Religion. It’s an amazingly powerful word, full of emotion. Wars have been fought and won over it. Relationships have ended and started because of it. People’s lives have been turned around as a result of it. My faith, lack of faith and every step of the way in between has been an evolutionary process full of love-hate moments. It wasn’t until this week that my questioning religion came full circle.
I grew up in the Presbyterian Christian church. My family would proclaim themselves Christians but I never experienced any of the family values that Jesus talks about in the Bible at home with my “Christian” parents. It was a house with some fun moments but a lot of mental illness, alcohol and drug abuse, physical and verbal abuse and plain old dysfunction. I would constantly question God and why He would let all of these bad things happen in our house. I would go to Forest Home, a Christian weekend retreat in Big Bear, for a weekend and be completely inspired and feeling His love, then return home to my mom and her boyfriend violently fighting with cops on their way. I would instantly go back into questioning Him mode. The cycle would continue like that throughout my elementary, junior and high school years. I had no doubt in my mind that I could feel something greater than myself but I doubted the plan being used. These were my agnostic years.
In college, I explored every religion and spiritual ideology I could get my hands on. What I started to see was a general pattern of a great being(s), guidelines and rules, decisions and consequences. Everything seemed to center around one common principle of love. Love for yourself, family, friends, strangers around you, the Earth and skies. So I focused on love. These were my spiritual but not religious years.
About 3-4 years ago, I was living in Los Angeles where I’d moved for a job and was in a very serious and tumultuous relationship. This person resembled the bi-polarness, alcohol abuse and general dysfunction that I’d grown up around with my mom but I saw a better person in him than he could see in himself and held steadfast that he had the ability to change. We all know where that was headed, right? Right after the new year had passed, I got laid off for the first time ever and broken up with in the same day. Needless to say, I was beside myself and felt completely destroyed. My ego was battered and bruised in a completely new way than I was used to. This feeling went on for a couple weeks until one night, for no reason at all, I began praying out loud in the dark while laying in my bed, for the first time in 7 years. I said that I needed confirmation that He was around me because it didn’t feel that way and asked for something very specific and unlikely to happen the next day. To my astonishment, it actually happened the next day. Things just kept getting worse over the next month. One morning, I woke up at sunrise and sat on my knees in front of my mirror and began praying out loud again. This time with such emotion it scared me. I said, “I don’t know what to do anymore. Everything I do seems to make my situation worse. I’m giving up trying to control everything and am trusting you for guidance.” No one will ever believe this but in that moment I truly felt that I got an answer to my prayer. I had a feeling of relief and lightness sweep over me that I hadn’t felt in months and my internal thoughts said to break my apartment lease and move to Long Beach where I could ease my finances, nurse my heartbreak and get back on my feet. I’ve never been someone that understood using religion as a way to ease discomfort or other crutches its used for many times but for the first time, I understood the idea around knowing you have someone in your corner. So I did just what I felt I was told, negotiated and paid myself out of my lease, packed up and moved to a cheaper place in Long Beach, worked on my issues around choosing a partner that relived the unhealthy family cycle I knew, found new work and got back to feeling healthy and joyful. From that moment on my knees forward, I completely trusted in God and the Christian faith.
After getting settled in Long Beach, I joined the ParkCrest church community and relished in finding a church that focused on love, understood that life is not black and white but gray, didn’t pass judgement and generally wanted to do good in the world. The past 6 months, I’ve been training at ParkCrest to become a coach. This coaching method focuses on the coachee, moving them forward in their life, giving them action steps by asking perspective opening questions, without giving any advice or personal bias. It’s been a truly exciting and fulfilling process to see it really help people quickly. This past Sunday I finished my final training and my missional life pastor deemed me suitable for my first coach pairing. I get a call this morning, thinking this is information on my first coachee, and she says, “I need to ask you a very personal question.” I say, “Ok.” “Are you and your fiance sleeping together?” You’d think someone had punched me in the gut and cut my tongue out over the degree of silent shock unheard from me. I answer her, “Yes” after what felt like a lifetime of silence. She said ok, well then we aren’t going to be able to allow to be a coach. I’m silently processing everything that just happened and she asks me something about how I’m feeling. I said,”Well, I’m disapointed. Disappointed that I can’t coach, which I feel I’m naturally good at and disappointed about being judged by the church I love so much.” I’m choking back tears at this point. She says she understands how I would feel like I’m being judged but that they hold their church leaders to biblical standards and not having sex before marriage would be one of those expectations. This is the first time I’m hearing that this is being seen as a leadership position in any way and that there are any set expectations on this role. My confusion over what is going on is palpable. I say ok and get off the phone.
I’m instantly brought back to my agnostic years in the church where I was judged because I’m a multiracial child of divorce and less than desirable family going-ons. I never felt Christian enough in their eyes and for the first time in ages, I was feeling the same judgement. I have family that work in ministry and know of the no drinking and sex before marriage contracts they have to sign to be able to work at the church. If this was that kind of situation why was there no mention or discussion of the role or expectations until 6 months after I’ve put my heart and time into this? I ran into her at a sports bar over the past weekend having a beer with her boyfriend. How can they handpick which rules to apply to people? My fiance and I both have looked at the moment he put that ring on my finger like we are married. In our eyes, the wedding we’re planning and license we’ll get are a celebration for our family and friends, and legal paperwork for the government. I very easily could’ve said no or I didn’t feel comfortable answering that question and I’d be paired up to begin coaching but I chose honesty and the consequence is being shut out. What value of honesty does that teach? The whole situation could’ve been handled in so many different ways along the way, instead its resulted in ambush, humiliation and hurt.
So I’m left now feeling completely rejected, wondering what the future of my relationship with ParkCrest will be. I’m questioning the paradigm of religion and spirituality. Can I have and be a part of both? Does all religion have judgement in it? Can spirituality be applied in a community setting? So many questions now, with no answers.
All I know is that I’ve had coaching brought into my life by a God that I love and trust. It’s a surprising path that fulfills me and serves in a way that is meaningful others. I know that I will continue doing it in a larger way, outside of the church. For that, I’m truly thankful.
I want to hear from you. What has your experience with religion been like? What do you think the difference between religion and spirituality is? Tell me your story in the comments below. Don’t forget to subscribe to receive new blog alerts and share with your friends.