Living each day much muchier
For those of us who grew up in religion and later came to reject it, eschewing belief doesn’t automatically mean freedom from its burdens. Unfortunately. A decade later, I still feel compelled by justice, doing the right thing, constant productivity, universal narrative and a sense that someone’s watching and weighing my actions (even though that’s absurd and theologically unsound anyway).
The ready-made, oven baked goodness of religion swoops in when you’re vulnerable because it claims to answer the problem of a god-shaped hole, naturally, with god. The god-shaped hole is a story we tell ourselves and each other to provide a framework around some of the deepest worth and security needs we all face. We deal with them in different ways, sometimes healthily, often destructively. It’s part of the human condition and the curious, gnarly, frustrating, creative act of finding your way through. Describing the hole as God-shaped only foists the need for facing our worth and security needs onto someone or something else, which can be both comforting and disempowering at the same time.
Here’s my list of some of the most powerful, need-driven ideas of Christianity that I miss the simplicity of foisting upon God.
1. Someone more powerful than you has your back
You can do everything within your power to make something happen, but the greater part of what happens in life is outside of your control. When you want something with all your heart, it’s nice to think that there’s an omnipotent power out there who’s not only looking out for you but deliberately acting on your behalf and influencing in ways you can’t imagine. You can let go and let God.
When you’re small and vulnerable and suffering under life’s recurring shitheap, it’s nice to think that God takes charge and all you need to do is rest, gently cradled in the palm of His awesome hand. He’s got you. It’ll be okay. Daddy’s here.
If all goes well, we thank God. If it doesn’t, we invoke the esoteric mystery of His will. Because He knows all, He knows better and that path was never meant for you.
The underlying power is how it facilitates us to let go of things outside our control. We can reach for what we want and need, but not strive needlessly. We have a reason to let go when it doesn’t work out. It’s good to hope for things, but not hold on too tightly. Sometimes it goes your way. Sometimes it’s disappoints. It might not be okay now, but it can be… in a while if you develop the inner elasticity to realise that other paths are waiting for you, when you’re ready.
2. You can be forgiven and washed clean
Forgiveness for each other is essential to healthy relationships. Feeling forgiven is essential to health and wellbeing. We can ask someone for forgiveness for that dumbass thing we did, but from whom do we ask forgiveness for being a dumbass in general? Many of us hold deep fears that we’re wrong somehow or unworthy of love. Where do we turn to then? God’s eternal grace and love washes us clean though we’re undeserving. There’s power in it because it provides catharsis for our ick. The act of repentant prayer is a ritual that draws a line in the sand and allows us to move on. The act is important, the story we tell ourselves about it is not.
Forgiving and feeling forgiven are pithy, difficult things. Life gets messy and we don’t always act honourably. Forgiveness is essential because it releases tension and allows us to learn from mistakes while letting go of misery. It’s not easy, but gets easier with practice.
3. You are seen and known and inherently, unquestionably loved
If you’ve ever been an outsider, let alone felt that way for much of your life, being known by God is powerful. The coolest kid on the block sees right into your very heart where you’re terrified to let anyone know who you really are and He loves you. He loves you without question, without hesitation. He always loved you from the moment of your conception to your last breath, and he will bring you home to an eternity in His presence.
We want to belong. We are a social species. Believing you’re loved when other people or circumstances in your life have led you to believe you’re unlovable is powerful. No matter who hurts you, who betrays you, who leaves you, you’ve always got God. There’s no magic, non religious trick to access this feeling because loving yourself is great, but doesn’t cut it. It doesn’t meet this need. The only way is an act of bravery to open yourself up to people. Honestly, I don’t think we give other people enough credit for how much they love us and how quickly they’d be there if we asked.
4. You belong to something bigger than yourself
Knowing how your story fits in the greater story of the world and championing a cause gives meaning to life. You know why you’re here. You are here to be loved by God and to help others discover that for themselves. You’re here to help the sick, the poor, the needy and guide them to eternal salvation. What could be more important than that?
This is especially appealing when you’re vulnerable. When your life stops making sense and you can’t figure out what’s going on or what to do next, this meta-narrative grounds you and hands you a map with directions. It makes sense of life for you.
Paradoxically, you are never more lost than when you’re found. When you accept someone else’s story about who you are and what your life should look like, you hand over your sensibilities and your personal agency. You’re handing it over to someone who’ll do a better job with your life than you (aka Jesus, aka the church). What a relief. What disempowerment.
Designing your own story is a privilege and a responsibility, but there’s insecurity in making decisions that aren’t pre-packaged and pre-approved. They may not be what people expect and they may not like it, especially if it flies in the face of decisions they’ve made. If it bothers people, it’s often because they need you to reinforce their decisions by making similar ones and if you don’t, it’s cognitively easier to assume that you’re wrong. Who are you to think you know better, to step outside the story and do what you want?
Who are you indeed? Well, you get to decide. That’s the point.
I guess when life gets hard, that’s when I miss religion. When I want something out of reach. When I need a holiday from myself. When I’m lonely or feeling lost, religion offers ready-made answers and feelings to aim for. It was so formative that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to leave it behind. It gave me some good tools though. When I miss it, I accept that those feelings are normal and dealing with them is the privilege of being alive. I have the absolute honour of figuring out what comes next.
The world is so exquisite with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there’s little good evidence. Far better it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides.”