Day 2: Losing my religion to find my faith

Yesterday I found myself constantly picking up my phone and automatically going to where my social media apps used to live. I don’t like how addicted I am to mindlessly scrolling through the nonsense. It’s probably why I give up social media every year for Lent. I do kind of cheat since my website automatically sends out messages when I post a new blog, but I cannot see what people post in response. 

I think it’s ironic that I have ended up a Catholic who celebrates and follows Lent because I distinctly remember being a child sitting in church and getting upset about the idea of giving up something that I love. It’s taken years to process this memory. For the longest time, I could not remember why I was so upset during the service that morning, but now, as a convert, I do. The pastor had asked us to give up something we loved, and I remember being shocked. I did not understand his request. I thought he wanted me to give away my stuffed animals and toys, things I cherished, and I couldn’t understand why God would ask that of a child. I’m not sure if it was because we were a part of the Presbyterian church or that my mom didn’t explain the idea of Lent to us as children, but this moment set forth a journey in discovering my faith. I wanted to understand why I was being told to sacrifice what I loved. 

In elementary school, I went to Mass a few times with friends. Until that moment, I didn’t know there were different elements of faith. I had always thought there were Christians and Jewish people, those who believed in other Gods or nothing. But to understand that there were people who worshiped Christianity differently was a foreign idea. I thought we all were in the same boat. I remember coming home and asking my mom why the service I went to felt like an exercise, and she explained how some people worship differently and that if I had any more questions, I could ask my dad since he was Catholic. 

Finding out that my dad was Catholic surprised me because, in my young brain, I had rationalized him not joining us at church since he worked on Sundays. As I got older, this became more of a joke when my friends and I would discuss religion. A German Protestant and a non-practicing Irish Catholic raised me. This usually sparked fun conversations with my protestant friends, wondering how we celebrated things since they believed my dad wasn’t Christian. This would always confuse me because my dad was Christian. His faith just had a different name. 

In middle school, things got weird.

You know those pre-teenage years when kids are discovering themselves? Middle school was where I discovered the occult. The movie The Craft had just come out, and I think every girl who saw it thought they might actually be a witch. To make things even stranger, one day during gym class, we went out to the soccer fields, and scattered all over the grass were tiny tarot cards and burnt candles. I bent down and picked up a card, death. All my friends started whispering that I would die soon, and the rest of the school was stressful. When I got home, I logged online and tried to find out what the card meant. Let me tell you how relieved I was to find out that the death card didn’t mean I would die. In fact, it represented a major change in a person’s life. 

Not long after discovering the tarot cards in the field, my pastor gave a sermon about how people should avoid magic and the occult and never see a psychic or get a tarot card reading. It was strange and oddly timed to hear that message in church. He claimed he knew a person who had gone to get a psychic reading, and everything that the psychic said would happen happened. He claimed that no matter what the woman did; she was cursed and couldn’t prevent the events from happening. 

Around this time, my mom started looking for a different church. I don’t know if the two events were related, but I’d like to think my mom wouldn’t want us to be a part of a church that was going in that direction. 

At the end of eighth grade, we moved from our small Presbyterian church to a larger one where we knew no one in the congregation, and I felt lost. I grew up in our small church. I knew all the kids my age and was comfortable being around them. But moving to this bigger church, where we were just faces in the crowd, I was surprised to find a few kids I went to school with were a part of the youth service. I started to enjoy going to the youth service. The teens were excited to learn and were asking all sorts of questions. 

The summer between eighth grade and my freshman year of high school, I became fascinated with Queen Elizabeth the first and everything Tudor. The more I read about their family, the more I started understanding the divisions between the Protestant and Catholic faith. Learning that the Church of England was essentially created so a man could get divorced made me wonder what the driving points behind the Protestant faiths were. 

While walking through the halls of my high school, I ran into a friend I had swam with for the last five years. He noticed I was wearing a Celtic cross. 

“I thought you were Presbyterian?” he asked, pointing at my necklace. 

I looked down and said I am. 

He looked confused. “Then why are you wearing a Catholic cross?” 

“It’s not Catholic,” I told him, unsure if I was right. “It’s just Irish.”

This started a debate between us as we walked to class. We were both pretty steadfast that we were right in our own ways. It’s not like we could pull out a cell phone and check to see who was more right than the other. 

I forgot about the conversation until I went to church that Sunday. When I was about to ask the youth pastor about the cross, a discussion came up that I wasn’t prepared for. For some reason, the youth pastor started talking about those who are Catholic and Jewish and saying how we should be careful befriending them. Suddenly my question about the cross was no longer important, and I was listening intently why this person told me I shouldn’t be friends with people I had been friends with my entire life. I let him speak, and then I raised my hand. When he called on me, I asked him isn’t that the opposite of what Christ asks us to do? I asked him why he would tell us not to be friends with these people. And he said the reason was that the Catholics and the Jewish people would try to convert us away from our faith. I felt my face go hot. None of my friends or their parents have ever tried to convert me to their faith. But I had heard this man suggest multiple times that we should bring our friends in, try to bring them into our group, and have them see the way to Jesus. I asked him what was wrong with learning about other people’s religions. He responded we don’t want to be driven away from God. I sat on it for a moment and finally said if your faith in Christ is so weak that a conversation can make you convert to another religion; you didn’t have a strong enough faith to begin with. This started an issue with some kids in the youth service. They also started questioning what he was saying. Anecdote after anecdote came from the teenagers about how they were friends with Jewish, Catholic, and Muslim people, and nobody had ever asked them to join their faith. At the end of the youth service, the youth pastor pulled me aside and asked me if I would start such a commotion again and not return. 

After that, I stopped going to the youth services, and eventually, my mom stopped going on Sundays altogether. These two things had nothing to do with each other; they just happened to be around the same time. 

This man’s proclamation of not befriending people of different faiths only drove me to research more about religion. I wanted to know what the ground basis of the Presbyterian faith was. I wanted to see the difference between a Calvinist, a Protestant, and a Catholic and why this man was so afraid of what I could discover by talking to someone with a different belief. 

While my mother had given me the groundwork and the foundation for finding Christ in my life, it was ultimately up to me. I had to discover my relationship with my faith. 

As the internet became more of what we know it to be now, religion became easier to research. I saved bookmarks and tabs for me to go back and forth on. I tracked how Christianity became what we know it to be. 

By the time I graduated high school, I could no longer call myself a Presbyterian. I considered myself to be more agnostic. I was searching past the Judeo-Christian faith and looking at everything offered in our world. I was searching for something that felt like home. I wanted something to speak to my soul, and as of right now, nothing did.

When I went to college, I got extremely excited. They offered so many classes on religion in the secular sense that I nearly got a second degree in religious studies. I filled all my electives with courses that broke down religion in an easily digestible way. It made me more comfortable actually researching my faith on the secular and theological levels. But I also learned while taking these classes is how little people actually know about the core value of their faith. 

Something that I kept coming across as an adult that I came across as a child was people believed that Catholics were not Christians. I remember sitting in one class, and a woman said well, I’m a Christian, unlike these other people over here, and she pointed to a woman who had already shared that she was a Catholic, and the teacher laughed. At the beginning of the course, Christianity until the Reformation. This woman, who was a Baptist, did not know that Catholics believed in Jesus Christ. 

The deeper I dove into the meaning behind each religion, the closer I felt to the Catholic faith. I found comfort in the rituals and traditions. I looked closely at the Lutheran faith, the watered-down Catholics, and decided if I was going to convert, I was going all in. 

So years after college and before my first marriage, I decided to convert. My ex wanted to get married in the church, and I thought, what better time than now to prove I was committed fully to discovering my spiritual self? 

I found comfort in my Rcia classes, surrounded by other adults on the same path. Some were cradle Catholics who never fully understood the faith they grew up in, and others were converting like I was. Sometimes my knowledge from the secular side would cross over into lessons being taught. It felt like I almost had one up or insider’s knowledge. But I never expected the honesty of the father leading the classes. 

He spoke about how there were years when he lost faith. He told us about how he struggled with his spiritual journey and regretted how he was teaching catholic school and some of the smart-ass answers he would give the students. But as he found his way back to God, he would meet with those of other faiths. He would pray with them and discuss theology. One thing he said he was most jealous of was how Protestants prayed. It wasn’t formal like how the Catholics prayed, but more of a personal conversation. 

I had never looked at it the way. I had thought everyone prayed as if they were talking to God. Even though I was learning the different prayers used during mass, I figured it became more informal when people prayed outside of the church. After listening to the father talk, it appeared I was under the wrong assumption. 

As we grew closer to my conversion, I was required to go to confession. As a Presbyterian, I prayed to God, and He forgave me. I didn’t fully understand why I had to go into a room and talk to a human about my sins. But since I converted, I was going to do it entirely, and that meant getting over what made me uncomfortable and going all in. 

What I confessed was between God, the priest, and me. But I can tell you that this sin I cried was one that no matter how much I prayed, I never felt God’s forgiveness. It wasn’t until I went into that room and confessed what I did, did the weight finally leave my soul. Confession was almost like a mini therapy session. I have little to go off of, but the priest at my church has this way of making you feel welcomed, and when you are at your lowest, baring your soul, they make you feel loved and not judged or damned but understood why you deserve God’s forgiveness. 

At that moment, I knew my journey was over, and I was home. 

There are many times that I wish I could go back to that warm feeling. After my ex and I divorced, I returned to my church and picked up an annulment package. I felt such guilt for my marriage failing. It took me a while to feel comfortable sitting in a pew again. What made matters worse is I lost the package and never had the courage to get another one. 

A few years later, I brought my stepson to church. It was after a day where he was being super sassy, and I jokingly told him, “boy, you need Jesus in your life.” He looked confused, so I asked him if he had ever been to church. He said, “No. What is church?” But couldn’t pronounce the word church correctly. 

So I asked my husband if he minded if I took our son to church. He said no, he didn’t, but not to expect him to go. I didn’t. I knew my husband was an atheist, and I figured his ex wouldn’t mind since she was also Catholic. 

Sundays turned into a day of worship again. First, bring my young stepson and eventually my daughter. They did great in church, following along with the prayers and hymns. Parents and grandparents of other children would stop and tell me how much they enjoyed watching my kids worship. 

We went to Mass pretty regularly until COVID hit, and then we stopped. I remember going to ash Wednesday, and then the world shut down. 

I’m sad to admit it, but I didn’t want to go into the church if I had to wear a mask. The joy was gone, as I felt restricted. I would watch services being live-streamed, but it wasn’t the same. As restrictions were lifted, it took a long time before I stepped foot into my church again. 

However, just because I wasn’t spending Sunday mornings on my knees in worship didn’t mean my faith wavered. If anything, during that time, I dove deeper into my self-discovery again. I found myself praying more and talking to God, asking for guidance and signs along the way. 

When I finally did return to church, it felt as if I had gone away to college and come home. Things were the same, but some stuff had changed. I looked around as I walked through the double doors and sat on the far right side of the church. Some people masked others not, but one thing was the same: Everyone was there to worship how they felt comfortable. No one was passing judgment; if they did, they kept it to themselves. 

Ash Wednesday just passed, and I went to church for the first time in almost a year. I want to say I’ll go more frequently, but I don’t want to make false promises. I want my children to grow up with faith, but I don’t want to force them to believe as I do. I want them to have the tools to use as they are growing up to make the same choices I did. That way, they know their journey with God is genuine because that is the only way to have a strong relationship with faith. 

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