As I sit here and write, it is one day after the monumental Supreme Court decision to allow the right of marriage to the LGBT community in the United States. My heart has been so warmed to see such an incredible outpouring of love in so many forms online, from all the rainbow-colored Facebook profile pictures to all of the real stories of struggle and triumph endured by so many who have fought so hard for their love to be legally accepted in this country.
I have also been compelled to think back to my own history, one which began in such a completely different head space from the happiness my heart feels today. Mine is a history, like so many others, which truly included so many of the best of intentions, and in which I continuously come to find both gratitude and great peace. Yet, it is a history which has led me into countless questions, exploration, and ultimately decisions that have paved the way for a very different path to present itself on my journey.
Like so many, I was raised in a strict religious tradition. Like most of us when we come into this world, as a child I was dependent on my family, for food and for my basic needs. I was fortunate that they were able to give me my basic physical needs, and like most children, I naturally wanted those needs to continue to be met. So without consciously choosing, I went with my family where they went. I did what they did. And I practiced the traditions they practiced. Without consciously choosing, I did these things in order to literally survive.
Things got more complicated as I got older. My worldview and my experiences became broader. I had so many questions. Why was our faith the “only true” faith, I asked. Why did we have some kind of “exclusivity,” meaning that those who weren’t with “us” may be granted less privilege, both here on earth and in an afterlife?
There was something about those ideas that really didn’t seem fair, I thought. Those other people should have the same rights as we did, if we were all made in the same way. What did we do to deserve special privileges? And more, what did they do to not deserve them? Was it just because they didn’t happen to practice our particular tradition? What if they just happened to be raised in a different one? Did that make them automatically guilty for eternity?
And why would the central figure of my tradition, who seemed to have acted with such compassion to outcasts, with such humility, such forgiveness, and such love, really want to be worshiped and put on an unreachable pedestal by others who had been so pointedly treated as equals?
I never seemed to get answers to my questions that satisfied me. Yet, as a child and well into my adulthood, I continued to practice the traditions of my family, because my family gave me that sense of security and survival I’d found so necessary in childhood. I couldn’t imagine ever being without this kind of security. If I questioned my traditions, what would that mean for my relationships with my family, those people who had provided for me at least so that I could continue living? Even more, what would that mean for my relationship to God or to that bigger incomprehensible reality around me?
I see these questions playing out indirectly every day in many of the current conflicts of our society. While so many are rejoicing over the wonderful civil rights being granted to more of our human brothers and sisters, there are many others who seem to feel quite the opposite. And while many are calling for the removal of a symbol of bondage and oppression in our nation, there are many others who seem to cling to this symbol.
They too have been raised in families, and in communities, with security and traditions. And maybe they too have carried on these traditions since childhood, well into their adult lives, maybe without realizing that this could be a great chance for them to re-examine their traditions as well as their potential needs for that same security that they may also have found so integral to their childhoods.
When we grow into adults, we are often given the chance to create our own sense of security, our own families, and our own traditions. Yet, it seems that many of us do this without realizing that we are often passing on the same principles and traditions which we relied on for security in our own childhoods. In this way, family patterns can continue, for better or worse, for many generations to come, ultimately affecting society as a whole, also for better or for worse.
It can indeed be frightening to step back and re-examine if what we have learned as children is really what we wish to believe and express in this world as adults. We may deny or defend our traditions simply to feel close to our family or our communities and that sense of security we may have felt as children.
But if we choose to examine what we’ve learned and realize that we may now feel differently, it doesn’t have to mean that those in our families were “bad people,” or that there is anything “wrong” with us if we happen to change our minds as we grow through our lives. In fact, we may realize that our families have also simply participated in passing along patterns that may go back into their own past or very far back into our lineage. Even so, I believe it is up to each of us to decide whether or not these principles and traditions really are beneficial and helpful to each of us as individuals as well as society as a whole.
Sometimes, if we choose to question what we learned as children and possibly to apply different traditions in our lives or within our families than those with which we were raised, we may very well face backlash, very possibly from those very people or those communities by whom we may have been raised. There is no denying that this can be a very possible and painful part of the process of individuation into what I believe is another way of finding meaning in our adult lives.
However, I so believe that it is in being truest to our own selves—to who we feel we really are, now as full-grown adults in this big, big world—when we can find the greatest levels of peace and love in our hearts over time. And if the process proves to be painful in the meantime, we can indeed choose to practice some of those amazing principles that seem to show up in so many traditions throughout the history of humankind—principles of forgiveness, compassion, empathy, and real unconditional love, of ourselves, our families and neighbors, and of all of our brothers and sisters in this great world.
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Wondering what else you may have learned as a child that you don't even realize you've carried with you into your adult life right now? ;) Check out my first book right here. It's a perfect place for you to explore just that!
No matter what, always remember this: You are deserving, you are worthy, and you are good enough. Keep being you, keep shining, and keep growing!
With great love,