While I was not raised in a strict religious environment, I went to Catholic school all the way to college. My home life was tumultuous, so I found comfort in the church, it’s rules, school, books, and learning. When I was younger, I poured myself into school and went to church a few times a week on my own, I just walked or went with neighbors. As I grew up, those church rules and it’s doctrine became a sharp contrast to my mother’s behavior, which caused me so much confusion, embarrassment, even shame. By 7th grade, I was so intent on a path so far from my mother’s that I actually talked to the nuns about becoming a nun! Of course, after my first boyfriend, this changed rather quickly. Even so, I went to confession regularly and I chose to go face to face so I wouldn’t feel like a coward (and I told the truth!), I couldn’t accept any less from myself. I welcomed the opportunity for absolution and penance. I often found comfort on my knees, in prayer, alone.
In high school, I really started to question the doctrine, it’s inconsistencies, and for a while I stopped going to church unless they made us. I think I needed to rebel against something I had control over and this fit the bill. Though I was a great student, I lived in my head most of the time, was very sensitive internally, and had difficulty connecting with others sometimes. I never felt anyone understood me aside from a few close friends. While maintaining my grades, I had as much fun as I could without getting caught. My mom trusted me since I got good grades and followed the rules, so I sort of took care of myself. The choices I made weren’t always good ones. I’d get upset at myself for doing exactly the opposite of what my brain knew I should do, thus feelings of betrayal. Betraying myself. Allowing myself to go against what I thought was right and good. Still, I’d wander into church now and again, on my own, simply to sit. To reflect. To hope. There was comfort there in the ritual. Stand, sit, kneel, pray. Confess and try to purge some of the guilt. Try to make sense of all those conflicting thoughts and feelings.
I spent a lot of time applying for scholarships so I could get out of my small town and my family situation. I left, focusing on college and trying to figure out how to be on my own, to trust in myself without all the craziness around all the time. The trusting in myself part was where I faltered. I tried so hard on my own, tried to maintain control, on the outside, at least. There was no church, a new city, no friends. I made a few close friends, played soccer, excelled in school, but I was empty. Again, I’d wander to the local Catholic church from time to time, simply to immerse myself in it’s ritual, to find comfort, to feel at home. Yet, there was guilt, feelings I’d betrayed myself over and over. Guilt at not being the person I knew I should be, could be.
Maintaining the facade of control was difficult, for many years, even into adulthood. Knowing what to do and having the courage to do it are two very different things. My courage came later. Much later. That guilt is still there from time to time, regret at having betrayed myself for so long, for going against what the church taught about being the best version of myself, who I knew I could be. To aid in this, my husband and I sought out a church and attended for a long time. For me, as I grew, it was always about feeling like a part of something bigger than myself, a greater good, a feeling of community and connection to a purpose. There was a gap that need filled and I was grasping at anything I thought could fill it – outside of myself.
While I still wander into church now and again, it’s not something I do often. I’ve found that I don’t crave the ritual or the confines of the walls in order to feel what I always needed to feel when I went there and to feel like I’m putting forth the same into the world. My experiences in church taught me to believe in myself, be true to myself, to find goodness all around me, to create goodness and to give of myself. I am finally at a place where I can embrace all these things. I’m able to look inside myself, see strength and accept who I am. I can look at M, see a leader and appreciate him. I feel a connectedness, not always from inside a church, not always from a god. I feel it with M – I draw strength from that connectedness, from our faith in one another. In our ability to provide absolution for one another, simply in our unclouded acceptance of who we are for one another. I find connectedness everywhere, all the time. On a run, in a handshake, in a nod and smile from a stranger on the street, in a hug, gliding on the water in my kayak, in a laugh or in tears and especially when I’m able to help someone in need. Even on a blog, when a few words from a wise person are able to punch me in the gut or squeeze my heart, I feel connected. Even amongst all the risk of the unknown. I can’t help it.