I did not grow up in a religious house-hold. Allegedly, my family is Catholic. I remember going to some sort of kids class at the church on a weeknight growing up, I had a first communion, and there’s video proof I’ve been baptized, but to say my family is religious is just a wild exaggeration.
Even with the classes, I never really understood the story of Jesus or what the heck all the rituals were about. And I didn’t have any desire to know. If there’s anything these chapters of my past have taught you it’s that I didn’t trust the people right in front of me, so why would I trust some sort of Ultimate Being?
Regardless, I found that my path crossed with God’s in college, and I decided to roll with it.
I was blessed with the best roommate in the entire world when I got to college. (I could write an entire book on how great our friendship is and all of our crazy adventures… and maybe I will! … but not today.) But, my first impression was “Oh no, I got the church-kid as a roommate, I’m not going to have any fun.” Between her and my neighbor (also a really great friend!), and the cute boy down the hall, there was a constant stream of bible studies, prayer circles, and discussions on who God is.
At first, I rolled my eyes and put on headphones. We were all getting along well, so I could just ignore the religious part and re-join the conversations when they were done. But, despite my best efforts to ignore them, little bits and pieces of what they were saying found their way into my ears and my brain started analyzing it all.
I started asking questions, listening more, and observing their general lifestyles. I liked these people… a lot! They were fun, and honest, and nice to other people, and open, and welcoming, and smart, and I really admired that they could always have fun without alcohol present (something I noticed was impossible with some of my high school friends). They were just normal people, but they had this something about them that drew me in: joy? peace? stillness? hope? Maybe it was all of the above.
After asking me to join them at the christian get-together on campus for about the 100th time, I decided to go. I had nothing to do that night, and I wanted to hang out with my friends. I figured I should probably get to know all sides of them if I wanted to continue deepening our friendships.
It was pretty cool timing, I have to say. That night the group was watching a video from Rob Bell all about “forgiveness.” And it struck every. single. chord. inside of me. I just started sobbing as I considered a world where I wasn’t harboring anger against all the people who had hurt me before. That didn’t sound like such a terrible thing. In fact, it sounded kind of great.
Freedom. I wanted that.
So I continued to follow them. And I continued to ask questions. And I continued to take in information. And I continued to process through this whole “forgiveness” thing.
And eventually, I just dove in. I spent time reading about how to improve my attitude, how to love others (even if I didn’t like them), how to listen to the little voice inside me, how to worship, how to “let go,” and how to get to know the Holy Trinity.
It was nice to focus on all this positive stuff. It was really nice connecting with so many great people. It was nice believing in something. It was nice knowing that I wasn’t alone and there was this pretty cool thing called “hope,” that felt all warm and fuzzy.
My journey with religion continued throughout college, and it definitely had it’s ups and downs. I was learning to forgive everyone, but didn’t quite grasp how to forgive myself. I was spending time with people who didn’t drink or party or hook up or break rules, but I was loosing all of the friends I had before. I was worshipping and letting go and learning how to be the me God created me to be, but burying myself in a mass of shame whenever I reverted back to old habits of sex, beer, and anger, solidifying my belief that I was damaged.
There were extreme ups and downs that sent my emotions into overdrive, but I had found something to be a part of. And ultimately, that made me happy. Through these groups I had now become a part of, I got to meet some really great people: youth group leaders, worship team members, mentors, mentees, and my former husband.
I got completely wrapped up in a community where I was constantly driven to improve myself while also being trusted to lead others. It was pretty cool.
Until it wasn’t.
After college, after getting married, after the church invested in my business, I was very deep in the religious community. Every day I was interacting with church members: my clients, my friends, my mentors, my mentees, my husband, my in-laws. Not that this was an inherently bad thing, they were all people I enjoyed spending time with, but it just meant that I had to be “on,” all the time.
And then I thought about that statement. If I was trying so hard to be “on,” all the time, then was I really being myself? I was terrified of making a mistake: cursing, wanting a beer, complaining about something, wearing clothes that showed “too much,” listening to music or watching movies that had something negative in them, I was even afraid to post things to my Facebook wall that hadn’t been “Jesus-approved.”
Every breath you take, every move you make, I’ll be watching you…
Somewhere along the lines of facing my past and moving through anger and bitterness I crossed-over into paranoia, judgment, and shame. I lived in a world where people remembered everything you said and did and used it to convince you that you weren’t as close to God as you thought you were. And I was one of them!
Every conversation I had with my mentors was flooded with me doubting whether or not I was “good enough” to be loved and accepted by God or by the church. I kept asking, “why is this so hard?” and “when will I get it?” But the answers never came.
And then I started noticing little things happen around me that lead me to believe I wasn’t the only one feeling this way. I watched as close friends got asked to step down as leaders because they had to fix some things about their lifestyle. I listened as my mentors were rude to the waitstaff serving us, and when I questioned how we were showing God’s love the reply was, “I’m on vacation, I needed to turn it ‘off’.” I stared at the congregation as I realized that we were segregated into a bunch of cliques; a friend had even asked me what happened that got me “kicked out of the cool kids group” when I started to pull away.
As part of the youth team I was actively teaching kids how to love others, but to not accept that they listen to bad music, watch bad movies, and have bad hormonal impulses. I was leading our world’s future leaders while believing that there was something wrong with the LGBTQ community, people who wanted/needed abortions, or people who have been divorced, alcoholics, drug addicts, etc. It was all fine, we could love them, but we had to protect ourselves and “show them the way.”
I hate that phrase.
And I hated myself for going along with it all.
Even the friends who had originally introduced me to God were starting to wonder if I had gotten involved with the right church community.
It got to the point where I couldn’t even go most Sundays. All the people I had once connected with, all the music I used to play, all the verses I had heard… they all made me so angry. I didn’t understand any of it!
Isn’t love just love? Aren’t humans just humans? What’s so hard about that? Who are we that we believe we should have any say or control over what’s right and wrong, what’s good and bad, what’s allowed and not allowed?
My mentors pulled me aside, recognizing my spin-out, and asked me to try to undergo some deep-dive uncovering as to “what evil live inside me,” so I could get it out.
Still wanting to “get it right,” wanting to “please the people in charge,” wanting to fit in to the life I had created, and to not piss of God, I agreed. All of the “bad” things I had done in the past or that were done to me were brought up.
I thought I was forgiven? And had forgiven? Crap. Had I not? I must’ve not done it right. Maybe I wasn’t “saved” this whole time. That’s why I don’t get it.
I was told I had to “put on the armor of God” every single day and only then could I move forward.
Okay. So, I’m saying the verses. I’m praying. I’m putting on the armor exactly how you told me I should. But, I’m still doubting, still questioning, still wanting that cold beer I’ve been thinking about since college… what’s wrong with me? Why is this so hard? Why does it all feel so unnatural?
Nobody could answer that question: why is this so hard? If God is love and we are meant to believe in him and honor him and do as he says… why does it feel so damn inauthentic? And contradictory? And wrong? I mean… we were given intuition for a reason right? Who is anyone to tell me that my intuition isn’t God’s voice, and He’s not saying “get the hell out of here, this isn’t how I want it to be” ?
I had to get out of that environment. I had to step back, relearn what my own voice sounded like. I needed to be able to hear my voice, to trust it, and to act on it. I needed to understand what God meant to me. I had to decide for myself what I believed, and I couldn’t be around all of these outside influences telling me what those answers were.
So I did what any sane human being would do: I packed a bag and set out to hike the Appalachian Trail. All I had to focus on there was walking. Surely then I would hear my own voice, right? (Read all the details of the hike here.)
It’s amazing how us humans stick to what we know, even if it’s not good. I had spent my entire life people-pleasing, latching on to manipulation as a set of rules I could achieve my way through to feel loved. Religion was a familiar home for my insecurities to live.
But regardless of continuing to get myself trapped in a world of people-pleasing, I like to think that I emerge a little bit stronger every time. And while I was in the woods I heard my voice loud and clear: I couldn’t continue to live in a world that I didn’t agree with. I couldn’t continue to promote love and human connection in an atmosphere that had contingencies.
So I gathered my strength. I went “home.” And I said goodbye the picture-perfect little life I had built.
What I believed about myself: damaged, used, not like everyone else, unfit to lead, unworthy of community, disruptive
What I believed about other people: they will say and do anything to get what they want
In an effort to start creating a life in which I thrive, I’ve created a “New Reality.” The purpose of this tool (as described in my previous post) is to reverse-engineer a better, but still true, reality. And I’m going to stare at it, re-read it, and flood my conscious mind with it until I fully believe it, solidifying it in my subconscious.
As for how I feel about religion? Well… I don’t like word “religion.” I don’t really like the word “God” either. I think any sort of ritual with rules that dictates how you should feel and act is definitely not for me. I do believe in a higher power, though. And I don’t really care what it’s called. I call my higher-power “Universe,” because it feels most authentic to me. It’s makes me think of the Earth. I believe I can access the masculine qualities and the feminine qualities whenever I need to. I believe the Universe uses my intuition and perfect timing to speak to me. I trust what brings joy, I trust what feels right, I trust I’m on the right path when things come with “ease.” I believe in the Universe, yes, but I also believe in me, and the Universe within me.
As I have moved through this “Chapters of My Past” journey, I have come to realize that I don’t regret any of my religious journey at all. Because I did learn how to forgive, and I haven’t been the same since (aka, I no longer live in a world of anger or bitterness aimed at other people.) I did learn how to be still, listen to my inner voice, and act upon what I believe is right. I did learn how to love humans, and I now think of it as one of my most amazing qualities.
And speaking of loving humans, I met a ton of incredible people through my journey. Sure, there were things I didn’t agree with, and people I feel hurt and manipulated by, but each one of them taught me something, and for that I am grateful. I don’t think I will cross paths with them ever again – our lives are in very different places – but, I have this belief that each one of them were trying to love me with every word and every action. I just didn’t resonate with it, or agree with it, or understand it. But who am I to tell them their inner voices are wrong? Nope. I’m just going to be grateful to have met them, love them from a distance, and continue to follow my own path, which is abundant with people who I do resonate with, agree with, and understand.
If I’m being honest, though – which I always am! – I do miss the youth kids. And I am still angry about having to leave them. I am angry because I worry they won’t have an opportunity to choose for themselves. I am angry that they will be treated much like I was but won’t have the opportunity to go on their own hike (whatever that may be) and discover who they really are. I worry that as teenagers they won’t learn to understand their inner-voice and how to trust it. I think about them all the time. I wonder what their lives have been like in high school. I wonder what their plans are after. I wonder if I am allowed to contact them. I wonder if I’ll ever get to see them again. I worry about what their parents said to them about who I am after I left. I wonder if they ever got to read the letters I sent them as I left. My heart breaks when I think of them. I am so honored to have gotten to lead them, be even a small part of their life stories, and to have had the opportunity to learn from them. They taught me so much. They were so talented, and smart, and amazing… and selfishly, I wish I could watch them grow up.
That last paragraph was just me venting. I really miss them.
Thank you for taking this journey with me, MavPack. I hope you have felt inspired to consider your own stories. What are you believing that has been shaped by your past? What do you want to be believing? And what is the evidence of these new beliefs in your current lives? Because, as always, what we focus on, we find! Find it, focus on it, and let it expand. You deserve it!