My sisters and I ran a half-marathon last weekend… which turned out to be both a bonding event and a fundraising one. (We raised almost $6000 for cancer research!)
To cheer us on, my parents came to town too. Now I am still seeing a counselor, something I started doing after the breakup, and in which I am untangling my family history and patterns. My dad came to one of my sessions in May.
And last week, my mom came.
It was a shocking, intense, upsetting, and relieving experience all at once. The highlights:
My mom unknowingly confirmed my counselor’s theory that she had leaned on me religiously and treated me differently than my older sisters, like a spiritual twin/sister/support instead of a daughter. Mom said I was her “prayer baby” and that she did come to rely on me in some ways instead of Dad… that I provided her with spiritual intimacy that is totally missing between the two of them. She said she always believed I was destined for something special, that because of my faith she knew God had forgiven her for marrying my dad (a non-christian). She said she had ‘given up’ on my sisters as far as their faith went (basically channeling all her energy and hopes on me) and that it was hard on her when I left for college.
So it’s no wonder I felt so much pressure not to go astray when I was growing up. None of these messages was explicit when I was a kid, but at some level I think I knew I was my mom’s ‘salvation’ and that to step outside the Christian lines would be to disappoint her tremendously, at an almost existential level. I think that’s why it has taken me until my late twenties and thirties to openly question my faith – I’ve been terrified of letting her down. For her part, I don't think she realized the burden she was placing on me. But she did. It's like I've been carrying my mom's cross for the last 30+ years.
At one point in the session I said that I couldn’t talk to her about religion anymore. That it was an impossible conversation because she wasn’t the least bit open to, or curious about, how I’ve gotten to where I am. I didn’t choose to lose my faith and I never imagined I would be on this side of the “us-them” faith divide, but now that I was I knew everything she was thinking, all the answers she was stockpiling, and all the explanations she would use to comfort herself as to what had happened to me. And none of them would fit or actually be true.
At that point she admitted that she was afraid to hear what happened or what I now believe, and that’s why she doesn’t ask. She also said that she thought I was too smart for my own good, and that I took after my dad in that respect. (To which I wanted to pull my hair out – the anti-intellectualism of evangelicalism makes me c r a z y. If God didn’t want me to think, he shouldn’t have created me with the capacity to do so. I can no more stop my brain from asking questions than I can instruct my heart to stop beating.)
BUT. I should add that she was tearful at various times, and she very much tried to assure me that she and Dad love me and she didn’t mean to hurt me along the way. For my part, I hate that the path my life has taken is upsetting to her, and that she worries for my eternal salvation. I hate to be the cause of that angst. But the toothpaste is out of the tube now and I can't go back. Nor should I, just to make her life more comfortable. In all events, I am not sure I want to have a longer sit-down conversation with her where I pour out all the reasons I came to doubt Christianity. I don’t actually want to cause a crisis of faith for her. She would probably wind up feeling she had to choose between me and (her evangelical) God and the stress of that might be too much to bear.
So I am not sure what will happen next between me and my mom. It was a terribly uncomfortable conversation and we have not had the guts to revisit any of it since. She has tried to reach out more (with phone calls and expressing being proud of me for the race), especially after I explained feeling invisible in my family--being the person who goes along and rarely asks for attention or for others to follow my agenda--and how I thought that was linked to my patterns in picking men who don’t seem to see me either.
But I'm really not sure what the next steps are on the path to healing some of my crummy family patterns. I suppose time will tell.
On a somewhat different note, I am still experiencing quite a lack of hope/optimism/idealism in life. I think the confluence of losing my faith moorings and then being betrayed by my ex-boyfriend has caused a certain cynicism to settle in. I wish I felt that rush of optimism that other de-converts describe – the loosening of bindings, of chains, of obligation, and a subsequent discovery of just how beautiful and meaningful life and people are without needing a religious back story to make it so.
Instead, I feel bleak. Not depressed… but bleak. My walls are up. Sky high these days. I used to trust others easily, almost blindly, always believing the best of them and believing that God could/would/did act to bring about Good. Now I mostly feel like people act crappy toward each other all the time, you can't predict who or when or how, nobody and nothing can change that reality, and there’s certainly no big sky daddy who’s going to bring about divine change or healing.
I’d prefer not to stay in this mental space. I don’t want to have these stupid walls or be so cynical about things, but I’m not sure how to deconstruct them and reclaim my optimism about life and people. Any ideas?