I don't remember learning how to go potty by myself, how to count without using my fingers, or how to spell my name. I don't remember when I first heard of Jesus or what someone told me about God and heaven and hell.
I don't remember what I thought when I found out Santa wasn't bringing me gifts on Christmas Eve and the Easter Bunny didn't really lay candy eggs.
As far as I'm concerned, I've always known these things.
I can't recall much until the age of six.
It's like I was wide-awake drunk for the first five years of my life. I know I was there, being a kid, but I have to rely on my parents to tell me what I was like or what exactly I'm doing in a photo because I have no recollection and I don't recognize myself. There are only brief flashes of familiarity in their stories - probably from hearing them so many times - but the images in my mind are too blurry for me to be sure of their accuracy.
When you grow up feeling you've always known things are a certain way, like I did, you forget there is more to be discovered; you forget how to be curious and use your imagination. You stop asking questions and accept the realities someone else taught you; lessons you can't even remember learning.
I'm not sure how old I was when I stopped asking questions, or why I thought it was frowned upon. I conditioned myself to pretend I understood what it was I believed in and I chose to take everything at face value, no deeper. Being raised in a charismatic but highly conservative religion kept me on the defense and I combatted questions about whether or not I was in a cult with humor and sarcasm. The truth was I had no idea what my religion was really about but I didn't plan on letting anyone know it.
I used to be a hard worker.
In school, I exerted a lot of energy being an over-achiever. I had to be the quickest learner, the fastest runner, the best speller, the first to finish every test and every assigned book. Eventually my striving backfired when my counselor encouraged me to take accelerated classes in high school. I no longer felt I was on the same level as my peers; everyone was speaking a foreign language I couldn't understand and didn't want to try, using words I'd never heard of or calculating the relevancy of a concept or theory. Reading, one of my favorite ways to escape reality, became a chore and I had to fake my way through metaphorical discussions about poetry and what the author really meant. After spending half a semester pretending I wasn't struggling through assignments, I opted for a schedule change.
I preferred being the smartest in the "normal" classes, collecting easy As; not the dumbest in the smart kid's classes where I actually had to try.
Even though adults would tell me there were no stupid questions, I believed most were and I wasn't about to get caught asking them. I told myself that working hard for something wasn't "me", and considered this a lesson in taking the path of least resistance.
I had an epiphany and it stings.
A few months ago I came to a sobering epiphany. Every choice I've made has mirrored someone else's and I'm frustrated with myself for not seeing it sooner. Because I didn't ask questions and my subconscious decision to live the easiest life, I have gone against everything I believe about fighting to be who you really are.
I started working when I was 15, at the same company my mom works for. Everyone knew me because I babysat their kids, so I didn't have to bother interviewing. I was handed a job. I stayed with that company for 13 years. It was easy. It was what my mom did, so I guess I could do it too.
While at that job, I married a youth pastor. My dad is a pastor. Even though there is nothing easy about ministry, it was a natural progression for me and it felt familiar. Having been a PK, I had an idea of what I could expect. If my dad could do it, and my mom could handle it, I guess I could too.
- I think it's normal for a younger sibling to idolize and look up to the oldest. So it goes with my brother. I wanted to be just like him. He is a creative designer and when I had the opportunity to do something similar in my 13-year career at that company my mom works at, I jumped at it. If he could do it, I guess I could too. Incidentally, my brother is also a writer and his novel, Eleanor, releases in January. And here I am, blogging away calling myself a writer, too. Because if he can do it...
It disrupted my psyche. I stopped working hard at forging my own path so long ago, mindlessly jumping on the backs of my own family, and I hadn't even realized it.
I wanted to be an athlete and run races.
I wanted to be a veterinarian and save animals.
I wanted to be a singer/songwriter and bring melody to my feelings.
Instead, I opted for safety and comfort. I chose to take the easy way out and mirror my mom and my dad and my brother. Not only did I stop asking questions about what I believe, I stopped asking who I wanted to become.
Fast forward to now...
It's no wonder I've found myself at odds with what I believe my purpose is: to entertain the questions that answers cannot satisfy - the ones most shy away from and discard, opting for the comfort of masked truths - and encourage others to do the same.
I have freedom for the first time in my life to interact with God in a reactive manner. I know what you're thinking. Reactive? It's better to be proactive than reactive. It's better to think before you speak.
I'm implementing an active practice of separating my beliefs from knowledge, so I allow my emotions to be whatever they are without trying to stuff them away or assess them silently before I express them - before I feel them. In this separation is space for me to say with confidence, "I don't know. I don't have the answer. I don't get it. I simply believe because of this experience."
In our house, we say, "You never know what you know until you have to teach it." But knowing isn't believing. And for me, it hasn't created understanding. If anything, it's created more doubt and anxiety. I'm reacting to the bible in ways I never have - because I'm not reading it to learn the rules or teach someone else what it means.
I've deprived myself so long of asking "those" questions - the ones I thought were stupid for me to ask - because, hello: pastor's daughter, pastor's wife, pastor's daughter-in-law. My feelings of having to just know all the things are continual. I have to choose to break apart from the cycle and ask. And I have to choose to do it in my own way.
I like questioning because I like the not knowing.
Who am I if I'm not asking why or how come or who says?
Who am I if the truth isn't constantly shifting?
Who am I if I don't allow my experiences to change me - even if it means I'll be upset and angry for a while?
In our detachment from church, and my writing openly about it, I've made people uncomfortable. Some have been brave enough to voice their concerns and stick with me, while others brush this transition off as a "phase" and stand back until I'm "over it". And still others continue to feel the need to "challenge" me with well-meaning but disconnecting advice, "What you feel is real, blahblahblah, but the church is the bride of Christ so leaving is like divorcing it and that means you're separating yourself from God, and that's bad, so heal already and find a church."
For me, visiting a church is not a challenge - it's just something I don't want to do. And if there is any way to get me to not do something, it's to tell me to do it. Why do you think I never went to college?
I am still very much a part of the church - so long as we are on the same page as defining the church as people and not a structure - I'm just not showing up to a building once a week where everyone is invited and can vouch for my Christianity. I am not losing my faith or separating myself from God, although I may be divorcing religion.
Ignoring the emotional upheaval and "just attending a church" is too hard. The people, the format of a planned service; it's a known environment where I can too easily shift into the role of being a "good Christian", hiding in plain sight and representing only the most polished aspects of myself. Because that's what I know I'll do. Church is where I don't feel the questions I have; where I don't have room to react. It's a place where knowledge is revered and encouraged. And I need belief, not knowledge.
I have to deconstruct the hurt I'm carrying and learn to release it in my own way. I have to allow myself space to process without conceding someone else's agenda; to explore each emotional outburst and type the unspoken words that are not nice or pretty. I have to ask the simplest questions without the weight of filtering answers I might be fed, deciding which to spit out and which to digest - and without the pressure of saying I know when I really don't.
Letting the spirit - the language of my soul, the beating of my heart - plead my cause to God because I don't have any idea how to pray, or why I even bother sometimes, is what would be challenging advice to give me.
I've been an advocate for questioning - sometimes in the form of confessions - for a few years now, but I have never felt the freedom to admit I still don't really get it. I don't know what it means to me to be a Christian, and I hate bothering with a label at all.
This is what I've never allowed myself to do.
I am questioning everything I've ever known about how, why, and when I interact with God and replacing it with belief. I'm learning who I really am on the other side of organized religion and corporate church. It's an equal mix of pain and relief to admit I just don't know.
And this is where I remind myself to work hard. I refuse to take the easy way out and jump on someone else's path because on the other side is me: more authentic and more confident that who I am is exactly who I should be.
Maybe I'll be a writer. Or maybe I'll sing songs.