time when I was in the midst of a mental health crisis almost five years ago, I moved to Memphis to start a Christian intentional community, and almost immediately, it fell apart. I fell apart. And my two friends, who hadn't spent more than 24 hours with me, held me, kissed my head, and prayed all day long as I sobbed. I was consumed by this love. I felt like I was waking up. I felt less alone.
When friends show up in those moments and share my aloneness, I can’t help but see God. I remember how it feels to be made for another world, to feel the Way of Christ pushing me forward and carrying me through.
For years, I've tried to edit myself to fit a spiritual community. To make sense somewhere. But these spaces mostly don’t have room for me, and they’re largely unwilling to change. Feeling alone has helped me to sense where I don’t belong. There are so many places where I don’t feel welcome, and it’s hard. But I know that God is pushing me forward, urging me on, as I seek my people – yielded to the movement of God's love, willing to share their aloneness with one another.
God kisses every part of who we are, bringing us together, and we will join God in building her kingdom on earth – a kingdom where people are seen, where people are valued and treasured, where a people seeking might finally find.
Where we are no longer alone.