Something occurred to me on my walk with my husband recently. On April 24, it will be 19 years since my first wedding. It surprised when I remembered this, having divorced the man I was first married to in 2002.
There was so many things going on around that time that we should have never gone through the ceremony. My then fiance’s mother went into a coma a month before the wedding. Columbine happened, which was on the minds of many people. Exactly one month after the wedding, his father would die of a heart attack. Two months after that, we would take his mother off of life support. Most of his extended family didn’t even come to the wedding, deciding that it was better if they stayed vigil at their Mother’s bedside instead.
I will fully admit I was young, inexperienced, and going through a lot of mental issues of my own at the time. I had no idea how to be a wife and to give all the support I needed to give through his trials.
But even if I could have given him the support, the biggest issue for me to deal with through those trials was that I couldn’t relate to him on any spiritual level.
As I have said before I was raised Roman Catholic, and at that point I had been studying paganism on and off for 9 years. But this man was not raised with any faith. In fact, when the issue came up, it was quickly dismissed in his family. So when he was forced to deal with these losses, he had no belief system to fall back on; he didn’t even know where to start to comprehend the losses he suffered.
In the end, he blamed himself for these losses. If he would have just been at his parent’s home instead of going to work, perhaps he could have gotten help for his father. If he had visited his parents, perhaps he would have stopped his mom from eating the thing that made her sick in the first place. If he would have been a better son, he would still have his parents; they wouldn’t be forever lost to him. In the end the spirituality factor wasn’t the final breaking point of the marriage, but it did a lot of damage.
Fast forward to 2006. I elope with my then fiance to Las Vegas. A week later, we get back home and he gets a phone call in the middle of the night. His father is diagnosed with a bowel perforation and needs immediate emergency surgery. He was a ‘snowbird’, having left Michigan for warmer Florida weather, which made things even more complicated. My new husband flies down to be there for the surgery. Several days later his father takes a turn for the worse and is taken off life support.
My husband was raised in a Catholic family, as I was. And he also didn’t feel that path was right for him and was exploring paganism. But because he had done enough exploring on his own to form his own beliefs, he knew his father was some place safe and that he WOULD see him again. Even though there was no dogma attached to his beliefs, and that he had no core religious or spiritual practices, he still felt a comfort from what belief system he had. It was faith in that belief system that helped him grieve and helped him get over the trauma and be able to move forward.
Thinking back on both these experiences, I wonder if it would have made any difference to my first husband if he would have been raised in a religious family. Would he have fallen back on that teaching? Or would the teaching have sparked a hunger in him to find his own place, like it did for my second husband and I? Did it hinder his development that religion was so glossed over in his family growing up?
It makes me wonder if we are teaching our children enough about belief and religion. And maybe we need to go even further with that teaching. Maybe we need to also teach them about other religions as well as the one they grow up in to allow them to make an informed decision when they become of age.
If we give our children consent to ask questions about beliefs and faith, it allows them many different options. They may grow up and choose to become stronger in the faith of their family. They may choose to take another faith as theirs, or choose to either continue to question the existence of divinity or not believe at all. Whatever their choice, they will have (or at least start to have) a belief system that works for them. And that system will help them answer some of life’s harder questions for themselves. At the very least, they will know where to go to help seek out more information and find comfort.
From a Pagan perspective, I think we as a community are doing better at teaching our children to ask questions and grow in their own belief system. However, I wonder if in time we are going to have to come to terms with those who choose Christianity as their belief system once they grow up. Much like many Christian parents do when their children choose a faith different from them, we may become upset and feel rejected by the child that chooses a monotheistic faith. But if we preach freedom of religion, we must allow our children to choose what they feel is right for them. If we don’t, we risk another generation of children growing up angry at their parents for not allowing them to be themselves, much like many Pagans are now when thinking of their own upbringing.
However, even though there are still struggles with belief from parent to child, perhaps things have gotten better in some ways. When thinking back to my grandparents raising my mother and uncles, things were much more strict. Beliefs weren’t allowed to be questioned and obedience to religion was mandatory. When I look back at my mother’s actions as I was growing up, it occurred to me that the faith she had was obedience to her parents more than anything. And even though God was mentioned, it is more fear of their disapproval that kept her focused in that specific religion.
I really started feeling that way after seeing her reactions to a couple of situations. One in particular still stands out in my mind. I had met her for lunch at a buffet on a Lenten Friday. When she looked at the offerings on the bar, she became upset because she wanted to eat meat, but instead was confined to the fish and vegetable options due to Lenten obligations. She told me that my Grandmother would be upset if she ate meat that day. I replied that Grandma and Grandpa weren’t eating with us, and wouldn’t know. She said it didn’t matter. Those were the rules she grew up with, and those were the rules that had to be obeyed.
How sad it is to me that someone feels like they must obey rules that someone else made for them. And that they don’t feel they can vet those rules for themselves. To be true to your own heart and mind in your religious beliefs means such a significantly stronger faith than one would have because they are told to.
Hopefully this is changing. Maybe because of the many sources of information that are out there things are getting better. Or perhaps it’s changing because more people are more willing to challenge the beliefs that they grew up on to truly see if they fit their mind and heart. I hope so, but then again, the term “recovering catholic” wouldn’t be utilized so much if there weren’t more stories out there like my mother’s.
No matter what way the world is going, I can only be responsible for my part, and to live the example of being proud of my faith and being willing to allow others to have their own.
I am very proud to have a Godson. For his first communion I took the day off and stayed with him through his religious preparatory programs at school. It didn’t matter that it was a different religion; it gave him comfort to have me there, and it showed that I was willing to help him with his beliefs, even though he didn’t see me at his church every Sunday.
My husband made certain that his niece had a rosary for her first communion when it looked like her Godmother was not going to gift her one. Yes, he is also Pagan, but it didn’t matter. This is the faith she is currently growing up with, and it’s important to her. She already uses the rosary in solitary prayer, which makes the gift even more satisfying.
If my Godson ever has questions about faith, I’m going to do my best to answer as truthfully as I can. This goes the same for all of my nieces and nephews. To me it is important to have faith in some sort of belief system and be open to the fact that others will believe differently. And when the time comes that they decide what faith or spirituality is best for them, I hope they will be able to do so with the acceptance of their parents, because I want to see them growing up with a faith that is true to their mind and heart, not a faith handed down without question. In the end, the faith in a belief that stands up to questioning will mean stronger support for the individual, the family and the community as a whole.