“It is God’s will.”
“It’s in God’s plan.”
“God’s got it.”
“God doesn’t put more on you than you can handle.”
We’ve heard all this all too often. I was about five years old when my mother grabbed my hand and escorted my twin sister and I from the pews to the altar of the church. As the pastor said, “All who would like to give themselves to the Lord please come forward”. My mother eagerly held our hands as we turned around to face the congregation and wait for every member to come shake our hands as she gave us to the church. That would have been the second time we were baptized. I later adjudged to get baptized again at ages 16 and 22.
We were raised in the church, my mother was raised there and my grandmother had been a part of the church for ages.I was constantly reminded of what would send me to hell. Cursing, lying, being disrespectful, sex out of wedlock, stealing, littering, drinking, smoking, cohabitation, tattoos. Being raised around my grandmother, quite frankly even speeding was considered a sin. We were supposed to live as right as possible to make sure we got a ticket to Heaven.
I was 20 years old when I would say my faith surpassed most. I was maturing and understanding myself. I remained in the church, I prayed, I paid my tithes. I was becoming a better Christian and my faith was the stronghold in my life. I was doing everything a quote on quote Christian is suppose to do. No matter what I faced I prayed and relied upon God never questioning my challenges. My prayers were always answered and this sense of empowerment was my new way of life and mindset. That’s who I was until Damian died.
“Most people who face trauma or loss use some sort of religious functioning to cope or will search for a way to understand the event based on cultural and religious assumptions. Reactions can vary widely on a spectrum that includes embracing closely-held religious ideas more fervently to abandoning spirituality altogether” (Harris JI, Erbes (2008) Christian Religious Functioning and Trauma Outcomes, Journal of Clinical Psychology). Loss destroys your thoughts of good and evil and the nature of God as well as your place in the universe, re-evaluation of these beliefs has the potential to produce tremendous personal growth, both psychologically and spiritually. ‘Loss of faith’ is not a loss at all, but a remarkable opportunity for spiritual and emotional expansion.
I still had faith two days after Damian’s death. I was so enraged I poured a couple of shots of alcohol and started to walk, where steps turned into miles. I was looking to find his murderer and I thought I would look for our family, me, and Damian. I was looking to get vindication someway, somehow. I wanted to lash out. My phone was turned off so no one could find me, but I ended up passing out in the cold, rain on my back, unable to walk any further. I was covered in water and couldn’t feel the freezing cold air. I was looking straight in the clear skies, crying and crying. I’m not sure how long I was there but all of a sudden, I saw what appeared to be cigarette smoke but there was no one around. I waved my hand in the air trying to fan it away, but my hand went clean through it.
It was formed and it was directly in front of my face as I was laying on my back so I wiped tears away to see it clearly. It almost appeared to outline the shape of a head, not a full figure. It started to drift back and forth, left to right. I blinked several times and even closed my eyes for a few moments, then I became still and silent trying to process what I was seeing. I began to scream and cry more as I looked closer and realized the smoke was actually the presence of something or someone. It was right in front of me, it was Damian and he was with me. It was truly him, he was consoling me .I screamed, “God is real, God is real”, as tears poured down my face and I sat there crying and crying and talking to Damian. I called my sister and told her he was with me as I cried and cried. Everything in my heart, head and mind knows to this day that was Damian.
Ryan LaMothe (1999), in Trauma and Development: A Faith Perspective, explains, “The reality of belief, trust and loyalty always takes place in relation to their counterparts; disbelief, distrust, and infidelity… Even in the best of times and relationships there are moments and perceptions of broken promises, experiences of distrust, and thoughts of disbelief, requiring participants to make decisions towards restoring or abandoning trust and fidelity. LaMothe explains that a developing infant begins life with a sense that the world is made up of “me objects,” and that the shift to recognizing “not me” objects is fraught with anxiety. As the infant begins to recognize “not-me” objects, he/she discovers that a “global or undifferentiated environmental mother” cannot be relied upon to provide security, continuity, and cohesion.
LaMothe equates this conflict to a “belief in omnipotence” that is ultimately challenged. If one’s religious beliefs include a supernatural “parent” that is supposed to provide this type of security and protection, these beliefs cannot help but be shattered by traumatic or negative experiences. When trauma survivors discover that the protective mother could not keep them from harm, a crisis of faith can present an opportunity to see the world in a new way.
Even after everything I had been through, I lost faith. I didn’t want to pray anymore and I didn’t understand why an almighty god would take Damian out of this world. I dived into books to find out the depths of human history and existence. I learned about other religions and spirituality. I overwhelmed my mind with what could truly be happening in this thing called life. I didn’t and haven’t stepped foot in church. It felt like I needed more of an understanding about everything within my power.
Well, after watching the film, Miracles From Heaven, I became angry at how God seems to pick and choose who has a second chance. I only identified with the movie when the 10 year old girl in the film told her story about how she recovered from a 30ft drop head first. She said, “After I fell I came outside my body, I could see my body but I wasn’t in it”. “Everything was beautiful”, she said and she spoke to what she believed to be God, who told her she had to go back to her body and stay alive. She said she didn’t want to go back and be in pain anymore, to which he assured her she would be healed and go back without the pain.Sure enough, she woke up and was completely healed from an incurable intestinal disease. I cried and thought, this stupid movie, taking real-life situations to touch their audience. I stepped outside for some air to later return and find out it was a true story, with the family being displayed three years later.
We hear so many accounts of near death experiences, astral projection and everything Christians are taught to fear. It’s very real and it only attests to everything we are taught to believe so why is everyone so afraid of what we as human beings are truly capable of?
I then thought to myself, our faith isn’t in God entirely, it’s within the existence of the afterlife. We believe there is life after death and as long as there is life after death we are apprehensive and we care about our morals and our values as it relates to “God”, the highest entity.
The following is a paraphrase of Terri Daniel’s 2010 thought piece, Losing Faith vs. Gaining Perspective: How Trauma and Loss Can Create a More Spacious Form of Spiritual Awareness. ‘We are equal parts of a collective energy that is “God”. We work as co-creators and with that are roles. There is a reason and purpose for every experience. Death is not an experience to be avoided but to be embraced with gratitude for the shifting of perceptions and gifts of growth they provide. There is no more transformative experience in human life than trauma or tragic loss. Nothing can hurt us, scar us or heal us more, and nothing brings us more valuable growth lessons The gift of trauma changes us permanently and profoundly. It may change us physically due to illness or injury, it may annihilate our sense of security and status quo, and it may rob us of relationships, habits and beliefs that made the world safe and logical to us. It may also wake us up, shake us loose, move us forward and cause us to think more clearly and more deeply than ever before. Regardless of religious beliefs or affiliations, when faced with trauma or grief, we find ourselves at a crossroads where there are unlimited options, including a bitter rejection of spirituality. But we can also choose to allow the life-altering event to integrate with our personalities, change our perspectives and help us to focus less on what happened and more on why it happened and the lessons gained. Therein lies the gift. Because when an experience cuts to the core of everything that defines us, we are forced out of our spiritual lethargy, and an opening is created that is highly receptive to growth. If we nurture that opening, if we honor it and work with it, we can discover previously unimagined worlds of wisdom, and choose enlightenment over annihilation (end paraphrase).’
If we weren’t taught to worship God or any higher entity then would mankind truly have morals and values? Would faith exist? Reflect on your own personal growth and challenges. In the end, when you die your mind and soul are still a part of you. Find your purpose and live it.
So after questioning my faith I revisited everything I once knew. I woke up the next morning and opened my Bible, deciding that I was going to fill my mind with every bit of the Bible to gain a greater perspective. I ultimately decided to read the preface first and it was what we already know. It stated how the Bible was translated. It stated there are two common types of translations. Dynamic equivalence translation which is thought for thought translation and functional equivalence translation which is word for word translation. Well after reading the breakdown of the translation it clearly states one translation manipulates the words so readers feel the same way they felt when reading the original content to evoke the same emotions from the passage. The other translation changes the words to match what they believed the message was attempting to convey.
Once I’d read through everything, I realized that the Bible does not answer any of my questions in life. The Bible can only give me what it thinks is best for me to know. It wasn’t about my relationship with god. It wasn’t about knowing the Bible. It wasn’t all about sitting in church. It wasn’t about knowing the stories in the bible. It wasn’t about looking for answers. It was solely about me.
I do believe that there is good guidance in the bible. I believe that as we look for resolution to our problems in life that its not about looking to God or Jesus Christ or whomever you may worship. I believe its about looking within yourself and accepting who you are making strides towards accepting, uncovering and discovering. We are fully capable of solving our own problems and manifesting positive outcomes in our lives.Church is not the same to me anymore and I didn’t want to go back. Now I can go back and understand why I’m there. I can understand what I believe and I can use some of the guidance to continue to define my character.
At the end of the day, I believe there is a higher being. That higher being possesses more than you and I could possibly fathom, otherwise we would not continue to worship a higher being as such. This higher being understands and processes things that we may never truly understand. Ideally any being that embodied what we would refer to as ‘supernatural capabilities’ is in my eyes proof of our full capabilities as humans and what we can achieve. If we didn’t believe in God or a higher being then we wouldn’t believe in aspiring to be more, do more or have more. Heaven and Hell are within us and with every choice we consciously make we are aware of our motives, decisions and outcomes. We live with everything we do on the inside and that will never leave us. Our poor decisions allow us to live a hellish existence here on earth and where ever we may travel afterwards.
To conclude, I believe that our lives are LITERALLY personal journeys. We enter into the world alone and we die alone. Our choices and beliefs are all tools we use to help guide us into being the best we can be for ourselves and those around us, while the outside world continues to consume us. Whatever you believe is your choice. That’s the power of our personal journeys. Questioning my faith allowed me to find out more about who I was as an individual and what I’m living for.
I will continue to work through my beliefs on a day to day basis. Opening up my mind, comprehending and understanding as I go along. Your life is yours to live. The opinion of your beliefs and others should never effect how you continue to grow, continue to fight. Keep standing strong on every choice that you make as an individual and understand it’s a part of your life path.
Stay strong, learn and grow for yourself, empower yourself.