I remember it clearly - watching a reel-to-reel movie in Sister Patricia's second grade class. Although I don't remember why the girl in the movie was crying, I do remember the affect it had on me. My heart was gripped by the fact that I wanted to know God more.
The church was close to our home and I liked to hangout there, hoping to find God. One of the priests found it so odd, he phoned my Mom to let her know I couldn't be there everyday. Guess I looked a bit like a 7 yr. old hoodlum with my pigtails and missing teeth.
In the eighteen years I grew up in Catholicism, no one ever taught me the deep spiritual truths of knowing God. All I knew was to attend mass, say my prayers, and take communion. And I did - until I visited a "non-denominational" church and felt God's presence for the first time. I was wrecked - in a good & bad way. Not only did I find what I had been looking for, I also became judgmental towards the Catholic religion. They had let me down.
Then, about ten years ago I started reading about the Catholic mystics of old with their visions and spiritual manifestations. Their passion and commitment to the Lord stirred me. Why hadn't I ever been taught this in Catholic school? I reasoned within myself that it had to be because Catholics themselves either didn't believe it, or they thought the days of mystics were long gone. Since I personally knew many people who were experiencing God's presence in very tangible ways, myself included, I again formed a judgment - Catholics must be much, much different from the way they were in the days of the mystics. They must have lost their hunger.
Very recently, I was doing research on Catholicism for one of my novels. I watched a show called, The Sisterhood, Becoming Nuns and I was blown away! This was not what I expected. These young women wanted to become nuns because of their passion for the Lord & their desire to place Him first in their lives.
They spoke of encounters with the Lord, having visions, etc. It was the kind of "talk" that I was used to, but because I had never heard it as a young Catholic, I didn't think it was normal for Catholics. Sister Beth Ann, one of the "head nuns" in the show, was my favorite! The way she spoke about the Lord with such passion and zeal, blew me away. If I had met her when I was younger, I probably would have become a nun. This woman spoke my language! One of the girls, Christie, spoke of seeing Jesus and laid flat on her face in adoration. What? Since when did Catholics do that?!
Hey, they are just as passionate about God as I am.
And that's when God started speaking about the way I have wrongfully judged religion. You see, I have been a radical, Jesus loving Christian for about 27 years. My entire life is centered around loving Him. And because it wasn't the Catholics, Pentecostals, or Baptists that taught me about intimacy with Jesus, I decided they must not really understand it the way "we" do.
Then the Lord reminded me of a time we ministered in a Pentecostal church - suffice it to say that I was critical of a few things - until that service ended with a time of literal miracles. I left repenting. Good thing, huh? Yikes!
Being confronted by my own lack of love, as opposed to God's great love, was very humbling. Being focused on what I saw on the outside, kept me from seeing the heart behind it. Sure, every religion (mine included) probably has a few things that are practiced in error, but God doesn't turn His nose up at it. He loves with pure, unashamed fervor. He reminded me that the whole reason people join religions is because they're hungry to fill a spiritual void - they are hungry for God. If God doesn't turn His back when people make a mess out of the simplicity of Christianity, why was I turning mine? I'm obviously not perfect so why should I expect anyone else to be?
He even went so far as to remind me that many who practice false religions (worshiping things other than God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit), started out with a zeal for truth - a void in their spirit that unfortunately led them to someone who could only offer them what they knew.
To say my heart has changed is an understatement. I used to form opinions about people based on the way they worshipped, prayed, etc. Now I look past the actions and try to view their heart from God's perspective. I do my best to love and honor; not because they are right or wrong, but because God is looking much closer and I should too. It's not about trying to change people's minds or way of doing things - it's about loving them because God does. It's about finding out where we are alike in our passion for the Lord and allowing that to be a foundation we can agree upon.
What religion did you grow-up in? How has that influenced your relationship with God and others? I'd love to hear from you!