Belief for Unbelievers

“When you grow up, your heart dies.” This line is one of the most significant from the 1980s teen angst movie, “The Breakfast Club.” It sounds dramatic. But it’s true, and every adult knows it.

The loss of innocence as we transition – particularly through the teen years – is often especially bittersweet at its very best, soul-torturing painful at its worst.

There is a time when we realize that what we thought we knew of life just isn’t true. There isn’t necessarily a happy ending all the time. Parents are multi-faceted, and not perfect. People don’t live forever. Bad things happen to good people. The world is not a safe place.

Tonight, our monthly blog writing challenge was to write about something you believed in as a child that turned out to not be true.

As always, I have a twist on things.

It’s not so much that what I believe turned out to not be true so to speak – it’s that I had to take on a whole new way of looking at things as I took on a more adult view of the world.

All of this may sound objective and logical, but let me assure you, it was anything but that as I experienced this transition as a teen.

I hope I don’t turn off the reader, but what I’m talking about is my faith. If you’re not religious, give me a chance. My mind is filled with memories, ideas and images. Let’s see how I piece this together. You may find this meaningful, even if you’re not a believer.

My mother had a devastating stroke when I was 11. She was in a coma for a week, and then she died. When that happened, it set in motion a deep sense of cynicism in me that became more apparent the older I became.

After her stroke, I prayed with my family each night she was in the hospital. I believed she’d return to us, but she didn’t. The fact that I could pray for something so important and it was denied me was profound. As an 11 year old, I clung to God in comfort.

As a teen, I became angry and resentful.

Looking back on my thoughts at the time, I’m reminded of song by Vampire Weekend called “Unbelievers.” I’ll include a link to it here.

It’s a cool, fun song. And as I listened to the lyrics, I hear a young man who doesn’t believe that religion or God has meaning to him, and why should it? Where’s the warmth, where’s the Holy Water for him? And does it matter that he doesn’t believe? Not really. Except it sort of sounds like when he’s asking for the warmth and Holy Water that he wants someone to tell him that there IS someone who’ll say a little grace for him. He’s not sure what the point of wanting that is and if it matters (especially because he has a girl to love) but he keeps asking for it anyway.

I was like that.

At 15 I was pretty pissed that I’d had to suffer without a mother. I got to a point where I decided it was just easier to not believe in God rather than feel duped.

So I allowed myself to think of what life would be like without going to mass, without praying to God, without thinking that upon my death, there would be something on the other side. I felt smugly satisfied with my new belief system.

It lasted for only a few days. It was some of the worst days of my life.

I was lonesome, directionless and hopeless.

I decided that for me personally, I was better off believing in God.

This quote came to mind and I think it brings clarity to that child-to-adult transition regarding faith (and I Googled it for accuracy):

1 Corinthians 13:11-13 – New International Version (NIV)
11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

There is something fundamental in wishing, desiring, and hoping for something more than what our lives appear to be. Something beyond what is factual and can be proven.

As a child, it’s easy to believe in a love for us that is beyond all reason. It’s why children generally easily follow a religion, or for that matter, fairy tales.

It takes a certain amount of life experience – and the coming to terms with our hearts dying – that helps us to cope with life as adults.

Whether child or adult, it’s true that having a sense of hope and faith – and a real sense of belonging, a sense of love – is what we need to see us through each day. When you can accept that you need this, it’s easier to feel more child-like (as opposed to being childish) and you become more optimistic.

I’m not writing this to tell people what to believe, because trust me, I get that at times, what religious people have to say can sound unreasonable, illogical and senseless. Faith is not factual, and it can’t be proven.

All I’m saying is that having belief in God helps me remain accountable to myself and to other people.

Someday, I will close my eyes, and my lights will go out permanently. It’s possible I may see nothing at all ever again. Or maybe, I will be judged a good enough soul to see more beauty than I ever could imagine.

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