I was raised Catholic, (strictly Catholic,) and still spent most of my life not really getting it. I’ve known people who seemed almost on fire for God. And I never really understood that, although I found it rather fascinating and always thought it would be pretty cool to be that passionate about your faith. But I was never, ever anywhere near having a faith so deep.
I looked for it. I really thought I did. I thought if I put myself out there enough, in the right situations, I would find ways to experience God. When we were regular attendees at church, I got involved. I volunteered to be a Eucharistic minister. Ultimately, I just felt uncomfortable standing in front of the church serving Communion.
I joined a Bible study once. Lamentations. Bad place to start your first Bible study. I was confused and not the least inspired. And the woman who lead the group was deeply knowledgeable about all things biblical. She looked down her nose on newcomers. She left a bad taste in my mouth and I stopped attending when there were still a couple of classes left to go.
I was an RCIA sponsor once. (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults – a process in which a person spends time learning and studying in order to become a member of the Catholic community.) I spent … I don’t know … six months or so supporting a friend who wanted to become Catholic. I attended weekly classes with her and stood beside her as she was confirmed at the Easter Vigil that year. I remember expecting to feel something really spiritual during that mass. It was the culmination of months of preparation and prayer. I expected to feel something tangible as all of the RCIA candidates were baptised and confirmed. But … nothing. I went home that night feeling disappointed. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting to see or feel. I just thought I might feel something really amazing deep down inside.
My friend gave me a woman’s study Bible as a thank you gift for sponsoring her. I tried reading it now and then with little success. Being raised Catholic, I was never required to read the Bible. Don’t laugh! That’s true. My favorite joke was made by a priest I once knew. He told the story of a woman who was going to read one of the gospel readings at mass. She asked him how to pronounce a name in the reading because she didn’t want to say it wrong in front of the whole church. He said to her, “It doesn’t matter how you pronounce it. No one will know the difference. We’re Catholic. We don’t actually read the Bible!”
Eventually I stopped attending church. I was burned out. Part of that had to do with the fact that when you get really involved in church, behind the scenes, you see and experience a lot of not-so religious people and behavior. Our church didn’t feel like a place I wanted to be and that in itself was a problem. I was merely going through the motions, and all of the ritual of the mass just made me feel distracted. No offense intended to anyone who finds God in this setting. I just felt blind to Him there. So I stopped going. It’s not that I stopped believing. I just didn’t see what good church was doing me.
For years, I was in limbo, doing little, but periodically thinking, “I should get back to church … somewhere.”
And then last summer, a coworker shared a book about faith and religion with me. And I felt a spark, which actually felt like hope, and also like happy, and often it meant being able to stop worrying, which I’d become pretty good at. Reading that book led to wanting to and actually reading more books, seeking more information, and a sense that I might finally be starting to know and understand God. I often marvel to myself that it took this long for me to begin to grasp this, but it’s also amazing enough that I’ll finally allow myself to keep finding God where I feel Him, not just where I’ve always thought I was supposed to find Him.
Most of the time this feels like an evolution to me. I find myself attempting to be more positive, more understanding, and more forgiving. Or at least striving to be those things, even while I continue to fail at them fairly often. Every day, I remind myself to be grateful, for everything, even the really challenging stuff. And I’m mellowing out in a lot of ways, I think. Sometimes it feels like a light bulb finally went on. But every once in a while a part of me wonders when all of the wonder and optimism might start to fizzle away again and I will go back to the feeling that stale way I often used to feel.
Then yesterday on lunch break at work, the conversation turned somewhat morbid. My lunch mates were talking about what kinds of personal tragedies they were sure they could never endure. Two of them mentioned friends and relatives who had endured more heartache than any one person should have to in a single lifetime. One of them said, “Doesn’t it just make you wonder if there’s really a God?”
It actually kind of hurt to hear him say that. Which is ironic because not long ago, I don’t think I would have been all that bothered. I didn’t offer a response, mainly because I just didn’t know how to respond to that. (I suppose a simple “no” might have done it.) But it was enough to realize that it bothered me. That’s when I knew, I’ve made a leap.