Are you religious or something?

I dread being asked this question. The majority of people who have asked me this recently have asked it uncomfortably after making some sort of joke about religious people or religion, only to see that I didn’t exactly find their joke amusing.

The reasons I don’t find jokes made at the expense of the religious community funny are many. I was raised in the Christian church with an education of and appreciation for other religions, especially Judaism. My experience growing up was, for the most part, positive. I had a lot of friends at church, I got to volunteer a lot, and I got to see a lot of people benefit from what was going on. I think this was healthy for me as a child, to learn compassion and kindness, to learn to put others before myself, and, of course, how to make the biggest splash in the lake at kids’ camps.

Jokes against people like the ones I grew up with hurt, because they are made against my family and friends. Don’t mess with my family, ya know?

But the other day, a friend just asked me, “are you religious?”, in sincerity and kindness. I was honestly at a loss for words.  I hadn’t thought about it in a while, and I didn’t know what to say.

Around the same time I moved to Chicago, I stopped going to church regularly. I didn’t know exactly why for a long time, but after some time and reflection, I think I know a couple reasons why.

I realized that I have been living in the “after” life. Not the afterlife many religions debate about, not any sort of heaven (though maybe a hell), just a different life after a traumatic event. The day after I moved into my apartment in Chicago, my roommate sexually assaulted me. This was it, the traumatic event that split my life in two. I had just moved to a new city to start a new life, I only knew one person in a city of over 3 million, I was trying to find a new job, I lived in an apartment with my attacker and another emotionally and mentally exhausting person, and I didn’t know who to talk to. Top that all off with having to have an interview for my current job 12 hours after being raped. I was embarrassed to tell anyone what had happened, and I was honestly terrified. It took me five months to tell anyone.

The “after” life has been filled with many things: fear, hate, depression, anxiety, sadness, but also love, happiness, and a lot of good experiences. One thing it hasn’t been filled with is church.

At first I made the excuse that I just didn’t want to go through the effort of finding a new church and all that entails, and to be honest that was true. Everything felt so difficult at the time, even the good changes. I had just met Jeb and started our life together, I had started my new job, I finally got a new apartment with Erik, and I felt a little more stable, even stable enough to go off my anti-depressant medication. But, it still felt like I couldn’t go to church. I felt like they would know I was “damaged”. Anyone who goes to church may be thinking (we’re all damaged, that’s why we go to church). But, my brain told me it wouldn’t be good, so I steered clear. Obviously there’s no way they would’ve known unless I had told them, but I felt vulnerable.

Since that time, I’ve experienced a lot of healing from the trauma. People have loved on me a lot, and honestly, time helps a lot. Don’t get me wrong, I still wake up in the middle of the night sometimes, unable to breathe, having dreamed that I am being attacked again. I still get sick to my stomach when people discount or joke about survivors of assault or abuse.

Another thing that’s made me question my beliefs in God and a religious system is having my dad misdiagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I honestly wanted a miracle, I wanted to pray for him to be ok, I wanted God to step in. But I didn’t know if I was allowed to come back to that party just to ask for a favor. Did I? Yes. Did I believe that it would work? I’m not sure. Was I elated and relieved when we got a for-sure diagnosis that it wasn’t cancer? Absolutely. The rollercoaster of loss is a whole other ball of wax that I’m not really ready to dive into, but it definitely made me question things and wonder if, if I did ask for that favor, did I have to go back and start living that life because I had believed for long enough to ask?

I’m currently reading a book in which the characters are asked to answer an incredibly tough question in order to complete an important task. When answering honestly about if something will work or not, they dive deep and come up with the only answer that gets them through the task: “I don’t know.”

So, when you ask me if I’m religious or not, I’ll answer the only way I can.

I don’t know.