It's no secret on this blog that I struggle with the concepts of God and religion. We don't attend church, nor do we proclaim any particular religious affiliation. There was a time when I wanted to be a part of the Christian religious experience and I distinctly remember feeling angry when other people didn't share that desire.
My father never attended church with us and my mother inexplicably stopped going to church one day. We didn't discuss religion in our house. It wasn't that the subject was off-limits...we just didn't talk about much in our house. But I remember feeling a bit bewildered by the lack of any parent-led religious focus in my life. And I guess you could say my religious upbringing was...self-taught.
I remember feeling weird around my friend Kristine because she was Jehovah's Witness. "How weird!" Now I realize that I only thought it was weird because it deviated from what I held as "normal."
And then there was my husband. He had neither interest nor inclination to seek any sort of religious experience with me. I distinctly remember the day we were in a hotel room in St. Louis when he told me he didn't think he believed in God...and I yelled at him. I was angry. Not because I had all the answers and he didn't...but because I clung to a belief that there had to be a God out there somewhere. Again...what I held as "normal."
But the truth of the matter is, my religious upbringing wasn't faith as much as it was a lack of faith. For YEARS I desperately longed to FEEL any faith...despite the fact that I never really did. Looking back, I should have realized the train was off the tracks when I was sixteen and I stopped attending confirmation classes because I didn't feel it. Intellectually and emotionally, I knew enough about myself at that age to know that I couldn't go through with something I didn't truly believe.
And then I let the church youth pastor and choir director talk me into it. Yep...they called me on my big button telephone in my bedroom (not my own private line, but good enough for my sixteen year old sensibilities) and tag-teamed me. The plan? I would go through with confirmation despite not having completed the classes and just make the work up at a later date.
I'm sure it will come as no surprise to learn that I never made the work up. I never felt what I hoped to feel. There were MOMENTS of inspiration, but they were few and fleeting. What I do remember was the incredible pressure to conform...to pretend...to not disappoint. And that's how I became a confirmed Methodist...as part of a culture of appearance rather than substance.
Now...years later...having been pushed over the cliff head first and having my child-like beliefs in God come spilling out, I find myself needing to use basic survival skills of brutal skepticism and (finally) truth/honesty. All alone, finally asking myself how I got here and where I go from here. Oh, there are probably a dozen or so people in my life who would love to tell me what to believe...but they can't tell me how to get around the little problem of not feeling it. They answer with what they have been similarly taught...you just have to.
And if you don't?
That's probably why finding myself standing in Walmart and saying to my five-year-old son, "Easter isn't about getting presents," has bothered me now for more than two weeks. Seeing an older gentleman standing at the photo center counter smiling that approving smile at me that said, "You're raising him right," has caused me yet another crisis of conscience. If he really knew...
In response to some offhand comment from me, Sam asked who Mother Nature is.
On Easter Sunday he insisted that everyone gets candy on Easter.
And when I asked him if he knew who God was, he simply said, "No."
And the thing of it is...I'm finding it easy to explain to him that there are a lot of stories out there to explain why our world is the way it is. I find it easier to explain that Daddy and I don't know what we believe. And I was not shocked or angered when Sam said he doesn't believe in God. Having faced all that our little family has faced, it's no surprise to me that Sam doesn't readily accept anything on faith. Steve and I have 30+ years experience (each) on the little guy, and we're just now forming our true belief set.
But I am bothered by the reflex that made me defend the "meaning of Easter" while standing in that Walmart. Years of indoctrination into a belief system that is seemingly all around me caused a knee jerk response. I still retain my own version of "normal" somewhere in side me. Though we were never a religious family by any means, Christianity is still obviously the predominant religious culture where I was born and raised. In fact, I can list on one hand the number of other faiths I crossed paths with during my formative years. And all of that half-formed belief still causes the words to form and spill out of my mouth before I can even examine what they meant to me.
I've got to do better than spit out automatic responses that don't mean anything to me. I've got to be more honest with my kids about what these things mean to us as a family. And I've got to leave room for Sam (and eventually Myles) to decide for themselves. It's important to me that they never find themselves on the wrong side of fortune and feeling like their foundation God-belief has been ripped apart into a million pieces. It's important to me that they never feel like their chosen God has abandoned them...only because they realize they never really chose...that they were influenced by something outside of themselves or, even worse, someone else chose for them.
And while it may seem like I'm just covering my ass so I won't have to take the blame later in life (it's always the mother's fault, you know)...what is really motivating me is my belief that it is of utmost importance to me that they never feel like Steve or I feel. Abandoned. Misled. Lied to. Lost. Ignorant. Angry. Cheated.
I want them to have REAL exposure to different beliefs...what it means to believe different things...so that they can make a choice what they believe before they really NEED to. I don't want them to grab hold of what is easy...to fall into something without thought...to go with the flow. I want them to examine everything (or as much as humanly possible) and affirmatively choose. Because Easter may very well be about getting gifts...if that is what they choose.
And yes...I now appreciate the irony of my yelling at my husband for not believing.
(I have written and re-written this post in the hopes that it is clear and not offensive. I apologize if I have missed the mark and offended anyone. But after seeing that Islam has overtaken Catholicism as the world's largest religion, and the resulting goofiness, I felt inspired. Or maybe I'm just distancing myself. Either way, it is what it is.)