Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A "pretty good" Catholic-- my flawed reasoning while falling away from the Church

On Friday, I asked readers for suggestions on how to improve my blog.  To my surprise, most expressed an interest in hearing my faith story.

I talked briefly on Friday about an 8th grade graduation party I attended where I experienced an inevitable coming of age moment.  My faith began to be tested.  Up until that moment, I held the same values and beliefs as my friends.  At that party, I realized my friends' views (and soon their behaviors) were changing.  That left me confused.  I had to think for myself and decide what I believed.

My friend, Anne, asked how I "weathered the storm" during high school.  I'd say it was a mix between strict parents, learning from the mistakes of my older siblings and other people around me, and my guardian angel.  I'd compare high school to an obstacle course.  My parents prevented me from doing some things (for example, they tried their best to limit my opportunities to be alone with boys I was dating).  Their rules limited the amount of obstacles in my path as I navigated through the challenges of high school.  My older siblings were in their 20s, so I got to see the outcomes of their choices, both good and bad.  Last, but not least, I thank my guardian angel.  There seemed to be several crossroads and situations where I could have made some really poor choices, but I was always pushed in the right direction by some sort of force.  This didn't always seem like a a good thing at the time.  For example, in high school, I didn't have a lot of luck with dating.  In general, I wasn't that crazy about the boys who liked me, and the boys that I had crushes on, did not feel the same way about me.  Who knew being awkward and unpopular could be a blessing in disguise?  Looking back, I see that it was. 

Still, I did start to separate myself from God during those high school years.  Before high school, I had always been very prayerful.  I prayed every day without fail or prompting from my parents.  In fact, I don't ever remember my parents saying prayers with me as a child.  Praying every day was something I learned while attending Catholic school, and I naturally brought that prayer home with me.  During high school, I stopped praying.  I'm not sure why.  Maybe my prayers weren't answered?  Maybe I felt silly and childish?  Maybe I was distracted by television, homework, or phone calls from friends?  I have no idea.  It just gradually happened.  I stopped praying.

College was a lot like high school.  There were opportunities to get into trouble, but I think it was a mix of having a good head on my shoulders and the intercession of my guardian angel that kept me safe.  However, in terms of losing my faith, that loss intensified during the college years because not only had I stopped praying, but I also stopped going to church.  I knew where the Catholic Church was.  It was a long or short walk depending on where you lived on campus.  I knew I should go, but no one else was going.  I guess I just didn't want to wake up early (especially after a night of late night drinking) to walk to mass by myself. 

My friend, Kelly, was a good influence. I think she was Lutheran, and she used to go to the nondenominational faith service on campus. I went with her a few times, but it wasn't Roman Catholic enough for me.

Senior year I actually lived right across the street from church, but I never went.  Why?  Laziness?  Lack of discipline?  I'm not sure.  I wanted to go.  I knew I should go, but I didn't.

So, here I was-- no longer praying, no longer going to mass.

Enter my twenties.

Mike asked me to marry him four months after we graduated from college.  We set a date to be married 10 months later.  I lived at home with my parents during those 10 months.  I started going to mass on Sundays again, either with my parents or my new fiance.

Shortly after getting married, we stopped going to mass again.  We went intermittently-- maybe every other Sunday or once a month.  We had a lot of conflicts as a newly married couple.  Because we didn't know how to communicate with each other, we fought about a lot of different things-- money, our families, NFP, sex in general.

Reflecting on how I fell away from the church, I'd say it was something that happened gradually.  In fifth grade, I remember packing up and putting away my Barbies for good because they were no longer cool to play with, next it was my roller skates.  I guess I viewed my faith in God the same way.  I thought it was something I had to reluctantly pack up and put away after awhile.  I thought it was part of growing up.  I didn't see any cool twenty-somethings going to mass every Sunday, but I guess I wouldn't have known if a twenty-something, faithful Catholic that I could identify with existed either because I wasn't trying to find one.
I was surrounded by Catholics-- cultural Catholics, sacramental Catholics, cafeteria Catholics, C & E Catholics (Christmas and Easter), and F & W Catholics (funerals and weddings).  If you compared me to my peers, I'd say I was mid pack to upper tier.  I a holy roller compared to some of my friends.  I was a very vocal pro-lifer.  I went to mass once a month (sometimes every other week).  When I went to mass, I didn't receive the Eucharist because I fully understood that it was a mortal sin to receive the Body and Blood of Christ while in a state of mortal sin.  I received all my sacraments.   How could I live in this twisted, hypocritical state?  I don't know.  I just did.  I guess I reasoned that as flawed as I was that I was doing better than the people around me. 

To close, I'd like to state that the great irony with my faith story is that I never thought I left the church. If you had asked me throughout this stage in my unfaithful life, I would have said I was a proud Catholic (in pretty good standing).  I was just taking a break from going to mass every Sunday (and taking some other liberties as well).  God would understand, right?  I never murdered anyone, so I was still a good Catholic, right?  Arrogant, I know.  Here's the kicker-- I really meant it too!  I really thought I was a pretty good Catholic. I had no idea how far I had wandered. 

C.S. Lewis wrote, "The safest road to Hell is the gradual one-- the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts."  That's the road I was on, but I had no idea.

Monday, September 3, 2012

"I could write a book about what I don't know," guest post by Mike

My lovely bride really laid one on me the other day.  Out of the blue, she said to me, “I think you should write on my blog.”

To which I replied, “What would I write about?” 

“You really understand finance and budgeting, and I think you would have a lot to say about being a Catholic husband and father in today’s world.”  The truth of the matter is I really wanted to be a part of her blog, but I didn’t want to ask.  This is something that she started, and I didn’t want her to feel any pressure from me regarding her work.

So, the question I started asking myself was, what in the world do I have to write about?  I am a working husband and father who has to balance three children, a one income budget, and a very demanding career that has just culminated in a move to the Bay area of California.  I am by no means unique although my wife sometimes says I’m one of a kind.

As I was thinking about what to write, I was listening to one of the songs on heavy rotation in our house-- Ryan Bingham's “I Don’t Know.”  The thought process took me on a one minute journey through the last 15 years of my life and what I knew to be true.  Below is a quick list of what I knew and at what age I knew it…

Age 19 – I knew I loved college and had plenty of time there.  Also, I knew I met the love of my life.

Age 20 - I knew I had plenty of time to get my grades to where my parents wanted them.

Age 21 – I declared business my major and knew that I would do something international.

Age 22 – I knew that I was doing nothing international but was going to move near Kate and marry the love of my life after graduation.  Also, I went to work for a company to “get some experience” and then move on after a year or two.

Age 23 – I knew I had life figured out and married my wife.

Age 24 – I knew I only wanted 1 or 2 children (max).

Age 25 – I knew my wife was going to have a long career as a teacher as she was working on her Master’s degree.

Age 26 – I knew it would be easy to have children.

Age 27 – I knew that having a bunch of credit card debt was normal and okay.  Also, I knew I was ready to re-start my rugby career after a 6 year absence.   

Age 28 – We had lived through two miscarriages, and I knew it wasn’t so easy to get pregnant.

Age 29 – I knew what it was like to be a father; after all, we had 1 under 1.  I also knew we wouldn’t be able to make it long on one income.

Age 30 – We figured out how to live on one income (barely), so I knew that we were ready for a move across the country!    We thought this was a cool idea even though we didn’t have any family within 1500 miles and had somewhere in the neighborhood of $35-$45K in credit card and car debt.  Additionally, I knew that Las Vegas was the perfect place for us. 

Age 31 – I learned that the reality of living in Las Vegas was much harder for our family than I thought it would be.  I knew that God truly does answer prayers when my father survived surgery to fight his pancreatic cancer.  He had lost 25 pounds in two weeks prior as it was ravaging his system.  He is still alive and kicking (one tough Marine!).  (For clarification, I know God would have answered my prayers no matter what the answer was and that one of the answers could have been “no.”  That was just what my religious maturity and understanding was at the time.) 

Age 32 – I knew what it was like to have two children, and two kids were enough!

Age 33 – I knew our family didn’t need the burden of debt, and we paid off everything but the house.  Boom!!

Age 34 – I know what it’s like to have 3 children and that I’m open to more life.  I have a wife who hasn’t worked outside the home since our first was born but busts her butt every day.  I know that I’m fortunate to have worked for the same company for 12 years and want to stay until retirement.  I know I want to live in California for the shortest amount of time possible.  Most important, I know that as I submit myself more to God, I realize more freedom and a fuller life.

Hopefully by now you see how little I’ve known throughout the years.  Clearly some of the "truths" I held turned out to be false.  I think life comes with many wonderful gifts.  One is the gift of self reflection-- looking back at our humble life experiences, saying we’re thankful for them, and learning from the mistakes we’ve made.  Humility is one of those traits that you may not realize you should have during your college years or your twenties.  However, once you have multiple children, it gets easier to be humble (especially in church or at a restaurant).  I can say with complete humility, I know that I am definitely an imperfect husband, imperfect father, imperfect manager/boss, and like my wife, an imperfect Catholic (although she’s less imperfect than I am). 

Humility has taught me not to assume greatness (or any certainty) in for the future, but to instead welcome my struggles as an imperfect man.