Growing up, I attended a Baptist church every weekend. I went to Sunday school, vacation Bible school, and I started praying every night in the second grade. I’d kneel at my bed, hands folded, and ask to be forgiven of my sins because at 7 years old, I was taught you will go to hell if you sin and don’t ask to be forgiven.
I was also taught God couldn’t hear your prayers for others, or yourself, until he forgave you for doing the wrong things.
Doing “wrong” things consisted of having bad thoughts and displaying gluttony, something I’ll always struggle with because I could eat half a cake in one sitting back then (and I still can now, if I’m being honest).
So all through elementary school I was afraid of every bad thought I had, because it meant I’d sinned, I was a bad person, and I’d burn in hell. I can be a sensitive person, so I felt guilty at a very young age if I thought someone smelled bad or if I snuck food with my sisters.
As a result, I grew up to be a judgmental person — you can’t feel judged your whole life and not make a meal out it — so I’d dish out judgment like nobody’s business and I didn’t even realize it.
Not until I had kids anyway.
I soon felt the religion I was taught and had practiced my whole life was a way to judge others (and oppress myself); it lacked compassion and empathy. I refused to raise my kids that way. Of course, not all religions are like this, but that was my experience and I didn’t want to be a part of it any longer.
Now, we don’t go to church except for the occasional Christmas Eve service. My kids aren’t baptized like I was when I was younger, and I will never let them think they are going to burn in hell for having impure thoughts or making mistakes.
We are spiritual beings in my house. We believe in a higher power and talking to that higher power, but I’ve told my kids to address that Force any way they are comfortable with.
But I’m not going to raise them Baptist because I think I’d be leading them thorough the doors of judgment, preaching, and being talked down to.
I refuse to sit while my daughter listens to messages that tell her she doesn’t have a choice with her body and she is less than a man.
I refuse to let my sons walk into a place where they might start to think they are superior, not held accountable for their actions simply because they have a penis and are the boss of people with a vagina.
No, not on my watch.
Do I believe in God? Yes, but to me God is not a man in a white robe who we have to ask to forgive us, tells women they should be submissive, and men they are they are the superior beings.
I teach my kids there is something bigger than us and it is everywhere, in everything we do; it’s found in nature, in each other. We are all connected.
I believe The Universe listens to what you put out there. If someone wrongs you , the Universe will take care of it and you should do your best to not worry about you and free yourself of that burden.
I want my kids to come to me when they’ve done right or wrong because I’ve seen too many families repress problems — huge problems — because the church wouldn’t approve.
I’ve watched them shame their lesbian daughters and lose sleep because their child is getting a divorce, not because their child may be hurting, but because they are so afraid of what people of the church will think.
I’ve seen sexual abuse and rape and horrible things go ignored because some are so accustomed to living by the rules of their religion, they are more comfortable sacrificing the well being of their children or loved ones than admitting, and dealing with abuse, addiction or trauma.
I’ve watched people live in judgment of everyone else while hiding their true self because they themselves can’t bear to be judged.
I don’t believe in that, and I’m not subjecting my kids to the idea they have to live under oppressive rules to be “good” people. After all, it seems to me religion is the opposite of living a true spiritual, connected life.
If my kids want to start a family without getting married; if they use birth control, or abort an unwanted pregnancy, that is their decision to make. I would not judge them.
My church, our church is found on a hike in the woods, blasting music in the car, and that butterfly we watched fly away last week. We practice connection and spirituality in our own way, not by sitting in a pew every Sunday.
Do I still pray every night? I do. Actually, there are days I pray almost all day and teach my kids to do the same. But my prayers are not begging for forgiveness. They come in the form of stopping what I’m doing and putting positive energy out into the world.
Or asking The Universe for help when I’m not sure what to do.
Or saying to a Higher Power I am open to guidance and I need to be shown the way.
More than anything, I hope that my kids find spirituality and connection in a way that feels true to them — but that doesn’t necessarily need to happen in the church.
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