I grew up in a very Southern Baptist home. Church and God were our top priorities in life and much of our decisions and life choices revolved around this. I taught Sunday school, my parents both volunteered and/or worked in the church, and I eventually found a position as a youth group intern. I even spent a couple years at a large (and profitable) Southern Baptist university…and yet a part of me remain unsettled.
I am a super competitive person (both with myself and secretly with the world around me) so I always found myself pushing to “do better” at being a “good Christian girl.” However, you know what happens when you start “getting better” at something? You notice that others are lacking. “Oooo….they only went to church twice this week….their walk with the Lord is really sliding….” You know what else happens? You start going to drastic (and sometimes unrealistic) measures to be even more extreme. I took the “True Love Waits” pledge like 234,938 times and even vowed “my first kiss will be on my wedding day” and that I wouldn’t “date” but would “court” instead (a la creepy Duggar style). Why? Because I was going to be THE BEST little Southern Baptist girl there ever was. Or…..I would just secretly judge every one I met, measure them on my “how Christian are you?” scale and rank myself accordingly.
Right. So….apparently that’s not the healthiest way to “do church” or “do Christianity” or whatever (duh). And you know what happens to a lot of super-competitive people who spend their whole life trying to be the best? They burn out. They crash. They never want to ________ (insert competition) again. So, after my 18 years at home and then my time at a Christian University, I quit church.
But all that said, I just recapped 20 years of my inner churchiness dialogue into a way more simple and straightforward explanation than it really was… but that was the general snippet. Here is another little snippet – I whole heartedly believe that my views on relationships and sex were insanely f***ed up and took years to recover from….Also….I don’t believe that “God” is a micro-managing puppet master that chooses for tiny little instances to occur in some lives (i.e. “It was God’s will for me to go to this college) and yet is completely okay with the countless horrendous situations that millions of people face daily.
So, was that it? Was I just burned out and needed a break? Well, maybe yes, at first….but that break also gave me some space to think for myself for the first time after being immersed in a very strong religion for 20 years. I took time to read about other religions (as it turns out, there are quite a few non-Christian religions that are oddly similar to the various forms of Christianity). I took yoga and meditation classes. I read works from other religious leaders (and apparently like 99% of the various religions also have “the golden rule.” Go figure). And then, it happened. I was finally able to figure myself out and develop my own world views. (Side note: I was required to take two semesters of classes at the Christian university entitled “Christian World View,” which included tests and term papers, in order to confirm that I was able to accurately regurgitate the exact world view they wanted me to uphold).
My soul-searching conclusion? You’ve gotta find your own Truth. I was literally told for 20 years that Christianity was the ONLY true and right religion and everyone else was going to hell. Like for reals….that was verbatim. Isn’t that completely bonkers? How can anyone on this planet decide what another person’s future holds. How dare we (me) go around deciding what kind of character or soul someone possesses based on little more than the family and culture they were born into. It was so, so, sooooo incredibly closed-minded and self-centered of me to judge a person’s worth based on whether they “dated” or “hooked up” or were gay or trans or an Atheist or Agnostic, or for any other path they chose to take in life. Looking back, I can honestly say that I really don’t like the person I was when I was “churchy.” At.all. In fact, it’s still pretty embarrassing to think about.
So what now? After spending approximately 10 years coming to that conclusion, I am so much happier with my soul. For the first time in my life, it is settled. It doesn’t have the “what ifs” and it doesn’t worry about any other human’s journey to his or her own Truth (after all, a GINORMOUS part of an evangelical Christian’s life is telling others they need to be saved or they will undoubtedly burn in hell). Finally I am able to see that my soul, my mind, just wants to see my kids grow up to be really, really good people. People who say thank you and who are compassionate to the underdogs. People who are kind to the “weird kid” and people who follow their own passion and light. If my kids (or anyone else, for that matter) find a religion or a path for themselves that holds a lot of Truth, I want them to explore it; to hold onto it if it serves them well, and to let it go if it does not. I also want them to have that same desire for others. I want them to give to the poor and feed the hungry, not because it will “show them Jesus” but simply because they saw someone who was poor or hungry. Every single one of us are so incredibly diverse…our brains work differently and our perceptions and experiences are infinite….so it is absolutely absurd and impossible to expect that we will all come to the same conclusions, find the same truths and perceive the same reality in one finite set of strict rules, writings, teachings, and rituals.
For me, for now, my “church” continues to be my yoga mat, my readings, and my time spent reflecting. For you, your “church” may actually have a steeple or a prayer mat, or it may be somewhere in nature, or it may be absolutely nothing at all. Embrace that. And by all means, if you haven’t found it yet, keep searching for your own Truth and Light that are as unique and amazing as you are.