As I began planning this post, I was just going to tell you about my latest Pandora bead purchase, and touch on how faith is so important to me and my family. As I got going, however, I decided that I wanted to share a little bit more about my thoughts on organized religion.
I always find it interesting when parents boast that they aren’t forcing any religion on their children, and that they are going to allow them to “decide for themselves”. I completely disagree with this philosophy, because for me, being raised Catholic was one of the strongest influences in my life. Once I got old enough, it was certainly my choice to stay, but I think a big part of a person’s faith is developed through childhood rituals. It’s not like these parents are going to a weekly service and paying for a babysitter until the kids are old enough to decide. It usually just means they don’t have any religious affiliation themselves, or they aren’t happy with the one they were born in to.

I also find it amusing when I hear someone say “oh, I’m not religious, I’m just spiritual”. I’m sure that for some people this is perfectly authentic (and if that is you, then no offense intended), but for others, it’s a copout (‘spirituality’ can be pursued while sitting on the deck; ‘religion’ requires some time on hard pews and kneelers) or just a safe, politically-correct assertion. Sort of a “don’t-hate-me-because-I-go-to-Mass/temple/mosque, I’m not really one of ‘them'” kind of thing. I am definitely a spiritual person, but I am proud to say that I am also religious, and my religion is Catholicism. Whoosh. And some readers bounce away.

I harbor no ill-will towards atheists; if anything I kind of feel badly for them, because I can’t imagine a life without my relationship with God. Despite being told during one sermon that Catholicicm is not a buffet where you can take some things and leave others, I do sometimes question rules and decisions of my Church, and I’m no perfect Catholic (I’ve been married 9 years and have two children. Enough said.) I do, though, consider Catholicism to be a huge part of my identity. I have no interest in convincing anyone else that it’s the ‘best’ religion; I just know that it’s mine. Ours.

As a child, we attended Mass EVERY Sunday, as well as all other days of obligation. My father comes from a long line of Irish-Catholics, and my mother is a very active convert; both are retired Catholic school teachers. And when I say we went EVERY Sunday, that means we hit a church in every city on my brother’s summer-lacrosse circuit, and Saturday weddings did not replace Sundays’ obligations. While attending a Catholic school in a little Irish community (I have since moved 40 minutes away to my husband’s hometown, which could easily pass for the same place I left) I was in the choir, and eventually read on the altar. I wanted to be an altar server, but in 1987 our priest just wasn’t ready for girls in that role.

When looking for a partner, a belief in God was a deal-breaker, a strong faith was very important, and finding a fellow practicing Catholic was a huge bonus. My husband and I both teach for the same Catholic School Board we attended as children, as do two of my husband’s sisters and my brother. I enjoy teaching the catechism and incorporating our faith in to our daily lessons and activities. (And I’m not just saying this in case my employer is reading!)

Our parish really feels like extended family for us. Admittedly we attend Mass a little less often than our devoted parents: compared to my in-laws, who often go more than once in a weekend, our attendance rate is an embarrassing 90 – 95%. Frannie and Maggie were baptised within weeks of their births, and their godparents were chosen carefully for the example they would set. All future sacraments will be very special occasions for us.

Lately, I have been reading a Frannie a story each night from her children’s bible, though at age four, some of it is a little over her head. Her big thing right now at storytime is that she wants to “be” any female character we read about:

Me: “This story is about Abraham and Sarah, who –”
Frannie: “I want to be Sarah!”
Me: “Fine, you can be Sarah. Whatever. Just let me read.”
The other night I had to try to explain to her why she really wouldn’t want to “be” Delilah.

It’s not always easy to try to explain something as abstract as religion to young children. The other day, while driving to daycare, Frannie said “I’m glad there aren’t any bad guys in heaven. You said there aren’t any bad guys in heaven, right?” I don’t even remember that discussion, but sure, okay. “But I have another question. Do we all have to die on a cross?”

Despite all of your efforts to instill your beliefs in your children, if you raise them to think for themselves, they may very well grow up and choose to abandon your family’s religion, to find another, or to question God’s existence altogether. But you still will never know the impact of the gift of a childhood full of faith and religious tradition.

So back to my bead. I chose this beautiful crucifix as a symbol of my firm religious beliefs. I truly never question the existence of God, and if some details of Jesus’ time on earth have been tweaked a little in translation (as I am sure you DaVinci Coders will be quick to argue), it certainly hasn’t hurt me, my family, or my students by setting our standards as high as those of a man we know once lived and died for us.

How about you? Are you religious? “Just spiritual?” What role does faith play in your childrearing? Do you still have the same beliefs and practices that you did growing up? I am very interested to hear my readers’ thoughts on this. I welcome opposing ideas, but please be gentle. Remember, what would Jesus do?

13 comments on “Sorry I’m Not “Just Spiritual””

  1. I'm religious. And spiritual. 😉

    We go to church and are usually part of some sort of small group, too. I want my kids to see it as part of our lives- that yes, we go on Sundays, but that isn't all.

  2. I was raised Catholic and confirmed. As an adult, I am completely disinterested in organized religion and do not even claim to be spiritual. God has no appeal for me, nor am I sure if I believe there IS a god…and while you may feel sorry for someone like me, well don't! I am perfectly happy with my life, and I am OK without the thought of some afterlife. I'm simply OK living my life as a good person and dying one day, not having to hold to the crutch of some afterlife. I don't ask myself "what would Jesus do." I ask myself "what would a good person do." I intent to instill good morals in my child and if one day she shows an interest in religion and wants to attend services with her friends or other family, that's fine. But I don't need it in my life. Maybe one day I will. And if you feel badly for aithesit, well maybe they feel the same way about your! I am posting this anonymously because I do not want any personal attacks…and while I would NEVER imply you would do that, I have found that many religious people are quite nasty to us non-believers.

    On a brighter note – TGIF!

  3. Thanks for your thoughts, "Anonymous"! I was hoping for some honest discussion. I would never be nasty or engage in personal attacks on non-believers (or allow that to happen here on my blog) and I think there's a place for all of us here…and in heaven, whether you believe it or not! 🙂

    I know for certain there are wonderful people of high moral character out there who do not have religious affiliations (even atheists – gasp!) because some of them have touched my life. I hold firm though that I think they are missing out on something. We can just feel sorry for each other! But as long as you do good, it doesn't matter whose name you're doing it in…even if it's just your own!

    Thanks again for taking the time to comment. If you come back again, I'd love to know if you can pinpoint what it was that turned you away from the Church, or if it was just a slow progression. I'd be curious to hear.


  4. Hello, What a great blog. First, thanks for following my blog. Second, I've been attending church since I was about 10 years old with my mother. I am a born again Christian. I wholeheatedly believe that raising my children in church with a strong faith has made a difference in the individuals they have become. Interesting Post.

  5. Thanks for stopping by and following, I liked this post. I have a rather difficult situation for my kids when it comes to church. My husband grew up and still is Catholic, I however grew up and still am Christian. We give them both side and hope the get the best of both worlds but not too little of either as I require they are of a Christian faith no matter which. But I hope Im not just screwing up.

  6. Wow, you are such a gifted writer. You almost made me plan on mass tomorrow. I imagine that my childhood was very similar to yours, just 15 min to the west of your fine village. My siblings and I were also raised as good Catholics, with all its rich stories, lessons and rituals. Sunday mass was not an option until we were around the ripe old age of 16, and my mother could not bear the fight to get us out of bed. Unfortunately, as I grew up the clergy members that I had made a connection with and who made me want to attend church, one by one were called out for horrific violations. In my life this became more of the rule than the exception. Also, as I got a little older it often seemed to me that some of the most "devout Catholics" were also some of the most objectionable people I encountered. It struck me that they may never have asked themselves WWJD, outside of the church walls.
    For me these things made me question the organization of Catholicism, not Catholicism itself. And although I am far from a model Catholic, and when my patience wears thin have to be reminded by my good friends to be compassionate, I try to live my life everyday, not just on Sundays, between 10 and 11, in the image of Jesus.
    Our children attend Catholic school, and we try to instill the lessons that we learned along the way. Our attendance record at mass would fill your percentage of absences, but when I look at myself in the mirror I have no problem calling myself a practicing Catholic. In my opinion the daily practice is more important than the weekly ritual.

  7. What a great article!!

    I have never been a “religious” person nor has my family. We didn’t attend church at all growing up although most of the members of my family claim to be Catholic. I mean, my sisters and I had no idea what Jesus and Santa had in common.

    I met and married a man who is religious, Catholic to be exact. He did his thing and I did mine (which is nothing). He went to mass by himself and other church activities. We have two children who are also now Catholic. They have been baptized as I knew that this was something that was more important to him then to me and something that he really believed in. Although I have no religious affiliation and like the Anonymous said above, “God has no appeal for me.” I have never found it necessary to have or establish a relationship with God or any higher power.

    Maybe having one parent more religious and spiritual then another plays some part in how children are guided in their religious upbringing. My son is at the age now that he knows that I am not going with them to church and asks, “why do you get to stay home?”. I like how are children are being raised, having some exposure to religion. I would like them to have the ability to choose what religion they would want to be active in (if any at all). Although I do not have any religious affiliation I would have no problem taking them with me to see other religions and how they practice their faith when they are a bit older, although seems as though some of that has been done for them. I know that it was more important to their father to be Catholic then for me to be right.

  8. Very good post. I'm a born again Christian. Went to church my whole life, but personally made a decision at the age of 16 to allow Jesus in my heart and have Him as my Lord and Savior. I'm now 35 and have only gone forward since that day.

    My parents raising me up in God's Word meant the world to me. "When they are old, they will not depart from them." They laid a foundation, which is something every good parent should do.

    My husband and I are raising our children in the church, in the Word, reading scripture, living as examples – and I know they will be better people for it. Spiritual can be too vague and lazy. I even sometimes opt of the word 'religion' because of how watered down it has become in our society. I like to define my life as a relationship with Jesus. I could not imagine my life any other way!

  9. Good post on a tough topic. I had actually been thinking of posting something similar, but hadn't gotten around to figuring out how to do it with the sensitivity the subject required.

    I was raised Catholic and went to church every Sunday until I left home. With the exception of weddings and funerals, I really haven't been since. I guess the easiest thing to say is I have mixed feelings about the Church. I like the guiding principles religion can instill and I enjoyed Sunday school as a child. But going to mass felt a bit like a chore through my teens and early twenties, and I don't agree with all the views of the Church. There are also some specific bible stories that use to annually drive me nuts at Church when they came up in the readings.

    That said, I've been thinking about Church more as I get older and specifically since I had my daughter.

    I still identify as being Catholic. I was married Catholic, as my husband is too, and, honestly getting married in the church mattered to me. We also had our daughter baptised, and that was important to me as well. I have also been thinking of starting to go to Church again with my daughter. Our local church has a childrens' mass – with a childrens' choir and Sunday school – and I think that would be a nice experience for her and something that would be nice to do as a young family.

    How's that for views from a rather conflicted Catholic?

  10. This is a great post! This is something I've definitely had to think a lot about as I recently became a mother. I am a Christian & was raised in the church. We went to a Baptist church while I was growing up, but as soon as I could choose for myself, I decided I preferred going to a non-denominational Christian church. I also went to a Christian middle & high school. So I've been surrounded by religion most of my life.

    For me, the problem was that I sincerely believed the Bible was truth. I sincerely believed that Jesus was who He said He was. I still believe both these things. But I had a hard time growing up with watching people do or profess things about Christ or church or Christianity & then live their lives in ways that completely contradicted what they were teaching. It was very difficult for me as I grew up. It didn't fit.

    As I've grown up, I've found that I prefer to say that I believe Jesus is the divine Son of God and I live my life in the direction of Christ. I fall short a lot – as we all do – and I am not perfect. I have flaws & mistakes & will not be that perfect creation I was intended to be until the day I meet Jesus face to face. Christianity has been turned into so many different things and I believe that religion has been used for the wrong purposes & as a brow-beating tool to get others to conform. All these things do not fit with the revolutionary & life-changing truths I find in the Bible. I believe having Jesus in your life makes you forgiven, full of hope, saved by grace, but it does not make you perfect, it does not make you better than anyone and it does not give you an immediate "get out of jail free" card.

    With my children, I will definitely raise them in church. We do and will go regularly throughout our life. But I will teach my children to think and to investigate – mainly because I know that true searching & investigation into Biblical or theological truth will lead you to Christ. I don't know if you've ever read The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel or The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell, but they literally changed my life. So I will raise my children in the church & teach them to investigate & search out truth. I believe God will do the rest. It is not my responsibility to MAKE them believe what I do. I can only live my life pointing toward Christ & allow Him to change the lives of my children.

  11. Hey,
    I was brought up LDS (Mormon). And, although there's been times when I've questioned it, I am still firm in believing that being LDS is what I want to be.
    And, in order to gain our own testimonies, don't we ALL have to question our beliefs at one time or another?

    I have no ill-will towards ANY belief– Christian or not. Sure, I'm a Christian, but if another person is not, I am smart and "Christian" enough to realize that it doesn't make them a bad person. I have many athiest friends.

    I only take offence when someone tries to tell me I'm wrong. I may think they're wrong too, but that's not a reason to name-call or belittle another human being. Being Christlike is more than a state of thought-.

  12. Hi, stumbled on this topic while surfing around your site. I've recently returned to church (and brought my family with me). I wrote a post about it here: I feel very similar to how you describe your faith. Our parish has become an extended family and it has given me and my children a sort of grounding that we lacked before going to church. I think it's the ritual and routine for them as much as the stories. It's definitely a wonderful experience, and one that we were missing when we didn't go to church.

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