A couple weeks back, our ColumbiaFAVS editor put up another thought-provoking poll on the site: “Have you converted? What was your main reason?“
This one really stumped me because the answer I wanted wasn’t there.
It took me a while to answer. I eventually chose “I just drifted.” But as I chose the answer, I said out loud, ‘Where is all of the above?’”
As with any big life change, there might be a pivotal moment that is the catharsis for action, but when looking back after a decision has been made, a realization sets in that there were many smaller yet still integral experiences that lead up to the turning point. That was definitely true with my faith journey from Protestantism to Catholicism.
My early religious experience was in the Church of Christ. I never thought of my church as any particular denomination – I didn’t even know what that meant. I just knew I was Christian and that my church was Christ’s church. Pretty easy even for an 8-year-old, because the name says it all, really.
We sang. A lot. I still have my grandmother’s hymnal. I credit the church with giving me a passion for song and praising with song. I am still involved in music in all aspects of my life, not just spiritual. I also credit this church with instilling in me a want to understand the literal meaning of the Bible. The Bible was dissected and thoroughly absorbed at my church every Sunday. People took notes on the sermon. Pages of notes. I remember an overwhelming need for the congregation to thoroughly understand every word, from a spiritual and historical level that still amazes me today.
I didn’t go to many other churches growing up. I had a few Lutheran friends who invited me regularly, and I went to my relatives’ Church of Christ services, as well. I don’t remember any talk of other religions being good or bad. Ours was the ONE. That was all.
For me, that wasn’t enough. I wanted to understand other religions just as thoroughly, and though this church gave me a strong faith foundation, I knew my journey didn’t end there. But we’re getting a little ahead here.
My spiritual journey took a massive step forward when I decided to become baptized at age 9. That year, I received some very important, yet very difficult information about myself and my family. Looking back, I was too young to understand and process it, but there is never a good time to learn hard truths about your life. Without going into detail, I’ll just say it was a major turning point for me – one of the biggest to this day.
The news left me a little scared and overwhelmed, so I turned straight to my faith and asked to be baptized.
I went through a few weeks of intense study about why a person chooses to follow Christ and what this decision means for a Christian before I put on the white robe and followed the preacher into the waist-deep cold water in front of my entire faith family on Sunday morning.
For a few years after that, being a Christian made me feel closer to God. Then, life began to happen again. I had to grow up faster than I should have, and my family went though some major challenges that left us far from our faith. I began to rebel. We quit going to church.
I still identified as Church of Christ but became aware other spiritual paths more than I had before. I started to realize a different sphere of influence. I began to realize that some of my relatives were not Christian and identified with Atheism. I had a few Lutheran and Baptist friends, but most of my close friends were Catholic. All of the boys I dated were Catholic.
I began to want to know more. I wasn’t sure what attracted me to this faith and these people, other than the fact that I just felt a sense of belonging that I wanted to be a part of. There was a culture and long-standing tradition in a time in my life when I needed to feel stability and clear definitions.
When I was 21, I met a boy who would become my husband four years later – a good Catholic boy from a good Catholic family.
I was a wild child, rebellious, still in college, and I hadn’t been to church in years. We became close immediately, and when he and I began going to church together I felt a need had been fulfilled. The first time he took me to St. Peter’s Catholic Church with him in Jefferson City, I felt tears roll down my cheeks as I realized how far from my faith I felt.
While I can say I credit my husband for helping me discover my place in Catholicism, I don’t answer “yes” when people ask me if I became Catholic because I married a Catholic. He never once asked me to change religions or change my faith viewpoints in any way. It felt right for me. That’s the holy spirit, not a boyfriend talking. Yes, it was very different from my church, and I’d heard all the rhetoric about the standing and the kneeling and all of that stuff outsiders don’t seem to understand, but I knew I wanted to move forward here.
Fast forward a little. I became Catholic at St. Peters four years later. This wasn’t an easy task in itself. It involves study and discipline –and a little patience with people who don’t understand. During the process, I had more than one person tell me that they did not approve, and I was asked to debate many of the myths that those of other faiths believe to be true about Catholicism. Wait, we worship Mary?!? That wasn’t in my RCIA class! (Read another FAVS’ writer’s explanation on Mary here.)
One close friend of another faith told me to my face she thought I was going to hell because I was becoming Catholic. Mild persecution? Well, Christians of all denominations are used to that, I guess.
Changing religions gave me a perspective I didn’t have before – one that says, “You don’t know the whole story.” There are many layers to why a person chooses a different path – as many layers as there are in every faith. Before you go judging, realize that you just don’t know what you don’t know about someone else’s journey, and don’t go believing everything you hear as fact. Seek to understand, not argue.
We were married that same year. Now I’m raising my kids in a Catholic family, but we still visit the church I grew up in (my mom goes there to this day), and my kids see the faith I grew up in as well as our own. I now understand my faith from two very different sides. While I don’t understand all of its intricacies, I can see it from the outside, where there are a lot of misunderstandings and judgments, and from a new side, with more understanding of what others find confusing.
I may not be your typical Catholic, whatever that means. But I think that’s a good place for me to be. I don’t know if my journey ends here, but it feels like home, and I am glad I chose this path every day. I know it’s not the path for everyone, but I’m not one to make assumptions about that. I like where my journey has taken me, and where I’m going.
For more information on the church I grew up in, right here in Columbia, go to fairviewroad.org.
For more information on my church today, go to ourladyoflourdes.org.
Both of them are full of faithful, loving people. Check them out.