The exception to the rule in a traditionally religious family.
I grew up in a family of devout Christians. Literally, about 80 percent of my adult relatives are pastors, ministers, ushers, choir members, praise dancers, officers in the church or otherwise heavily involved. I was set on this same path from the youngest age that I can remember.
We would wake up bright and early Sunday morning to get ready for the day’s services. My mother would curl my hair and I’d slip into one of my fancy ruffled dresses, a pair of white lace ankle socks and slightly-heeled shoes. My brother would put on his best suit accompanied by a fresh haircut and we’d join my mom and grandmother, who were always dressed to the nines and usually in big swanky hats, as we headed to Sunday school.
After Sunday school we’d hang around until the morning service started about 30 minutes later. Then, we’d go home and eat the huge dinner my grandmother prepared the night prior, before heading back to church for the evening service. Later in the week, there was choir rehearsal on Tuesday or Thursday, sometimes both, and Wednesday night bible study. This would be in addition to any special programs or events that may have been taking place. It felt like we were always at church. I didn’t mind it much though. It was all I knew.
Outside of church I spent a lot of time at my grandmother’s house and she was very strict. She wasn’t the type to leave her religion between the four walls of the sanctuary. We couldn’t listen to secular music or watch non-godly television shows. In school I could never participate in discussions with the cool kids about the latest Nightmare on Elm Street Movie or Bobby Brown song. That is until I got a Sony Walkman one Christmas and discovered the local radio stations. It opened up a whole new world for me!
When home with my mother, she would get up in the middle of the night to use the restroom and catch me still awake, reading by my nightlight. I had a purple King James Version Bible with my name engraved into it that would often serve as my reading material of choice, if I wasn’t caught up in an edition of The Baby Sitters Club. I was the model church-going little girl.
Then, as I got old enough to notice certain things, I did. As I got old enough to think for myself instead of regurgitate what I had been taught, I thought. A pastor at one of our churches fostered a 15-year-old girl who was beautiful, but troubled and alone. He got her pregnant. Later, my aunt wanted to seek more holistic cancer treatments for her son as she was leery about the effects of chemotherapy and the manner in which it ravages a human body. Though the church was filled with financially prosperous members, no one was swayed enough by her tears to help with payments. My cousin died in his early 20s. Many assisted with covering the cost of his funeral.
I saw religion and individuals claiming to be religious hurt more people than were helped, and started to explore the point of it all. I know you can’t judge a thing or a group of people based on a few anomalies. There are plenty of Christians who live by the principles, who are “good” people that aim to be of service and help those in need. I know some personally. Bad experiences didn’t drive me away. I mostly just stopped identifying with not just Christianity but religion as a whole.
I’m pro-do whatever makes you happy as long as you’re not harming anyone. I want people to love who they love and live their lives in truth. Not my truth, not your truth, not the truth in a book, THEIR truth. Religion just started to feel too constricting for me. So, I started to focus more on morality. What matters most to me is the way that we treat other people.
I started to focus on love. Not in the emotional sense, but as a perspective. Love embodies kindness, support, tolerance and empathy. It has no rules and no boundaries as to whom it can be bestowed upon. Love is freeing.
Practicing love allows me to also maintain respect and appreciation for those who do choose to follow a religious doctrine. Sometimes, we need something to hold on to that feels bigger than ourselves. Religion is that something for a number of people. It’s helped carry my mom through to being the best version of herself that she can be. So, I don’t knock it at all or undervalue the importance of its presence in the lives of some.
That’s the beauty of operating in love; with a sense of integrity there are no hard rights and wrongs as far as what people should believe or how they should live their lives. Do what works for you. Do what makes you happy. Do what makes you a better human being. And allow others to do the same.
For me, love is enough.