“I believe that prayer makes a huge difference. If not because of a higher power, because prayer is good for the soul. It is meditation, gratitude, poetry and hope all in one.” – Anonymous
My father set an excellent example of faith. He never doubted, and he told fun stories about growing up in Catholic school. However, he couldn’t save me from the world outside our church and family. I, like my father, had perfect faith, until I was nine.
I remember the exact moment my faith first wavered. I was reading the Ann Landers advice column in the local newspaper, which was convenient because it was right next to the cartoons. Thanks to Ms. Landers, I knew all about what to do if my mother-in-law proved difficult (it ends up she’s wonderful). We all shared the newspaper in the morning. The one rule was fold it back up and put it in the pile. I was about to do so when I saw a picture of a woman with her child. The photo was huge and right on the front page. The boy looked to be about my age, and it wasn’t often we fourth-graders made the cover of The Pilot. I dove into the article.
What I read hammered a deep crack into my faith. The woman in the picture had cancer and was dying. I don’t remember why she was on the cover, but I do remember one critical detail. She didn’t believe in heaven. My mind was racing. I had never met someone who didn’t believe in heaven. I didn’t even know that was an option. And how awful to die without at least the hope of heaven!
“Special eggs time!” my dad called. It was our Saturday morning ritual to make scrambled eggs with a secret ingredient – two drops of hot sauce. My little sister got to add one drop, I the other. Then my mom or dad would make bacon, and if we were lucky, my dad made hash browns. My mom always made a big deal of wondering what the secret ingredient was, but we never told. We would just giggle. I didn’t feel like laughing that morning, though. When my parents asked what was wrong, I lied to them for the first time in my life and said that my tummy hurt. I didn’t know how to express what I was feeling, so I hid it.
I was going through the process of preparing for First Communion, so I knew priests have to keep secrets unless you plan to hurt someone. I went to Confession and told my priest I was having doubts ever since reading that newspaper article. I wish I had had a priest who walked me through doubt rather than telling me doubt is a major sin and punishing me. However, that wasn’t the case. I will always remember kneeling on that hard little bench with the priest behind the screen. He told me that the Bible says, “It is better to be hot or cold, for if you are lukewarm, I will spit you out.” The idea of God spitting me out was horrific. I was speechless. My heart was racing as he gave me my Act of Contrition – 10 Hail Mary’s.
I wanted to say, “That’s the whole problem! I don’t believe in heaven or maybe even prayer anymore!” But how could I speak out against a priest of all people? We eventually switched churches for other reasons. I never told my parents what happened. They never found out until I wrote this post 26 years later. I was just glad to get away and into a church that was more tolerant. Still Catholic, but warmer (shout out to all the folks at Ascension!). My parents still attend Mass there to this day.
I went through with Confirmation in my late teens, but I felt like an imposter, the worst kind of liar. Then in college I fell in with a group of devout Christians and started attending a Bible study group for women. I fumbled through, completely unfamiliar with some of the books they referenced much to my embarrassment, but they helped me navigate the Good Book. I found the conviction I lost a decade before.
However, being diagnosed with a terminal disease at 28 rocked my faith yet again. I had so much living left to do. How could God let this happen? I felt my faith drain from me when I needed it most. It was like water running through my hands – impossible to keep. My faith was a roller coaster when I needed steady ground. I would beg God for help, for belief in something, anything after death. That belief never came. I still beg, but now it’s for relief from pain caused by terrible muscle spasms. It’s for my caregivers to guess what I need when I’m away from my communication device. I beg for Evan’s health and happiness. I beg for countless other things, and I try to remember to say thank you when my prayers work.
I like to think that I am not alone, that everyone has their own faith journey. Like it or not, my faith is like a river. It ebbs and flows, but I like to think that just like the river water, my faith is always there. My father remains my spiritual role model. He can’t protect me, he can’t save me, but he can inspire me. That’s all I can ask.
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