Force-fed Religion

I have friends, colleagues and even family members that wrestle with the concept of religion. I’m not saying they necessarily wrestle with the idea that God exists, more that religion has developed into a turnoff. My parents weren’t very religious when I was growing up, but I do have some experience with organized religion. I attended a Catholic school throughout fifth and sixth grade. Perhaps my mother thought it would be good for my brother and I to go to a religious school, despite having little exposure to faith prior to entering St. Vincent’s Catholic School back in my hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana. I suppose we could’ve used the stability at school that we were often missing at home, despite her best efforts. I sat in Catholic Mass each Wednesday. I learned the meaning behind confirmation, confession and The Rosary. When I was scared as a child I even remember saying the Hail Mary Prayer out loud. I was eventually baptized Missouri Synod Lutheran in my early teens after moving in with my dad. I also attended a Missouri Synod Lutheran church in Scottsdale on and off throughout my twenties. I tell you all of this because I have experienced much organized religion, yet it wasn’t shoved down my throat, unlike many people I know.

I have little apprehension these days on sharing my faith with others, or speaking to it. Those who follow me on Instagram or read this blog can attest. I suppose this comes from the conviction formed via my own testimony of coming to faith. I wouldn’t consider myself a Bible thumper by any means, yet I try to walk with courageous faith and engage in conversations when I feel moved to do so. Recently I seem to run across people who have built a concrete wall between them and the subject of God. Their rationale is the same reason many of us have formed judgments and belief systems…. Someone told them what they should believe, or perhaps someone told them what not to believe. Even worse, perhaps someone tried to force-feed beliefs onto them. Regardless, conditioned minds are certainly present in many conversations about God and religion.

When I was a youngster I would beg my dad to stop smoking. I remember being traumatized after taking a field trip to a health center. They attempted to scare the crap out of us, ensuring we never picked up a cigarette by showing horrid pictures of what smoking does to the lungs. They scared me alright. They scared me into believing those pictures were a reflection of my father’s lungs, who happened to be my hero back then (still is in some ways). I begged and pleaded with him to stop. He didn’t.

I firmly believe if I tell my dad that he should quit smoking, he’s going to smoke even longer. Why? Quitting cigarettes has to be his decision, not mine. I remember how he finally got me to stop talking about it. He said “son, I can quit smoking, yet the heart attack I’ll have when I do is going to take me out much sooner than these cigarettes will.” I saw the logic in his statement and eventually matured enough to realize he would inevitably make his own decisions. I couldn’t force my dad to view smoking through the same lens of fear I viewed his health through. I couldn’t force my dad to make decisions for me, no matter how hard I tried. We cannot force others to change because we want them to, or because we believe they should.

I can tell people they SHOULD believe in God, yet they’ll likely disengage all together from the conversation (or relationship). I’m convinced forcing my beliefs onto someone else isn’t going to make them magically transform toward Christ. I’m shocked at how many friends and family members had religious principles, practices and beliefs shoved down their throats throughout adolescence. Usually this comes from parents directly, or parental dedication to making sure their children are constantly exposed to “the family religion” (church, schools, camps, etc.). What’s interesting is what often happens when these children become adults: disdain for religion all together. OVEREXPOSING a child to religious beliefs and rituals is flirting with creating a close-minded and resentful adult. This doesn’t exactly line up with the goal of those doing the force-feeding does it?

Taken inside of Illuminate Community Church in Scottsdale, AZ

We all know teenagers and young adults often do the opposite of what parents teach as they experiment with coming of age. They want to pave their own way and go against the grain. We all want to explore, find ourselves and make our own decisions, at least I did! Let me be clear, I’m by no means saying you shouldn’t expose your kids to faith. What I’m saying is perhaps the quantity and methodology of the exposure should be tamed slightly. Exposure to Jesus for a child is terrific. Yet how deep is one’s faith if it primarily stemmed from a parent’s desire verses an adult coming to the conclusion they WANT AND NEED a relationship with God via their own experiences? I believe God opens numerous doors throughout life for people to walk through. Parents creating a healthy and welcoming environment for children to meet and follow Jesus can certainly be one of these doors. Yet just like my dad and those cigarettes, religion cannot be forced with an expectation that those same beliefs will stick throughout adulthood. Here’s another example: someone can say I should be close to a sibling because we’re siblings, yet the bond isn’t formed because it’s supposed to be, it’s formed if and when we truly WANT it to be.

I listen to church sermons frequently throughout the week. I go to church when I can, despite not having a “church home” currently in Scottsdale. I honestly feel like Elevation is my “church home,” thank goodness for technology allowing me to hear Steven Furtick PREACH! I pray every day, as many of you know (My Surrender Prayer and often much more). I went through so many trials and tribulations with fear-based anxiety that it nearly crippled my mind, body and spirit. I can’t even pretend to tell you how many panic attacks I suffered throughout my early thirties. I went through personal challenges with a failed marriage, family turmoil and lived in a constant state of fear. I chased success that left me empty inside. I chased all the wrong things. I had to learn so many lessons before I learned THE LESSON: God is my number one relationship to focus on daily. I yearn for Christ. I had to come to the realization that SURRENDERING to God was the only way to rid myself of the pain and torment of anxiety. I had to LEARN THOSE LESSONS. They couldn’t be learned for me. I’m at a point where I am so excited to lean closer toward Jesus, yet it took me thirty-four years of life experience before I finally saw His light for what it is. I had a surface level relationship with God for years. I lived for the world. I learned my lessons.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8.

I have my story, which is now my testimony of coming to faith. I’m grateful I wasn’t force-fed religion in life. I’m glad I wasn’t told what to believe. Funny how life led me toward Christ, even without being force-fed. I had to seek. I had to knock. I had to reach a point in life where God was my only hope. Perhaps I’m just hard-headed. Perhaps environmental factors made my walk toward God more challenged than others. Perhaps my story is similar to yours, or maybe you grew up in a pleasant Christian household and your path had less obstructions. I’m coming to a point where I am finally able to accept my path, my journey and my past. The SURRENDER PROJECT wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t struggled with fear for decades. The craving for my relationship with Christ wouldn’t be what it is today without the pain of my journey. I’m blessed to have experienced anything that brought me closer to God, none of which was pressure from others.

I know so many people who are going through painful and trying times, yet refuse to turn to God because of the wounds they carry from parents or family regarding religion. I tried many worldly fixes for my lack of internal peace and nothing worked. I feel so much for anyone who has a concrete wall built between them and a relationship with Jesus due of to religious scars. Many conversations I have with people experiencing pain result in an automatic lockdown on the subject of leaning into Christ. Nearly everyone has the same reason- they were turned off by someone or some event from their past around the subject of religion. What a shame. Can you imagine not looking heavenward throughout a crisis? How about not practicing gratitude with our Heavenly Father for blessings, grace and love? I cannot. I will continue to broach the topic even if I’m constantly shutout. I will continue to be a light to whatever extent others can see past their previous wounds. I will pray that life leads those in pain toward asking God for help, toward seeking God, and to eventually knocking on the only door that really matters in this life.

Photo taken at Lake Tahoe on my road trip last year. I cannot imagine looking at this sunset and not having my first thought be how this was a masterpiece painted by God.

We can’t change people. We can’t force our beliefs onto them either. We can be a light by living in a way that sets an example. We can have real conversations, be vulnerable and share our testimonies, no matter how murky our past waters are. We all have battles to face. We all have pain and hurt. I pray those with walls built will eventually give Christ another chance. I pray they’ll take a chance on a relationship with God, instead of focusing on previous experiences that involved human interference. This post is about another example of how the world gets in the way between people and true Christian Faith. May we break down walls and barriers. May we be LIGHTS to those in darkness.

He cares. He’s ready. He saves. He loves. May everyone give Him a chance.

Follow the journey on Instagram: @surrender_project

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