I grew up in church. I said the right words, followed the dress code, went on retreats, to church camp, and Christian school—but only because it was expected. I didn’t have a logical reason for doing those things, and I didn’t personally care about any of it—I just wanted to please the adults in my life.

I also knew there were other things out there—fun things that I was supposed to avoid because they were sinful. As I got older, I began questioning my beliefs. When I moved out of my parents’ home, I did not set foot in another church for five years.

I began to explore those other things that had fascinated me. I never got into any real trouble with the law or with drinking or drugs, but I did go through some hard times of deep financial stress, personal struggles, and grief. I experienced rock bottom in a variety of ways.

If people asked what I believed, I told them I didn’t know, that I was not religious, or that I was searching. In reality, I was confused.

I watched as people twisted the words of the Bible to suit their agenda. Christians who could not explain why they believed what they insisted was truth irritated me to no end.

I also found myself confused about the teachings of the Bible. What is right and what is wrong, based on the Bible? Why do people believe things their religious culture tells them if those things aren’t in the Bible? How does what was right or wrong in your generation line up to what’s right or wrong in mine?

I no longer knew what I was supposed to believe. The idea of Christianity became so overwhelming that I decided I would have no religion at all.

This isn’t the fun time people assume it will be. All the stress is on you. You can’t put your worries on God if you’re denying He exists. You’re lonely and bored. Your social options include bars and parties and events you don’t really care about. The people you meet don’t care about you, and you can’t trust anyone because you can’t tell who’s trustworthy. The only smart thing is to distrust everyone. You can’t forgive. You can’t even have a deep conversation because you have nothing to believe in.

All those things I’d thought I wanted on the other side weren’t what I thought they would be.

Despite my best efforts, I never successfully stopped believing that God was there. I felt drawn to Him, but I didn’t think He’d want me because I’d done so many things wrong. I’d been a church kid, and now I wasn’t.

And then came a night when I finally gave in and talked to God. I told Him my confusion and my worries. An immense sense of peace filled my spirit, and all my worries went away. I felt Him forgive me. And I felt free.

I realized I had let the things man had done with religion keep me from God. For the first time, I understood that He’s a God of order, not confusion. Not fluff. People create the fluff.

I hadn’t been to church in five years, that night I accepted God for who He is. I couldn’t name the books of the Bible anymore. I’d forgotten all the stories I had learned. I had nothing. And yet, with my surrender, God began to use me, and He continues to use me today.

I’m finding that God is very different from who I thought He was. He’s not afraid of my questions. I’m no longer trying to understand Him from the religious teachings of my past. I’m looking to God for answers. And I’m doing it through His Word.

I’m starting my journey from scratch because anything I said or did before, I didn’t mean. Not because I was lying, but because I didn’t know why. But now I do—I’ve been on the other side, and I know there is nothing there. So I choose God. I hope you will too.