Today I welcome Jenna (@Frelle on Twitter) to the discussion of spirituality. I’m so glad to have her unique perspective about her strong relationship with her own faith. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us today Jenna. You can also see her previous guest post at Motherhood Unadorned I Am Strong Enough HERE. Its one of my favorites.
GUEST POST BY: Jenna Farelyn, singer. dancer. storyteller. advocate. mother. daughter. sister. friend. author of the blog Made More Beautiful contributing writer at Band Back Together, World Moms Blog and More Love Letters
My spirituality has been important to me for as long as I can remember. I was raised Catholic, and from an early age, enjoyed the reverence and liturgical ceremony of being in church. I felt peaceful, I felt like good was all around me. I loved the music, the singing, and the prayers and responses. There was a lot of rote memorization involved, and many parts of the liturgy are the same every time you attend Catholic Mass. And I think there was a lot of comfort for me as a child with the repetitiveness and predictability.
I had a fairly typical home life. My parents never divorced, and rarely fought. My father worked a lot and was a provider, and my mother was a teacher and kept herself busy in the evenings with attending church or school related meetings and grading papers. My dad was an alcoholic, but more of the moody type, and was somewhat verbally abusive. This led to me being interested in the wrong sorts of guys, and I had a string of boyfriends that didn’t treat me well. Even as I was being rebellious and later, promiscuous, I always attended church, and was even involved in teen church retreats and conventions. I continued to find comfort in my faith, in listening to what people had to say about the Bible and how to be a good person who loved well and was compassionate.
When the worst of my late teens and early twenties exploration and abuse were occurring, I could still be found listening to Christian music, attending teen retreat events, and reading my Bible. I kept prayer journals, too. I gravitated toward my faith when I was in pain, and believed that God loved me despite my actions, and would always forgive me if I asked.
As I grew up and married, my faith became deeper and more important for me. I married a man who was very intellectual, philosophical, and tended toward deep theological principles. I was invited to read many theology books, and the denomination of Christian Protestantism that we attended had sermons that were heavy and required note taking and always seemed like a Bible Study. My brain often felt fatigued from the amount of information that I took in each Sunday morning. I got very involved in ministries in the church, and really began to see the hypocritical and judgmental behavior that people who were not religious would tell me about. It had never been my experience before becoming Protestant.
My faith, at its core, continued to be important to me. But because of the words I heard in church, and the condemnation I would hear from my then-husband about my prayers and my lack of strong faith, and proper respect and reverence, I stopped finding comfort in my faith. I was brainwashed over time into believing that I was not acceptable to God as I was. That my performance and lack of proper etiquette made my prayers unworthy of being heard. I felt like every time I prayed, my words would bounce off the ceiling and never went anywhere. I felt very abandoned, alone, and disregarded.
The worst years of my depression were when I felt like I was apart from God. I had depended on that lifeline and comfort being there no matter what, and the strength of the words being flung at me made me doubt my belief in the Almighty-ness of God. He is a big God. He made the universe and sustains it and his creation all day and all night. He also knows the black filth and greed and envy and hatred and anger, the ugly, in my heart and in my head. If I say the right things in the right way, yet never get real with God and talk about how I feel, how can I have intimacy with God? I can’t. God can take my anger and rage and screaming and foul language. He’s just glad that I come. I believe that he hears my heart, when I can’t find words to speak. I believe that he doesn’t require posturing and flowery language to accept my prayers. When I’m overwhelmed and all I can do is say “Please help me” as I grip the kitchen counter or the steering wheel and hope for more patience, more endurance, more ability to not yell at my kids… I know he hears that and knows all the things I need in that moment. It’s a prayer, it qualifies, it’s asking for help and intervention. It’s not a throwaway moment for me, and he is not insulted by prayers like that. And I believed for a long time that reading my Bible and journaling and doing a Bible Study each morning or evening was a sign of my devotion and seriousness about God. It’s not about works. It’s about relationship and honesty and being willing to ask for help and being willing to step out of what’s comfortable and be stretched a little bit.
After I asked my then-husband to move out in the summer of 2010, and the stream of constant condemnation was gone, I felt overwhelming peace. I felt safe. Most importantly, because the negative words stopped coming at me through my ears, I stopped propagating those words against me in my head and in my heart. I stopped beating myself up every day, I stopped feeling like a failure in everything I did. I stopped hating myself and my life. I started noticing that something inside me was prompting me to pray during the day, several times a day. I would wonder at the green landscape out my kitchen window as I washed dishes and thanked God for the beauty. I would think of a friend and wonder how they were doing, and pray that God would send peace and endurance. I would lay in bed each night and pray for each of my children by name, about specific things, and about hopes I had for them. It was amazing and strengthening and desperately needed. I was no longer surviving. I was starting to live and breathe and feel and see after years of being shut down from constant pain and self hatred.
I was not attending church on a regular basis as these awakenings were happening. I resented the treatment I’d received as I tried to separate from my ex, and realizing the legalism I’d been living under was a shock to me. I was repulsed. I felt like I needed to deprogram and distance myself from church. I didn’t trust anyone to be teaching me truth. I was wounded and resentful. I just prayed and read and conversed about my beliefs and convictions as I felt like it, and it felt good and healthy to approach it that way. I was being gentle with myself, and following my heart.
My faith didn’t waver through the 10 months that I ended up being forced to live in the same house with my ex. I went through periods of panic, deep depression, massive rage, and hopelessness. I knew that God would help me find a way out, and I was and continue to be confident that separation and divorce are the right thing for me to do. I prayed, I read the Bible less, I continued to not attend church regularly. I listened to positive, and occasionally Christian, music. I know that when I don’t feel close to God, that the Bible says that he inhabits the praises of his people. When I sing, even if I’m not into the words, and not praying them as worship, I believe and am comforted by the fact that I can be sure he is there.
I began attending a church regularly a month ago. It’s a non denominational Christian church, it’s huge, it has an amazing music and video worship experience. It’s not reverent like the Catholic church. It’s not brain fatiguing to listen to the sermon. It’s good preaching, it’s solid Biblical principles and applicable illustration and application. It’s not watered down to be more acceptable to the large numbers of people who attend. It feels real, and good, and safe. It makes me feel hopeful. I’m not afraid of starting out authentic, I’m not afraid of testing out the boundaries I have made around myself and my heart while I’ve been through the last several years. I’m ready to invite more real people into my life, and my kids’ lives. I know I won’t be condemned for my choice to divorce, or for admitting that I struggle with depression and anxiety. I’m finding comfort in my faith again. I’m being real. I’m opening up and inviting intimacy into my heart from God and from other people in a church. I’m excited about being who I am in new environment, and getting to know people authentically from the start.
My faith is a constant. It’s an anchor. It makes me feel like there’s a place I can find shelter, and where I will never be turned away for being who I am. I believe God made me the way he did because he wanted me to be this way and relate to people the way I do. I use what I’ve endured and seen as a way to connect to people who are in pain. I’m not ashamed of my past, or of who I am. And that comes from my lifelong faith, and the certainty of my own worth, deep inside my heart.