When I was a small child (like earliest memories small), I went to church every Sunday with my father. I was all about it! Essentially, I considered Jesus to be my invisible friend who loved me unconditionally and had awesome magic powers. I remember faith being warmth in my belly and a feeling that I was unstoppable! Faith felt like flying to me.
Faith shifted for me when I old enough to be sent downstairs to the children's Sunday school while my father attended the church service upstairs. My parents had been divorced for a couple of years at that point and my mom was in the process of trying on religions to see which one fit best and no longer considered herself a Christian.
The concept of hell was not something that was skirted around at the Baptist church we went to at the time. Hell was terrifyingly real and full of fire and torture and torment. When I asked the Sunday school teacher if my mom would go to heaven (since she was the most loving and wonderful person I could think of), they told me that as a matter of fact, my mom was going to hell because she wasn’t Christian. It was just that…a matter of fact. No room for questions or concerns or heartbreak.
That moment shattered my faith. Jesus was no longer my best buddy. Jesus was apparently a god who didn’t care about how good a person was, or how loving they were, or how much I loved them! If Jesus was a god who would send my mom to hell, then he was not my friend anymore.
SIDE NOTE: (**This also goes to show how influential statements made by authority figures can be, when you are young. I didn't even know this teacher and I just took their opinion for fact, without question.**)
God became this scary concept in my mind and I was constantly conflicted between my loyalty to my mom and my fear of God. I was terrified of going to hell myself, but was stubbornly determined to not leave my mother alone in some dark and scary afterlife. I became my mom’s protector in my own mind (and that my friends, is a different rabbit-hole for a different day).
As I grew up, my fear turned into resentment and anger (because it is too hard to be afraid for long periods of time). When I was old enough to have a say in the matter, I stopped going to church. I began to explore other religions in college, but Dogma in general was too close to fear for me and so I labeled myself “spiritual”. I wanted, longed even, to believe in something bigger than myself but I also wasn’t willing to put my fate or my afterlife in someone else’s hands.
My anger towards religion morphed into a sense of superiority when I began my spiritual practice. I believed that my spiritual path “made way more sense” than religion ever could. I developed a prejudice, based in my own fear, about people who were religious. I viewed them as somehow less independent or introspective or intelligent, but made exceptions here and there for friends and family members who were “cool and not too preachy”.
It wasn’t just religious people that I separated myself from. I developed the general tendency to see the differences between me and other people. Everyone was on a linear scale of bad to good. Some people were better than me and some were worse, but everyone was different!
I was always comparing and contrasting myself to others (heavy on the contrasting) and it was lonely. I was lonely. I was lonely all the time. In crowds or by myself, even with friends, I had a difficult time feeling connected to other people.
Recently, however, my spiritual practiced has deepened and matured significantly.
I have found myself having these moments of realization, these Ah Ha moments of allowing, where my perception shifts and I open a little more to Love.
I have started to see myself as a spiritual being in a physical body and I have started seeing other people that way as well.
My compassion towards others grew as I started seeing everyone as spiritual beings on different sections of the same path towards being happy and knowing love.
I began to see similarities between the religious rituals and beliefs of my “cool and not too preachy” friends and my own spiritual rituals and beliefs. It really hit me when I saw my father-in-law just sitting at his desk and looking at his Christian religious relics. I realized that the desk was his mediation place, his altar, just like I had my meditation place and my altar.
I started to see my own spiritual practice reflected back at me in my father’s habit of waking up every morning before work to sit in silence and read the bible or when he insists on saying grace at every meal before eating. Meditation, introspection and gratitude are all practices that I value in my own life.
I began to question my religious prejudices as I began to seek out meditation groups and began reading every spiritual self help book I could find. How was my search for community and higher guidance any different from people who went to church?
Every argument I created to try and make myself feel superior to religious people could be countered by the same statement...
“We are all on different points on the same spiritual path”.
At each point on the path we have different needs and different desires and require different styles of guidance. Some people turn to religion for the guidance that they need, some turn to self help books, some just look inside for the guidance. The beginning of the journey is no better or worse than the end of the journey when the whole point is to travel and grow and change and evolve.
The more sameness I saw in others, the less lonely and isolated I felt. I began to connect to people in unexpected ways. I began to find more ease in my relationship to Christianity and god and I began to find the freedom and joy and invincibility that comes through having faith.
I still identify as "spiritual" rather than "religious". The faith I have found now is the faith in my own inner guidance and the law of attraction and the general good and beauty of the world. I consider god to be the same as the universal loving energy that is inside of everything and makes up the universe.
Religion is not this evil thing to me anymore. Religion is a tool, a way for people to search for answers, comfort and community together. I believe that every religion has teachings that can be used to elevate our state of love and awareness and teachings that can be used to justify fear based reactions to life (such as seeking to hurt, control or exploit others).
This shift in my perception, from difference to sameness, has allowed me to release a lot of the hurt and resentment and anger and betrayal that I harbored towards god and Christianity. I was able to forgive and see god in a different way. It has significantly reduced my social anxiety and I have realized that between this shift and the gradual consistent opening of my connection to universal love, I am hardly ever lonely anymore.
With that in mind and before I bring this blog to an end, I wanted to share a journal exercise that really helped me get clear on my relationships to god and religion and allowed me find a huge amount of forgiveness and release. This will probably not provide you with all the answers you are looking for all at once, but it may give you the clarity about your relationships that you are ready to receive.
Begin by listing out the people who are most important to you and who have the biggest influence on your life; close family members, partners, children, your boss, your best friends. Free write about your relationship to them. How do you influence each other? What feelings come up when you think about each person? Be honest and don’t edit or try to understand the WHY. Let yourself relax into the openhearted feeling of free writing then do the same exercise for god, whatever or whoever god is for you.
Once you have let everything spill out onto the page, go back and think about how you would like to feel and act and be around each of these people. Dive into any blocks and resistance and negativity that came up around each person and around god. Feel free to go back to the 7 Steps For Using Emotions bog post for ways to dig into and resolve negative emotions.
This process opened me up and allowed me to make some serious realizations and I hope it does the same for you!
Thank you all so much for staying with me though this deeply personal blog post. I hope that it inspired you to explore your own relationship with religion and the concept of god. I would love to hear all about your experiences with spirituality and religion. Please comment below or shoot me an email!
Sending all my love and compassion to you!