Balancing what we believe

The more one reads about the meaning of life, the more one suspects life is a scam mohammad_hassan via Pixabay manipulated by Lee Lim

It’s self-inventory season, folks

While some people who are raised in a religion will hold those beliefs their entire life, others (like myself) will find that their beliefs change. There is a very strong push for those who do renounce their faith to renounce the experience as a whole, to cut themselves off from the perspectives they had and actions they engaged in, but that (quite unnecessarily) throws a perfectly good baby out with the bath water.

Please understand that I do not compare overall belief in an organized religion to bath water in disrespect. While there’s no guarantee that a religious person is a good person, there is much in religious teachings and perspectives that can be used to at least better oneself as a person. Handle things critically, of course, but take them seriously – there’s gold in them thar hills. The process of choosing what you want to leave behind and what you want to keep can be as tedious as it is heart wrenching, but it’s worth making the time. 

One belief that the Christian church has really capitalized on is the idea that anyone can be reached with the gospel, that anyone can be converted. It has been (and still is) used to justify colonization and genocide by masquerading them as spreading the gospel, and that (to grossly understate) just doesn’t sit well with me now that I see it. Rather than leaving my perspective in that egocentric lens and claiming an infallible ability to convince others of my beliefs, I shifted and saw it as an ability to communicate with others regardless of their beliefs. It’s incredibly useful to have in your attitude roster if you’re a mentor of any kind, because it’s also the belief that preaching is old news – collaboration is in. There’s no place for pedestals anymore. 

A message that was really drilled home in my church was that you can love people even if you don’t like them – they don’t have to go hand in hand and, arguably, should not. Loving someone only when you like them means that the relationship is completely conditional. If they’re not acting like a person you want to be around, they’re hardly treated like a person at all – disgusting. Instead, this stance emphasizes how love is something you give because it’s just something you do, independently of others’ actions. It’s about integrity; about your own principles, not circumstances.

Now, at first, I interpreted this message in ways that weren’t helpful or healthy. It came across as though boundaries were a bad thing, that even if someone was being hurtful or cruel, I had to continue to allow them full access to my person because I was told I simply “just didn’t like” what I was experiencing, and that putting up boundaries was the same as taking love away. Becoming firmer in my sense of agency and self-efficacy helped loads, but the shift took time and is still very much in progress. However, I’m better at realizing the difference between when I don’t like an interaction and when someone’s legitimately harming me through an interaction.

This has also helped me greatly in my treatment of myself. As much as it’s important to love others even when they’re not particularly likable, it’s essential to flip that and treat yourself the same way. I’d argue that practically everyone goes through periods where they don’t like themselves one bit, and if the love you extend yourself is dependent on whether you like yourself it’s going to be a very choppy relationship. It’ll also be all that much easier to accept that conditional treatment from others simply because you’re comfortable with it. In short, don’t treat yourself in ways that you wouldn’t let your loved ones experience – it may seem small, but is a radical act of kindness.

One of my favourite parts of attending church services was the worship sessions. Of course, I’d enjoy the music and the sense of camaraderie, but what really made it feel worth it was two very different concepts. The first is the biblical command to make a joyful noise – not necessarily a good one. Granted, there are plenty of verses that also talk about honing your skill and bringing the best of your abilities when you praise, but the bottom line is not that your offering of worship is either perfection or trash. The aim is to be joyful, to place focus on the experience itself rather than the outcome. Quite similarly to the Parable of Talents, the message here is that your best – fluctuant as that state may be – should be the aim of your service.

The second concept from worship sessions, and maybe the factor that’s continued to impact me most through adulthood, is to make time to feel what you’re feeling. All types of very intense emotions can come up during praise, and the best church services I’ve been to encourage people to sit with what comes up. People in general don’t like to be emotionally uncomfortable, much less so in a group, but feelings are always there to tell you something important. They can’t be blindly trusted, mind you, but they are incredibly useful as a first step in pointing you towards strengths to lean on and issues to grow through. Whether you can do it in a group or you’re practicing alone, making time to acknowledge and engage with what bubbles up is rarely a waste of time. 

A final point I’d like to make in the style of every pastor I’ve heard preach: this is a practice, and I’m still practicing just as much as the rest of you. It takes concentrated effort to go through the things you were taught and decide if they’re still useful. To decide if your beliefs accurately reflect the world you’re in, and to shift your stances if they don’t so you can lead a life you genuinely want rather than the one you were taught you should have. By no means have I mastered this and if you talk to me in a decade I might have different stances altogether, but that’s sort of the point. To be cheesy as fuck, the only constant in life is change, so attempting to shove concepts into categories permanently will lead to immense frustration. Or, worse, to completely missing out on what your future really has to offer because you’ve cemented yourself in past circumstances. Sure, what’s known feels safe. Growth – not always, but frequently enough – necessitates being uncomfortable.


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