Losing My Religion

I come from parents who are practicing Catholics. Not "church on Easter and Christmas" Catholics; Catholics who volunteer their time and resources, show up to church most Sundays and are an involved part of the parish community.

Growing up, my sister and I were altar servers. When we outgrew that, I taught Sunday School for high school community service credits. When I outgrew that, it seems, looking back, that I outgrew Catholicism.

I began my freshman year of college at a Jesuit university; I lasted about a week before I withdrew for the semester and reenrolled in a small liberal arts women's college for the next. One of the many "what-ifs" surrounding that decision continues to be whether I would be more religious now had I stayed then. I suspect I would.

But I am not. I describe myself as spiritual rather than religious. What I don't say, but what I really mean, is that I am lost and more than a little hopeless when it comes to religion. I long for the days of my childhood when I unequivocally believed in God the way I believed in Santa Claus and the Easter bunny.

Since I have become a mother, I have begun to feel an acute ache over my lack of faith. My oldest child is between four and five, and is big on "why?" He is four and I struggle to answer his questions; I doubt they get easier as he gets older. This morning he said to me, "Mama, why do people die?"

My breath caught in my throat and I said the only thing I could think of:

"Why do you want to know?"
"I just do," he said.
"Okay, well, most people become very old and their bodies can't work anymore so they die."
"Like Grampa?"
"Yes."
"What about Grammy? Is she going to die? Or Nana?"
"Honey, everybody dies."
"WHAT? NO! I don't want to do that!!!!"

(Tell me about it, kid. Nobody wants to die. Especially mamas. But what I want even less than to die is to have to think about you dying. But you're four. I don't want to scare you and I don't want to lie to you. I want to give you something to believe in, but how can I tell you what to believe – which is my job – when I just don't know the answer?)

It took me a minute, but I tried again. "Everybody dies honey, but you don't have to worry about it for a long, long, long time. And I like to think that even once you are very old and your body doesn't work anymore that your heart and your soul and all the things that make you you move on to the next phase to be with everyone you love."

Silence. "Does that sound okay, love?"
"Yeah, that sounds ok."

Crisis averted, for today. But the fact remains – he is going to ask again. And someday soon, that answer will not be enough for him, as it is not enough for me. And I will feel like I am failing him because I cannot tell him what to believe. Which means maybe it is time to try to figure it out so that he can grow up with the same unshakable faith in something – anything – that my parents instilled in me.

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  1. For Boston says:

    […] If I were still religious, I would pray but I think I've forgotten how to do even that. What I did instead, when I realized that this Boston thing was making me cry and lose sleep and not feeling better as the days go by, was go to the beach with the tiny humans. I don't even know if I realized why I was going until I got there. I could breathe easier. I could be quiet, and still, and figure it out. […]

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