“Happiness can exist only in acceptance.” – George Orwell
I have struggled for the last six days with this post. Maybe because I believe it is one of the most important lessons for us to learn, but probably one of the hardest. Or maybe it had something to do with those limiting beliefs we all live with, fear of failure or fear of success. And so I, of course, considered not even writing it at all, and give up my blog and figure out something else. I guess I was being human. I began to doubt myself, and my ability to do, have, or be anything I wish.
But, thankfully, I changed my mind about that and decided that this post would need a story instead. I don’t know that I am the best storyteller in the world, probably not even close, but sometimes a story can illustrate an author’s point better than an essay. So I am going to give it my best shot.
Getting into arguments with family or friends is never very enjoyable, especially when it comes to religion or politics. They really are two subjects that, until we are willing to accept other people’s opinions, whether we like them or not, so without judgment, it really should be avoided at all costs. I know this. I try and practice it daily. I do not go around telling everyone my religious or political beliefs because I know that not everyone is going to agree with them, and I am okay with that, but not everyone is okay with me not believing like they do.
Point in case, it has been five weeks and two days since my mother has said more than a couple of words to me, and the words she did say were to let me know that she did love me but she would never respect my beliefs. I am not angry with my mom for her behavior. My mother is what you would call a “bible thumper.” I really don’t like using that word to describe her, but it fits. She takes her Christianity, and the beliefs that go along with it, very seriously. She is not speaking to me because we got into a discussion about religion. And I know better. Unless you can say something in agreement with my mother on her religion and her politics, it’s better off left unsaid. My mother and I have existed for 53 years together and so know her well.
I went over to her house to visit on a Sunday a couple of weeks before Christmas. I hadn’t been over for a bit, so told her I would stop by and chat so we could catch up on things. My parents are getting up there in age so I like to touch base frequently. I don’t remember what we were discussing, but I do remember the conversation turning to religion. And like I said, I know better than to get into this discussion with my mother. She is one of the people I spoke about in a previous paragraph, the ones who aren’t okay with you not believing what they do.
But I do remember we were talking about how the world was going to hell, at least that is how I would say it. Profanity is not something you hear come out of my mom’s mouth very often, but me…I believe that every once in awhile it totally fits the situation. So anyway, the world is going to hell, and she makes a reference to how technology is the reason the world is in a mess.
I began to disagree with her. I told her that there is both good and bad to technology, and that you can’t blame the problems in the world solely on technology. I don’t remember much after that except that she started asking me questions about what I believe in. She did not like my answers…at all. You see, my mother is probably not the most open-minded person when it comes to the whole religion and God and Jesus thing. I just didn’t realize how much so. I do now.
Now I know she doesn’t like the things I said, but I did not think that my beliefs were that far off her base, like she did. I am beginning to believe it is maybe because she expected me to say one thing, and I said something totally different. And since I did not say what she expected, and she can not see herself accepting what I did say (this I know for a fact because she told me she will never respect my beliefs) she is very disappointed. I believe she is disappointed because these are not the things she raised my sister or I to believe.
My sister and I were raised Catholic, for as long as I can remember anyway. We weren’t always Catholic but when my mom married my step-dad she made the decision to convert, and so we, her daughters, followed suit. We spent hours listening to my step-dad tell us stories about being raised in a very strict Catholic family. We would laugh when he talked about being whacked on the knuckles with a yard stick by the nuns. Evidently you were not allowed to rest your backside against the church pews when you attended a Parochial school. I am not sure if my mother wanted my sister and I to experience this because she felt we needed a good whacking; but nonetheless, we all converted. And I didn’t have a problem with converting to Catholicism; I actually liked it to tell you the truth.
I never had my knuckles hit with a ruler but got to experience all the other rituals that came with being called a Catholic. Not only did we attend Mass every Sunday (hungover or not, yes, hungover; I spent my teenage years in a small town in northeastern Montana, so yeah, hungover), and confession on Saturday (hence the hangover on Sunday; the wilder Catholic kids, we were forgiven for our sins on Saturday, the priest told us so, so might as well go out and start all over again), and CCD on Wednesday nights. So having been raised the way I was, I’m sure my mom is having a hard time wrapping her brain around, and accepting that I am no longer conforming to the same beliefs she does.
I’m not sure, as I look back, what it was I enjoyed so much, if it was the repetitive nature of Mass with all the prayers you recite (that you have spent years memorizing, which I was good at), or it was the fact that when you are raised as a military brat you really never have a place you can call home. But if you belong to the Catholic church all you need to do is find the closest one, start going to Mass, and you just kind of fit right in because you always recite the same prayers, and sing the same hymns, the same way, all…the…time. So regardless of why, I enjoyed being raised as a Catholic.
Now as I got older and had children I fell away from the church, as sometimes happens when we leave home. And I definitely had a falling out with the Catholic church. But my mom was always okay with that because by that time she and my father had converted to Christianity, so staying Catholic wasn’t that big of a deal anymore. I have gone to Mass a few times since then but the last time I was there, it didn’t feel “right” anymore, and so haven’t attended since. But like I said, everyone is okay with that because my beliefs hadn’t changed at all, only the church I might attend.
And I have attended church throughout the years of my children growing up. I never attended the way my mother would have liked, but she was able to get me and my kids there on Christmas and Easter, and seemed content with that, which I was also. There have been times in my life where I felt like I was missing something and would seek solace in going to church, which thrilled my mother to no ends. And so that is how we had been living for a number of years.
About five years ago my youngest natural-born son, who was a 9th grader at the time, advised me that he would like to attend the private Catholic high school (that just happened to be his current high school’s arch rival) the following fall. I laughed because I thought he was joking and said, “yeah, right…” And he informed me, as seriously as he could, that “No, I really do, mom. I want to go to Central.”
And so in the fall of his Sophomore year, my son began to attend Billings Central Catholic High School, (whose tuition was not paid with our yearly property taxes, if you get my drift.) I still, to this day, do not know how my husband and I could afford to send both of our boys to a private high school for three years. I don’t really care how we did, just know that I am very grateful they were able to receive the education they did by going to a private school.
What is ironic is that my questions about my faith and the beliefs, that I had been raised with, came about because of an incident that happened at the new school. It was an incident that changed my son, and I will say forever, because there hasn’t been a day go by that he hasn’t thought about it in four years. For him, it was the end of a childhood dream. For me, I had to sit back and figure out how to help my son mend his broken heart. And so my search began.
I don’t remember a lot of specifics about the incident. But I do remember me saying to my son, “well, maybe God is testing you?” And as adamantly as he had informed me that he wanted to attend this high school six months previous, he told me, “My God does not test me, mother. A test implies passing or failing, and I do not think I can fail in my God’s eyes.” It was the most grown up thing I had heard any 16-year-old say. Those are the only words I really remember from a six-hour conversation I had with my son that day.
And I then spent the next four years asking questions and soaking up as much knowledge as I could about living, and God, and beliefs, and what is our purpose, and about dreams, and wisdom, and how to live with true happiness. And actually, my son and I started asking these questions about the same time. At that time my mother said to me and my son, “it is good to have questions about your faith.” I don’t think she agrees with that statement anymore. I think she wished she would have told me that it is okay to have questions, as long as you get the same answers that you have always gotten in regards to God and the like.
Now, just so you all know, I do believe in God. I just prefer to not attach a pronoun when talking about God. I don’t see God as a he, she, or it, only love, compassion, and forgiveness. I feel that when you attach a pronoun, you are limiting God to our human capabilities, which are imperfect and flawed. I also believe that Jesus walked this earth, and that he had great things to teach us about living, with both his life and his death. Maybe, possibly more than what we have been led to believe for centuries.
I prefer to believe that it is how we treat human beings, including ourselves, and other living things that helps us find our happiness, not what God or what belief system we choose to follow. There are reportedly at least 150,000 religions out there, how can any one of them be right, or wrong for that matter? And why do people use their religious or political beliefs to justify their mistreatment of other human beings?
“I’m not afraid of werewolves or vampires or haunted hotels,
I’m afraid of what real human beings to do other real human beings.”
– Walter Jon Williams
I am trying to understand why my mother does not want to speak to me right now. Thank goodness for my new perspective, the one she doesn’t like, because if I had my old perspective it would probably be eating me alive, the fact that she has kind of disowned me for now.
But whether I understand it or not, I will continue to live my life, trying to be a better person today than I was yesterday, and believing that love, kindness, and forgiveness is a way to a better world, so can only accept her feelings about me right now.
And so, this is a story in acceptance vs. expectation. I accept that my mother is not pleased with me, and I do not like that she and my father have chosen not to talk to me because of my beliefs and the fact that they don’t fall in alignment with theirs, but I am okay. I am happy because I can do nothing to control other people’s behavior; I can only control my reaction to it. And I choose happiness.
But I know that as long as they continue to expect me to have their same beliefs, and the continue to be disappointed because I don’t, they will continue to create suffering for themselves. Their being angry at me, and not talking to me, will probably (because we never know what is around the next corner) not make me change my mind, and so their anger is serving no purpose, except probably making them miserable. And so I only hope for their own inner peace, that they accept me for who I am, beliefs and all, knowing that I am the same person I have always been. I just choose to see life through a different set of lenses. But we humans are stubborn when it comes to us bring right, and someone else being wrong, so we will see..
-The Happy Human