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I’ve been reading Jen Hatmaker’s newest book, For the Love, and I recently reached the chapter where she reflects on how she learned to “just tell the truth.” In this chapter, she encourages her readers to be honest with our thoughts, and to free ourselves from the idea that people should avoid speaking anything less than rainbows and constant sunshine. This particular chapter was encouraging and empowering, as I have heard recently that my parents are convinced that I have been brainwashed and manipulated, so I thought that I would take a minute and explain what it is for me to be free.
I grew up in a very judgmental, conservative household. My mother made comments to me all throughout my growing up years that still negatively effect my body image, including telling me at age 15 that I “needed” to wear makeup so I could “look like I take care of myself.” I wasn’t allowed to read books that my father hadn’t approved of, because he was convinced that disagreeing authors were idiots and their ideas were not valid. I was almost not allowed to attend Mass with my best friend in high school because my father doesn’t think that catholic faith is legitimate. I was allowed to go on the grounds that I would write an essay on the differences between the catholic mass and a Presbyterian service. As far as I can tell, catholics are Christians too. But they didn’t worship in the exact same way, so it must be wrong.
I learned from a very early age to only talk about any shared interests or things that I already knew they would approve of, because I didn’t want to deal with their comments of disapproval or any lectures. I rebelled, but in little things. I waited, ever-so-patiently, to turn 18 and promptly added a second piercing to my ears (it looked “tacky,” so they wouldn’t sign for it). When I wanted other forms of personal expression (I permed my hair, had my cartilage and my nose pierced, and got a tattoo), I just went and did it. I still had to deal with comments, but it was already done so they weren’t able to talk me out of it. When it came to most issues, I learned to be docile and obedient, so as not to be the cause of any discord. Their way, they claimed, was freedom, but I was only “free” to choose the things which they thought were right.
We went to a very conservative church (example: a woman was made to apologize to the congregation for having a child out of wedlock). My church leaders, when I informed them that I was resigning my membership upon marrying my husband and we were going to join a church together, informed me that I was not allowed to resign my membership until I had found a church *they* approved of. After we were married, we went to some friends for marriage advice. I was blocked in the house by my (not invited) former pastor, who made several attempts to get me alone and refused to leave, telling me “this isn’t your house, I don’t have to move.” Both my old pastor and Peter’s former pastor boasted about contacting the churches we visited to “warn” the leadership about us, claiming us to be troublemakers. (I dearly love most of the people from my former church. I was truly disappointed when the leadership behaved in such a way.)
Despite their belief that their church was the “true” church, my family would no sooner get to the parking lot than start making fun of the people at the service. They would make demeaning comments about this elder’s ideas or that teenager’s hairstyle. They still don’t like one of our friends from there because of the hairstyle he chose when he was 15. Evidently, Jesus only approves of collared button-downs and crew cuts.
I was never given freedom to explore. For my family, there was only One Way – for everything. This put a damper on my learning about the world. I was sent to a worldview class where the Christian teacher clearly said “what I want most for you all is to learn to think for yourselves!” but if we answered questions on the exams in a way that didn’t follow the teacher’s specific religious beliefs, they were counted as incorrect.
After Peter and I were married, we searched the Bible together in the evenings, and applied what we learned. Our questioning was not received well. Our 3-year journey has led us to atheism, which we have held for some time now. This is due to many reasons, but was largely because of the responses we had received as we searched and studied and challenged commonly accepted practices.
After we had been married for a few months, something amazing started to happen. My wonderful husband had given me a voice. He started asking me what I wanted, what I thought, what made my soul come alive. He asked questions because he wanted to know, and I could state my desires and opinions without fear of lectures or ridicule. I became confident, curious, and alive. I was free.
One major example of this newfound freedom and health is how I deal with my emotions. My mother, who holds a PhD in child psychology and does family counseling, told me recently that she had read in a psychology book that when your teenage daughter is upset, the best course of action is to leave her alone and let her get over her own feelings, so that’s how she dealt with me. Peter learned very quickly that I need to be chased when I’m upset, and over the past few years I’ve learned how to actually work through my emotions, understand them, and deal with them in healthy ways, rather than just isolate and ignore my problems.
I learned through all of this how trapped I had been growing up. My family’s very specific views on religion, politics, and lifestyle were taught as true freedom because they smiled. They viewed my silence as acquiescence, when in reality I had just learned to shut up and bide my time. They thought they knew the true me, but their idea of me was never accurate.
Even now, my family refuses to accept my new freedom. My mother informed me she still wishes I hadn’t gotten married, something I take special offense to now that I have a son. Having experienced my father’s disapproval for my marriage, I do not feel respected or safe around him either, so I set ground rules for any future relationship with my father that require he make peace with Peter before any contact with me. Even this simple request has been refused, with the excuse that I would have never placed such a restriction before, so Peter must be manipulating me into making such a suggestion. While hard to listen to, their negative comments serve as a reminder to me of the freedom I now get to enjoy, and a reminder to breathe deeply, love fully, and walk my new path bravely.
I hate conflict, so I followed their lead for as long as I needed to, but now that I am married I am finally getting to explore who I am, what I believe, and live it out in the way that is in keeping with my own personal worldview. This blog is an extension of me and my values – I am a health conscious, green, quirky, dance-in-public, hippie mama. I practice grounding and meditation. My personal style looks like the love child of gypsies and a rack from the set of That 70’s Show. I value people without discriminating based on social status, gender identity, sexual preference, or religion. I believe in doing what is best for people over what is best for profit. I share what I learn because I’ve always wanted to help people feel better, and natural solutions help fix issues at the root cause. This is me. This has always been me, but I am now free to explore, enjoy, and express it to my heart’s content.
This is freedom.