Sometime last summer after I had started training with J, our paths crossed on a Sunday morning at the gym. It was fairly early – probably around 8:30 – and he was working on a sitting leg machine as I made my way to the practice room. As always, I was surprised to see him in the gym the few times I went outside our sessions. Church, he called it; this was his version of church. I thought then and again today that was a nice way to think of it and to spend a Sunday morning.
The last week, 10 days, I feel as if there has been a mild crisis of sorts brewing. Of faith, because I cannot bear the idea of endangering my fragile, burgeoning confidence by suggesting it is buckling under the pressure of life.
In pilates class this morning negative girl was putting out her feelers to see if the door to her cage had been left unlocked or made flimsy by the overwhelming busy of life. Unfortunately it had been left ajar and negative, allowing temporary escape to wreak havoc on my morning. I had been thinking and processing my thoughts about the way things have been going lately and was unguarded enough that the idea of always slacking and never trying hard enough began to sneak into my loop of exercise review. In this context those are incendiary terms and I now know better than to let them get into my playlist.
We were doing burpees again, or rather, the rest of the class was doing burpees and I was inch worming, and the woman in front of me was lumbering along with the rest of the group. Visions of last Sunday and my classmate going down onto her mat with a scream still loom large in my head, and I cut myself a lot of slack for watching everyone within eye range as I inch wormed my way to and fro. She was fine, everyone was fine; nothing catastrophic at this class.
But watching her go through this and do pretty well, I had a momentary stab of failure pierce me. The shoulds caught up and I could hear the whispers that I should be trying harder to learn that exercise; I should be capable of it after this much time. The specter of falling flat in my lack of trying was trying to gain traction in my head. Fortunately we were nearing the end of the class when it happened and I woke up to the fact that I was allowing it to happen.
While I am couching my minor crisis of faith in terms of my exercise (and its symbiotic twin: eating), the same terms and ideas are transferrable to other aspects and matters of faith. My obsessive processing of what has been going on in my world this week has a pretty broad platform inside my head.
I am not a religious person, and to be 100% frank I’m not certain I am completely on board with Christianity. If anything, I probably have more faith in my desire to believe in the idea of a loving God, salvation, and eternal life.
While I have not been a consistent church attendee since I was about 12, I dabbled and was a bit of a religious butterfly after my divorce. I started to think my kids needed a more stable foundation and to be part of some sort of community, and I thought perhaps joining a church was the answer. So I tried a few different ones and went half dozen times to each. And every time I walked away with the same thought – finding and creating a community is damn complicated and requires a lot of effort from all involved. Every insecurity I have ever had suddenly sprung to life once more, and every dormant or suppressed feeling of self-loathing was suddenly active and at the forefront of my thoughts. Negative girl had been given the keys to the steroids closet and was happily overdosing on the stuff.
Granted, that’s my stuff. No one went out of their way to make me feel like the invisible woman, which was much better than feeling fat, unattractive, dumb, and as if I have absolutely nothing to offer. I felt not pious enough, not biblically smart enough, not churchy enough. As was true when I was a child attending church sans parents, I felt as if the church’s I have attended in the past are more judgmental. While speaking publicly of inclusion and one community, I felt and found they were more exclusionary than not.
After my divorce, I had the added onus of being a single parent and had to work to support my family, and that automatically separated me from the majority of married couples with stay-at-home wives and mothers. In my mind, I was and remain a poor fit for organized religion and churches. It seems there is nothing there for me.
The messages from the Christian teachings are awkward to impossible for me to swallow as well. Repent, all will be forgiven, everyone goes to heaven. They way complicated human behaviors are broken down into simplistic messages of good and evil, forgiveness and being forgiven, salvation and damnation does not work all that well for me. Rarely is anything so very black and white. My inability to accept their teachings felt more like a personal failing that could not be overcome than a matter of stronger belief overcoming my doubts. It was not doubt so much as my cold-hard reality. The wiring in me says forgiveness is for me, yes, but forgiveness and repentance should not be equal opportunity tickets to salvation. Thinking about my abuser, there is no fiery pit of Hell hot enough to roast him that will satisfy the rage I feel for the legacy of trauma and pain he forced upon me. In this instance, forgiveness is just an all-encompassing term that means I have processed and tidied and put enough of that vile evil away to the point where I can live my life. As time has passed, as my skill and ability to process and tidy and put away that stuff has increased, and my life improves and expands. I do not see where my faith in God has increased. It is far too easy for people of faith to explain away everything as “God’s work” and that suffering is “part of God’s plan.”
That is an inadequate answer for me. If anything, it is a cheap excuse for not having an answer or being unwilling to seek out another explanation.
Please understand – I am in no way bashing Christianity. M in his way is a devout Christian, and he encompasses both everything I love about the idea of faith and many things I despise about it as well. But I love my husband and his belief system is but one of many ways in which we are very different.
My point here is that when I have been part of any sort of religious or church community, I come away from it feeling less inspired and empowered than like a loser who is barely trying. People are people, and most of whom I have met in church-related communities have been very nice, in their own ways, but the lack of real connection with them has proved troubling to me. I know that I am not everyone’s cup of tea and I am not going to bond within even a small percentage of those I meet. In a faith-based community, I wonder if the expectations bar is set too high, that in their zeal to recruit and convert the many they continually overlook the individual nature of each person.
What I do know is that for me personally, religion is not an answer. I believe my efforts at being a participant in the better, positive aspects of humanity are worthwhile, and in the age old debate of salvation through grace or good works I most definitely fall on the side of good works.
And if it is not already abundantly clear, I am very far from any sort of biblical or religious scholar or theologian. I am simply a person trying to figure out the best ways to be a decent human being in her own head and her own life.
In pilates this morning, I took steps toward the rabbit hole of all the ways I am failing. As I inch wormed by way through the burpee section, I was feeling almost desperate about my inability to do the damn exercise. In substituting, negative girl proclaimed that I was not only not trying hard enough, I was not trying at all. What should have been a very productive and positive hour in the heat of the yoga studio became a depressing event that had me senselessly emotional in the parking lot instead.
Negative girl. On the loose in the wheelhouse
The thing about blogging – I really try hard to keep it real. I tell you the good, the bad, the particularly ugly (and embarrassing). It keeps me accountable. It keeps me present in the moment. It helps me focus on what it is that truly bothers me.
Sitting there getting teary about nothing, I started thinking about how I would write it and how it would read. It sobered me up pretty quickly, got me straightened up pretty quickly. And thinking. Typically the fastest way out of a spiral, negative girl fueled funk is thinking it through and sorting it out.
How can I be falling short if I am striving to reach up? If I could measure things I do right and things I do wrong, I would see empirically that my ratio is higher and better on the right side of the equation. Maybe it’s my turn to have a minor existential crisis? *smile* Or it was just a bad day and I haven’t been getting enough sleep and working very hard at my jobs and for my clients. I love my life. I am among the luckiest people in the world with a fabulous husband, wonderful family, amazing friends. If it takes a village I have the very best.
But we all know all that.
More than that, though, I have survived a terrible childhood and made it to the other side. On my more bravado occasions I want to paint myself as super girl who was good and triumphed over evil. In normal life, though, I am extraordinarily ordinary. I try to be good and decent to other people, even though there are many that try my patience for a lot of reasons.
If there are areas where I need to try harder, it could be in getting better quality sleep and manage my time better. Right now, I can live with that. I think that’s something I can also believe and place my faith in.