My family has never been religious or very spiritual. My parents always claimed that they wanted us to form our own opinions on church and God and all that. We never attended church, not even on the major holidays of Easter and Christmas. The only religious influences I had in my life were a few friends and an uncle that seemed to push their beliefs on me. If you didn’t do as they did, you were no good and you are destined to go to hell. At least, that is how it always felt to me.
With my parents “encouraging” us to find our own religious paths, I remember in junior high school being invited to go to church with a new friend. She and her family attended a Catholic church (my mother was raised Catholic). I wanted to go, I wanted to see what it was about. I really knew nothing about God and Jesus, I wanted to learn. I remember asking my parents if I could go, it was after school to a youth thing, and they said no. I decided I wanted to go anyway, I wanted to know what this was all about. I would like to tell you that this was my big awakening and I have been a Jesus Freak ever since. No, that didn’t happen. What happened was I had a good time with my friend, I don’t recall actually learning anything that night. What I do remember is getting grounded for going to church. This is how I saw that punishment. I didn’t get grounded for disobeying my parents and doing something they didn’t want me to do, I was grounded because I went to church. Obviously, as an adult, I like to think that my parents were punishing me for not listening, even if that was never fully explained to me at the time. So, growing up, I felt more pushed away from religion and church. I never felt I actually needed it.
Fast forward to when I am 18, I met a boy. A boy who claimed to be Christian and a follower of Christ. He and I get into a few arguments about how you cannot live your life according to a thousand year old book. That’s not logical. He argued that you are supposed to live your life by the book and do everything right, he talked a good game. One big thing I knew about the bible and Christianity was that it was a sin to have sex outside of marriage, God doesn’t like a sinner. This boy kept pressuring me for sex. Needless to say, I didn’t think you should have sex unless you were in love. I wasn’t in love with this boy. He ended up breaking up with me after a few short weeks because I wouldn’t have sex with him. Hypocrite.
Flash forward another year, I meet another boy. He again claims to be a Christian. When I found this out, I was put off and started trying to push him away. This boy however, was persistent, but he never pushed his beliefs on me. I saw in him a kindness that I hadn’t seen from very many people in my life. It intrigued me. I started going to church with him. I found myself enjoying church and soaking it up, I volunteered, I was there all weekend. It became a happy place for me, a place where I felt like I belonged. I eventually married this boy (and later divorced). He showed me the loving and caring side of the church, he taught me about God, he helped to bring a sense of belonging and happiness into my life.
When I decided to file for divorce (a story for another time maybe) I felt shunned from my church. A place that I had called home and a place of refuge, a place to escape the pain I was going through at home. I felt as if I was no longer welcome there. I stopped going. When I told my Aunt and Uncle that I was getting divorced (an uncle that has been married three times by the way), I received nothing but critical judgment and damnation. I was never once asked what led to my decision in filing for divorce from a “good Christian man”. I was judged and looked down upon. This again pushed me away from wanting to go to church. This was almost three years ago and I still struggle with wanting to go back.
The thing I find most frustrating about religion (or Christianity specifically) is the judgment. The bible tells you that only God can judge someone. And while my final judgement will come from Him, I know I am still judged by everyone here on earth. I know I judge people, the difference is, I try not to let my judgement interfere with my relationship with others. I try not to hold my judgements against them. We are all sinners. All of those Christians who say they cannot associate with sinners, take a good hard look in the mirror. You yourself are a sinner and yet, Jesus loves you anyway. It’s time we start showing that same love to our brothers and sisters.
Why can’t we all just show more compassion and love towards each other? We all make mistakes, we all do things we are not proud of. We were born sinners and we will die sinners. Take a few minutes to show someone just how happy you are that they are here. That they are alive. We all struggle with battles the world doesn’t know about, things that are eating away at us on a daily basis. All we can do is ask for forgiveness for our sins, try to better people and show love. Love everyone around us. Teach your kids to love others, not to hate them just because they are a little different or have different struggles than you do. Our world could be a much better place if we could all just show some compassion and kindness.
So, on this Easter Sunday, I am reflecting on my beliefs and on God and Jesus and everything that he did so I could have my life. So that one day I will be forgiven of my transgressions (and there are quite a few of them). I ask today for forgiveness for the pain that I have willingly caused to others, to the pain that I have caused to myself. I ask that I am led to be a better, more humble, more compassionate, more generous person. Help me grow into this kinder version of myself that I know I can be.