Whenever I’m about to undergo a big transition, (i.e., graduating college), I get reflective. I think about all the things that have happened in my life that have gotten me to where I am today. And I cannot think back on my past without thinking about religion.
As a child and teenager, I went to church twice a week like clockwork. I kept a prayer journal — or five. I proudly wore a purity ring. I was ritualistic, moral and Christian.
Only, I did not realize the harm that was being done to my self-image.
In an article I wrote last year, I explained how sexism in the Church put me off from religion. This is still 100% true for me and I am still reeling from the effects. However, religion did teach me something useful: how to be more resilient.
According to a 2014 study published in Issues in Mental Health Nursing, “While spirituality and religion can be related to guilt, neurotic, and psychotic disorders, they also can be powerful sources of hope, meaning, peace, comfort and forgiveness for the self and others.”
A 2010 study published in the American Psychological Association found that religion has a unique effect on resilience because religiousness itself is resilient; that is, “religion is effective in helping people sustain their relationship with the sacred.”
I had never thought of religion in that way. I like the latter interpretation, especially because what is sacred to me is different from what is sacred to you. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word “sacred” as anything that is worthy of respect.
For me, as a deeply spiritual person, God is still worthy of respect. So are my body and autonomy, as well as my wellbeing, fears, failures, time, interest, words and so on.
As a child, whenever bad things would happen, the adults around me would say to each other, “Give it to God and go to sleep” or “Have faith; God will take care of it.” I must have internalized those messages because when I got older and began to experience life’s stressors, I too started leaning on my belief in what I considered sacred at the time.
Sometimes I do “give it to God and go to sleep,” but more often I must rely on my mental fortitude and my wisdom to choose what is best for me. When going into new and uncomfortable situations, I rely on the blessing that is my positive attitude. When I get bogged down by too many tasks, I depend on my God-given stubbornness to persist and finish.
If I have a big job interview coming up, I do not expect solely God to take care of it. No, I put my nose to the grind; I rehearse and I prepare. Only after I have done the best that I can do, I pray. Faith alone cannot displace whole mountain ranges, but it can give me the strength to pick up the shovel and start digging.
Giving it to God and going to sleep is not always practical. If I did that every time I was anxious or upset, I would never wake back up.
While I no longer actively practice religion, I cannot deny that it is an integral part of who I am. It helped me realize the sanctity of myself.