Valuable Lessons I Learned from Growing Up in the Church

I grew up in a Catholic family.

From first grade until eighth grade (age 6-13), I was required to attend a Catholic night school every Monday night during the school year. Naturally, this made me hate God.

It wasn’t just Catholic school necessarily, it was the feel of Catholicism. It felt void of any emotion. I remember my teacher in third grade, Mrs. McNeal, told us that animals didn’t have souls and wouldn’t go to heaven. I think I decided that I didn’t believe in God then.

During my confirmation at age 13—which is when you “graduate” and decide to follow Christ for yourself, and also don’t have to attend that horrid night school anymore—I stood up and while the other kids were reciting their commitment to Christ, I inwardly vowed that I was an atheist.

I told my mom, who cried and asked what she did wrong.

Fortunately for her, I found my way back to Christ through a Methodist church not long after that and for the next decade, I considered myself to be a born-again Christian.

After graduating college, my mind was opened to appreciate a more universal definition of Christ than the more constricted one I had committed to as a Christian, and today, I don’t identify as any type of follower, although I do consider myself to be a spiritual person.

But, admittedly, I did learn a lot from growing up as a Catholic and then as a born-again Christian in the Methodist church. Here’s what I learned.

Helping People vs. Genuinely Supporting People

During my time being a born-again Christian, I learned about the difference between helping people and genuinely supporting people. I learned genuine compassion and acts of kindness.

This is difference between patting someone on the back and telling them “I’m sorry” when a loved one passes and instead calling them to ask how they’re doing or showing up at their home with a cooked meal for their family, or including them in your thoughts and prayers and sending positive, healing energy their way.

I’m grateful that I learned this in the church because it helped me to recognize and understand people who truly need help—because, hey, don’t we all?

We All Are Connected

There was a huge feeling of community in the Methodist church I went to. I was there several times a week with my cousin and felt connected to everyone there.

These people helped shape me. I felt like they truly saw me and nourished my spirit. They showed me that I mattered. Coming from Catholicism where I felt like everyone was dead inside, I saw a brighter side of religion that was rich with color.

Today, I recognize that the Catholics I knew weren’t dead inside. The stale energy I felt emanating from them and from the church wasn’t necessarily their fault—they were people too, just not the people who were meant to nourish my spirit and help me grow. And that was ok.

And, to be fair, I have known some Catholics who have been some of the most genuine people I have met. But the people at my Methodist church and the people I knew as a born-again Christian really helped my spirit fly, and for that I am grateful.

I’m also grateful to have experienced and enjoyed a sense of community that was severely lacking in my life before that. Today, I enjoy a different sense of community and spirit, but I’m grateful to all of these people for being part of my journey.

Appreciating Something Bigger Than Myself 

I felt like I never appreciated God as a Catholic. Through coming to Christ on my own terms, I saw a world of color that helped me to appreciate something bigger than myself.

Today, I see this more as Presence than I do Christ, although I more or less consider them to be the same thing. I am in awe of the world, and even though my life as an empath isn’t easy, I love being able to appreciate my smallness—as well as my wholeness—in the world to behold the wonder of life.

Appreciating something bigger than myself helps my problems feel smaller and helps myself feel more whole in this moment and more connected with all life-forms—which is something I feel like everyone can appreciate. 

Knowing What to Do at Funerals 

Although I’m not part of a church community anymore, it’s hard to forget how to conduct yourself in a Catholic church. This has provided me with ease when it comes to conducting myself at funerals that also happen to be Catholic masses, which helps to ease my social anxiety about being in such situations.

Whether it’s a Catholic mass or another type of service, I feel pretty solid in knowing when to kneel, knowing what genuflecting is and when to do it, knowing what to do when the priest says, “Let us offer each other the sign of peace”, and knowing that those goddamned pieces of bread at communion have gluten in them.

Thank you, Catholic school…

Who I Truly Am

Ultimately, my journey growing up in a Catholic family and my post-Catholic life as a born-again Christian spurred my journey to enlightenment and away from “Christ” in the conventional sense, but towards a Christ in the universal sense.

I’m not claiming to be enlightened in any sense of the word and I’m not claiming that my definition of Christ or God will be the same as yours. And please save your comments about my personal experiences and preferences when it comes to spirituality—I don’t comment on yours.

I’m grateful to have learned these lessons from growing up in two different churches in my young life and to appreciate the world in a way I wasn’t able to before. Thank you!

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