Losing my Religion.

I was brought up in a Christian household, attending church most Sunday’s and participating in various Bible study groups as I grew up. My faith was an integral part of my identity, but beyond this I don’t think I ever gave much serious thought to my beliefs until I was given cause to doubt them, that cause being viral meningitis.

Contracting meningitis was sudden and unexpected, leaving my future shrouded in uncertainty as I struggled to deal with the new set of circumstances I found myself in. When my friends from church found out about my plight I was flooded with well-intentioned pieces of advice and encouragement, by far the most common being that God had done this for a purpose. What I couldn’t figure out was what exactly this purpose was.

I considered myself to be a good person; I went to church and prayed and read the Bible, I didn’t commit crimes, and on the whole I obeyed my parents and teachers. If I wasn’t being punished, what was I supposed to learn from this experience? The only thing I seemed to be learning was that people are unreliable and reluctant to shoulder anyone else’s burdens, and that didn’t seem to me to be a very Godly lesson. My faith was undeniably shaken but not completely destroyed.

As time passed and I felt better I tried to reconnect with God in the hope of having my questions answered. It soon became clear that all was not well; so began the process of being diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and during that time I would pray every evening before bed, unloading my burdens onto someone else, giving me the relief and peace of mind I needed to sleep.

After about a year of chronic fatigue syndrome people at church started praying for my healing. At first this seemed like a nice gesture but I soon became disenchanted with the idea as my faith and even my willingness to get well were repeatedly called into question. The prayers no longer seemed to be offered out of concern for me; I felt as though my healing were the prize in a competition, the winner being whoever prayed for me last before my sudden and glorious recovery. Eventually I simply stopped going to church, just keeping in touch with those who were my genuine friends.

It was around this time that I realised my evening prayers were little more than a comfort blanket, a ruse if you will, that would keep me calm and allow me to sleep. With this gone I turned to scripture, but where once I had seen encouragement and enlightenment I now saw intolerance and exclusion. The harder I fought to keep my faith, the further it slipped from my grasp.

The final nail in the coffin for my beliefs was coming to terms with my sexuality, something I had vehemently denied myself all my life up to that point. Once I realised that my identity was being jeopardised by something that had already caused me so much pain, I let go altogether.

In all honesty I expected to be relieved; I was free of something that had held me back and diminished my self-worth ever since I had been given reason to turn against it. What actually happened was I felt that a huge part of my identity had been pulled away.

Even worse was the immense guilt I felt; a short while before when my faith was still relatively strong I had become someone’s godmother, and the thought of breaking my promise to the parents and the child was utterly soul destroying. Now I realise that I made a promise to help raise the child and teach him what I knew of Christianity, and whatever my beliefs that is something I still can and will do. If one day he asks me about my personal faith I will have to be honest and I only hope that he will not think of me as a liar. Perhaps I will even show him this little piece of writing to help explain my choices.

Up to this point I have never breathed a word of this to my godson’s family, nor even to my own family. However I can’t help but feel that being honest about my faith is the right thing to do, and I know that I can explain myself far more eloquently in written form than in a spoken conversation.

Deities, not Doctors.

One of the most difficult things to deal with as a sufferer of a chronic illness is actually something that is meant with the best of intentions, that is, prayer for healing.

I understand why people pray; it is something of a comfort blanket to submit all your problems to another being who can take care of them for you, in the same way a small child is comforted by a gentle hug from a parent or friend after grazing their knees during a fall. However, prayer doesn’t have the same appeal for others; it makes them feel awkward and uncomfortable, and I am one of these people.

Most people imagine that prayer for healing only occurs within religious groups of people, but this is not true. While the majority of such prayers have occurred within churches and related meeting groups in my case, I have had a significant number occur completely unprompted in situations that wouldn’t naturally lend themselves to deities. I have even had a total stranger approach me and ask to pray for my healing while waiting outside the theatre for the doors to open before a show.

Whenever someone prays for my healing in my presence, and I don’t immediately leap out of my wheelchair and perform a series of cartwheels, I invariably receive one of two reactions. The first is to blame me for lacking the faith God requires to be able to heal me, which only ever served to push me further away from God, and to distance me from organised religion. The second is to say that God has a plan for me, of which disability is a part, as if that would be enough to stop the pain. Some would even argue that this blog is part of God’s plan; it’s true that I wouldn’t be writing this was I not disabled, but that implies that the decision to try and make a difference to the treatment of disabled people is not my own, and I find that degrading. To be able to deem my efforts virtuous, they need to be the work of my own hands.

I have no issue with people praying for healing, and their kind-hearted and well-meaning sentiments are much appreciated. I simply wish that people would pray for my healing on their own, and would keep their thoughts about why I was not healed to themselves, or that they would let me ask for prayers for healing when I felt ready for them. It is not that I do not want to be healed; I simply wish to have the time and energy to prepare for such a life-changing event.

All disabled people will have very different feelings and experiences concerning healing and prayer, and I am sure that some will completely disagree with me. However, it may be worth asking how someone feels about the subject before immediately jumping into miracle mode, to save the discomfort and embarrassment of everyone involved.