I’ve changed a lot since my teenage years. Everyone does; growing up, learning to be responsible, getting college degrees, jobs and/or families. It’s part of the cycle of life.
I feel like I’ve changed in ways that I would never have expected. I still fight with myself, I still struggle to be a “good person”, but for different reasons than I did at 17.
At 17 I was immersed in “church life”, fighting with my parents and many issues at home, yet still trying to live up to the expectations that they held for me. I wasn’t expected to get a college degree, I wasn’t even fully expected to find a husband and start a family. Noâ€¦the expectationâ€¦the requirementâ€¦was that I would remain a steadfast, semi-fanatical, non-questioning, devout, spiritual “Christian”. Granted, I had my moments of rebellion growing up, but I never slipped out of the house late at night, I never smoked, never drank or did any drugs. The closest thing to sex was stolen kisses behind the church or a naughty late night chat session (once I finally had internet access). No, I was a good kid, as far as appearances go. I had to appear meek and devout, innocent and un-tainted. We appeared to not have any problems other than not being financially opulent, because it was somehow “good” to appear poor or unsophisticated. To be too educated or to break out of the country mold was worldly and definitely not a desirable thing. My rebellions were small, silent protests to the oppression, be it imagined or real. I would listen to forbidden “secular” music, have the naughty chat sessions online, and allow my mind to wander places that I could never dare to physically go. Was living like this difficult? Only once I realized that I might be missing something.
Still, in spite of my mental rebellion, I still had the instilled fears to deal with. Church three times a week and many “spiritual” experiences had me pretty much convinced that God was an angry ogre ready to smite me at any moment. I enthusiastically tried to purge myself of all my “sins” by being very involved in youth, music and revivals. Somehow though, I could never reach the pinnacle of holiness, of utter submission to God, which would make me stop sinning, stop doubting myself and my role in this life that I seemed to be leading. Along I went, thinking that there really was no other way for me to be, other than a part of this fanatical religious life.
I certainly did not have anyone questioning or challenging me to dig deeper, to find logic and reason beneath the facade. The only people that would question my faith were ones who were as ignorant in their rejection of blind faith as I was in my acceptance of it.
I came very close to becoming a leader, a proponent of the conservative religion of my youth. However, someone stepped into my life that was a breath of fresh air in my otherwise stagnant, repetitive life. Granted, I was angry and resentful of the demands for an explanation behind my faithful claims at first. When you live with a splinter in your foot all your life, you get used to the discomfort, and even though it’s for the best, cutting it out is painful. What this person didâ€¦this wonderful personâ€¦was to flip a switch of realization that “I” had the power to make my own decisions without fear of hellfire. Logic and reason can’t be a bad thing if they push you to the limits of self discovery.
Now the only resentment I feel is when I look back on myself at 17. naive, innocent and utterly without a foot to stand on.
Will I ever be a part of a church again? Not likely. It’s not because of hypocrisy or because I’ve been wronged in some way. A person would have to be pretty weak minded to allow others’ bad behavior to deter them from something they truly wanted. I can’t go back to church because it’s all hollow. People think they know why they are there, but it’s all an act on a grand stage, and the actors don’t even know it’s a play. I can sit in a church and whisper to my husband (who is the wonderful man who planted those early seeds of discovery) exactly when a song will draw excitement from the congregation, how the “spirit” will move, and what the preacher is going to say next. Not because I am somehow in tune with the spirit, but because I have been to the same play dozens of times before. Only now, I am on the outside looking in. I wouldn’t go up to a believer and try to coerce him or her out of their faith. That’s not my job. They would not accept that the spiritual experiences might be psychosomatic, just as I would have rejected that thought at 17.
Can I say now that I absolutely know that God does not send a spiritual experience to those people whom raise their hands and pray at church services? No, I can’t say that. I can’t make any claims when it comes to the mind, the spirit and those things which really seem to defy explanation. I can say that I’ve felt the same “spiritual” stirrings at 24 watching an emotional movie as I did listening to a particularly stirring “testimony” at 17.
The mind is a powerful thing. I hope to use mine for good, for happiness and for knowledge. However, I can never again use it for blind faith.