Cindy was wondering last month about how anyone could commit to the nastiness she faces without faith in God. I’ve been thinking about that a lot, because I’m someone who does everything godlessly. I don’t know if I’ve talked about my spiritual life at all here, but basically I find religions fascinating but not personally compelling. I was raised by very serious Catholics and excelled in Catholic schools but knew from a very young age that Jesus’s story was full of remarkable metaphors but otherwise just wasn’t for me. I haven’t gotten entirely gotten over my Catholic-inspired obsession with self-martyrdom, but I’m working on balance there.
I’ve flirted with Islam periodically and have made incredible connections with Muslims, but the chances of finding any sort of community there that would accept the family I’m hoping to create seems awfully small. It’s only Muslim prayers, though, that make me feel anything. I get a lot out of many of the church services I’ve attended, but it’s moral and intellectual insight, not the kind of spiritual connection other people seem to get. Or maybe I’m misunderstanding everything and this is how everyone feels. All I know is that I have no interest in believing in a divinity who wouldn’t be okay with my tendency to doubt, question, wonder, even go through what’s so far been 20 years of unbelief.
I’m afraid I’ve now moved far away from Cindy’s post, but I was certainly reminded of it by this week’s training class. We had a visit from a health care professional who coordinates medical care/paperwork/IEPs etc. for the children in foster care, which is an interesting job in an interesting program. However, she was getting some of her facts wrong, didn’t know the plural of “diagnosis,” and just generally was rubbing me the wrong way. And then she started in on the God Talk. You know, “Y’all are just such angels to even want to do this. And it’s such a blessing to these children because they really are little angels. I just pray for y’all and all of those sweet, innocent kids….” And I leaned over to Lee, who had also not been digging this presentation, and said, “Okay, I’m officially f-ing sick of hearing about God right now!” My poor Christian partner looked startled for a minute but realized what I meant when I explained that it wasn’t the religion but the unprofessionalism that was pushing me over the edge. I want to know what to do if my child has an emergency situation; anything about how awesome God supposedly thinks I am should really be a conversation between God and me.
When we handed in our paperwork in class, there was a whole page talking about religion and spirituality in each of our individual packets. I made it clear I want my children educated about religion and I’m comfortable with them going to a religious institution they have an affiliation with already (as long as it has some basic respect for our family structure) or finding one as a family; I have no interest in converting anyone. Lee just talked about how she doesn’t have a church affiliation now but would like to find one that fits our family’s needs after placement. I’d been pressuring her through much of the spring to try out various churches with me and see whether they’d meet our needs so we’d have a built-in support network there. There’s still time for this if she changes her mind, but I gave up asking. I guess it’s not surprising that it’s hard for a basically Baptist black woman and an agnostic but respectful ex-Catholic white woman in a committed relationship to find a faith community where they fit in, but we’re going to have to do a lot of weighing of pros and cons.
I realize that most of my classmates do have faith guiding and supporting them, and the few who’ve said much about their church communities seem to have the kind of drive that gets people like Cindy through the rough days. I’m not going to compare what I can handle to what Cindy can because I don’t have any children now, don’t know how I’d manage what she does. But I do know that I’ve lived with people — children and adults, as a child and as an adult — who wanted to suck away all my time and energy, make sure I was always reminded how miserable I made their lives. I’m not saying it’s the same thing, but I know I’ve been able to get through it when I believed I was doing the right thing, not because there was going to be a heavenly payoff but just because I’m a huge fan of the social contract and the Golden Rule. I honor my commitments to other people, but I think I now have the mental health to be able to maintain boundaries and make sure at least my basic needs are met.
We’ll see whether I’m deluding myself, on the issues of belief or what I can handle or anything else. An old friend once told me, “Theory and practice are the same in theory but not in practice.” Don’t I know it.