DEAR KELLY: My family isn’t religious. Recently a good friend of mine invited me to her church, and I went. The first time it seemed really weird and I felt a little uncomfortable. The next week she asked me to come again. I did without telling my family because they would have totally made fun of me, even though they like my friend and her family. No one pressured me to keep coming or to join their church. I now really like it, but I never tell my family what I’m doing. I actually just tell my parents I either have a study group, doing homework at Starbucks or that I’m hanging with friends. It feels weird because religion is all about honesty and truth and yet I’m lying to my parents. Does this seem wrong? I’m worried if I tell my parents they will get angry that I’ve been lying. I hate lying to them, and it bothers me but I don’t know what else to do.
This church isn’t weird or anything and everyone who goes there is normal. Plus, when I leave, I feel like I actually learned something and feel better about myself. It’s totally different than what I thought it would be or how it’s portrayed and I like going.
What do I do? Is it OK to keep going and just not tell my parents because they are church haters and will make rude comments every time I go? Should I tell them I’m becoming spiritual and avoid the word religious or that I want to learn about God in case I need to write about it on a paper in school someday? I need to know what to say.
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DEAR CK: Religion is a very personal choice. The topic seems to bring out strong emotions in people regardless of where they stand on it. I applaud you for being open-minded enough to join your friend and learn about her religion considering you had no history of religious background or upbringing. You did things your way and on your conditions, which is the best way to learn and grow. No one forced you and no one pressured you. Talk about stepping out of your box.
How great that you have found a place that you like where you learn and feel better about yourself after. Whether you are going to an organized church, hiking in nature, practicing kindness to others, sitting by a creek drawing or talking with friends who challenge and inspire you, finding a place that makes you feel better about yourself and the world around you is a great thing. Becoming spiritual can have many meanings and each person should have the right to figure out what works for them.
It’s obvious you are trying to cushion the landing if you come clean with your parents. While it probably seems easier to share some half-truths with your parents or maybe fudge on your real feelings, in the end your best bet is to just be honest with your parents and answer the questions or concerns they might express.
Go to your parents, not expecting them to embrace your feelings or welcome religion in their life but because you want to unload this off your conscience and stop pulling around the baggage you feel about not being honest with them. Tell them the truth. Your friend asked you to come to her church and you did. You connected with the words, the music, the people … whatever you feel is in your heart. Share with them that you were reluctant to tell them because you didn’t want them to be upset with you and apologize for not being truthful about where you were. Give them some concrete examples of what you feel you have learned either about yourself or others so they don’t think you are being brainwashed or pulled into something that is dangerous or potentially harmful.
Will they be mad? Very possible. Will you feel better after, even if they are angry with you? Probably because you won’t be carrying around the lies anymore. Remember that just as you hope your parents don’t judge or criticize you for your beliefs, practice the same withholding of judgment on them for how they feel or what makes them comfortable.
I know it’s a long shot but let them know that if they ever want to come with you just to see where you go, you would welcome and love the chance to include them, if only to learn more about where and why you choose to go. Or perhaps the church has outlines or bulletins that you can bring home to share so your parents know what you are learning or listening to when you go. Does the church have a website or online services your parents can view if they have doubts or feel uncomfortable with your desire to continue going?
Since they like the family of your friend who goes, maybe your parents will want to talk with them and learn more about the church, its purpose and its goals with its members. If your parents express doubt or fear, be understanding and patient with them. This process may be a slow one and you have to respect them during the journey.
Developing a sense of faith can be a very grounding thing. If finding your spirituality helps you move through life as a better human or more aware of how to treat others or appreciating the gifts and joys in the world, then you are ahead of the game.
Your parents are entitled to their beliefs as are you. They are not wrong for what they believe or feel and neither are you. If you work toward mutual respect or appreciation for how the other people feel, the acceptance might come much faster and with a full heart.