I was going through boxes of old belongings, when I came across a pink leather journal. I opened it up to years of prayers I had written.
It began in seventh grade and ended my junior year of college.
As I flipped through the pages that represented years of my life, a sense of sadness overwhelmed me.
I don’t even recognize this girl.
All she does is apologize for being herself. Anxiety-ridden, she apologizes for not being good enough, wholesome enough, kind enough, humble enough, gentle enough, pure enough, Christian enough.
“I know I am not worthy Lord, thank you for loving me anyway.”
I allow myself to remember.
I grew up a Southern Baptist in North Carolina.
I remember sermons preached and conversations held with mentors.
I remember being 14 and having a heated discussion with a young girl of Islamic descent. I was so wrong it hurts. I’m ashamed at how I used to perceive her and her beliefs. She was defending her childhood—as I was defending mine.
Afterward, an administrator took me into the stairwell and assured me that I was right and she was wrong:
“We know the truth. We know we are saved. One day Christ will return and all will know.”
I remember my youth pastor taking me aside one day and telling me he was concerned that my best friend wasn’t saved because of how she dressed and how she carried herself.
I cried out of anger. She was my best friend—who was he to say she isn’t saved? And why come to me? Another perceived burden on my back: to save a soul I didn’t believe needed saving. And how self-righteous of us to say who needs to be saved.
My best friend wasn’t allowed to walk during high school graduation, because she refused to remove a piercing. I was so proud of her.
I remember being 16 at a youth retreat. My friend and I ran into some teenage boys who were there for a sports camp. We invited them to chapel. Later that night our pastor sat us down and chastised us for not putting God first and only thinking of boys.
So many memories are branded in my mind.
I am more thankful now than ever that I went to my university, where I was exposed to and taught to understand different points of view. I am more thankful now than ever that I went into a career that teaches us to celebrate differences rather than eradicate them.
As I’ve gotten older, the guilt that Christianity instilled in me no longer consumes my life.
We don’t want to talk about the guilt that goes hand in hand with religion. We don’t want to talk about the fear that fuels it.
But I’ve seen my loved ones carry it around like a 50-pound weight that they can’t seem to put down.
I remember listening to John Lennon sing the words, “imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try.” My little brain couldn’t wrap itself around why he would even think those horrific thoughts. No heaven? No God? But then what is all this for?
Now I listen to the song, and whisper to myself “amen.”
I was told if you were gay, you go to hell.
I was told if you commit suicide, you go to hell.
I was told if you don’t say a salvation prayer, you go to hell.
I took all of that on, and I carried it with me everywhere I went. My anxiety made sure I said that prayer at least once a month, just so Jesus would know I was serious.
I was living not in my life, but rather in a constant turmoil of anxiety that people I loved weren’t going to be saved.
So it was my job to save them.
The messages we send our children affect them. We don’t realize how greatly they take hold of them.
Little Sarah, who was born on the opposite side of the world to a loving family just like your own, lives the life that she knows and defends her religion just like you were taught to. Who are we to say she is wrong?
It’s not about Christianity, or Islam. It’s not about Hinduism or Buddhism. It’s about the magnificent reality that is humanity.
I remember the girl I was, and it hurts me, for the burdens she took on were never hers to carry.
Author: Emily Gordon
Image: Candace Nast/Flickr
Editor: Toby Israel