Do you ever look back at old photos and internally scream because you ever allowed yourself to walk out of the house looking like that? For me, I get that way about my old writing. Well, also the photos, obviously. For a long time, it was just ponytails, terrible glasses, shapeless clothes, and no makeup. Ah, the golden year of 2018….
You’re probably expecting me to say, "You continue to evolve and so does your writing abilities. End of blog post.” Man, you guys are good. Yes, as we are faced with circumstances over the course of our lifetime, we must face them. Or you’ve never had any difficult circumstances, but I’m guessing you’re not an inanimate object. As a result, we adapt, and things about ourselves may change. For me, I can see a dramatic improvement in my writing style from when I first started college to now, a college graduate (!!!). That’s to be expected. I mean, thank god I learned things in college. (I want to take some time right now to give a personal shoutout to school loans!) But, another reason that my writing has improved, or at least changed quite a bit, is because I have changed as a person. This change, I believe, has been a long time coming. For years, I had been unsettled in my Christianity and didn’t want to address it. I didn’t understand the hype about having a relationship with God, even though others around me constantly told me about how great it was. Spirituality as a whole felt like a daunting task that I needed to make work, because if it didn’t, then I was screwed.
I look back at some of the pieces I’ve written, even on this website, and I’m taken back to those moments of uncertainty and fear, trying to remind others and myself, over and over, that I was indeed a Christian. If I seemed sure of myself and my relationship (or lack thereof) with God on paper, then I’d be fine—I could just keep faking it until I made it. And I figured that how I felt about myself and my life was as good as it was ever going to get, always 80% sure of both myself and God. I called myself a Christian because of the schools I went to, to save face with others around me, and simply to have that hope of going to heaven one day, even though the idea of spending eternity worshipping the Creator sounds terrible to me.
When I was in high school, I had a pretty terrible habit of writing something out then deleting it and starting over from scratch; I didn’t enjoy editing what I had written and didn’t have the patience to do so, so I’d delete it and start anew with a fresh Word doc in front of my face. Usually after doing this, I’d write my best draft—somehow. I once told my high school English teacher how I composed all of my papers, and she audibly gasped. This habit that I’m trying to correct is something that I think bleeds into how I act towards other aspects of my life. For instance, the halfway mark of my last semester of college was a time of self-discovery and a great deal of anxiety. I had been listening to podcasts and reading books that talked about Christianity and spirituality in general, and I found myself agreeing with the more open-minded individuals rather than those who resembled what I had known all my life.
Podcasts such as The Liturgists, The RobCast, You Made it Weird with Pete Holmes, and some episodes of various podcasts featuring Elizabeth Gilbert are my favorites. The most recent spiritual book I’ve read is The Most Beautiful Thing I’ve Seen by Lisa Gungor, which is, you guessed it… a beautiful book.
As I listened and read, what these people were saying was exceedingly more attractive to me than what I had been hearing from religious platforms years prior, and things that I had been believing previously were now sounding foreign and untrue. I decided to test out my habit of deleting what I had so I could start fresh; I began to tune out my previous notions about spirituality and pave my own path. Whether this meant that I would find my way back to Christianity or not, I wanted my choice in religion and/or spirituality to be my decision, not driven by fear or a sense of duty.
To not be labeled as a Christian anymore was not a decision that I took lightly. In my 23 years of existence, I had been trying to stay strong in a relationship with God, but no matter how hard I tried, it always felt inauthentic to me. I have many friends and family members that are Christian, and I respect their beliefs, but forgoing this spiritual identity was necessary for me. I didn’t come to this conclusion on my own, however. It began, like I said previously, my last semester of college. I had been attending weekly sessions with my counselor for two years, and one day, she asked me what would happen if I wasn’t so harsh on myself for not being at the spiritual level everybody else was at. Not only was I comparing myself to others academically, but I had been beating myself up about the fact that I was not an “on-fire” Christian like many around me were at the Christian university I was attending. My counselor asked this because no matter if I succeeded in one area of my life, I voiced that it felt like I was always fighting with myself to stay afloat spiritually. So, we toyed around with the idea of seeing what else was out there for me spiritually. Call it a quarter-life crisis or call it a personal evolution. But as I looked at my life, I saw that religion was merely an added stressor for me, not something that added to my life. I was as depressed and anxious as I had ever been, even though I was attending church once a week and chapel twice a week. I decided that it was more important to be kinder to myself and get out of the box of religion I
put myself in, rather than slowly suffocate in it.
So, As I listened to podcasts and read books by those listed above, I noticed that they were a different kind of happy that I had rarely experienced or known before. Yes, yes, I know that “happy” is a very subjective term and can quite possibly be a facade that people put up for others, but this “different kind of happy” to me came across as infectious and something that I wanted to experience firsthand. The alarms implanted in my head from the years of religion started going off and saying, But they can’t really be happy. They’re not like us. They’re not on the right path. But as I digested all the information I could about them and what they stood for, they appeared to be happy—and even more than that, they were content. One of my sisters—the one that first introduced me to these podcasters—told me that “…happiness comes and goes. I can’t strive to always be happy. That’s not realistic and I actually don’t want to be. It’s suffering, sadness, happiness, all of it. And in the midst of it, being content.” I guess that the “different kind of happy” that I’m searching for in my life and have found as an example from these people, is actually contentedness. In addition to that, the way that Holmes, Bell, Gilbert, and the Gungors speak, what they find enjoyable in life, how they view themselves and others, and also how they view life as a whole comes across non-judgmentally and accepting, which I find beautiful.
With the peace I received as I allowed myself to shift my thinking, deep fear and dread settled in as well; as a Christian, I believed that the purpose of life was to worship God and to show others the love of God so that they would, in turn, become Christians as well. As a kid with many interests, I was sad at the thought of my writing and other hobbies amounting to nothing in the end if they didn’t point people toward God. So, I wondered about and voiced many questions and concerns about life, the ever-popular issue of heaven and hell, and other things I didn’t agree with about Christianity. For years, I had let others build my view of God, spirituality, and religion. As a result, I believed that homosexuality is a sin, the only “right” path in life is the one that God chooses, non-Christians went to hell after they died, and only Christians were allowed into heaven. No matter how absurd these things seemed to me, I just accepted them because I was told that they were right and were justified. It was also because I was scared that if I questioned anything or didn’t agree with something, then I wouldn’t be a real Christian myself, and I’d be awarded my very own ticket for the Hell Train.
People will say and have said that I’m not getting the whole picture of what Christianity is and what it stands for, and that may be true. But I will say that the things that have shown me meaning in life I have found while spending time with family, practicing yoga, writing, reading, creating, and connecting with those around me. We all have different opinions and views on life, and these are mine.
Simply put, I don’t want to be labeled. I’ve been finding a lot of freedom since I allowed myself to forego my identity as a Christian; however, this change has also been a weird, lonely, and humbling time for me as I discover who I am as a person and what I believe spiritually. One thing that I am certain of is that in this life, I want to be driven by kindness not only for myself, but for others as well. This is what I have discovered thus far, as I continue to evolve.