Growing up, I rarely thought deeply about religion or what personally I believed in. My parents didn’t raise me and my younger brother to have a particular religion or to go to church every Sunday. Though, I do have a mix of relatives of different faiths, so I did have some exposure as a child. While my parents did not enforce a religion, they did raise us to be respectful of other people’s religious beliefs and to be open-minded about new information and ideas. This is a life lesson that will forever be relevant and important.
Since religion wasn’t practiced in my household, as a kid, I didn’t see it as being something I needed to worry about or figure out. My first memorable experience with religion was in the ages 8 through 11, when my best friend occasionally took me to church with her and her family. I was young and had never been to church before with anyone in my own family, so it was a little intimidating and hard for me to understand what the priest was talking about. My other religious experiences as a child included attending my (many) cousins’ Holy Communions, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, and Confirmations. I found myself not understanding a large portion of the services, but it didn’t bother me. Still being fairly young, I was more concerned about what songs the Bat Mitzvah’s DJ was going to play once the dance floor opened up.
That was all the religious experience I had as a child. My absence in the religious world didn’t bother me until I started doing lots of self-reflection and self-discovery in my later teenage years.
At age 17, I attended a high school that was predominantly white Christians, so most people assumed that if you were white, you were a Christian – until proved otherwise. It was all because of where I lived and that particular high school’s stereotypes. So as I noticed this, I started realizing that I was really behind in the world of religion. Many of my peers had been going to church since they were little, attended Bible study, been a part of a small group, gone to Young Life, and posted Bible verses regularly on Twitter or Instagram. I was never like that.
I spent a lot of time in my senior year of high school learning about myself and trying to figure out what I believed in. I asked myself over and over again, “Do I believe in God?” And I never really could answer. I had never picked up a Bible or another piece of religious text – with the exception of a few minutes in church with my best friend (but as an 8-year-old, I wasn’t particularly interested in reading difficult English about topics I knew nothing about).
This summer, before starting college as a freshman, I set a personal goal for myself. I was going to learn about religion. I was ready to broaden what little knowledge I had picked up over the years. I was curious as to why so many of my friends followed religion. I wanted to understand what it meant to be a Christian, Catholic, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, etc.
The only problem was; I didn’t know exactly how to achieve this goal. I put my goal on hold until I got into the swing of things in college. Then, a few weeks in, I heard about a Bible study group led by our university’s First Lady, Rosemary Trible. I was a little apprehensive about it at first, worried about being the only one there who knew practically nothing about the Bible. But I worked up enough courage to go to the first meeting in September. The amount of love and passion that filled the house was so welcoming and I found myself making friends almost immediately on the first day. Everyone was so excited to read the Bible for deeper understanding and to be around like-minded people and friends. During introductions, one of the leaders said that if anyone was new to Christianity, this was going to be a great place to learn. And it has truly proven to be, in fact, a great place to learn about the Bible and religion.
Through going to this Bible study group every week and setting that personal goal for myself, I’ve learned so much. Not just about religion, but also about who I am. I’m keeping an open mind throughout this whole process and questioning everything I learn in Bible study to make sure I truly understand and am aware of what I agree and disagree with. I still want to learn about other beliefs and faiths, but this is a start.
We should all take some time to learn about other religions. Take the time to understand why so many people believe in what they believe in. Learn about yourself, and what makes you happy. The world would be a much better place if there were more open minds. It all starts with you and a personal goal.