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You didn’t fail me. An open letter to my former youth pastor.

by Michaela Miller

In an old apartment waiting for the walls to move

Praying that someone, hoping that no one intrudes

Living like an actor, feeling like a poet bruised

But no man is an island”

I was fifteen years old sitting in the studio apartment I shared with my mother. I slept on the couch or on the floor, often on top of my biology notes or Algebra textbook. Alone, I studied with the sound of a sermon on my headphones just to feel like somebody was talking to me. I didn’t see much of my mom. When I did, she was usually drunk or well on the way.

I spent as much time outside of that place as I could, often walking around the city with my friends. I was a Christian by necessity. Jesus helped me feel like life had a purpose, like the nihilistic conclusions I have always been aware I hold to could be brushed off. Yahweh was someone to talk to. Most of us don’t realize how desperate we are for someone to listen until there is nobody. When I was a Christian, I needed only think a thought toward God and I wasn’t alone.

Once a week, I was afforded a momentary release from the incessant feelings of loneliness. Wednesday night youth services were an oasis for me. You would pick me up from competitive speech practice on your way home from work and drive me to the church. There, I consumed the only evening meal I was guaranteed during the week and got to be around other people while I did homework.

I would listen to the worship team practice while my friends began to arrive. Eventually, putting away my books, I would engage in conversation with them and then the service would start. The music would be loud and powerful, I would fall to my knees and weep. I attributed this to the presence of God in the moment, but looking back, I was so stressed and psychologically destabilized that even the slightest tug on my emotions reduced me to sobs.

I still remember the first time you prayed with me. It seared into my mind, I wore my “got music?” t-shirt and light-wash jeans that had holes in the legs. I was on my knees and I can still feel your hands on my shoulders - I was so deprived of touch that even if the room had been silent and no words had been spoken, I still would have wept. I expect that moment has blurred in your mind as life and responsibilities quickly washed it away.

After the service, you would drive me back to that run down apartment complex and I would often become disappointed at the discovery that my mom wasn’t home and I would be spending another night alone. And I would. I was alone with nobody to talk to and nobody to share my day with.

When you found out that I left the faith that you helped me learn, I wonder what went through your mind. When I saw you again after nearly a decade, you told me you were sorry that you failed me. I try to see it through your eyes. Do you genuinely believe that you failed to be a role model and that contributes to the reason my eternal soul will suffer away from your Savior? Do you really take that onto your shoulders?

Hear me. You didn’t fail me. Nothing could be further from the truth. You were the only one who was talking to me when I was eighteen about how much I hated my life. When I couldn’t stand to wake up each day, you were there and you encouraged me that God had a plan for my life. You reminded me that I wasn’t alone. Even now, you are as loyal a friend as a twenty-five year old atheist could ask for.

You didn’t fail me.

Losing my faith was incredibly difficult and I began to experience that same loneliness I felt when I was fifteen crying while studying for a biology exam. Many Christians in my life insisted that I would come back, they told me I was making a mistake. When I saw you a few hours before catching my flight home, however, you gave me the most genuine response of them all - you looked at me with tears in your eyes and said you were sorry.

Don’t ever be sorry. The good in you that you attribute to your God is just that - the good in you. I hope you don’t really believe you failed me. Allow me to take that burden off your shoulders and place it upon mine, it is weightless to me and far too heavy for you. Thank you for everything.

With love and kindness,

- Michaela Miller


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