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Bad Parenting Moments: Keeping Her Faith

Monday, May 14, 2012

Keeping Her Faith

When it comes to religion and faith, I have lived my life with self diagnosed Religious Schizophrenia. My Father was raised in a Jewish household. My Mother, with inactive Protestants. Both left their childhood faith in young adulthood and became Mormon. After my sister and I were born, disenfranchised with the Mormon faith, they both left the church. From that point on, aside from sporadic trips to church with well meaning families wanting to save our flailing  Jewish, Protestant, Mormon souls, we didn't attend church. Organized Religion was a sore subject for my mother. The feminist in her couldn't get past the diminished role of women in most forms of organized faith. And, for me, regardless of the church I attended with friends or other families, the experience left me wanting. The porridge was always too hot or far too cold.

In high school, I dated the son of a minister. The church was a Born Again sect called, Christian Renewal. As a shining example of the divine wisdom of high school girls, I went to church with my heart pounding for the son of the preacher man and not the son of God. I attended weekly. I studied their movements, I learned the songs. I so wanted to be touched by whatever power was touching this congregation. It did not touch me.  I started to wonder if I was missing something. Where was God? Is it possible that I was born unable to feel faith? The biggest question of all; What does faith feel like? How do I find it? Will I know it when I've found it? Will I go through my entire life without it?

I married a devout Catholic. He is a wonderful man. I know that his faith is part of what makes him so amazing. He was raised Catholic in a large, respected, church-going family. His faith is multi-pronged. It is familiar, but, he also has a strong, independent desire to nourish his faith and spiritual relationship with his church outside of his upbringing. While I fully acknowledge that this faith helps make him a wonderful husband, father and human being, I do not feel the connection to Catholicism. I feel the community in the church, I appreciate the devotion of the congregation and I marvel at the faith of the man I married, but, sadly, faith is not transferable. I want to feel the call. I want to feel the pull. I do not. My husband and I discuss, quite frequently, his faith and even, his interest in the Priesthood. Ultimately, his desire to marry and have children was stronger, but, if The Catholic Church ever allows men of the cloth to also be husbands and fathers, he would consider taking those revitalized vows. All of this is great, but, it leaves me dubbed, The Agnostic Wife of a Catholic Man. No one has written a song about that...yet. I'm assuming I should attend Agnostic Anonymous meetings where I would start with, "Hello, My name is Bethany and I don't know what to believe, but, I do know all the lyrics to George Michael's, Faith!"

When we had children, we agreed that he would take the lead on matters of faith and that he would raise our children as Catholics with my full support. Who was I to argue? He has something I desperately want and admire. Clearly, he was the obvious parental choice for spiritual guidance.

Picture our oldest drew of her going to church with Daddy. Mommy? Not pictured...at home in PJs.

All four of our children have been baptized. The two that are school aged attend Catholic School. My only request has been that they be allowed to explore their own feelings of faith and that, if, at any time, they wanted to explore outside the faith of my husband, we would be supportive and encouraging. We would recognize that it is not his or my choice to make. We would support their individual decision to participate in a faith that speaks to them. Their faith would be theirs. He agreed. See, an amazing man.

My son is in pre-school. Matters of faith are new and come home in the form of songs and coloring pages. He is not feeling the faith; He is learning it. My daughter is in Kindergarten. This is more complicated. She is exploring her faith. She is asking hard questions. She is having feelings that lead her toward prayer and, she is asking me what all of it means. Of course she is. I am her mother and her primary care giver. I am the adult at home when the questions in her brain beg to be asked. I answer her questions using my background in the ONE World Religions course I took in college, life experience, the tidbits I've gathered from my husband's religious knowledge and well, faith...in myself. The questions she asks are huge and loaded. The answers I give? Entirely based on my love for her and with respect for her personal journey. I am supportive and gentle in my responses, but, I know I do not have the answers she's looking for.

Christmas Morning 2011. She started drawing the nativity scene on the playroom chalkboard...on her own.

More unprompted home drawings of religious figures.

A: "Mommy, when we die, does our spirit stay in our body after we're buried? Does it go straight to Heaven? Will I see Grandpa there? Will my family be there?"


Me: "Well, some people believe that your spirit...what makes you, you and me, me leaves your body and goes to Heaven. Some people believe all our loved ones that died before us are there waiting for us."

A: "Cool! I wish there was a book I could read about that!"

Me: "There is."

A: "AWESOME. Mommy, do you believe that?"

This is when I start asking if anyone wants a frozen lemonade. That works, for now. What I want to say, what I want to say more than anything is that there is absolutely nothing I'd love to believe more. I want to say that the thought of this being all we have, the thought of only having this one lifetime of unknown length to be with her and love her is so heartbreaking that every cell in my body needs to believe that this can't be all there is. That, yes, absolutely, I will be waiting for her and that Daddy will be there too and that we will be a family, always. I can't promise that. So, we get a frozen lemonade and save this talk for another day.

I am not completely devoid of awe and wonder. I have had profound moments with feelings of  "connectivity bliss". I felt it at the birth of all of my children. The blinding feelings of love, fear and joy. In those moments, I am aware of a power bigger than me. I am praising the universe. Is that feeling faith? Is that what is being felt in Holy places of worship?

Right now, when it comes to faith, the only truth I do not doubt is my faith in my children, my husband and the love for my family, those still here and those gone. As far as my personal journey, I still haven't found what I'm looking for, but, I refuse to stop searching.

'Cause, I've gotta have faith, faith, faith...

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At May 14, 2012 at 7:21 PM , Blogger Ellen said...

Simply beautiful.

At May 14, 2012 at 7:33 PM , Blogger Susie said...

That was very well stated. And you know, speaking as a minister, I have to say that I have the same troubles when asked specific questions about my faith by children. Because, you know, my faith is nuanced, and young children tend toward the concrete. I, too, say, "Some people believe ____" and they may well be right. As for me, I'm just not sure of what I believe" So you're not alone in struggling to find words. I'm glad that you don't let your own status as a seeker/questioner get in the way of them experiencing the real strength of being part of a religious community.

At May 14, 2012 at 7:55 PM , Blogger Danned for Life said...

This was a lovely post. And as a member of that large, church-going family into which you married, let me just say that you're not alone in your faith journey. I have long struggled with my church specifically, and organized religion generally. And I have yet to identify what it is, exactly, that I believe. But I think that you certainly prove the point that religious faith is not required in order to be an outstanding mom and an wonderful human being.

At May 14, 2012 at 8:42 PM , Blogger VTmtngrrl said...

This post is so uncompromisingly honest and therefore beautiful and compelling. This post also shows why I just love you, and Bob, and, well, really that entire large, church-going family you mention. Spirituality, as you make clear, is complex and means different things to different people, but when you describe that moment of "praising the universe," that, to me, is spirituality (which I know is different than organized religion and maybe even different than faith, which seems to be the thing you describe seeking). All of this is to say that I agree with Dan and his assessment of you as an awesome momma and great person, but beyond that, you might be onto something with these moments you've described after/during the birth of your amazing children.

(As a side note, I think that given the musical talents amongst said large, Catholic family, a production of "Agnostic Wife of a Catholic Man" could be distinct possibility) :)

At May 16, 2012 at 12:41 PM , Blogger BadParentingMoments said...

Thank you, Ellen. That means a lot.

At May 16, 2012 at 12:43 PM , Blogger BadParentingMoments said...

Thank you, Susie! Yes, I agree that the benefits of community are so overwhelmingly positive. I would never deny her that experience. Thank you for reading and for your supportive comments!

At May 16, 2012 at 12:44 PM , Blogger BadParentingMoments said...

Thank you, Uncle Donut!

At May 16, 2012 at 12:45 PM , Blogger BadParentingMoments said...

Wow. Thank you, Jen! I have to admit...I was scared to post this, but, these supportive comments make it worth the fear. Yes, let's get on writing Agnostic Wife of a Catholic Man. Humor gold, I think. Love, Bethany

At May 16, 2012 at 9:30 PM , Anonymous JD @ Honest Mom said...

This is a great post. Love it.

I am a lapsed Catholic. I used to have a very strong faith. Counselor at a Catholic summer camp, led high school retreats in college, taught confirmation class ... the whole thing.

But the pedophilia scandal in the church really shook me up and made me lose faith in the humans that run the institution. I also haven't found a church that I connect with in the town I live in now, so it's been hard.

What I'm still really good at is the Catholic guilt, though. ;-)

At May 16, 2012 at 11:50 PM , Blogger BadParentingMoments said...

Thank you for reading! I feel the same way specifically about Catholicism. My husband tells me that I should separate the church/institution from the faith, but, I am unable to do that. I hear you on the guilt. I am 1/2 Jewish, we are really good at that as well. I appreciate your reading and look forward to reading more from your blog. Take care!

At May 26, 2012 at 3:03 PM , Blogger maura29 said...

I think if you step back for a moment, you'll see that you truly do have just as much faith as any church goer. The way you felt when your children were born, the way you feel when you look at them, hold them, kiss them while they sleep, these are all signs of faith in something.

Speaking as the twin sister of that Catholic man you married, I know how very strong his faith is and I admire it and him so much for it. For a long time, I felt like there must be something wrong with me because I couldn't reconcile what I was taught by the Church and my family with what felt truly right in my soul. I've always had faith in.....something. Call it God, Buddha, Allah, Mother Nature, Source.....whatever floats your boat. What I had to come to terms with was the fact that just because my faith didn't follow perfectly with any particular organized dogma, that just because what I believe isn't printed in some book and mass published, therefore making it fact, it doesn't mean it can't be a truth and have validity.

Your ability to give so much of yourself to love and care for your children, your husband and all the rest of us whose lives you enrich - That's your faith.

At July 1, 2012 at 11:05 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

If anyone could claim to describe faith then they would be lying. I have been to churches, mosques, mandirs, etc. and felt something so intense and beautiful and connected that I cried and cried. And I have been to churches, mosques, mandirs, etc. and felt nothing do I update my FB status while I wait for my mum to finish her prayers. My faith is imperfect. To some, i would seem to have none at all and to others my mustard seed moves mountains. In either case, what I feel is mine and I own it. Don't ever let anyone or anything make you believe you dont have faith. The foundation of any faith is love and you have when to have an abundance of that. Own that! :)

At September 23, 2012 at 12:12 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for summing up exactly how I feel about religion. I too have uttered some people believe to my son. I had a religious upbringing that ended at age 13. I want my son to explore many beliefs and not be following mine blindly. Questioning is healthy.


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