Seven years ago, I started going to church. I remember asking myself what the hell I was doing as I walked to my first bible study. Religion was never something that I found attractive. I didn’t consider myself the type of person who needed to find strength in a higher power. Certainly, I could never be one of those Campus Crusaders for Christ, who went around asking unsuspecting students trying to enjoy their lunch in peace whether they’ve ever thought about Heaven and Existence. I did not go to church because I was persuaded by some well-meaning, starry-eyed evangelist. I’m going to be really honest here: I went to church because I was trying to get over a guy.

Seven years ago, I met a someone who I only knew for three days. I don’t know what it was about him that I found so intriguing. He spoke of his faith with a passion that I found charming. Charming, probably because I was flattered by his attention. And because our interaction was so fleeting that it made the connection I felt all the more dramatic and intoxicating. So when he said that knew I could believe, that I was meant to believe, I drank up every word. It really doesn’t take too much to captivate the mind of a twenty year old girl.

I went to church because I wanted to understand his passion. I wanted to understand the person who claimed to understand me. So I learned to speak the words and to act the part of the Christian girl he saw that I could be. It’s such a foolish thing to do, isn’t it? But I’m not the first young and naive girl to put some guy on a pedestal.

It’s taken me a long time to realize that I’ve let someone else define me. Not him, really. But the version of him that I’ve built up in my mind. An imaginary person whose approval that I inexplicably sought. I’m not mad and I’m not bitter. Because even though I ventured into the faith for all the wrong reasons, I have found in myself, a genuine, deep-seated desire to believe.

red wine chocolate cake

I have not gone to church for a long time. Nor do I plan on going back anytime soon. Not because I’m reacting out of spite or anger. Not because I finally came to my senses. Rather, I left because I’m trying to extract the part of my faith that is my own. I can’t say that I believe everything in the bible. That is an intellectual struggle that I suspect I will always face. But I can also never say that I don’t believe in God.

Some people probably think that I’ve fallen from the faith. Fallen, as if failed to live up to some standard or arrived disappointingly short of some ideal. But I don’t think that I want to know God any less. If anything, I want to know more. I just know that I don’t want to claim that I believe in Him because I think it’s the right thing to say.

Others might say that I’ve wasted the last seven years of my life. That is absolutely not true; it is anything but. I’ve had the good fortune to meet people in church whose faith astounds me. They have shown me that faith isn’t a product of weak-minded people desperately trying to find an escape for their fears. These are people whose struggle for belief is a reflection of tremendous courage and strength. And it has shown me how the desire to know God can be a beautiful expression of humanity.

Last night, a friend asked me how I pray to God. Yes, I still pray. I used to fret over the right words and phrases to say during group prayers. Prayers like that were always such self-conscious and forced ordeals. But I’ve found that my favorite way to reach out to God doesn’t involve any words. I simply close my eyes and imagine myself standing in front of the ocean under a star-filled sky. There are no resounding pleas or desperate cries; there is only the weight of what I am feeling in that moment, matched only by the weight of existence that so profoundly surrounds me. And in this wordless prayer, I am not asking for words in return. Only that I am not alone as all these feelings pour out.

Smitten Kitchen’s Red Wine Chocolate Cake

I’ve posted about this cake before, but it’s worth posting again. It’s the cake I dream about as I slog through a tough week. And there has been many tough days lately. It doesn’t take too much to cheer me up. Just the aroma of red wine, creamy mascarpone frosting, and some Margaret Atwood.