How Questioning the Church Changed My Life

      As a little girl, the church played a huge role in my life. The earliest church I remember going to is a large Catholic church in a small town. I remember waking up early every single Sunday and getting ready for church. I remember joking with my siblings about how boring church would be and how we hated how long it would last. I remember my mom always wanting to take pictures of my family before we left the house, in the car, and in church. I remember that after church my family would all get into our van and drive to a restaurant for Sunday brunch. In these moments, I was the happiest and the most confused. As I would sit and listen to the pastor preach about life, I began to question the depth of what he had been saying. The language my pastor would use to describe the ideal relationship between husband and wife irritated me. My pastor would talk about man and his wife or Adam and his rib. I would patiently hope for the pastor to instead describe the husband as a possession of the wife. As the years progressed, my hopes slowly died out. Every year my life progressed, I would hear the pastor preach to the church that women should in various ways conform to the idea that they are possessions of men. As my pastor said this, I watched the rest of the congregation. I watched as the women in the crowd encouraged the pastor with nodding heads and mumbles of agreeance. I never understood why these women were agreeing to put men on a pedestal just because of their existence. As a girl in that catholic church, I listened as the pastor spoke, I watched as the women nodded, and I learned.

      As children we often daydream about the lives we believe we will have as adults. Whether it will be a life that emulates a princess living in a castle, or a life as an astronaut living with Martians; we all have dreams for ourselves. Depending on the stage of my childhood, I had various dreams for myself. At my most naive point in life, I wanted to be an actress. I believed the epitome of life would be being seen on TV screens and movie theaters all across the world. At the stage of my life when I was first introduced to the beauty of literature, I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to spend my days writing and publishing the stories I had spent ages working on in my journals. As I aged, the life I envisioned for myself changed. Throughout my life, I consistently told myself that above all I wanted to be a mother. I told myself that I wanted a husband, five kids, and a house with a white picket fence. I told myself that I was willing to get up early every morning, make breakfast for my family, pack lunches for my kids, get my children ready for school, drop my kids off at school, spend the day cleaning the house and cooking, pick my kids up from school, take my kids to soccer practices, make dinner for my family, and then repeat this cycle every day. I told myself that this was how it was supposed to be. I told myself that I was willing to sacrifice the happiness of life for this accepted reality.

      As little girls, we don’t have a very logical understanding of the world. As I grew older, I realized I would never become a princess or a famous actress. I realized I could become someone even better: a modern woman. I say “modern woman” not to describe all women from other parts of history as ancient. Rather, I say “modern woman” to denote a woman who does not adhere to the stereotypical standard of any role requested of her by society. Once I realized this, I began to stray from the ideals that I had learned in the church. I began to reject the idea that I needed to have a low-commitment job in order to raise children and sustain a good marriage. Upon realizing this, the dreams I had for myself expanded to dimensions larger than ever before. The aspirations I had for myself completely altered. As I looked deeper into my future, I saw myself in a completely different light. I began imagining myself not tied down by marriage or by children. 

       Change is a concept that many people refuse to accept. Changes in your perspective on life can often lead to feeling isolated. I vividly recall the conversations with my friends where we talked about how we saw ourselves in the future. I recall telling my friends that I can’t see myself being married for years and how I refuse to have kids. At that moment, the sideways glances and comments that I received made me understand the difference between my friends and me. I've never been the type to judge a person based on what they believed. As a result, I found it odd that my friends were judging me for what I wanted. Yes, it is okay for women to not yearn for marriage and children. It's also okay for women to yearn for marriage and children. The issue arises when women want these things because of societal conditioning. It is okay for women to want different things in life. It is also important that we ask ourselves why we believe these milestones in our lives are necessary and absolute. 

        For women who have these alternative ideas of life, reassuring ourselves of our validity often helps us cope with the criticism from society. Personally, I coped with situations like these by promising myself two things. One, I promised myself to never make a decision about my body or my life for the purpose of satisfying anyone else’s desires. As a woman who desires this “alternative lifestyle,” having self-assurance that my life is in my own hands makes me confident. The second promise I made is to become the woman my younger self would be most proud of. My younger self would want me to have dreams bigger than the world. Growing up in the church, I was raised to not question a lot of things. I was told to not have questions bigger than myself. I was told to just simply accept the words preached to me by my pastor. Becoming the woman that I am today took a lot of deconditioning. It took years of me reflecting on life and myself. It took questioning the people around me and the things I believed. Whether you are a pre-teen who hasn't even thought of what your life will look like in ten years, a college student who is still indecisive about what you want out of life, or a woman in her thirties who knows for a fact that you do not want to have children, remember to ask yourself if your younger self would be proud.