Continued from yesterday.
Flash forward several years and I’m not even considering myself a “religious” person anymore. I was actually against “organized religion” (because everyone who knew anything knows how many wars have been fought and people have been killed over “pointless religious arguments”) and was one step away from considering myself atheist. I never took that step because I felt like that was going to far… if I would have heard the term agnostic I probably would have considered myself one.
A Teenager’s Issue
The big issue for me, as I think it is for many young people is sex. I had always been taught that sex was something precious. I’d made a pledge when I was younger that I wouldn’t have sex until marriage and despite never exactly knowing why I was making that pledge I just decided I would keep it because I knew it was the “right” thing to do. Unfortunately I think this lack of understanding in my what I will loosely call “faith” led me to weaken my ideals and eventually when faced with temptation, I just gave in. I had gotten into a relationship with a guy and I started to feel pressure to have sex. At the thought of loosing this person I thought I had grown so close to I started to buy into the fact that being physically close would only bring us closer and fix all those other problems and doubts I’d had with the relationship. I felt that it was hard and therefore unfair to be a woman that had to deal with the consequences of having sex while men didn’t have to worry about anything. I was angry at religion and culture that seemed to have double standards for purity for men and women, and I attributed it to oppression. I didn’t understand the differences between men and women and only saw them as barriers holding me back from doing what was fun, normal, and healthy. These questions were met with answers that I didn’t like or felt further exacerbated the inequalities between men and women and so eventually for several reasons I deemed myself ready and mature enough to have sex. So I locked up my fertility and femininity with a little pill and proceeded to look for what I’d been missing.
It wasn’t long before I was hurt and empty. After all I had opened up with my heart and with my body, I didn’t get it. I never found “it”. I felt like I couldn’t have given anything else so what had gone wrong? I had placed my faith in the wrong things; the wrong person.
After that “learning experience” I felt like I needed to gain control of my life. What’s the old saying? Burned once not your fault burned twice it is? Well I was not going to get burned again.
During this time I met someone. I was still trying to sort through my issues from my past relationships, and he wasn’t looking for anyone either, so dating was out of the question but we would talk for hours about anything and everything. And strange enough just like every other guy I had ever dated he was Catholic. [At this point although I should have started to wonder if the God I had been forever ignoring was trying to tell me something I just thought it was random funny coincidence.] But this guy was different than the others. He seemed to have such a deep understanding and respect for his faith that I couldn’t have anything but admiration. Of course when I was questioned about my faith I only had one response. “Its just not in me”. I had resigned to the fact that the peace I saw in other people would never come to me because I was just predisposed to not have it.
We would have many conversations about life and truth about things that we could and could not know and how that made us culpable to live our lives in moral ways. We’d often argue and I would insist that I was right because I knew best. I always knew best. On one particular night we were having a conversation about whether or not objective truth existed outside of our own personal biases and experiences. I was arguing that everything was relative and he took the stance that truth did exist beyond our own desires. It was such a foreign concept to me and although I sensed some truth to it I just completely denied it. An idea like that would ruin everything I’d thought, it would make life too difficult. It would put too much blame on me and I could do no wrong. I wanted nothing more than to be right to the point that I just started making ridiculous arguments. At some point during the conversation I realized how absurd I sounded and for a brief moment I let my guard down.
What happened next, sometimes I can’t believe myself. If you would have asked me before if I believed in supernatural events I probably would have said no and to be honest its still hard for me to believe they can happen but I don’t know how else to describe that night. When I let my guard down everything just came flooding out. Not directed at this guy, but just in general. It was as if I’d reached my limit of pride and self determination and I broke down to the nothing that I had finally realized I was. It was as if I had flash of how insignificant I was in this world and I just fell to the floor. This was important because it felt like the first time I admitted to myself that there was something out there bigger than me and as soon as I did I could feel its presence, His presence. As I was crying, curled up in a tiny ball so humiliated by my arrogance I remember feeling like I was being held. It felt as if giant hands were cupping me, as tiny and insignificant as I was, and protecting,comforting me. It was the strangest combination of terrifying security I’d ever felt. I felt as if I’d finally surrendered myself to something beyond my control.
I was so guarded and so hurt. I had to just keep protecting myself because I knew that I couldn’t trust anything. And the longer I held behind this wall that I built to protect myself the more I realized I was missing of the world beyond the wall. The more I realized that it only thing stopping me from true happiness. I had had so much pride that I knew the best thing for myself that I couldn’t see that God had been chasing me this whole time trying to tell me it was ok that I needed Him. I used to think people who had religion were weak that they couldn’t make it on their own and had somehow invented this idea of a God who loves you to protect themselves, to feel better about themselves.
Now I see that it takes such an incredible amount of strength and courage to admit you were wrong, so much more than it takes to hide behind a protective wall.
The Start of a Journey
The next morning when I woke up I could tell something was different. For that day and several days afterward I felt like I was floating. We’re all a product of our own experiences and sometimes its hard to see beyond what we’ve known and felt since it shapes us as people. But for those couple days it was as if Id been lifted up to see the world from a broader perspective outside my own previous limitations. It felt as if those giant hands had lifted me up beyond my own personal protective wall; outside of my own biases and limitations to give me the perspective of God himself. Not one of blame or judging, but of loving acceptance of those struggling around me, all with similar problems. Eventually the feeling started to wear off, as if I was being lowered back into my little protective cove. It was as if God had let me experience him for a brief moment and then let me return to my normal state as if to say “I’m here now come find me.”
I see that moment as the official beginning of my Faith journey. I knew that God was real and that there was a greater truth that existed beyond me or anyone else, but now I needed to find where or what it was. It was like I had to start removing each one of those blocks from my protective wall that separated me from him. And each block was very challenging. I continued these challenging conversations about religion and started attending different churches. In a spurt of curiosity and an attempt to learn more I even attended a retreat called Bayou Awakening. Investing time in this quest was something I know I needed to do and a retreat was a great way to start. If anything my weekend taught me to continue to search for truth and have patience with myself because even though I didn’t have all the answers right then I was on the right path. I kept being led back to the Catholic faith. Although I initially put up a lot of resistance towards many of the Church’s teachings when I sat down and really meditated I could remove my own personal biases I could see the beauty and truth in its teachings. Removing my personal pride from the equation allowed me to open, myself up to the truth and fall in love with it. I bought tons of books and started reading on my own to learn more about the faith but I started to run into problems. I was so scared of committing to a faith that I didn’t fully understand, especially one as criticized and misunderstood as Catholicism, that I wanted to know as much about it before I could officially decide I wanted to become Catholic. I had begun to treat religion like I did a subject in school putting all the focus on knowledge and none of it in the spiritual realm. After learning all about God, Jesus, Mary, and the Church I felt like I had gotten to a point where I didn’t need to study anymore. I had reasoned everything out in my head as true and objectively right, but I still wasn’t at the point where I could say, “Yes this is MY faith.” It was like my mind knew it made sense but my heart wasn’t ready to commit to its truth and I still worried about tiny little question that I didn’t have all the answers to, like what about aliens!
I think it was very important for me to understand the meaning and theology behind each facet and teaching of the faith, but ultimately it still comes down to that. Faith. This thing that no one can tell you; you ultimately just have to believe. It was like I found myself standing at the edge of a cliff. I was on the knowledge side and I could look back and see how far I’d come, how much more I understood than before, but I could also look in front and see how my journey was yet incomplete. In order to have a true conversion I had to jump across and place all of my needs and worries with God. Theology uses reason to bring you closer to making that leap to faith but ultimately you have to jump. And I had to decide whether I would stay comfortable standing where I’d always been or if I would have faith in all that I’d learned and all that I’d experienced and finally jump off.
Its not that I needed to let go of control. Its that I go of my pride and of the delusion that I was ever in control. Compounding the problem of the decision to convert or not was my fear of what my family and friends would say. What they would think and how they would react? When I was faced with the ultimate decision of converting I couldn’t help but think how much easier it would have been if I had just been born Catholic. For some reason, no one questions what you believe when you’re born into it but when you’re old enough to make a decision its as if they think you should know the difference. “You’re joining a cult” (that’s what my grandma said) or a personal favorite “you’re doing this for your boyfriend” (that was my boss).
So why was it so hard for me to have faith in God? When we’re children its easy because most of us don’t know any better. But when we’re older we’ve been hurt and we’ve seen more. We should know better than to just believe that everything will be OK, right? How can Jesus call us to have that same child-like faith when we’ve experienced this life?
Ultimately I think the reason we’re called to have child-like faith is because we are called to eliminate our pride. We gather up more and more pride as a coping strategy the older we get but it only stands in the way between us and God. The reason we should try to emulate the faith that children have is because it lacks the barrier between us and God as a result personal pride.
When it came down to it I realized that my Faith was the only appropriate response to what I’d seen and personally felt of God’s love and redemptive spirit. After all that God had given me over the course of my entire life, the very least I could do was drop to my knees, forget about my pride and my worries about what my family and friends would think, and finally put all of my trust in Him.
Conversion is a public display of humility
During this journey of faith I know I’ve gained peace with my life, love for myself and others, resources to help me grow as a person, patience, and humility. I feel like the only thing I’ve lost (and am still loosing) is my pride. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still on that journey and I really don’t think its complete until we die but I’m trying to grow in faith everyday.
To me one of the most powerful lines in Mass, and one that always stuck out at me before I was Catholic in particular, is a line said right before Communion: “Look not upon our sins but on the Faith of your Church”.
No one claims to be perfect but the first and most important step is being big enough to admit how small you are and to place praise where the truth lies. Although people I’ve been close to have commented on how I seemed to have matured during this time, all I’m really trying to do is become more childlike.