I was invited to speak last week at Shepard of the Hills Catholic Church in Eden, Wisconsin, a church affiliated with the church I grew up in as a kid. So much has changed since I was an altar boy in the 1980s. Everything is so modern and up-to-date, including a beautiful cavernous new facility with a band section, seating for the entire town, gift shop, coffee shop, and even a new school.
My speech was, of course, about my recovery. It was an honor coming back and seeing old faces, including a couple of my high school classmates I hadn't seen in close to twenty years. Some of my family who had never heard my presentation before were also in attendance, which was quite interesting. It's one thing to speak in front of total strangers about some of the deepest, most private corners of your life. But when your own family is present, it calls for a higher standard. What would they think? What kinds of facial expressions would stare back at me?
To my relief, all went well. I was nervous to say the least, but I was glad to see that my family and hometown was touched and appreciative, which humbled me. They had been so supportive and patient with my personal changes over the years.
Something I didn't plan on speaking about in detail but entered the presentation in more depth from a question in the audience was my spiritual journey. I was hesitant at first. Here I was, speaking to seasoned Catholics, of which I was one many years ago, and now I was about to reveal how I left the Catholic church in favor of a new-found, nondenomination Christian faith.
Set the clock back to the early 1990s. I was fresh off my recovery from anorexia and starting my life back up again in college. I was still living at home and in my early 20s. Life every Sunday for the past 20 years, I went to Catholic mass with my mom and younger brother. My older brother and sister also went, but they had moved out of the house years earlier. My father was Lutheran and went to "his church." We didn't question why very often; it was simply a fact of life.
Then only Sunday morning, I revealed to my mother that I wasn't going to be attending mass and instead would be attending a nondenomination Christian church that my girlfriend (now wife) went to. Obviously, my mom was irate. Looking back now, I can only imagine how difficult this must have been for her. Her own son was defying a value, belief, and tradition so dear to her heart.
As the weeks progressed, I grew stronger in my personal faith. Growing up, I struggled spiritually but never talked about it with anyone. I believed in God, mainly because it was something I felt I had to do because everyone else did. Dozens of "why" questions spun around my brain about the nature of God. And since I was a people pleaser and didn't want to stir up any conflict or argument, I kept my questions bottled up inside me.
My perception of God and Jesus was skewed and sterile. There was very little meaning to life and I often felt like God was a virtual police officer with His arms crossed, a scowl on His face, as he stared down from heaven waving His finger in my direction.
When I met my girlfriend, she introduced me to a church called Community Church, which didn't have pews, priests and altar boys, the same scripted service every week, and where everyone actually sang to God with fervor and joy. Not that everyone in the Catholic church I grew up in practiced their faith with such meaningless routine, but that was how I viewed Sunday mornings through my own eyes. I never returned to the Catholic church and eventually joined Community Church. I also felt ashamed and stressed, like I had just broken the law and would be going to jail soon.
It was also the first time in my life that I openly took a stand and disagreed with my mother on an issue. When I had my ED, I didn't want to bring any type of conflict with anyone. I agreed a lot with people and didn't share my own opinion if it swayed from another person's views. I believed disagreeing openly with others was somehow wrong and disrespectful. After therapy, I learned that it's okay to be myself, ask questions, critically think about an issue, and form my own opinions and beliefs about potential controversion topics. My Christian growth was now a topic I felt strongly about. It felt vibrant and alive. I now enjoyed reading and studying the Bible. There was just something different about Community Church. I felt true grace and mercy for the first time in my life. God was changing me, and I practiced admitting to myself and sharing with others details of my journey.
After much uncomfortable and awkward conversation, my mom slowly began to accept how important my new faith was to me. I felt hurt that I was hurting my mother with leaving the Catholic church, but I was tired of pretending like everything was okay. I eventually accepted that my mother could handle her own feelings and I needed to deal with mine. And this was okay. God still loved and accepted me. My self-worth was now based off what the Bible said about me. It was based off of Jesus' mercy and grace, His death and resurrection for my sin, and not my frail perceptions of myself, pleasing others enough, doing enough good deads, or following enough rules. One of my favorite Bible verses is "...for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing" (Galatians 2:21).
For the longest time, my self-worth was dependent upon how much I pleased others, my athletic accomplishments, my high potential everyone said I possessed, and how much of a "good boy" I could be. "Stupid" mistakes and blatant disagreement was uncalled for. If I went off the path of straight and narrow, an insurmountable shame overwhelmed me.
I'm tired of exerting the tremendous energy it takes to try and be "good enough." To me, it's not worth it anymore. Maintaining my eating disorder took this same incredible energy. Even though it was comfortable in ways, familiar, and conrollable, it caused a great burden and heavy weight every day of my life. I hated it and loved it at the same time. Letting go and practicing a newer healthier lifestyle, with new thinking patterns and routines, takes continuous effort, risk, and pain. But it is necessary in order to discover and learn. It doesn't need to be done overnight. Taking little risks over time is the key. But keep moving forward.
My faith in Jesus' sacrifice for me is now enough for me to be "good enough," which has fueled my engines instead of shame thinking. I still struggle at time with shame, but I now lean on my faith-based thoughts, not shame's irrational thinking patterns. It doesn't make my daily problems and stresses go away, or mean life gets necessarily any easier, but my faith in Christ makes going through the tough times much more bearable.
I used to feel I needed to apologize for my faith because it wasn't what everyone else believed, but no longer. People have so many different opinions and beliefs about life. I've accepted that it is impossible to please everyone. I have a responsibility to myself and God to be the best me I can be.
Well, I better wrap up for now. Thanks again for visiting my blog. I encourage you to e-mail me and let me know how I can support you.
"Till next time,