Keeping the Faith

When I was a child, I practically lived in my church. I attended services every Tuesday and Friday with my classmates and every Sunday with my family.

Looking back, this may have been considered excessive attendance, but for me it was routine.

On Tuesdays, we wore green polo shirts and memorized excerpts of scripture for a grade. On Fridays, my classmates and I wore blazers, ascots and black ballet flats. And on Sundays, I begrudgingly rolled out of bed and dressed to the nines.

Every time, I found myself kneeling in pews, having full conversations with a spiritual entity multiple times a week. Sometimes I’d seek guidance regarding struggles in class, or the inevitable middle school drama.

Other times, I would let God know where my family was planning to brunch in an hour.

Despite the occasional trivial communication, I genuinely cherished my time in church.

I exclusively attended religious schools, specifically Catholic and Episcopalian, from kindergarten until eighth-grade, and faith was something that played a constant role in my daily life. I had never taken a moment to question my beliefs.

Fully connected to my faith, stewardship and service were incredibly important to my sense of self. I can easily pinpoint my eighth-grade year as a period in which my faith was unwavering. I was so close to completing years of religious education, and I truly felt steady and sure of my path.

Through mission trips and local service, I felt confident about actively living my faith, rather than just sitting in a classroom while my eyes glazed over the Old Testament. As I sat through graduation mass, I reflected on how I would continue being close to God throughout my high school years. I envisioned making ample time for service, prayer and mass, yet this proved to be more difficult than I expected. 

Big shocker, but public high schools aren’t really big on theology courses or morning prayers.

I was excited to be attending an esteemed school, but I couldn’t help but feel alienated.

What used to be a common, shared experience amongst classmates was now something that set me apart.

I was exposed to kids my age who didn’t believe in God. It was simultaneously fascinating and terrifying. These peers were exceptionally outspoken and had a very independent grasp on religion. Throughout my whole life, I had been told that the existence of God wasn’t even a question.

Faith wasn’t up for debate. I didn’t like feeling unsure. I had grown comfortable with this unshakable knowledge that there was a higher being with a plan, but my new environment urged me to question that.

I brushed these inquiries to the side and repeatedly attended Sunday service with my family. Sing, kneel, celebrate the eucharist…these actions seemed to loop for the next four years, and before I knew it, I was driving away from my home, school and church, ready to face a new chapter: college. 

I was distant from my faith and deep down, I could feel it.

Faith didn’t cross my mind for the first couple of months of freshman year. I was so consumed with sorority events, bonding with roommates and Gainesville in general.

Eventually, as the adrenaline faded, I felt this immense guilt wash over me.

I hadn’t stepped foot into a church in ages, much less expressed gratitude for my incredible life.

I opened Google Maps, typed in "Catholic church" and drove to the nearest one I could find. As I walked into a cathedral hidden on University Avenue, I went through the motions I’d performed countless times.

There was still a significant disconnect. As I knelt and spoke, I was all too aware there was no one on the other line.

When I was a child, I was unbothered by this. There was a presence within me, and that was enough. A part of me left disappointed. I expected to walk in and immediately feel the love of God surge through me, just as it had when I was young. 

I resigned myself to the idea it was too late. I had grown so far from the relationship, I figured there was no coming back to it, especially because the life I was leading in college didn’t seem to fall within the guidelines I had set for myself as a kid.

All the late nights and tailgates seemed to stand as excuses between God and I. Eventually, my mom initiated a conversation. After being painfully honest, she aided me in coming to the realization I was too harsh on myself. Faith fluctuates constantly, and that didn’t make me a "bad Christian." 

From that moment on, I stopped blaming myself. I tried to find pride in the fact that I even wanted to reconnect with my spirituality.

I determined the church I attended wasn’t for me. The services I went to at home were warm and vibrant. I always felt welcomed, which is so important for any place of worship.

I personally didn’t experience that vibe at the parish I tried. Instead of continuing to dwell on this, I entered this year with a mission: find a place of worship that feels like home. 

A couple of weeks ago, I took a small trip downtown. When I walked into the parish, I was greeted with soft smiles and an organ that played reminiscent melodies.

The day’s sermon seemed to speak to my exact experience. A college student, struggling majorly with balance and faith. It was then I knew: I had found a place where I felt comfortable to explore.

It was a unique experience in which I felt excited about pursuing my faith without the pressure of family or school. 

College can be perceived as a challenging time, in which your loyalty and commitment to your respective religion is tested.

However, I believe it can also be perceived as an opportunity to have an open and honest internal communication about religion and faith.

It can be daunting to step into a new place of worship, but if you are feeling disconnected and afraid, trust that others also experience these tribulations.

There’s no need to punish yourself for having questions, just simply have the courage to seek answers. My personal journey with God is nowhere near finished, but I am undoubtedly excited to explore it, starting here in college.