Growing Up Religious
As a young child, I was trusting as all children are. I started learning my Catechism (CCD). And at an age when I was unable to think for myself, I was taught about Original Sin, Hell, and the Sacraments of Communion and Confession. Although we had gone to church every Sunday, and faithfully said prayers, all of this Sacrament and Sin business seemed very serious to me. It gave me a lot of anxiety. As a child, I never once doubted that what everyone told me was true.
I was taught about Original Sin before I was allowed to make my First Confession. And I was told that if I sinned, or if I forgot to confess something, that I would go to hell. I was extremely worried that I would die before I got to go inside The Box and confess whatever horrible misdeeds or crimes my Seven-Year-Old Self might have committed.
As an adolescent, I was manipulated into being a “good” kid. If I didn’t get good grades, if I dressed a certain way, spoke to the wrong people, or got poor grades, I would “Dishonor My Mother and Father,” and again risk my immortal soul to eternal flame.
I Left Religion.
Before my own children started CCD, I left the Catholic Church. I came to this radical understanding that I was a person who had been traumatized and held hostage by a set of beliefs that I didn’t ascribe to. I couldn’t trap my children in the same mind prison that I, myself, was struggling to break free of.
I couldn’t, in good conscience, tell my children about Hell. I don’t believe that humans are born with some unseeable stain that only The Institution of The Catholic Church can remove. I don’t believe that any stain or shattered piece of soul makes you unlovable to The Creator. I don’t believe that any all-knowing, all-powerful being would be so cruel as to create a soul prison for the very creations that they constructed and formed. In fact, to me, all of those conditions sound like something Evil and Fabricated from the minds of men.
My Earliest Experience with Religion
One of my earliest memories was of me sitting in a church pew with my Aunt. We were at a Traditional Catholic Mass, and I was turned around sitting on the kneeler, pretending to read a missal, (a prayer book that helps you follow along with a Catholic Mass.)
I was probably 3 at the time. My aunt asked me what I was doing, and I cackled and told her I was reading “Spells” from my Magic Book. (Which, by the way, that’s totally what a missal is!)
My Aunt gasped, and disciplined me for my disrespect. Because Witches are evil, and I was a naughty child to think of the Catholic Rituals as Witchcraft.
Kids Take Everything at Face Value
As a small child, when I was free from the doctrine and teachings of religion, I equated my faith and religious practices to the things I had seen and heard about in movies. So of course, three year old me observed the candles, chanting, smoking, and song of the Catholic Mass as Witchcraft or as having magical origins. Kids are beautiful humans who have a pure outlook on life.
Because of my own early experiences with religion, I knew that I wanted to raise my kids differently. Even as Catholic, I struggled with teaching my kids the faith, and with praying as a family. Something about teaching my kids to honor a being you cannot meet or see didn’t sit well with me.
For this reason I never introduced any religious figures to my children. We have also never done “fun” holiday characters like Santa, and The Tooth Fairy. Because kids believe you. They don’t have the cognitive ability to understand when you’re telling them something untrue. I don’t agree with the notion that we, as a society, believe in some sort of cultural initiation to indoctrinate our children with unknown fairy tales, simply because it’s “fun,” and they will believe us.
Although it’s not a popular opinion, among most parents I know, it’s one I hold strongly. I think it’s mean to lie to kids about imaginary beings. I think it’s unkind to give them false ideas. I know one day all children wake up and stop believing in the delusions we have created for them. And that is a day of intense sadness. I wanted to spare my children from the heartbreak of the Christmas Morning where they wake up and realize that Mom and Dad are Santa.
Keeping My Kids Curious, Instead of Giving Them All The Answers
As parents, we want to have all the answers. We want to be “super.” But there is great power in being ordinary. In teaching your kids that you are not a perfect being. There is great strength in showing your children that great people make mistakes and sometimes need more information to make an informed response.
Arguably, it’s easier to tell your children that, a being they can’t see, created everything. It’s easy to tell them that God has a Plan when things don’t go their way. It’s easy to tell them that there is an afterlife where they will find eternal rest. That everything that’s bad in life is a trial, Jesus gives you because: “Those he loves he gives great suffering to.”
Reality is: We don’t have all the answers. We don’t know how we got here, or what happens when we die. And religion gives us security. It’s gives us a belief system that we don’t have to think about. It gives us an unquestionable answer to the unknowns of the universe, and with it, we are free from thinking about those hard things. We don’t need to ponder or hold conversations with others about their beliefs. With religion, we know that what we believe is correct because one of the beliefs is that we will be taken care of in the afterlife, so long as we don’t question.
If you’ve lived your whole life with the security and promise of an afterlife, it may seem scary or even blasphemous to consider any belief system outside of your paradigm. Even if you have not been a believer for a long time, word of the afterlife makes us all question and cringe and sit in the uncomfortable unknowing.
Imagine asking your kids what they think of big questions like Creation, Death, and Suffering. Imagine sitting back and listening to the story that your child illustrates through the amazing thoughts and experiences that they have witnessed through their child minds. Imagine stoking your child’s natural curiosity and breaching hard topics with emotional security instead of handing them simple answers and fables that we have no proof of!
Soul Shattering Tragedy
As parents, we all go through moments of self doubt. Sometimes we feel like we’re too hard on our kids. We yell too much, we hug too little, we push too hard, we don’t do enough. It’s easy to second guess yourself, because, NO PRESSURE, you’re just forming the next generation of humans. That’s all. These little peoples lives are literally in our hands. And that is a lot to think about as a caretaker! We are constantly wondering if we are raising our kids the “right” way, or if we could be doing things differently.
In August, 2020, we lost our smallest child in a horrible accident. The trauma that my family has endured from that day is beyond belief. This situation is legitimately every parents absolute worst nightmare.
And while it has been bad to lose a baby, it has been horrible to walk through this grief process with my other children. The sadness they carry and the big emotions they are working through are heavier than the burdens that many adults carry.
This situation has shattered my soul, but in a strange way it’s also provided me with a lot of clarity. My children wake up everyday, have beautiful conversations with me and with each other, and they are moving through this experience with grace and strength.
We have walked this difficult journey as a family, without the strings of religion. No one came to my children to tell them things like: “Jesus loved your baby sister so much, that he took her away.” No one told my children that they may go to hell some day if they’re bad, never to be reunited with their dear one.
My Christian Friends Got It Wrong
When my Christian friends talk to me, they tell me they are sad, and they feel sorry for me. Because I will never know the comfort they feel in the arms of Jesus.
I don’t find my comfort in the idea that an Unknown Being has plans for me. Instead, I find comfort in the unknown. I find comfort in living my best, most intentional life. I find comfort in being a happy and compassionate human.
I also find comfort sitting with the reality that sometimes bad things happen. Sometimes in life, we have to sit with the unknown, and to be comfortable with the fact that we don’t have all the answers.
I would rather sit in a pool of my own experience and emotions, than sit and be angry at God or “The Plan.” I would rather work through this process in a way that makes sense to me, than to be told what I should think and believe about hard things.
And I have seen the strength and beauty in passing this ability to dive deep and dig through emotions on to my children. The only thing they know for certain, is that Death is a real part of life, and sometimes life moves you in ways that are unfair. I am so sorry that my children had to learn these lessons so early. I’m so sorry that it had to be this way. But I am so thankful that they are walking this path in light and in understanding.
The first step, moving forward, is accepting reality and coming to terms with your circumstances. I have no god to blame for my life. I have am not living and questioning the “Divine Plan.” Instead I am at peace, and slowly moving forward in healing and in wholeness.
Meet Brittany Freakin Chavez
She is a passionate healer, educator, spiritworker, and minister, on the path of truth seeking and knowing. She is the mother to 4 living children, with one somewhere in the great unknown.
She is on a mission to study Midwifery, and to provide competent and caring maternity care services that honor the life, essence, spirit, and body of mothers and birth givers in her community.
She spends a lot of time educating and supporting the community in her Facebook Group. And enjoys helping people move through life with intention and passion.