My spiritual life is very important to me, but I do not consider myself to be very religious. I was raised in a Christian home and am a Christian. I belong to and attend a Methodist church.
I don’t believe being a Christian puts me on a higher plane than those of other religions and beliefs. I believe in a God that lives within all of us.
I am at peace with that understanding. That sense of peace is a far cry from what I felt for many years.
Religion, especially fundamentalist Christianity, mixed with obsessive-compulsive disorder was a quicksand that sucked me in and mired me in guilt and doubt. I was an easy mark for the accompanying obsessions and compulsions.
When I was about eleven years old, I began my compulsive prayers for forgiveness and for the safety and health of my family.
This compulsion was based on my belief that how I prayed, what I prayed, and whether or not I was a good person affected not just my life, but the lives of those I loved. I was obsessed with the belief that I had to be “right” with God or something terrible would happen to my family.
I also prayed for my own salvation, especially after I started attending Christian schools at age 12. The need to be saved was drilled into us at school, and salvation came from following a certain formula of prayer.
My fellow students seemed to be sure of their salvation. But I didn’t have that reassurance.
I wanted to be sure that I was saved. I don’t think I was so much afraid of going to hell when I died, as I was afraid of the depression of knowing I wasn’t saved, and therefore, never having peace of mind about it.
I was also concerned because I was taught that God couldn’t hear our prayers until we were saved. So prayers for protection of my family wouldn’t go through if I wasn’t saved.
When I prayed, whether for forgiveness, for my family or for salvation, I said the same words over and over, out loud or to myself, until the words became meaningless chants, not said to God, but to myself.
These chants, especially the ones in my thoughts, created within me a constant rhythmic beat that I tried to stop but never could. The beat played in the background even as I talked with others and went about my daily activities. It reminded me that I wasn’t saved yet, that I still needed to deal with God, that peace was elusive as long as I failed at my prayers.
I never knew what made a prayer “right” or “not right.” There was a magical way to say the words, silently or out loud, but I found that magical way only by repetition and by accident. At some unpredictable moment, I would have the sense that I had gotten it right, and I could stop for a while. I had protection. My family had protection, at least until I sinned again.
I questioned my prayers and my state of mind during those prayers. Was I concentrating on the right things? Did I have to use certain words? What feeling was I supposed to have in my heart? Was the feeling a physical one? The lifting of that heavy feeling I felt so often? With these questions, the doubt of my state of salvation returned.
Eventually, when I was in college, I think I just became exhausted with it all. My prayers and my attempted beliefs in a fundamentalist system had brought me no peace and no satisfaction, just exhaustion and anxiety and endless prayers.
And I began to question what I had been told by my teachers and fellow students. Who said they were right?
I had also gotten seriously depressed, and for a long time that overshadowed my OCD.
For many years, I stayed away from God and from anything to do with religion.
Today, I pray, but not in the same way. It’s more of a meditation, a sometimes wordless expression of my needs and helplessness. And there’s more gratitude included. I also recite poetry and prayers such as the St. Francis of Assisi prayer.
I still crave peace, and I think what I’m doing now is moving me closer to it than the old prayers.