April 30, 2015
I grew up in a home where religion was rarely discussed. I was baptized at the local Catholic Church, St. Joseph’s, where our family attended Mass on Christmas Eve. We never went to church the rest of the year, other than the one summer that my mother pushed me through Vacation Bible School so that I could eventually receive my first communion. I willingly prepared for my first communion because my mother bribed me with mock bread which I loved the taste of, and because I knew I would get presents if I went through with it all. After that event, my mom asked me if I would want to be confirmed, and I had no interest. She didn’t push me.
As the years went on, my two older brothers were less willing to go to church even on Christmas Eve. By the time we were old enough to have our own religious opinions, my parents stopped trying and accepted that even they didn’t belong in St. Joes. In eighth grade, after I had talked with my friend about her faith, I wanted to try going to church. My mom and I went one week, and then I tried to get my family to keep going on Christmas Eve, but it was useless. I was too stubborn and rebellious to believe in something so conservative. I haven’t been back to St. Joes since before high school.
However, I didn’t go through all four years of high school without going to church. The summer camp I work at is Catholic, and we have Mass three times a week. For all nine weeks each summer, I sang all the songs and went through the motions, keeping my opinions to myself. One particular summer at camp, when I was fifteen, I was exposed to David Foster Wallace’s “This Is Water” speech. For the next few years, I lived the way Wallace encouraged me to, reading the speech as religiously as Christians read the Bible.
During the school year, I was open about my liberal political views. I did everything I could to be viewed as a democratic hipster. I had my own morals and standards, and the question of God’s existence was never my problem. I accepted that I would never know, and that was okay with me; I didn’t want to waste my time on it. In my literature class, I didn’t pick up on any of the biblical references, and my teacher had me watch the Veggie Tales episode about Noah and the Arc to catch me up. I had declared myself agnostic and was completely happy with it, until the end of my junior year, when I met Weston.
Weston sat in front of me in math class and then asked me to go with him to his Senior Ball when I was a junior. It wasn’t until months after we started talking regularly that I found out about his beliefs. Once we started having feelings for each other, he invited me to go to his LDS church with him, and I agreed out of excitement for where our relationship was heading. We eventually became more serious about each other, which meant that I spent more and more time with Mormons, eager to learn about their beliefs and understand their customs.
By the time I was a senior in high school, Weston was off at the Brigham Young University of Idaho, and still we were completely in love. His dreams of serving a mission were becoming more real, which scared me. I knew that we could never end up together if I wasn’t a Mormon, and I wanted nothing more than to believe the same things he did. I went to church with his family, read the Book of Mormon, and even tried to pray every day for the year that he was in college. I was open to their ideas and tried to believe it all, only to keep hitting obstacles, finding aspects of their religion I couldn’t agree with. I continued trying to fake it, and did everything I could to show Weston that I would do anything for him. As reluctant as my family was, I never hid the fact that I was thinking about converting to Mormonism.
By the time the summer after I graduated high school rolled around, Weston was focused on submitting his mission papers so that he could be assigned a place to serve for two years. The more he focused on his mission, the more he realized that he needed to leave everything at home behind for two years so that he could be completely focused on his faith. He began to drift away from me, trying to separate himself from his life at home, so he would be more ready to leave. There was nothing more I could’ve done to save the relationship; it was doomed. I did everything I could to fight the odds and to disprove everyone’s predictions of our breakup, but it was inevitable. One day that July, he admitted that he didn’t love me the way he used to. I walked away broken-hearted, knowing that I could never be enough. That was when my best friend Tyler stepped in.
A few days after the breakup, I spent five hours sulking on my best friend’s couch. After force feeding me anything he could get me to eat, we started talking about faith. Tyler asked me about my feelings towards the LDS church, and I asked him about his beliefs. For years he had been trying to get me to go with him to YoungLife, a Christian youth group, and I resisted. Now that I was totally, utterly confused about my beliefs, I was open to hearing about how YoungLife had changed his life. He asked me to go to a nondenominational church with him that Sunday, and I was more than willing to do anything that would get my mind off of Weston.
The church he brought me to, Grace Road, was incredibly welcoming, lively and reassuring. After the service was over, Tyler gave me a crash course on the Bible and I immediately went out and bought one myself. I started reading a little and going to church regularly because it was a good distraction, but I still didn’t know what I believed. Reading the Bible and talking about Jesus with Tyler and his friends was what got me through this dark period of my life, when all I wanted was to end the misery. Luckily, Tyler was going to college at LeMoyne, which is located about ten minutes from Syracuse University, where I was going.
The first weekend after we moved into college, Tyler asked me if I wanted to go to YoungLife with him on Sunday. Having no other friends in Syracuse and nothing else to do, I tagged along. The people I met at YoungLife ended up being the only people I felt like I could connect with at school for the first semester. I asked them questions about Jesus and couldn’t believe that I was getting so involved in Christianity. I began to uncover the reasons I struggled with believing in God for so long; I finally understood why life isn’t perfect even though God loves us unconditionally, which was one of the biggest reasons I doubted the existence of God. One of these transforming moments for me was on a weekend retreat with YoungLife:
“I’m starting to understand why God has given me trials; He knows I can be strong enough and He’s pushing me to discover how strong I can be, because I learn the most important things from my struggles.”
--Excerpt from my personal diary, 9/27/14.
My parents and friends from high school struggled to believe that I was serious about it, feeling that it was just another one of my phases. Once I started dating Charlie in November, my parents thought for sure that the only reason I was exploring Christianity was because of him, just like how Weston was the reason I went to Mormon Church. However, this time I know I’m doing it for myself, not for my boyfriend. I still have moments when I am very doubtful of my religion, but that doesn’t stop me from answering questions and working it out.
Nowadays, I happily declare myself a nondenominational Christian. I wear a cross around my neck and pray every day. I study the Bible during my own quiet times and at group Bible studies with YoungLife women, and I attend church every Sunday with my boyfriend. In times of struggle, I turn to Psalm 31:
In you, O Lord, do I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
in your righteousness deliver me!
Incline your ear to me;
rescue me speedily!
Be a rock of refuge for me,
a strong fortress to save me!
I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love,
because you have seen my affliction;
you have known the distress of my soul,
and you have not delivered me into the land of the enemy;
you have set my feet in a broad place.
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
my eye is wasted from grief;
my soul and my body also.
For my life is spent with sorrow,
and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my iniquity,
and my bones waste away.
Love the Lord, all you his saints!
The Lord preserves the faithful
but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride.
Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
all you who wait for the Lord!