I grew up without religion. I am thankful for that. At a young age when I was impressionable and prone to magical thinking nobody told me what to believe about God.
Nobody warned me about being flawed, broken or sinful. Nobody told me that the wages of sin was death. I didn’t have to deal with adherence to a book talking about a God who was simultaneously loving and also wrathful.
That would have been confusing and potentially damaging to my fragile developing self. However, I had a lot of questions that nobody near me was talking about.
I remember laying in bed as a 6 or 7 year old and having my own private existential crisis while thinking about planet earth, death and what was really important.
Nobody told me to stew over these things. As far as I remember nobody around me was talking about the things I was fretting over. I remember thinking about outer space and the vastness of it all and then freaking out as I realized how small I was. I mostly pulled the covers over my head and tried to get to sleep.
My family growing up was weary of religion and when I started going to church on my own accord at 16 it raised eyebrows from my parents. They supported me in my decision, but I could see them holding their breath.
Looking back to that decision to find my own church at 16 I can see what I was looking for and the needs that I was hoping to fill. I wasn’t sure that the church had what I was looking for, but it seemed a step in the right direction.
I have been asking myself lately, now twenty years later…
… what was my 16 year old self looking for?
I was looking for:
Belonging in the midst of showing my real self to people
A need to know that something else existed beyond my materialistic understanding of the world
A blueprint of how to live life
As organized religion does, I was given some fences to contain me and some rules to live by. My hope was that adherence to those boundaries would create a more meaningful life, a path that would lead to a life worth occupying.
Looking back, I see my entry into religion as an on-ramp to my spiritual life.
I had real concrete experiences with something bigger than me and it did give me hope. I did meet people who saw me and loved me. These people who didn’t have all the answers, but did support me on my journey. I am grateful for this season of my discovery.
I also found a lot of people who didn’t have the answers I was looking for. I met a lot of people who were just as confused and lost as me. They were suffering but pretending they were fine. I met pastors who talked a good talk and held onto verses and rules, but I could see past their words.
A lot of them had sad eyes as well.
I tried that for awhile too - pushing my pain and difficult questions deep down and keeping a smile on the outside. I wasn’t very good at it. I have never been great at pretending.
I think this is because there is one aching question I always come back to:
What is the best way to live out this experience of being a human?
I realize that some people can live live their entire lives and never ask this question. I could not.
It’s as if this question has been burned into my soul. Even when I was young my avoidance of this deeper question caused me pain.
Over and over I have asked the question, what the hell are we doing here?
I have struggled with my desire to know how to reconstruct a reality that was meaningful. As an eternal optimist I spent a lot of years ignoring my own shadow and the darkness in this world. In all actuality the earth plane seems a tough place to live. Life is hard, people die, people are abused and in deep pain.
Loads of suffering, really.
I got rid of the bible as a rule book, religion, the belief that society has many answers, patriotism and the belief that money is the answer.
So much deconstruction…
What are my fences? What contains me? What are the rules or guidelines for me to live by if I have thrown all the other ones out?
I spent the last decade letting reality confront me as well as deconstructing what I have known to be true.
Over the past ten years I have felt like a tree with my roots severed.
Beliefs and traditions from the past that brought comfort no longer do and I have felt floaty and ungrounded, wanting to be contained by something, but not sure what.
After everything was torn down to the bare bones I started reconstructing new fences and planting my roots back in the earth, trying to decide what would create a meaningful life.
Here is what I have so far:
What does it look like if I do what is best for my soul? This should be good for my family, community and the world. Now and in the future.
What is beautiful, good and true? Do that.
My primary relationship in this world is to me. If I remember how lovable I am and treat myself with love, everything good flows out of that connection to myself.
Everyone just wants to know they are Ok and feel safe.
These are my new fences. I like these fences. They are wide and broad yet they contain me. They remind me and redirect me when I forget who I am and what I am doing here on this earth. When I let these truths guide me, I like who I am and how I show up in my life and this world.
I have been writing and memorizing songs so I don’t forget what I am aiming for. The songs are with me all the time. I can sing them over myself or my kids or a friend who might need help remembering.
These songs are my medicine and they help me remember who I am and who I am becoming.
They help us remember who we are and who we are becoming.
Don't waste your hate
Rather gather and create
Be of service
Be a sensible person
Use your words and don't be nervous
You can do this you've got purpose
Find your medicine and use it