Me and church have been on a break... a 10-year long break.
I thought it was a permanent split. Apparently it isn't, because for the last two weeks, the Holland family has been going to church.
I grew up in a Baptist church. For most of my childhood, it was a wonderful experience. I look back now and realize what a gift it was to grow up in a community like that. I felt supported and loved. I felt like people were rooting for me. I also learned values that have stuck with me my entire life -- forgiveness, charity, compassion. However, somewhere around adolescence, things went astray.
After I joined the church youth group, I stopped feeling supported and loved. I felt inadequate and pressured to be someone I was not. Suddenly, the emphasis wasn't on empathy or love, but guilt and judgement. I started to get the distinct feeling that no matter what I did I was not good enough. Needless to say, in college what started out as small doubts turned into a complete lack of faith.
For the past 10 years, I thought and talked and read a lot about about religion, but I never felt the need to go back to church. I can't honestly say there was something missing in my life. There wasn't. Like an increasing number of Americans, I didn't see regular church attendance as essential to spirituality or my growth as a person.
Then, I had my son.
All those issues I had sorted out no longer seemed so neatly sorted. How could I introduce him to religion? Did I even want to introduce him to religion? My painful history with the church was decidedly not his problem, but at the same time I wanted desperately to protect him from just such an experience.
Honestly, if we had stayed in DC, I'm not even sure this would have been an issue. But we didn't stay in DC We moved back to the Bible Belt, where the one of the first things people ask is, "Have you found a church home yet?" Avoiding religion in this community is not really an option. I have several close friends who grew up in religious communities, but didn't attend church. Even though they went with friends occasionally, they said they always felt isolated.
I didn't want that for Griffin and I'm not sure it's realistic to expect a child to explore these issues on their own knowing their parents don't approve. However, I do think it's realistic to expect them to explore any doubts as an adult. Heck, rejecting your parents religious belief is pretty much required to get a driver's license. I just feel like if we send him with my parents or friends, the message will be clear. Church isn't something we value and you shouldn't either. And while my doubts are far from resolved, I do believe church is valuable, especially for children.
There are few arenas in our society where children can learn the sacredness of certain places and how to be respectful in those places. Growing up in church, I learned a sense of duty. Church was important in my family and we went even when we didn't feel like it. In church, I also a found a group of mentors and role models. Adults who weren't my parents but who I could trust and talk to when I was having a problem.
It's more than that though. Long ago, I started rolling my eyes every time Lee Ann Womack's "I Hope You Dance" came on the radio. But if I'm being honest, I still tear up every time she sings the line, "Promise me you'll give faith a fighting chance." I want Griffin to give faith a fighting chance. Just because my faith has taken a beating doesn't mean he shouldn't get a shot in the ring. And if I don't introduce him to religion honestly and openly, someone else will.
So, we go to church.