Saturday, July 17, 2010

Cutting the umbilical cord

When a baby is born, there is no question about whether or not to cut the cord.  The only issue that may arise is who gets to hold the scissors, but the eventuality is the same:  The baby will be separated from the placenta and begin to grow on its own, into an independent person.

Sometimes, there are things in our lives that can be likened to that umbilical cord, an attachment to something we no longer need but have grown comfortable with, and the idea of separating from it can be a difficult one.  I went through such an experience recently with my faith.

Many years ago, when I was searching for answers about God and about life, I began studying with a Biblical research ministry.  At the time, it was a very good place for me to be.  I needed love, comfort, and stability in my life, and what I was offered there provided all of this and more for me.  I felt very much at home there spiritually and had no desire to explore elsewhere.  Eventually, I met my husband by way of circulating within this group of people, and thus was the foundation of our life together.  It was Biblical, and we agreed on everything Biblically because we were following the same teachings, and it was wonderful to feel like I finally had something right.  I couldn't screw this up because it wasn't about me, it was about God, and He is always perfect.  It was unfortunate to me that so many people would not see the truth as I knew it, but I was willing to accept that they were simply ignorant and was thankful that at least I had all the right answers.  There were some things that were difficult for me to accept, however, but I was taught that I must lay those things aside, because the Bible was right and I was wrong, and I must simply accept that there is only one absolute truth.  I did that, mostly, but some of those internal struggles never really went away.  They simply went dormant.

It wasn't until many years later in life, when some serious challenges arose in my marriage, that I began to consider the possibility that I didn't actually have all the answers.  In fact, all I had was more questions.  At that point, I started to think that there could be more than one right answer in life, and that people who had different ideas from my own could still be good people with successful lives.  In truth, I was both relieved and terrified to discover this; relieved because I no longer had to feel conflicted about wanting to accept others as they are, and terrified because it meant that the entire foundation upon which I had built my life and my marriage was about to crumble.

That happened about three years ago.  Since then, I have forced myself to stay active with the same ministry, the one that I began to follow roughly 18 years ago, but I have felt more and more like it is something that no longer fits me.  I can understand what they teach, and the basic premise of Christianity that supports it is part of who I am naturally, but I am no longer comfortable accepting the idea that there is only one way to get to all the right answers.  Truthfully, I haven't felt that it was the right place for me for quite some time, but I held on, comfortable with the protection given to me by that placental sac, afraid to let go and begin to grow on my own.  After all, what if they have been right all along?  What if it is the only way to live successfully?  What if I really do cut myself off from God's blessings if I walk away?  What would happen to me and to my children if I make the wrong choice?

Until recently, though, I did not feel I had the option to walk away.  I separated from my husband six months ago, and while I was with him I continued to wear my Bible face on Sundays and attend fellowship meetings with him.  I kept telling myself that it wasn't doing me any harm, after all, and besides, there was already so much strife and conflict in my marriage.  The only thin thread left holding it all together was the fact that, at least in theory, we shared the same beliefs about God and the Bible.

The reasons I ultimately left him had little to do with our spiritual differences, but after I moved away with the children, I felt obligated to continue my affiliation with the ministry, because I am the caregiver for his children, and that was the only thing we had always agreed on about how they should be raised.  I didn't want to take the children away from everything familiar to them all at once, and truthfully, I didn't want to do that to myself either.  I craved the comfort of knowing that there was one place I could go, just one, where things were still as they had always been, and I could feel safe in that familiar environment, like the comfort of a mother's womb.  And yet, if you imagine what a baby looks like in its mother's womb just before birth, there isn't much comfort left in it.  It is a cramped place, and the mother is growing more and more uncomfortable, and the two simply need to separate from each other before the rest of the growth can begin.  

Finally, I realized that I was forcing myself to attend these meetings, and was doing so begrudgingly, time and time again.  I didn't want to be there.  I didn't contribute much to the group by being there, and I didn't take away anything that was helpful to me.  I was there only out of obligation.  And for that reason, I finally cut the cord.  I had to be brave enough to speak up and tell my leader that while I think they are all great people, I am not supposed to be there for the people, but for the Bible that they teach; and in that, I can no longer feel honest in my presence there.  I do believe that the Bible can be used as a guide for life, and that it can be successful when people use it correctly, but I do not believe that it is the only place to find answers.  The search for answers should begin within one's own heart.  At one time in my life, those solid, verifiable, Biblical answers were satisfying to me, but I am at a place now where I need to begin to search within my own soul and find the answers that bring me peace; and I know that one thing I need to accept to find that peace is that the answers are different for everybody.  What works for one family or individual may not be right for another, and though we can all be drastically different from one another in what we believe, we can also each find a path that follows peace, love, and acceptance which allows us to live harmoniously with each other during the short time we have on this planet.

And now, here I stand, on my own, at peace.  It was sad to dissociate myself from a group that has meant so much to me and has given so much to help me grow to this point in my life, but when the time comes to let go, what good does it do to hold on?   I think of it as a spiritual rebirth for me--a time to let go of my personal struggles with spirituality over the past three years and start anew; a time to explore and learn and discover things about the world that I would once have dismissed as pure foolishness; a time to learn how to guide myself and my children by way of instinct and logic and love that comes from within my own heart, not from what someone else tells me is right or wrong.  I don't know what I will find, and honestly, I hardly even know what I seek.  I do know that I stand at the beginning of a long and intriguing journey that I hope will guide me to find answers which are right for me, whether or not they are right for anybody else around me.


Kelley said...

This was brave, AM. I wish you much light, much love, much inspiration, and much joy in your journey towards finding your path.

Kim V. said...

I pray that you find all the answers you seek. God gave us a brain for a reason. He never minds being questioned.

used2chaos said...

I'm proud of you for writing that and putting it on your blog!

I'm also excited for you to begin this journey...I've been on mine since my teens and I'm still learning. I enjoy learning new things about different faiths, and finding my truth.

Go do that, babe. Find YOUR truth.

Brother Michael said...

It touches me that despite our different pathways of faith, our souls are so much the same.

Your closing comments about the umbilical severing as departure point for a journey into the unknown made me cry, firstly because I am after all an Italian, but also because it resonates with my own experience of viewing every ending as a new beginning, in thin but dashing disguise.

Loss is in fact defined by the joy of recognizing fully the value of what we have had, and been lucky enough to cherish, until now. Sadness is a fleeting emotion that accompanies every loss but does not define it.

The view behind us, disappearing inexorably into the horizon like Columbus' final view of Barcelona*, is merely a reminder to turn around and face into the surprises that lay ahead of us like so many unopened Christmas gifts on opposite shores unimagined.

I get that you are breathing into this the life of anticipation, the excitement of the voyager, the spirit of the discoverer. Mooning in a sow's wallow of pity is a waste of time, better left to a soul untouched by your gift of wonderment.

I love you, Kiddo. I admire you, respect you, am proud of and inspired by you, and secretly hate you just a tiny wee bit for making me cry in front of all these nice people.

Your Brother and Friend,


*Columbus the Genovese was funded by the coffers of Queen Isabella and sailed from Barcelona, not Genova. I suspect you kind readers already know this, but it spoils my metaphor if you didn't, dammit. So there you are.

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