I had a conversation with a friend the other day and she asked me why I went to church. My response was simple, and quick, “because it makes me feel closer to God.” After the conversation I started thinking about this question even more, and I wondered if I would have answered that question the same way 15 years ago, or even 5 years ago for that matter.
As a child, and then teenager, I went to church because my mom told me I had to. Sunday mornings were church time, you didn’t sleep in, you went to church. (We did sleep in sometimes, but mostly we were in church on Sunday mornings.) In college, I went to chapel because I was required to – literally required to attend chapel by my University. Then as a married adult, I went to church because that is what I was supposed to do. God wanted me in church, right? Even if I didn’t want to be there, I shouldn’t ever sleep in or skip church.
A few years ago, I had a very real conversation with myself about religion, and church attendance, and my relationship with God. I talked to God and asked him to show me what a real relationship with him was like. I wanted to throw away the idea of a religion, and form a real relationship with God. I wanted to follow God, because it was something I truly desired to do, not because it was something I felt guilted – or obligated – to do. In my journey of losing my religion, and trying to find a relationship with God, I discovered so many things about myself, but most importantly I am losing the guilt that often comes with “religion.”
The first thing I decided to change was my view on church attendance. I don’t think God wants us to be with him because we “have to.” I think he wants us in church because we want to be there. If I have a friend over and her mind is somewhere else, and she is grumpy and doesn’t want to be at my house, I don’t want her there any more than she wants to be there. I choose to view church attendance in this same way. I don’t think God wants me there if my heart isn’t in it. I know a lot of people view this differently. Many of my friends and family view this as a sort of sacrifice. I suppose you could look at it like that, I just don’t choose to do it that way. For me, that brings guilt back into the relationship with God, and puts me in a place of following God out of obligation. I don’t want that.
I don’t want that for my children either. I am trying to set an example for my children in the way they follow God. I don’t want my children to simply be followers. I want them to choose Christianity and God because they have genuinely sought and discovered what a relationship with God means. I do not force my children to attend church. Plain and simple. Most Sunday’s, my children are begging me to go to church. Some Sundays, none of us feeling like going. I am okay with either situation.
I want to lead my children to a place where they are capable of answering the question, “Why are you a Christian” with certainty. I don’t want them to ever question if they are a Christian because I have forced them into that. Of course I want my children to choose the religion I have chosen. Would I be sad if they didn’t? Yes. Would I love them any less, or treat them differently? NO! Absolutely not!
I have said before that I have a very inclusive view of religion – I choose to pull the best parts of all religion and adapt them to my way of life and the way I follow Jesus. It works for me. I believe God has given me the grace and freedom to discover how to follow him in the way that best glorifies him, and best benefits me. I believe religion is fluid – that is evident in the many religions we have in our world. This is why I have chosen to have a relationship, rather than a religion. I love Jesus, I believe I am filled with the Holy Spirit, and I believe that I serve a God who is much greater than any human could ever understand.
I also believe that my relationship with God is personal. And I believe that I want my children to discover for themselves what their personal relationship with God looks like. Therefore, I have made a vow to never guilt my children into being Christians or going to church. I have made a vow to never guilt my friends into choosing the same religious views that I have chosen. I have made a vow to share my opinions when asked, but never in a way that makes another person feel guilty or judged.
Sometimes I sleep in – and when I wake up, I talk to God. I let him know that I had a rough week and I needed a little extra time with my pillow. I think he understands. I read the Bible. I pray. I sing out to God sometimes. I talk to my children about God. I get mad at God. I question God. I skip church sometimes. I curse sometimes. I make mistakes, and I live within the bountiful grace of God. It is because of this that I feel more free in my relationship with God now than I ever have in my life. Each day I wake up with and discover something new about God.
This is how I am losing my religion – by breaking outside of those walls and creating a relationship with God.