For more than a century, most of my family were cotton farmers. They had left their world of Western Europe to try their hand in a new land. They had vision enough, courage enough, to traverse both the Atlantic and half of what is now the United States in search of a better life.
They had enough grit and determination to prevail through both the Great Depression and the Oklahoma Dustbowl. They were a pragmatic people who seemed to give little thought to their relationship with God.
Religion was reserved for Sundays — right along with the rich, heavy Sunday meals of chicken fried steak, corn on the cob, and mashed potatoes. There seemed to be no real relationship with God, only a religion that had little to do with daily life.
From the time I was a young girl, my faith differed from my family. My grandmother called me “The Preacher” as I often gave “sermons” to help my family through difficult times. I loved Jesus and considered him a friend.
And yet, my family’s story is not unique among other Southern families. Even today, many people reserve their religion for Sundays. Being a Christian meant that you go to church on Sundays and sometimes prayed before meals. Christianity does not necessarily involve a a close, growing, intimate relationship with God.
As I grew into a teenager, I saw the wide divergence between how I tried to live my life and how Christian leaders in my community chose to live theirs. And I wondered: If these leaders cannot live the way our religion says we should, is Christianity even true?
So for many years while in my late teens and early 20s, it seemed to me that Christianity was not true, could not be true. This is the family and the culture in which I was born and raised. My spiritual journey is the story of how my omnipresent God broke through and brought healing to the damage they had caused.
No longer must you pretend to be Christian or show up to church on Sunday morning just to save face with your neighbors, for it is more acceptable than ever to identify with no religion at all.
I am learning this path as I journey it. To begin, I have focused more on the historic practices of the Christianity by following the church calendar. In my childhood home, Easter was a long service, a heavy meal and Easter egg hunts in the backyard.
Today, my preparation for and celebration of Easter stretches from Ash Wednesday through Easter Sunday. We still have the (not so) long church service, the celebratory Sunday dinner, even Easter egg hunts. We also practice Lent, a 46-day period leading up to Easter, as an opportunity to draw near to God and an opportunity to strengthen one’s relationship with God through fasting. As Mother Teresa of Calcutta notes, “Lent is the time for greater love.”
Over the years, my Lenten fast has focused on the things that tend to crowd out the presence of God in my life such as news consumption and social media. Practicing Lent adds depth to my celebration of Easter by orienting my attention on the spiritual (rather than cultural) significance of the day and by strengthening my relationship to God. My children are small and I hope its significance is known to them through my practice.
I am trying to raise my daughters with a firm faith. I strive to follow hard after the principles set out by Jesus, and when I fail, rather than deny it as my own mother did (in her attempt to be perceived as perfect), I acknowledge it and apologize for it.
On those rare occasions I lose my temper after a long work week, when it seems the girls refuse to listen, I apologize. I explain what I did wrong., and I ask their forgiveness.