The question of ‘Faith’ is one that has haunted me for pretty much my entire twenty one years of life. This life-long preoccupation has been so many things: a refuge, a stress, an hyperbolic identity crisis…
There have been times where, in a Sherlock Holmes-like discovery, I perhaps naively thought I’d ‘solved’ the whole thing; at other times the uncertainty would drive me to (probably over-dramatic) tears. My emotions along the way have stretched from enthusiasm and excitement to anger, confusion, resentment, and quite simply apathy.
I can’t claim to be one of those people that didn’t know anything about God or religion before some sort of divine revelation, road-to-Damascus moment. Faith has always been a part of my life.
I grew up to a Scottish Protestant mum and an Irish Catholic dad – I still question how they managed to recently reach twenty five years of happy marriage – in the South West of England. I attended a Catholic primary school, and then an Evangelical Church of England one, where daily chapel services were part of the unquestionable quotidian.
I have the most fond memories of those early manifestations of faith: my Dad tucking me into bed at night with a kiss and a ‘don’t forget to say your prayers’, feeling every inch the priest when doing a reading at mass on a Sunday and enjoying the glow of carrying the cross down the aisle, playing the princess on the day of my First Holy Communion as an eight year old.
As a Catholic, faith was undoubtedly a routine – but it was a routine that taught me the value of family and community, and of looking after those around you.
Resultantly, it is perhaps unsurprising that I’ve never been able to shake the idea of there being a ‘something else’ to life. Discovering a less ritualised Anglican faith in my teenage years was a step towards genuine belief, and during my second term at university I quite literally took the plunge and was baptized. I felt like I had made the final decision on the thing that I had been most uncertain about throughout my life.
Of course, hindsight is a wonderful thing, and I should have known that this wasn’t my final answer.
Like many others who have grappled with Faith, and I am certain that most people that describe themselves as ‘religious’ fall into that category, it has been a bit of an adventure, and I don’t doubt that the adventure is over yet.
Like all the best adventures, my pursuit of God has had its wonderful, this-is-the-best-thing-ever moments that had me bounding towards church on a Sunday morning in the style of my two four year old Labradors. It also had its low points, but above all, it has taught me a huge amount – about myself, the world and other people, to say the least.
At its best – those times of utmost conviction – Christian Faith has been a sanctuary and a community; I have made some of my best friends by going to church, felt the most supported, had opportunities to work with the wider community, been able to pursue individual interests, and felt the most secure at times that I would otherwise have crumbled under life’s pressures.
I’ve always had a slightly embarrassing obsession with ‘finding my identity’, and a huge part of that had been shrouded in all the things I did and the people that cared about me. Coming to university meant having to leave all that security behind, and church became the constant on which I could rely. I am certain that without a Faith in God and the support and community of the Christian church during my first year at university, I may not be graduating this summer, and I am immensely grateful for that.
At its most challenging, Faith has been a burden.
Not because it came with a whole lot of rules and regulations to follow, as is commonly believed by those sceptical towards the Church, but because to me, being a Christian seemed to come with a set of expectations that I had to match.
This is contradictory to the biblical teaching I was receiving, but somehow deep-rooted in what I felt I was being taught was this expectation to conform to a standardised version of ‘the Christian student’. This wasn’t the sandal-wearing, ‘Kumbaya’ campfire sort of Christian that you may now be picturing, but a sort of ‘cool Christian’ that has (wait for it) non-Christian friends(!), and actually does things that other people do, like going clubbing and showing their mid-rift.
Of course, those of you that know me personally, will know that I am never going to fit the ‘cool’ stereotype, with my obsession with Shakespeare and questionable love of Taylor Swift (#TayTay4lyf), but somehow I felt that to be a Christian I had to stand at the centre of campus with an ‘I love Jesus’ banner by day and then attend a house party, keeping a close count of what number drink I was on, by night.
I felt I had to be able to relate to all sorts of people, whilst remaining consistent in how I behaved, and that is a mind-screw if ever there was one.
Suddenly, I was regulating my daily actions and making huge life choices – from whether I slept with anyone until I was married to what career I might end up in – not because I wanted to out of love and respect for a God who knew what was best for me, but because I felt a duty to show the world what being a Christian looked like.
I can hear the near-curses of Christians around the globe, passionately fearing that I didn’t ‘get it’.
But that’s just the point. Over a steady course of two years of role-playing, I got sick of just not getting it. I got tired of sitting in discussion groups and Bible studies, one unanswerable question leading to another. I got bored with being unsatisfied with the answers I did come to.
It was draining to watch what I said and what language I used for fear of misrepresenting Christianity and the God I believed in. At the time I thought I was becoming more like the person I was supposed to be, but the more I looked at it the more I didn’t like what I was becoming. Although I never lost sight of myself, or changed my personality, I became disillusioned with what I had committed myself to. And to be honest, I was never the most subtle actress anyway.
The biggest thing I’ve learnt in my exploration of Faith is just to be myself. Not some one I think I ought to be, or someone else’s expectations of me. I’ve also learnt that my Faith doesn’t have to be institutionalised; there is a different between Christian Faith and Christian culture.
Ultimately, it’s okay not to be okay, and to be sure that the only thing you know is that you are unsure. It’s taken years of processing, hours of talking, brilliant friends, boxes of tissues, bottles of wine, a trip to New Zealand, and too many renditions of Shake It Off to count, to begin to learn that, but it’s finally sinking in.
Undoubtedly there is a lot more to discover, and things I will never understand – but I do love an adventure.
Crissy is an English Lit student at Exeter University. She is also a self-confessed cheese-ball who enjoys walking her dogs, having snuggles with her friends and drinking lots of tea. She is currently considering a career in teaching. However, if per chance this does not come to fruition, it is probably worth noting that Crissy is ruler of the world. #flap
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