Losing My Religion

I grew up Christian, but there's a lot to my faith and spirituality that I'm trying to undo or remove. The way I learned about Jesus was different from a lot of other people. Denomination of Christian and Missionary Alliance, son of Vietnamese refugees, second generation immigrant, Albertan, Canadian, Western, cis male, low income, 20th century, my dad was a pastor, and so on. Truly, Christianity isn't a set of rules you follow in order to get brownie points, but instead it's a way of communing with and relating to God through Jesus in order to "be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Romans 12:2). Now that I'm a bit older and wiser, I'm trying to shed the dried husk of my performance-based religion to redirect my energies into my relationship with Jesus.

One aspect of my spirituality that developed from my upbringing was trying to appear holy. Jesus passes his perfection to his followers, so even though there's no need to perform in order to enter heaven, I still did. In the process, I couldn't attain it and instead, settled on the appearance of holiness. You could blame this on my Asian values of showing honour and face, on my dad only accepting me based on my performance, or on simply being human. Now I'm trying to shed this image in favour of authenticity. There's still room for keeping up appearances and social graces, but it comes from a different place now.

Something we were taught growing up was to only associate with good kids because "bad company corrupts good character" (‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭15:33)‭. That's an important lesson to practice at any age, but Jesus also tells us to be the salt of the earth. Cutting yourself off from the world so that you preserve your holiness requires a fine balance. As a kid, you aren't allowed to hang out with your friends if there's a conflict with church. Youth group, meetings, band practice -- these all take precedence over your worldly friends. If you only spend time with church people, then how can you help the world? This is the equivalent of people who "light a lamp and put it under a bowl" ‭‭(Matthew‬ ‭5:15). Save the light only for the good people. Some of the best people I know I met outside of church.

Only listen to Christian music. Support that person because they're Christian. Just because a person is Christian doesn't necessarily mean they're good people. Some Christians are bad parents, alcoholics, abusive, selfish, etc. In fact, they partly became followers of Jesus because they recognized their evil nature. Sure, if they're Christian, they must go to church, listen to meaningful sermons, and put those teachings into practice. But that's a huge logical leap, and it's not always true (feels weird stating such a basic fact). I missed out on a big part of life by sheltering myself to only Christian things. I never really grew up with the same music as my peers, never hung out and kept those friendships because I was always busy with church events.

Being at church or small groups. It's important, but God isn't going to punish me if I miss it every once in a while. I need my community to strengthen me to walk with Jesus. Right now, I'm walking through the valley of the shadow of death. My heart palpitates at times from what I think is the anxiety flushing out of my body, so I just stop moving until my heart stops aching so badly. I still find in myself repetitive and almost addictive behaviours, which I think relates to my trauma. I don't find myself praying and reading my Bible as regularly because I can feel Jesus suffering through my therapy with me; they call him the Wonderful Counsellor. "The Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans." (‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:26‬). I don't appear holy on the outside, but I'm facing my problems with the grace of God, which is what I think he wants me to do.

In essence, I'm growing up because I'm losing my religion and keeping my relationship with Jesus. I'm rejecting parts of my childhood and keeping the ones that make sense to me.  On the surface, it feels like I'm failing God because of the way I behave, but in reality, It's an illusion to think that you can please God like he's Santa. I have a growing collection of friends who turned their back on the major system of their childhood, and I find myself relating to them better than the Ned Flanders Christians. God is an important part of my life, and I'm learning how to better navigate these spiritual waters. I'm taking charge of my faith, but it's going to look like sacrilege and heresy to people I grew up with.

Jonathan Phan Lê @jon_le