Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
As a kid, I would walk into church every Sunday holding my father’s hand. I remember it like it was yesterday looking around to see who was there, thinking about where to sit in the pew. But the most vivid memory is how my father would keep holding my hand throughout the service squeezing it right when he thought I wasn’t paying attention. I might have been just six or seven years old at the time, but even then I understood how important religion was to everyone around me, especially my father.
Despite good intention, for a long time, my involvement in religion was half-pressure, half-passion. As a teenager, my family’s passion for religion made me feel weary about bringing up any doubts or questions. I had so many questions about why religion didn’t always feel good.
I could hear my family saying, “You want to be a good person, don’t you?” Can you really be completely devoted to something you are scared to talk about? Why was everything so black and white? Why was there so much guilt? For me and my particular religion, Catholic guilt thing hit me hard. What does it mean if I don’t want to go?
I assumed that it meant something awful that I didn’t want to go every Sunday, or pray the rosary, or feel shy when asked to talk about it. But nobody said anything, so I didn’t either. As a result, I struggled with my faith for years. Dabbling here and there, but never entirely sure what to make of that curiosity or how to exercise my devotion.
But in time, it occurred to me that if I really wanted to drop it, I could. I was a grown up in a big city at this point disconnected from family. People around me had already done it. And, nobody knew if I attended mass, or if I dozed off during homilies or when my last confession was. But the more I backed out, the emptier I felt.
Interestingly enough, it was through befriending new people at my local church, asking questions, addressing doubts, and practicing contemplative prayer that I began to fall in love with God. Then, and possibly only then, did my resentments dwindle, allowing me appreciate all the practices that had been ingrained in my upbringing.
I know a lot of people who get all worked up about people who only attend Sunday mass for the sake of formalities. To that I say, “Sitting in church, makes you no more spiritual than sitting in a garage makes you a car.” No one person is closer to God than another. He is within all of us, equally. If there is a fool sitting in the front row only to be seen, the loss is his. But the person who doesn’t attend because of resentments is also at a loss.
More than ever, we need something real to be happy, to know how to really wholeheartedly love the people in our lives for who they are, and to appreciate things long before they have arrived. You won’t find it on your phone, your bank account, or at the next happy hour. You may not even find it on the benches of a church, you’re going to find it inside of yourself. But to understand how to do that, you’re going to have to start asking the questions you never did and open yourself up to something bigger that’s been waiting for you all along.
I still remember the squeezing of my small hand cupped inside my father’s. I hold my own hand sometimes when I’m at church and laugh a little when out of instinct I do it to myself. In the end, my father actually did do his job because he planted a seed of faith inside of me and let it sow on its own. In the end, as adults, we’ll get to choose whether we give our faith a chance or not. I know I'm happy I did.