My Spiritual Path
... A Journey of a Lifetime.
The journey to find one's spiritual path can produce deep
feelings of fear and love. Sometimes when things are bleak, we
humans have a tendency to question our spirituality. However, I have
found a path that creates a deep sense of gratitude in times of
I grew up in a family who was being influenced by the organized
religion of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRC).
When I convey my experience to others, many classify it as
'religious extreme'. Comparatively speaking, it was obviously so.
The teachings of the church were quite poignant. While attending the
church's Sunday School class as a child, I was taught that the CRC
was one of the largest religious organizations on the face of the
Earth. And, as for the other religions? Well, I was taught that most
were going to hell ... especially the Catholics. Buddhists and
Muslims? Don't even think about it ... they are already condemned to
Our family's life revolved around the CRC. Church was attended
twice on Sunday (morning and evening) ... prayer before and after
each meal ... and, a reading from the scripture before we were
granted leave of the dinner table. I was required to attend Cadets
(a church sponsored military type of group complete with uniforms),
Sunday School & Summer Bible School. My parents were so involved in
the church, they had little time for us kids ... Elder one year,
Deacon the next ... Ladies Aide ... Choir ... Song Service Leader
... Coffee Break ... Bible Study ... and on and on and on.
Since my childhood, of course, I've learned that the CRC is not
one of the largest religious organizations in the world ...
actually, quite the opposite.
Although they have made efforts to modernize and adapt, the
teachings of the CRC continue to be condemning. That fact, combined
with the continued self-education and enlightenment of the general
populous, makes for no big surprise that the CRC's membership
continues to decline.
I am the youngest of my three siblings. My mother once advised me
that "we tried our best raising you kids; but once we got to you, we
just let you grow up". I chuckled internally when I heard that
statement. After all, since they were so involved in the church,
they didn't have much time for anything other than 'just letting me
Please don't get me wrong. Being involved certainly shows
dedication; and, that's quite admirable. However, there is 'that
line' that can be crossed. And, I felt as if it had been crossed
That all being said, my parents brought me up the best they knew
how. Many parents find it difficult to strike a balance between
their church requirements and family demands. My parents were no
different. I don't believe they consciously ignored spending the
time that many other families would deem necessary to create family
harmony. They simply believed that God was first in their lives.
And, as such, time should be devoted to Him. I think they believed
that God would bless our family and somehow take away all the
problems that we faced.
Life at home was quite different than the time our family spent
within the church building itself. God forsake us if we didn't
appear as "upstanding members" of the church. Every effort was made
by my parents to make our family appear as upstanding members ... no
matter what kind of miserable life we were suffering at home.
When we entered the front doors of the church, one would think my
parents had the best relationship in the world. They were actually
kind to each other ... something I rarely witnessed at home. So, for
me, going to church meant that I was able to be in an environment
that felt somewhat warm and inviting ... simply because it meant
that I was out of the environment of verbal, physical, and mental
abuse; albeit just for a couple hours.
But, it also felt fake.
Our family had to put on a happy face, no matter what hell we
were experiencing at home. For if we chose otherwise, we put
ourselves at risk of being degraded or even threatened with
excommunication. If we chose to seek guidance by fellow members
and/or the leadership of the church, the gossip machine would surely
be supercharged to deliver the goodies to all those who sought
anecdotal gossip throughout the membership. And, it seemed like most
every member of that church was looking for juicy gossip. I remember
being privately questioned by other church members about my family.
Even as a young child, I could tell the questioning was not the type
one may ask out of concern ... but, out of sheer pleasure to solicit
and spread gossip.
I wondered about this practice. The community of church should be
such that a person should feel comfortable turning to fellow members
for comfort in times of trouble and unrest. Why then did I not feel
that comfort? Even though it felt good to be out of the hell of
home, being in church also felt like I was living a life that was
not my own.
Sermons from the pulpit were stunning. I remember thinking that
there was no way that I'd ever live within the small little box,
detailed with exacting boundaries of personal conduct that was being
spelled out for our lives. Of course, if we failed, we could all
just pray to God for forgiveness and all was forgiven ... at least
for our 'minor sins'.
For those sins that were viewed by the church as 'not so minor',
it was obvious to me that those sins were so frowned upon that no
one batted an eye when church members spewed hateful statements
about the 'sinner'.
Years later, I had a personal urge to find out if my personal
experience with the Christian Reformed Church was unique, or one of
commonality. Over the years, I have spoken to many others who were
brought up within CRC families. Many that I spoke to had attended
the very same church as our family (Hanley Christian Reformed Church
in Grandville, Michigan). I was stunned at the similarity in the
stories of our upbringing.