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EPISODE 82: Deconstructing and Reconstructing Faith
Former skeptic Anna Gray Smith questioned her childhood faith and sought other avenues of belief to find identity, meaning, and truth. Her search led her back to a more robust, grounded faith in God.
- Anna Gray Smith's Instagram: @annagraysmithphoto
- Moral Tea Podcast: Spilling the moral tea on culture, taboo topics, and gray areas. A podcast exposing the artificial sweeteners of the world by multi-gen duo Renee Leonard Kennedy and Anna Gray Smith.
- Moral Tea Podcast Instagram: @moralteapodcast
- How Shall We Then Live by Francis Schaeffer
Hello and thanks for joining in. I'm Jana Harmon, and you're listening to Side B Stories, where we see how skeptics flip the record of their lives. Each podcast, we listen to someone who has once been an atheist or skeptic but who became a Christian against all odds. You can hear more of these stories at our Side B Stories website at sidebstories.com. We also welcome your comments on these stories on our Facebook page and through our email at [email protected].
As a reminder, our guests not only tell their stories of moving from disbelief to belief in God and Christianity, but at the end of each episode, they give advice to curious skeptics on how they can pursue the truth and reality of God. They also give advice to Christians on how best to engage with those who don't believe. I hope you're listening in to the end to hear them speak from their wisdom and experience as someone who has, again, once been a skeptic and now a believer. We have so much to learn from them.
Deconstruction of Christian faith is something we hear more of these days, especially from former prominent Christian artists and musicians. They seem to leave Christianity behind and find freedom in what they've come to believe as religious constraints and untruths. They embrace a new kind of life apart from God, towards what they believe are in many cases more culturally relevant ways of thinking and living. Deconstruction can lead to crumbling foundations of faith, but it can also lead towards an exploration towards truth. If truth doesn't fear questioning, it can allow for an honest search to discover what exactly is and isn't true, what exactly is and isn't worthy of belief. If someone is a genuine truth seeker, it can lead them back to the faith they once rejected. It can lead back to the One Who is truth, to God Himself. Deconstruction of faith can and sometimes does lead to a faith built on a firmer foundation than once thought possible.
In today's story, former skeptic Anna Gray Smith took the long road of deconstructing her childhood and adolescent faith and searching for truth outside of Christianity, but ultimately finding and reconstructing a more solid rock in God upon which to stand. I hope you'll come and hear her story.
Welcome to Side B Stories, Anna Gray. It’s so great to have you with me today.
Thank you so much! It is an honor to be here, and especially after our brief encounter at NRB back in May.
Yes, yes! For those who don't know, NRB is the National Religious Broadcasters Conference, or Convention, and Anna Gray and I met there. So I am so curious about your story. Again, we met briefly there at the convention, and you told me a little bit about it, but I am so excited to get into the fullness of your story today. As we're getting started, why don't you just tell us a little bit about who you are right now, so we get a glimpse of who you are at the current moment before we back into your story.
Sure. So my name is Anna Gray Smith. I go by A.G. or Anna Grayville. I'm a photographer. I’m based out of Greensboro, North Carolina, and I’m also co-host of Moral Tea podcast. And I'm a creative by nature. I feel like I live and breathe anything artistic, anything creative. So my brain is always powered on, always seeking beauty, always trying to find joy and beautiful things even in the mundane, even in the ugly. So that's me in a nutshell.
Oh, I love that perspective! I think that many of us can really benefit from having a little glimpse of being able to find beauty and joy wherever we look, no matter where. What is the Moral Tea podcast? I’m curious about that.
Yes. So Moral Tea podcast is geared towards tackling taboo topics, gray areas of culture and society, things you might not necessarily even ask your mother, but my co-host, Renee Leonard Kennedy, and I, we tackle those topics from a multi-generational perspective. I'm a twenty something, she’s a sixty something, so we come back and talk about these different issues of the world from our two different perspectives, which we share, but from two completely different generations.
Wow! That’s fascinating. And we will put the name of your podcast and a link to your podcast in our episode notes. So thanks for bringing that to our attention.
Yeah. Thank you.
Yeah, no. So, Anna Gray, let's start back at the beginning of your story of who you are, how your life and your perspectives got started. Tell us where you were born, the kind of family in which you were raised, your culture, your surroundings. Were there glimpses of religion or God? Did that dot your landscape at all?
Yes. I was born and raised in a very small town in North Carolina, Thomasville. It used to be known for furniture. But we were a very tiny town, like one coffee shop. You go into a grocery store, post office, you're going to see probably ten people you know at some point. Everybody knows each other. I was born into a Christian family. My dad was actually a pastor for about six, seven years, so I was a PK for a period of time, up until I was thirteen years old. My dad had some gaps in between pastoral ministry, so pastored for a few years, switched churches, took a break, and then pastored for a few more years. So I was born basically being taught the principles of Christianity. I knew who God was, and I understood and had these questions for eternity, heaven, hell, and I became a believer when I was five. But the whole idea of working out your salvation, I think, was more a progress as I grew. But my parents and my church were an influence on me as a child. And I would say I always had a deep faith in the idea that God existed, and I think especially being surrounded by mostly Christian families. I was home schooled as well, so I was the… I don't want to say stereotype of a PK and home-school kid, but I was surrounded mostly by Christianity, and even in schooling, that was very much the basis of everything I was taught.
As a preacher’s kid, a PK, sometimes… well, it's not the easiest thing to be the daughter or the son of a pastor. And I know that there's a certain amount of pressure that's put upon you to believe or to behave in a certain way, but it sounds like, early on, that you embraced that role, you embraced the belief of your family. Were there any reservations or doubts or difficulties along that road, in childhood at least?
I would say yes at different times, and I remember it terrified me, too, because I remember when I was ten years old, I would always get so in my head. I lived in my head a lot of the time, and I remember I'd go to bed at night, and I'd wrestle with this deep anxiety. And I remember I had this thought process of, “Is God actually real?” because it’s like my soul wanted to believe it and I had grown up knowing that, but I always had that doubt of, “What if everything I've known to be true is not true?” And it would start to almost panic me, because I had, especially as a kid, a really, really deep fear of death. I was very much a hypochondriac, dealt with a lot of stuff with my inner world, as I call it, a lot of really deeply rooted anxiety. And so it wasn't that I was shredding myself in a way of, “Oh, I want to go my own way,” but even as a young child, like I said, ten years old, I would have these doubts, like I wanted to believe and know it was all true, but I just had these hesitations of, “What if it’s not true at all?
And what did you do with those doubts? Did you keep them to yourself or did you try to talk with your parents or anyone else about these thoughts that you were having?
No. At that time, honestly, I was terrified. And I remember, even in my head, I would brainstorm, “Okay, how do I ask this to my mom?” or, “How do I ask this to someone? How do I tell someone?” I felt like it almost had to be this like, coming out kind of moment. Because I was terrified. I think because I had been raised believing this, that if I even hinted to anybody that I had doubts, that…. It wasn’t a fear of, “Oh, what if I’m punished and in trouble,” but almost this fear of, “What if I’m told I’m going to hell or something or that I am not a believer,” because my worst fear is, “What if I'm not actually saved?” And so no. I kept all of it in my head for the next, my gosh, almost decade, if I'm being honest, decade to eleven years. I kept absolutely all of it in my head.
So as you were becoming a teenager, I guess, and that's a time when we're either really embracing or questioning what our beliefs are, authority, what the authorities are saying, what we're thinking, but it sounds as if you still found it wasn't safe, I guess, in a way, to come forward and express doubts. How did that work its way out from, say ten, thirteen on, you said the next decade? What did that look like for you? Were you kind of crumbling inside because of doubt? Or were you dismissing it and just continuing forward to do the Christian thing? How did that look?
Yeah. It really was a blend of the two, because it was like, deep inside, when I would go through all these different scenarios in my head, almost like debating with myself the idea of salvation, Christianity, the teaching of the Bible versus the philosophies of the world. I loved philosophy as a teenager, too, like philosophy, all sorts of things that really took your mind to different places, if that makes sense. But I would say that I had an innate faith like that mustard seed, if that makes sense, but there was so much doubt that I did crumble inside. And it's almost like in hindsight, when I came out of that and a lot of stuff I wrestled with. I started with my body image, identity, not so much in what we see in today's culture of identity, but for me, it was I wanted to be something. I didn't want to be seen, when I was 12 and 13. I was just a PK and a goody two shoes. I wanted to have this freedom and autonomy. I really wanted to know what I believed and why. And I wanted to be different from everybody else. I cringed at the idea of having to blend, and I think that, in my search for even identity and for truth, I did crumble a lot inside, mentally with things I dealt with, the anxiety. I struggled with a lot of issues with eating as a teenager and wrestled with starving myself a bit at times. So yeah, it's like it came out in different ways that, at the time, I thought was maybe rooted in something else, when really, I think, my search for identity and finding it in all these different places, which resulted in more emptiness.
And I think inside it was almost a slow deconstructive phase. Not that I was looking to get out of Christianity. Because, like I said, it's like I wanted to believe it was all true. I just didn't. There were times I truly just didn't. And I'm like, “How do I tell anybody this?” because again, it's not that I necessarily would have had this hard core, being damned to hell or something judgment, but I was really afraid of that. I really was afraid that, “What if it's exposed? What if I’m not actually a believer because I have these questions?” And so I kept it all inside, and truthfully, the more I stuffed stuff down, it ends up coming out in really terrible ways, which I think is a lot of my struggles as a teenager. That was a result of keeping it all inside and not being honest or feeling really safe to basically tell someone what it's like to be me and to seek wisdom in that area.
Yeah. Adolescence is just such a challenging time, isn’t it? For anyone. But yet these internal struggles and anxieties can really cause you to question your foundations and can cause you to question yourself. And it sounds like, again, you were reading some philosophy, which is giving, perhaps, if it's a secular philosophy, is giving you another perspective on reality. Were those thinkers or writers that you were reading, were they pulling you away from the idea that there was a real God? Or did they make it seem as if religion was something that was man made? What were you reading that was also probably feeding into your pulling away?
I would say it was a blend of things, because, at this time—this is going to sound really weird at first. I was vegan. I was highly into yoga practice and fell in that when I was about age 17. And also reading philosophy. And also shredding articles on atheism, Gnosticism, and then on top, because the philosophy was just for school, actually, but I was more so compelled by these thinkers who questioned what they had always been told. And on top of reading about reading the philosophy, I would watch these documentaries, and it really was a curiosity at first, because there was a lot that I resonated with. I think maybe a lot of their deep depression and, like, you know, Plato's cave. Allegory was really interesting to me. But again even when I was really immersed in practices such as yoga, which I told myself, “Okay, yoga is even philosophy.” But I would always sit in these classes that, when I look back, really had some rather… I don’t want to say brainwashing. That’s a bit extreme. But deconstructive practices and things that I would combat, so I’d think, in my head, “Okay, if I just implement God even in my questioning phase, then that eradicates the fact that maybe this isn't so good for me.” So I think yoga and being around such a diverse culture.
And then, on top of that, I was… Like I said, I’m a creative by nature. And I was in the whole TV/film acting realm at that time, too. So I had just signed with an agent, which people think, “Oh, that’s great! That’s a stepping stone to making it as creative.” But really being around that culture, I think, and a lot of the ways of thinking and just influence, I so highly wanted to feel beautiful, wonderful, capable, lovable, all these things, again searching for identity, while still questioning my core values and beliefs and who I actually am as a person which interestingly all of those lead to almost nihilism, emptiness at the end of it, so it was really a blend of things that I resorted to. It's not like I was consciously even thinking, “Oh, I'm going to use this in place of God.” It was more so the search, and I've always been so curious.
So you had a lot of different influences in your life, it sounds like, and again, it sounds like you were open in a sense, searching, wanting acceptance, wanting an identity that’s meaningful, Did you realize that these philosophies and the things that you were dabbling in, that they may have been satisfying for the moment or meeting some kind of need or felt need or curiosity, satisfying a curiosity. Did you know at the time that they led to a sense of nihilism or emptiness? Or were you just participating, trying to experience things fully, trying to find your place, trying to figure out where you belong, and you didn't realize at the time where they led.
That was exactly it. Because I think a lot of people—and I was literally that person. I was thinking, “Oh, this is life giving, this is good,” and for me, it was the people, too, because the people in this yoga community were so crunchy and open. And even most of them not believers. And I’d still identify as a believer to them, even though I had doubts, but they were even accepting of me, and whereas I felt, in so many places in my life, kind of crumbs and nothingness, interestingly enough, that nothing is always the common denominator, I felt so loved and seen. I craved that so badly, just to be seen for who I was, to be able to express myself. And so I didn't know at the time. I truly thought I was doing things to better myself. I thought, “Wow! I'm being open minded. I’m experiencing things.” I was building a life of my own that some people were questioning of, but I thought it was totally fine. Because I thought, “Well, it's not like it’s a cultish practice or something. I’m not rejecting my faith.” I felt they were enhancing it at that point.
Just a bit of an addition to what you were evidently not getting in church. I presume… probably looking back, your view of identity and how you find that in Christ was probably very different than what you were experiencing as an adolescent. I’m presuming that you weren’t getting those needs met in terms of, I guess, who you are in Christ and being fully loved and valued and purposed and all of those things back as a teenager, because you were obviously looking it somewhere else. Is that the case?
One hundred percent, absolutely! And again it's one of those things that, at the time I wasn't consciously thinking, but when I re-read all my journal entries, because that was where I could be the most raw, again still in my head, but getting it out on paper. I would just write and write and write and write. And when I look back, I see it's like a different person writing it, because I did. I didn't feel like…. I was at the top of the class. I wanted to be different because I thought, “Oh, the stupidity girls resort to for boys and clothes and boy bands.” But I felt unseen even in friend groups. And I had friends. I wasn’t an outcast or a loner, but I felt lonely in my thought process, if that makes sense. It was this constant sinking feeling of, “Nobody really sees me, though. Nobody really knows me. I don't feel comfortable sharing the guts of my soul to anybody.” And there was a lot of pressure I did feel, yeah, as an adolescent. And there was a period of time in my life where there were more rules I had to abide by and a lot of even influence within Christian circles, where I felt like I couldn't fully express myself and had to step that down, whereas I wanted, I craved freedom so badly. So, again, it's something I look back on more so in hindsight, but at that time, it was more like these feelings I couldn’t identify or process? I didn’t know how to talk about them.
So as you were continuing to search and explore, it sounds like you moved more away from your church, religious heritage and more towards other things. Did you leave faith behind altogether at some point? I mean, what did that look like?
So I wouldn't say I left it altogether, because this whole time, I would have just the tiniest little speck that, “Okay, this also has to be real,” but there was a period of time where I didn't go to church. I thought, “Well, I feel more known by this community of people,” even though, keep in mind I really wasn't allowing myself to be opened up. I wasn’t allowing myself to open up, even in church, so a lot of it, I look back on, and it was kind of my own fault, because they were wonderful people, but I refused to allow myself to be cracked open, like the good, the bad, and the ugly with what I was struggling with. And so, while I didn't leave my faith behind altogether, I would say mentally it was like half of my brain…. It was this battle of light and dark, if that makes sense. Not that questioning things or even skepticism...I’m not saying that’s inherently bad or to be ridiculed, but it's really where that can lead you to. And when you’re not getting it one place, you will search and try to find it in anything and everything.
So I went to more yoga classes than anything church oriented for a while. I put more makeup on my face, dyed my hair, pierced my skin, whatever, just to try and feel better, to create this… it really was an illusion when I look back, because I was creating this to feel like myself and express myself, when really, the more I was plastering on, the more things I was doing, was when I was the most depressed, the most questioning, the most skeptical, so it really was just doubts.
Like, “What would it look like if I left all of this behind and just lived on my own, because it looks like it's working for other people. These people seem to be happy. They seem to still have joy.” You know, Reiki practice, yoga, et cetera. A lot of these things that I was like paralleling to even practices of Christianity. I’m like, “Well, these are the kind of one and the same, and they seem to be working,” at least from what I saw at that point, “for other people.” So that was more so where my mind was at.
So it sounds as if almost… the word deconstruction comes to mind. You hear that often today-
… where someone's faith is being deconstructed. The question, though, is, if you're deconstructing your faith, what are you constructing your life on? And can you even deconstruct to a firmer place of foundation and meaning and purpose and truth and value, all of those things. So as you were deconstructing, you said you weren't finding necessarily more joy, even though you observed it in some people around you, that it was bringing you to a point of greater depression. So walk us through that. And what is it that helped you turn from your search? Or what did you find in your search that made you move back towards God in perhaps a different way than you had known before?
I would say trials happening in my life, hardship, and seeing how all of these other things do not work, and that's the thing. These very people who I looked that and thought, “Oh, they've got it all together. They’re joyful.” Suddenly, yoga wasn't working out for them when they're going through a divorce, when they're going through surgery, when they're going through just life that happens. And these terrible things. Addiction. And again, I'm not saying, “Oh, every single practice of yoga is inherently evil.” I no longer abide by the philosophy, nor do I practice it. But, when I really looked at that and the idea, like you were saying, of the foundation, how unstable it was, that's when I began to question things, when it started to happen in my own life.
And I remember…. I would say a huge turning point for me was actually a dream, which I don’t want to sound too woo woo saying that. But I do believe God can speak through dreams, and I had a dream actually so vivid that I was taking a shower and washing my hair, clumps of my hair were coming out, and my body… I was struggling with difficulties with eating at that time and body image. I dreamed that I was this disgusting skeletal… had basically come to the end of myself, and I was crying, and in the dream, I remember it was so vivid, that my hair was falling out, and in the dream, it was this moment where I remember looking up, and it was this idea of, “I feel like I've been given over to the desires of my flesh, and this is what life looks like without God in it, and this is what all this comes to, and everything, the hardcore veganism and diet, where it can never be more perfect, the yoga, where supposedly you're reaching these like new heights, but whereas with Christianity you are made whole by God, and the Holy Spirit satiates you, you can never get enough of these other things. There's always something to one up. There’s some other path to go down to reach new celestial heights. It’s all about the ego at the end of the day.
And interestingly, the more you build on your own self, if that makes sense, and it being only about you, like in yoga, and in a lot of the mantras they would have. Ultimately the things that are supposedly life giving, I found, were shredding me down. So it was that dream that was the starting point of just me rethinking a lot of things and the things I’d been doing, and just the rigidity of my life. But also prayer, because, to the skeptic, to the agnostic, prayer essentially is saying, “I have no scientific answer anymore, nothing I can humanly do, and I'm so desperate I'm calling out to a higher, more divine being that I need to do something on my behalf.” And obviously, to believers, we're communicating directly with God. But from that standpoint in my life, I was desperate to know that God was real, because I felt like I was being fake, even going to church, even engaging with believers on a lot of different topics, and I thought, “Wow! How can I quote scripture and things like that when I’m not fully sure it’s real?” But God would answer my prayer. It was as if He would answer speaking through people. I’m not saying it was the audible voice of God coming through, but down to these freakish specific things I would pray, and I think because I had ears to hear and I was allowing my heart to even be curious, because I was curious in an aspect of, “What if there's another way besides biblical truth?”
But then I started to shift back to that point of, “Well, what if everything I've ever believed actually is true?” And so prayer was largely, in so many crazy, crazy examples of that, but again curiosity, prayer, seeing where all of this led for other people, that it wasn't sustainable long term.
So yes. It was combination of things, then. You were able to see that the avenues you were pursuing didn't necessarily bring the life and light that you once thought that they did, what you saw in others and even for yourself, but yet God seemed to be showing up in these supernatural ways, whether through dreams or answered prayer. And it sounds like you were getting a sense that maybe He is real. There's a…. How can I say this? There's, for me, a clarification between God being real and the tenets of Christianity being true. They work together to demonstrate Who He is, along with the beliefs that we believe about God. So there's this little bit of difference there. So you were getting a sense that God was real, because personally, subjectively, supernaturally, He was showing up in these unusual ways.
So I would imagine in some ways those were drawing you back to Him, that maybe He is the source of life. You sound also like an inquisitive person who wants to be intellectually honest with yourself-
… and that you are having these underlying doubts and questions. Were those experiences quelling the doubts? Or were you needing to pursue a more intellectual, satisfying answer as to, “Yes, I believe He’s real, but is it true?” You know? In a sense, “Is it worthy of hanging onto? Or is it just my subjective experience?”
Exactly. Yes. It was both for me actually. And that is why I’m a huge advocate that, in today’s day and age, it is so important. We need to cling to the Holy Spirit but also God the Father. And you can't neglect one piece of scripture without the other one. The theology is just as important as, I think, the personal experience. So for me, it started as these personal divine encounters that were almost hard to describe to other people. For example, I would just be honest, and I would think with prayer, like, “Okay, it feels like I'm praying to air,” but I remember praying in my car when I was 17 or 18 and praying, “Okay, God. Just show me You’re real. Just show me some way that You’re real.” And for me, I had this idea of what it would look like. And the same day I prayed that in my car, kid you not, I made myself go to church that day. I’m like, “Okay, I’m just going to sit down.” And the sermon was literally on the wonder of God, how it doesn’t always seem logical sometimes. It was on Thomas and how he wanted to believe, but he needed to see the holes in His hands and in His feet to know. And I remember, I never would even open up, and I actually texted my pastor. I said, “Thank you for sharing that because that was…” It felt like he suddenly looked into my psyche and wrote out this sermon, targeting exactly my skepticism, exactly how I felt, and there are many other subjective experiences I had, such as that. It spoke directly to me.
But on top of that, yes, I still, even despite knowing, “Okay, the spiritual world absolutely exists.” And I mean, that's like one tiny, tiny example, but on top of that, I wanted to know that biblical truth was truth. But I remember I started to parallel then the Bible and even the resources I was using with exactly how I would shred these articles on atheism and reading about philosophy, kind of like to parallel them, and when I actually started to understand the context of scripture, because I would listening to these different Bible apps, so it wasn't necessarily just topical, but it'll go through these different books, and it was teaching the theology, sometimes even the Hebrew and the actual roots of it, versus just the English translation, which can sound very, very mystical to people, I think, who are questioning it. It did to me. Reading Genesis in the English translation, that was very hard for me to process. I mean, it sounds like a fairy tale. This sounds like the beginning of the Quran. I’d think, “These religious views are insane. This is gonna sound like sheer insanity.” But when I actually began to understand and grasp what things meant, the roots of them, not at all some Bible scholar, but again, I approached, I think, Bible and Christianity with the same curiosity and really going deeper than just surface level, just as I did with philosophy and atheism, things of that nature, which, when I begin to parallel them, I started to see, “Wow! This really is the more sufficient basis.”
And when I like would shred in my mind and have these mental debates of what could be true, but what if this side is true? What I thought about it, I thought, “Okay, but even if there was the whole cosmos explosion, I'm like, “Where did the original thing come from? There had to be something. There can't just be nothing, and there's something floating, and we just explode into existence.”
And that's when I think my perspective began to radically shift, and it wasn't just an overnight thing. I would have some of those, where it was like, “Oh, clarity.” But the whole idea of working out your salvation, if that makes sense, I think is what I experienced over time.
So then you began to find more foundation, I guess, underneath the truth of what you were believing to be real. I appreciate your bringing forward that you actually actively took time to compare philosophies, worldview stories, you know, religion versus atheism or whatnot. Because I think that can be a very fruitful endeavor, just by comparing, because you're not just presuming one perspective is right and the other is wrong. You’re actually looking, comparing, contrasting, seeing what has the better explanation for reality.
So it sounds like, over time, that you became more convinced that God was real and that Christianity was true and that the Bible is reliable text and worthy of belief. So did that then bring you to more fully … not only understanding of who God is, but who you are? Because who you are was the big question, and it haunts all of us from adolescence on, or even preadolescence. We’re wondering who we are, where do we fit, what is our purpose, all of the things that we all grasp for, and you’ve been very transparent about that. As you are pulling these pieces together, were you able to find out not only the theological answers, so who God is and what the Bible says, but also who you are in the view of God existing and Who He is, and that He’s all loving and all of those things that you find in Scripture. Were you embracing those in a personal way?
Absolutely. And again, I think, for some people, it is an overnight miraculous occurrence. They fall on their knees; their life's forever changed. It was a process for me, as the years passed and as I pressed into community study, studying scripture, prayer… still wrestling with some questions, but I became more open with sharing about myself, too, and so through that, over time, absolutely. All the chains and feeling imprisoned by my insane disordered eating habits, body image, just the facade, the yoga, everything I was looking to, but experiencing again God’s kindness and compassion and really clinging to Him through that and realizing, “Whoa. I'm not abandoned.” And whereas these other things had abandoned me, they weren't a sufficient base. As Francis Schaeffer said. He has this book, How Shall We Then Live? which was also greatly influential. He compares these worldviews to this fragile Roman bridge. It’s sustainable for a period of time, for getting across, but if a modern day semi were to cross it, it would completely crush it because it's not a sufficient basis.
And so for me the freedom and sense of self, as you were asking, that came over time. It was a lot. A lot of layers to work through. But ultimately, it was 100% what I call divine God healing, because it was as if my brain was rewired. I remember someone actually praying for the chemical makeup of my brain during a breaking point, and there was a time where I truly thought, “I'm not getting out of this. I'm going to be just given over to everything that I'm struggling with,” and this deep sense of identity, things you wrestle with and how that comes out in such ugly ways. But to say that now I'm dancing in freedom is truly an understatement. It's not that life is perfect, but I do not deal with constantly searching, constantly longing, which is what all of these other worldviews and philosophies do. They constantly make you question more and more. Which, questioning’s not bad, but if you're forever questioning and you're never finding satisfaction? And the Holy Spirit satisfies. God satiates.
And so it's funny because I'm not vegan anymore. I don't practice yoga. I love to stretch, but I don't practice the mindset stuff anymore, nor do I feel a need to turn to one thing, if that makes sense, to find my satisfaction. Also I don't deal with all of the terrible eating habits or lack thereof that I did as a teenager, as time passed by, I realized, “Wow! All these things I would do more and more or more of, or crave more and more of, and it gave me nothing at the end of the day. My reality inside was still the same. You can cover it up. You can facade. You can put on the sunglasses, the wig, the mask. The beautiful facade. But inside, if you’re cracking, that’s sometimes the best place to be, because it is so uncomfortable and so vulnerable.
But when I started opening up to other people, which I did, that was another turning point for me, too, which I should have mentioned when you asked a few questions back. But a friend looked at me and actually said, “I think you're depressed,” and that was the first time I felt like someone saw me. And it was being able to be honest about who I was. And my pastor, he has this great saying. He says, “When you're praying, tell God what it's like to be you,” I mean a lot of my struggles, and so that’s my really long, drawn-out answer for you, to say I did find a sense of self and of identity, and it's funny because it's like I don't feel this crave to do more and be more, which is what I constantly felt as a teenager, in my earlier twenties.
I feel deeply loved. I feel known. I feel confident in my beliefs. I constantly experience God in these crazy ways, where I both experience God on personal level, and it's like it re-routes, and wow! Everything I believe is true, if that makes sense.
Yeah. Everything comes together. And I think that really is what makes Christianity just this beautiful holistic story, that all of life… He is the source of life, and all of life can be found in Him. And everything that we're looking for, truth and love and grace. All of those things that we crave, acceptance and belonging, they’re all found in Him. And it sounds like you have deconstructed, but you reconstructed-
… on a very firm foundation. It sounds like you have come to a very different place in your life, a place of wholeness and healing. And also, more than that, is that you are life giving, through your podcast or whatever. It sounds like you're just experiencing life in joy and beauty and want to extend that to others, help others to see what you now have, which is amazing! Amazing!
I think something I would like for people to know is curiosity is not inherently bad. Looking for evidence that leads to truth is not inherently bad. I think it's when we have preconceived notions, if that makes sense. Even if people were in a place like I was of comparing these different religions and worldviews and daring to step outside of that. And it’s not that I'm necessarily encouraging Christians to do that, but I do believe for believers it’s important to know what you believe and why. Because, on the flip side, you can grow up going to church, saying the things, staying in the Word, as in reading it, but not living it. Having it as a checkbox mentality, which, if you look at other religions of the world, like even Islam, these different religions of the world that have this the same mentality, it can be easy to get caught up in that, too. So, stay curious, but know what you believe and why, even within Christian beliefs. It’s important. And that's where I think the theological aspect is just as important as the personal experience.
Yeah. That’s a great word for Christians and even for the church, when I think and reflect on your story, how, early on, you didn’t feel like church was a safe place to express doubts and questions, that it was terrifying in some regard, but yet later in your story, you speak to a comfort level of being transparent and open and honest. And I would imagine, from that perspective, you would have a word for us as Christians or even the church, in terms of being a place not only to know what we believe and why we believe it, but also be a place where doubts can be freely expressed. I guess would you advise something along those lines?
Absolutely! I think it's one thing if people are getting together, expressing their doubts, and that feeds off of it, but for people who are truly seeking truth, honestly, that's why agnostic people are some of my favorite to talk to. People who are actually spiritually seeking, because their questions are so profound. And I think that, even as believers, so many of us wrestle with doubts at different times, even the strongest among us, even those in ministry, and again, that's not to say that somehow they are rejecting their faith. But I think we're all human. We have very human questions. We don't have the mind of God to know every tiny little detail. So I would say that, for the church. Allowing the room for that. And I think even encouraging people among the church. Not just assigning it to those on pastoral ministry, because a pastor cannot humanly carry all that either. But the church acting as the church, being able to meet with one another, being able to be vulnerable, to be even cracked open a little bit, even when it’s uncomfortable, and people being able to be a safe place, share their story and truth with maybe skeptics or even people on the church who are skeptical or just wrestling with doubt.
So I think it goes two ways. Being open to letting people into your life and even your doubt and dropping the facade that you're having those doubts, and then, for other people, being a safe place, not just shoving it down your throat with, “Okay, well let me just regurgitate everything,” but actually listening. Really listening. Who knows? Maybe someone else would have some of the same questions, too, but I think processing that and having a conversation, versus just going at it as a debate, if that makes sense.
So I would definitely encourage it. And I want other people to be able to feel like they can open up about the same things, and that all the questions in their head, when you expose things to light, which also is freedom. It’s sometimes the best place to start, by getting it out in the open and allowing others into that.
Yeah. That’s wisdom that comes from, I think, a lot of experience, prayer, and just thinking and living and investigation, all of those things. And I just so appreciate that. For those, Anna Gray, who are perhaps deconstructing their faith. They’re questioning. They’ve been taught certain things. They don't see it. They don't see it lived out. They don't have a safe place to look. Or just the skeptic or the agnostic who has had no experience of church or God. How would you recommend them to move forward towards seeking and finding that which you have found?
Yeah. So I would… I pray for curiosity to be stirred in people's hearts all the time, people who I know are questioning, doubting. If we're speaking about believers specifically who are having these doubts, or maybe anyone in general, I would ask a question that I asked myself, which is, “What if there's another way?” And I would also start to look at choices you're making, why you're wired up the way you are, and what are you actually seeking from life?
Where do you think you're going to go after you die? Death is not something people like to think about. We like to pretend that somehow we're going to be superhuman and live forever. And we live in a world that kind of embraces, “Live in the now,” be present, instant gratification, but, honestly, thinking about death and those deeper questions, which a lot of people who are in that mindset I think already do. But I think thinking about death and then also creation is so interesting. And I would encourage that.
And I would also encourage, I think most of all, for those who are curious about God or even have just that mustard seed to reach out to him and call on the name of Jesus and see what happens. I’m not saying to go at Bible roulette, but truly ask Him. Ask Him to reveal Himself if you're curious. Keep an open mind and open eyes, because sometimes He answers precisely how we’re praying, and other times, it is in very mysterious ways. And other times, for me at least, it's in those ways that I have almost no human explanation of, where I think, “Okay. Spirituality and even the miracles of God can defy logic.” God is rational, God has reasoning, but also the miracles, when they start to defy science, so it gives me chills on my arms to even say, because that has constantly proved to me that there’s a spiritual world, that we are not humans just having a brief spiritual experience. We're spiritual beings having a brief human experience. So I would encourage them to call on the name of Jesus honestly. And if they're curious in that realm and see what happens. Pray, reach out to Him. Even if it feels weird or mystical. And compare things. Compare what you're looking at with the scripture.
That's again great advice. I think, if one thing has kind of struck me about your story—there are many things. But one thing that I think is that you’ve brought forward the truth does not fear questioning. And so that it is a good and a positive thing to look outside of yourself, outside of your own worldview, be willing to really search for truth, because as you know, and I do, too, that if you seek after truth you will find it. And that there’s really, when you look more closely at worldviews that don’t bring… that aren’t the fullness of truth that Christianity is, those holes will begin to show, the inadequacies, the emptiness, the lack, whereas when you actually look for truth, you will find it, and you will find Him in the person of Christ.
And so I also appreciate you just encouraging people to call out to Him. Because He is the one Whom our hearts long for, Whom we’re really searching for. He is the source of everything we desire.
So thank you so much, Anna Gray, for telling your beautiful story in such an honest and articulate way. I appreciate your vulnerability in really talking about some very delicate things in your life. But yet, through it all, through coming back, in a sense, to Christ in a more fully strong and foundational way, there’s nothing to fear, is there? Through those revelations, all we can do is say, “Praise God for what He has done in my life. Look and see. And come and see.” So thank you again for coming and for telling your story. It's meant so much to me, and I know it will mean a lot to those who are listening.
Thank you for the opportunity, and thank you for allowing people—you were the exact type of vessel who people need to be able to even share this kind of story with or even ask these questions to. So thank you for allowing the space on your podcast for others to question and seek truth.
Yes. Thank you so much. Thank you again.
Thanks for tuning into Side B Stories to hear Anna Gray Smith’s story. You can find that more about her podcast, Moral Tea, and recommended resources in the episode notes. For questions and feedback about this episode, you can contact us through our email, [email protected]. Also, if you're a skeptic or atheist who would like to connect with a former guest with questions, please again contact us on our website or Facebook page or even our email address, and we’ll get you connected.
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