Religion is a topic of much debate no matter where in the world it’s the subject of discussion. No matter where you are, it’s almost certain that someone you know – or several – have very strong opinions on what religion is and which of the organized religions is the “best” or the “true” way, and most of them are happy to explain why. Most of them, in fact, would argue with anyone who said anything different.
Well, I’m not one of those people in anyone’s circle. See, I decided that organized religion is not for me. In fact, I decided that before I realized I felt that way. I’ll explain.
My parents got divorced when I was about twelve, almost thirteen, right after we had taken a family road trip across a few states on the mainland (<– what people in Hawaii call the continental U.S.) and came home to find out my sister, who was seventeen at the time, told my mom she was pregnant (so THAT’S why she was puking all the time, I remember thinking).
The divorce was more complicated than I could have understood at that age, but I knew it had to do with the yelling and the lickens (<– that’s what we call ‘spankings’ in Hawaii). My dad had anger issues that he didn’t know how to deal with and he used to go overboard with the discipline of us kids and my mom was over it.
After the divorce, my mom, who was brought up and still is a member of the Mormon church, let my little sister and me decide whether or not to continue going to church with her. I think she was just so burnt out from all the fighting and stress that even those Sunday morning scuffles with us, trying to get us up on a day that we didn’t have to go to school, was more than she wanted to deal with.
I had never really taken an interest in church, as it was shown to me. Honestly, I thought there were too many ridiculous rules – like the whole “women can’t show their shoulders or knees” thing – seriously? We live in Hawaii. The average temperature, no matter what day of the year, is about 78 degrees. I live in shorts and tank tops.
In addition to the rules, I thought it was super boring, aside from the singing part of the kids classes. I mean, come on, why would anyone think that God would expect children to be “reverent” for an entire hour of boring grown-ups talking about boring things? It never made sense to me.
The nail in the coffin of Mormonism for me was when I learned that I would never be able to be the Bishop because I’m a girl AND up until a couple decades ago (at the time), colored (meaning black, brown, yellow – anything but white) people weren’t allowed to hold the priesthood (positions of authority in the faith) either and you know what the reasoning was? “Questionable lineage.” WTF?
I’ve never been a fan of discrimination in any way, shape or form. I’m pretty sure I came pre-loaded that way and my parents reinforced the hardwiring with their actions, even though we never had an actual conversation about discrimination or racism. My parents were both active with youth groups that involved kids of all sizes, shapes and colors; mostly church and Special Education-centered groups. My dad was an official for years at the Special Olympics in Hawaii. Did I know those kids were different? Duh. Did I think they were of less value because they were different? Never.
So being a Mormon was a “no thanks” for me. Over the years, I visited quite a few different congregations and did a little digging, but never found one that, well, spoke to me. I never really thought about it as a big deal because it didn’t change my faith in God or the knowledge that He’s real and He loves me. I wasn’t as in tune with him as I wish I’d been for a long period of time, but He never forgot about me and when I look back on my life, I know for sure that there were times that I never would have made it through if it weren’t for His grace.
The more comfortable I’ve gotten with my own relationship with God, the more I realized that religion, or rather, the practice of organized religion, just isn’t for me.
This realization made it’s full debut shortly after my dad passed away in 2015. I kind of had a little meltdown a few months after he died. He died in May and my birthday was in August. For whatever reason, my grief, the full ugly, wrenching grief that I didn’t realize was inside me, broke through my consciousness on my birthday, when I realized that I’d never see him again in this lifetime. There isn’t a word for that kind of grief. Devastation is the closest thing I can think of.
You know, I had aunts and uncles that had passed away before my dad, and I remember hugging my cousins and crying for them, thinking how much it sucked for them, but until you actually lose a parent that you’ve been close to, you really don’t understand. And I’m happy for you that you don’t, if that’s the case. Cherish that. Cherish them.
After The Meltdown, I unknowingly set off on a path of spiritual enlightenment. I started reading everything I could find about things that would and have helped me to strengthen my relationship with myself and my spirituality.
My heart and soul had long understood that religion, as it’s taught and portrayed in the different organized religions, isn’t for me. At least, not any of those in existence. Now, before you get upset and think I’m saying that your religion – or any religion – is wrong, that’s not what I’m saying. Up until about 8 months ago, I couldn’t really have explained it to you at all. Then I came across a quote from Deepak Chopra that immediately brought me to tears because it put into words what I hadn’t been able to. He said,
“Religion is believing someone else’s experience. Spirituality is having your own experience. Atheism is no experience, just measurement.”
Sometimes I thought I was crazy (still do, haha) for thinking that I could have a relationship with God but not believe in or follow any particular organized religion. I knew I was definitely not an atheist or agnostic because I’m very sure of my Higher Power and His love, so where did that leave me? See, the brainwashed part of my brain was hysterically searching for something to belong to because we are a culture – as a species – that tells us we have to belong to something and then forgets to mention that being a child of God meets that requirement without our even having to try.
Don’t get me wrong, I still have my doubts, but my doubts have nothing to do with God’s existence and importance in my life. My doubts are like a lot of others, I worry that I’m not doing enough [fill in the blank here], that I made the wrong turn when I [fill in the blank here], that I’m doing too much [fill in the blank here], you know, that stuff.
I question myself, and I ask questions of God, but I don’t question God. He and I are tight. I tell Him things that I can’t tell anyone else and He listens, never judges me, and always sends me a little sign of encouragement when I least expect it, but really need it.
It’s amazing what happens when you open your mind to what your heart and soul have been telling you for forever. The word often used is synchronicities and the experience is humbling. This isn’t the whole nine on my view of and feelings about religion and spirituality, but this is the first time that I’ve actually written any of it down, and it’s very emancipation-esque.
If you’ve been searching for something but don’t know what, take a second to check in with yourself. God will be waiting, in whatever form that is most comfortable for you to think of Him. He’s THE Ultimate Master of Ceremony and understands that each of us has different spiritual needs. Just know that He can definitely, without a doubt, meet those needs. You just have to give it a chance. We’ll talk more later. 🙂
My best & warmest blessings,