The Hardest Question to Answer

I breezed through the Common App’s seemingly mindless questions about family, citizenship, and former education until the following question:

Religious Affiliation?

Religion has never been formally enforced in my household. Nutrition, yes, but never religion. My mother, a former Catholic, and my father, a former Episcopalian, left their respective denominations due to disagreement. I don’t think they ever attended religious services as a couple, and they’ve certainly never forced us to attend any, except for the annual Christmas Eve service at the Unitarian church. There, the narrator of the children’s pageant refers to Jesus as “a really great guy,” and all children under six spend the hour fiddling with their evidently uncomfortable angel and animal costumes.

However, my parents managed to slip religion into my childhood.

My mother bought a picture book of the Old Testament. I enjoyed reading it when I was two and three because, well, the Bible provides great stories, and the accompanying pictures were vibrant and interesting to look at. When I asked my mother about these stories, she said they helped explain how the world began in terms of Christianity. She further explained that, yes, we were Christian, and I would tell people that for years after.

At age five, my mom helped me pray to God before bedtime. I asked, like any curious five-year-old, why I should talk to God. She explained Him in terms of my imaginary friends; He, like them, was with me, even though I couldn’t see him. I talked to my imaginary friends, so I could also talk to God. God would send me to Heaven, where all of my deceased relatives were, when I died, and if I prayed hard enough, He would make things happen.

I really wanted to go to Heaven. I had never met two of my aunts, who died when they were children, and I barely got to know one grandfather, never mind both. I thought it would be cool to meet them all. I imagined us sipping Hawaiian Punch and eating Milano cookies and talking about family stories. I also liked when things went my way. So, as a selfish kindergartener, praying became a habit that I kept up for several years.

Then I started elementary school. Most of my preschool friends were Jewish, but most people at school went to church and youth group every Sunday. I became close with several devout Christians, and as an added bonus for Saturday night sleepovers, I attended several religious services. Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist. I even went to Vacation Bible School one summer and performed in the musical Daniel and the Lions. I enjoyed talking about Jesus and making religiously-themed arts and crafts, but I was never into the formal services. I felt disconnected from much of the actual service, perhaps because I was one of the few who hadn’t memorized the hymns after years of recitation. Whatever the case, I never felt like I truly “belonged” to a denomination, and questioning my parents certainly didn’t help. They told me in fifth grade that my religious beliefs were up to me. I felt even more lost.

Religion took a hiatus until sophomore year, when my friend convinced me to join FCA. I enjoyed the fellowship and the morning songs, which were both very uplifting. Some of the morning speakers had pretty inspiring thoughts to share. However, I still never felt completely in sync with the related Bible verse. I hadn’t heard of it 98% of the time, and I may have been the only one alienated; everyone else seemed to nod in agreement. But I enjoyed that time, often thinking about what a particular passage meant to me, not to Christianity as a whole. Parallels existed, but the two views never seemed to be exactly on par.

So, returning to that tricky question, I didn’t quite know what to put. I ended up putting “Christian – Other,” and after attending my first Sunday service in several years today, I think that still rings true. Don’t get me wrong – Jesus was a great guy, and I like to think that someone is watching over this world. I just don’t like people telling me how I should believe and what actions I should take to express my beliefs. My exact beliefs fluctuate, and who knows, I could join a congregation in the future. I’m certainly open to it. Open is how I am in terms of religion, and I’d like to stay that way.

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