Day 9: What has been my toughest spiritual conflict?
My toughest spiritual conflict? Top answer for this question would be my decision to leave the organized Christian Church behind.
I was raised going to church, first at Air Force Base Chapels, and then at Wesleyan United Methodist Church of Tampa, Florida. I can remember stand-out events in these faith communities, but generally, I had no real questions about why I was there. At first, I was there to because my parent(s) took me there every Sunday morning for services; later I went because of music, either making music with the children’s choir, or listening to my mom and the adult choir. In fact, one of the things I noticed, early on, was that my mother had enormous musical talent.
When my father retired from the Air Force, we moved back to coastal Maine to be close to family. We attended the United Methodist Church here in town, and Mom soon became organist and choir director. To make a long story much shorter, I attended and participated in that church, off and on; in fact, each time I came home after living away, I returned to the church, the choir, and the sense of camaraderie I gained from being a member.
I have told my story about seminary and being a local pastor so many times — I loved my job with the congregation, but I quickly found myself doubting the very foundations of my employer and my faith. I persisted as long as I could, but the day soon came when I had to admit my unbelief to myself, and leave the clergy and the church. My conflict felt like it was with the organized church and its practices; in the long run, my true conflict was my own inability to live up to the perfectly ordinary expectations of my employer. When it was time to leave, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief; but inside, I was also carrying the whole experience as another failure in my failure of my life.
Over the last couple of decades, I have continued to make the same errors over and over in my life. Despite the gifts of love and wisdom I have received, from my sister S., and my friends and family, I not only did not succeed — I became a far more efficient failure. My health became less and less of a priority, and I got sicker and more depressed by the day. Even with the presence of new therapies and new doctors, I was not only unwilling, but emotionally unable to care for myself. With the invaluable help of my sister, S., I managed to hold on by my fingertips while I battled with myself for my life.
S. and her friends introduced me to elements of many world religions and faiths, and I wanted to believe so badly. I began to surround myself with the apparatus and the icons of the part of each faith that I felt spoke to me. I still didn’t get it, but I was trying to walk the walk. And then suddenly, literally in an instant, all of those long years of lessons and wisdom cleared in my mind, and I felt like a person of faith once again.
My life still has conflicts — whose doesn’t? But my guilt, and my sense of unworthiness, and my identity as a sick failure, have all turned into a somewhat-chagrined acceptance of my past and a lighter-hearted vision of my future, complete with a faith which does not bring conflict into my life.