This post was more difficult for me to write than I thought it would be. I have recently been reading a journal that my mom wrote for me. She did this for all of her children and started writing in it when she was pregnant and continued to update it throughout our lives. It is incredibly precious and very sweet to hear her thoughts about me, before I was even born. In her writing, she made it very clear that she was intending to bring me up Christian and declaring my life to lived in this manner. Most of my associations with Christianity overlap with my associations with my mother and it has been very difficult for me to separate the two, throughout my journey. Even still, I do not know if necessarily have, or even want to have all of that worked out in my mind. However, I think it is important to note how much of a struggle it has been for me to question things of the church, without it also not translating into questioning or second guessing my mother.
I was raised in a non-denomination Christian church. There was no questioning and for the most part, I enjoyed it. I cannot remember a time where I was not taught about Jesus .
My mother consistently took us to church and encouraged us to be involved, as much as possible. There was never a time when we did not go. I read my bible, learned as much as I could, was soon able to (and still can) rattle off the books of the bible in order, along with a slew of memory verses. I went to children’s bible camp and was a wiz at bible trivia. I did not know any other way of life and I really did not care to. I thought I was doing the right thing. I believed that if I prayed hard enough about anything, it would happen. The main source of my prayers was for my father, who was like a tornado for our family, blowing in and out, creating turbulence sometimes and being peaceful other times. I thought eventually he would come to church consistently with us, and stop being so angry and disruptive to our family.
As I became a teenager, the questions begin to come. When I was younger, church was just another form of school to me, and I loved school. I enjoyed learning and figured if you learn enough and try your best, good things will happen. As I got older, I realized, it did not always work out that way and I realized that I had to find and define what my own relationship would be with God. I became very involved with the youth group and continued to learn more and more, but my difficultly was now applying that in different situations. It did not always make sense to me and I would try struggle with some of these ideas. Why do bad things happen to good people? If some people prayed hard enough for the right thing, why didn’t they get what they wanted? Why was there pain and suffering in the world? Why have some countries been blessed with prosperity and others experience poverty? Why is there a hell and why do people have to go there? Why are gay people going to hell? Why does thinking about all these things give my such crippling anxiety?
Oh, the anxiety and the fear. This another inseparable part of my religious experience. This soon became entrenched in my path and I was soon struggling with full-blown anxiety and experiencing minor panic attacks anytime I questioned. I felt like I was not having enough faith or being a good enough Christian. I should try harder, but trying harder only stressed me out more.
The older I got, the more I questioned. Some things just did not add up or make any sense to me. I saw hypocrisy and crippling judgement from other members of the church. I did not understand how we could talk about God’s love, but turn around and show the opposite of that to others.
The more I learned about myself, the more I found conflicts with what I was being taught at church.I valued questioning, critical thinking and intelligent discourse. Anytime I tried to engage in this, I felt as though my faith was wavering and would get responses like, there are some things we just shouldn’t question about God. I value people and the diverse human experience and I was getting the sense that there was only one valuable human experience and if you were not on that path, you were not welcome and made to feel like an outsider. As I look back, I realize that my liberal, hippy, feminist, yogi mind was in the fetus stage of development. I have no idea where this even came from, because it is pretty much the opposite of how I was raised, but as my own, true identity begin to emerge, the conflicts became greater and greater.
So did the anxiety. I felt so torn inwardly and SCARED.
I was scared of being different. I was fearful of the questions to my faith. I was worried that I would end up in hell. Eventually, I was able to work most of this out over the years, but, most of all, more than anything and probably a fear that I am still dealing with today, is disappointing my mom.
As I became an adult, I realized the conflict was much too large for me, and I stopped attending church. This became a huge source of anxiety for me and I dealt with it in a very post-adolescent, university college student type of manner. I told myself it was all bullshit and I did not believe any of it, and what a bunch of lies it all was, and I could not believe I was such a sheep for so long. God was a made up construct and Christians were just broken, pathetic people looking for a different coping mechanism than their previous life of brokenness.
I do realize now how immature and ignorant this standpoint was and I feel that I have, and am growing a lot from this. Eventually, I realized there is and will always be a very spiritual side of me. I do believe in God, but my approach and discovery is much different from what it once was.
That has led me to the path that I am on today, which is what I will delve a little deeper into, on our post next week, Religious Roots, Part 2…
In love & sisterhood,
Revelation 12: 1 – 4 Then a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant, and she cried out because she was in labor, in pain from giving birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: it was a great fiery red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven royal crowns on his heads.
Motherhood can be a beautiful life changing event, or it can also be down right scary. Choose the right man, family life can be great; choose the wrong man, life is uncertain. I believe my mom fell somewhere in between.
One of the benefits of having forty years of life experience to reflect on is the ability to compare myself today with what my mom was probably going through when she was forty. I know for certain that if I had kids when I was in my late twenties, as she did, I wouldn’t have had a clue as to what I got myself into. When I look back on the way my parents raised my brother, sister and me, I get the suspicion they didn’t have a clue either.
The Catholic faith was always an integral part of who we were as a family. A statue of the Virgin Mary greeted anyone who entered the house; pictures of saints were hung on every wall to protect the family from outside forces and we attended mass every Sunday no matter where we were. God was always part of our lives as children and throughout our teen-age years.
As I started to get older, and my life took over, I started to realize that my mother’s beliefs and traditions were no longer working for what I was experiencing. I couldn’t draw any comfort from the God that I was taught to believe in as a child, while I was going through the birth pangs of adulthood. That’s when I started to understand that my mom’s “God” and belief system were more of a coping mechanism rather than a way to lead a healthy spiritual life.
My mom struggled a lot when she came to this country from Mexico. She married a man, my father, who wasn’t her first and only true love. When she gave birth to three kids, my brother suffered from ADHD (before there was such a thing), my sister had kidney cancer and later developed diabetes and myself, her gay son. I can see why my mom clutched tight to those rosary beads back then and why she continues today.
I love you mom!
Love and sisterhood,