When I was very young I used to believe in God as much because I went to church regularly as for any other reason. Mother took me and my siblings to services every Sunday. I attended not only Sunday school as a preschooler but catechism classes until into my teens. I have been baptized, of course, and have also gone through Confirmation ceremony. For my middle school and high school years, I attended a private school run by nuns. I continued to attend Sunday mass during my college years and after becoming married, but once I started to have children I wasn't able to attend quite as regularly. I did go when able, bringing my offspring along with me.
I no longer attend church, nor have I done so for most of the last decade. I don't foresee changing this behavior in the future, either. What changed? Why have I dropped this thirty year habit?
I changed. At the age of thirty, I became another divorce statistic and have been a single mother ever since. Time and energy became that much more absorbed with caring for my four children. I could get us to services on only the most sporadic basis before the divorce, but as my resources became more and more limited attendance trickled down to almost nil. And even more than that, I was questioning nearly everything that I had ever believed about God, the church and my place within the universe.
During this soul-searching period, I and my children visited mental counselors, support groups and other therapists on a regular basis for several years to help us cope with the stress of our situation. Delving into my past, I learned how events from my childhood lead to decisions that I had made as an adult and their eventual consequences. I learned that some of what I had believed had brought me to my current situation. My faith was shaken, but that just made me hold onto it that much tighter. My faith was still a lifeline to who I was overall but attending services definitely fell by the wayside. A good shaking wasn't going to lose me completely, though.
I realized what mistakes I'd made and why I'd made them and now worked at learning how to make better choices for the future. I needed to learn new interpretations of certain old lessons as well as learning brand new lessons. Teaching an old dog new tricks, however, can take longer than when we're young and more flexible. I still stumbled. I had learned from old mistakes, but now made entirely new ones.
A year after the separation, we became homeless. While staying in transitional housing, I became completely angry with God. How dare all my hard work and sacrifice come to nothing? How could God let this happen? Not to me, but to my children. Do what you want to me, but not to my precious babies. I never lost faith that God was there, but I did falter in my belief that what my family was going through was somehow for the best. We'd been through hard times before, but this was my rock bottom. I despaired. I raged. I faltered.
And then we found a new home. There was a church of my denomination only a few blocks away and I began taking my children to services again. Our attendance was still sporadic, but the effort was made. After awhile, though, I began to look elsewhere. Nice as this particular community was, I didn't feel like I or my brood fit in. On a couple of visits with my parents during this time, I attended the same church that I had gone to for most of my upbringing. This no longer felt right, either. Among many revelations, my perception of the church had changed right along with how I saw myself. Like an outfit we loved as a child but have since outgrown, church as I knew it no longer fit'. At least, not the type I'd always known.
I began exploring other faiths and attending other denominations. I began to educate myself in eastern as well as western belief systems by looking into Hinduism, Shintoism and Buddhism as well as Baptist and Anglicanism, among other mainstream religions. I've researched primitive cultures and other lesser known beliefs, too, as well as more modern cults. I have discovered how much more is out there and I understand much of what each has to offer in my own way.
I suppose I qualify now as a Universal Unitarian if I were to be placed into a category, but while I have attended a few of those services as well, I find that it does not completely fit for me, either. In some ways, despite the broadening of my horizons, UU's slant is almost too wide for my taste. There are plenty of faiths and tenets out there that I am more than willing to embrace or at least tolerate, but there are others that I simply don't feel comfortable with giving more than the most casual nod. In exploring so many options, however, I have finally gained a clearer understanding of where I stand and what I do believe.
Even during the darkest periods in my life it has always been a foregone conclusion for me that God exists. When young, most of the grownups around me said He was there and then they provided examples of His work. In every flower and every leaf, in every human life and all the animals on earth, in everything I could observe and the miracle of its very existence, God is there. As I grew older, I found new wonders and my faith grew. And as that faith grew, it evolved. In fact, I've come to the realization that those difficult years were indeed for the best because I have gained so many new perspectives on old wisdom as well as gaining new information. That would not have happened if I had not questioned everything due to my circumstances and then gone out seeking answers.
I still believe that God is everywhere and in everything. We are all connected. Yet at the same time we are individuals and are given opportunities about which we must make decisions. One of the most difficult things I had to learn during therapy was how to take responsibility for certain choices I had made. These were options taken that at the time did not feel like options at all. Given certain choices to live over again, I may still have made certain ones again, but there are others that I would definitely do differently. Going forward now, as life throws new decisions my way, I feel I have a better idea of what sort of choices can be made to improve things in the long run. I'm still going to make new mistakes and I'm still going to stumble, but that's okay. Mistakes are how we learn.
I continue to expand my horizons to this day. My personal definition of what God is changes to some degree with each new piece of information gathered, but it does exist. I have yet to find a new church community that fits, though. Add to this the fact that I am still the single mother of four and even though two of my children have moved out from under my roof, I still have regular contact with them and offer support on occasion as they struggle with their own choices and mistakes as well as dealing with the curve balls that life can throw at any of us at any time. These precious people are always going to be the core of my personal congregation and I would not change that for anything.
I still have limited resources. From the amount of energy I have physically available due to age and health concerns, to the cost of the fuel it would take to drive on a Sunday, to the fact that I still have not found a church community that calls to me, attending formal religious services is simply not high on my list of priorities. Time off from my forty hour a week job is spent caring for my offspring and pets, keeping up with household chores, running errands and occasionally spending time with other family and friends. And on either Saturday or Sunday of each weekend, depending on what other scheduled or unscheduled events may demand my attention, I rest. I go nowhere. I sleep in and then I play.
This, too, is a kind of worship for me. I bask in a life that has changed for the better and I offer my own kind of thankfulness for it. Along with that, I do what I can to practice random acts of kindness throughout any given day. The world is my church and I offer my praise daily in whatever small ways I can. Attending a regular ceremony once a week is helpful for reinforcing certain lessons and thoughts, but those instructions must be carried out the rest of the time or they mean nothing. I carry with me all those sermons and other hours spent attending mass from earlier in my life like an ever-full cache to get me through the rougher times and as a foundation for where I am now. Meanwhile I remind myself often, several times a day in fact, of where I've been and where I want to go with my life and what sort of person I want to be.
Attending services again at some future point is not outside the realm of possibilities. I do what I can to keep an open mind to anything that might improve my lot in life or that of someone else. But in the meantime, I will continue to spend much of each day in a state of prayer. The entire planet is my church and every person who lives upon it is a member of my assemblage. There simply isn't a building big enough to hold them all.