My mum and dad gave me everything a little girl could want – ballet lessons, a swimming pool, a Cabbage Patch Doll named Sally-Anne and a private school education (which I later rubbed their noses in by opting to attend a public school in my final two years of school). They had typically Baby Boomer values: working hard = financial security = happy. Then there was the 'recession we had to have' of '91/92 when those values were put to the test. A resultant job loss and subsequent divorce left me floundering – instability was the new stability.
Like many children of divorce, I became a sleuth of sorts, hanging onto any soundbites of information about what the heck was going on around me for dear life, piecing together the puzzle bit by bit and asking few questions. I'm not sure who or what I turned to for strength at that time (when you're 10, alcohol as a coping mechanism isn't an option), but I'm sure it was inside me. Or perhaps that's when I started to bury my head in books and magazines...?
Anyway, for all their caring and good deeds, the one thing my parents didn't give me was a solid spiritual framework from which to negotiate life's ups and downs – a relationship with God I could rely on when the going got tough. How are you to deal with the tough stuff when all you know is My Little Ponies and pool parties?
Sure, I went to Catholic schools, at mum's insistence (she be a Catholic, dad is Protestant), but I wasn't interested in the requisite religious studies (that was the time to scribble notes about boys to friends). Watching The Brides of Christ in year 10 probably had more influence on my perception of church and religion than any 40-minute tutorial by a teacher (a teacher whose sexuality my friends and I questioned, mind you). I did consider, for about five minutes, becoming a nun (laugh at will, dear friends).
We went to church, like many families, on religious holidays, like Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Christmas Day, but, even then, after The Divorce things got confusing (so, 'cause the Catholic church doesn't condone divorce, my mum's, like, excommunicated?), so we only ever attended church if a wedding was involved. I came to miss attending church, reflecting on that part of my life when my grandmother passed away in '97, but it didn't seem to be the done thing.
In Year 11, I decided I was a Pantheist after reading the work of poet Samuel Coleridge in English and going all surfer-girl (cue bleach blonde hair and tan). That was the last time I thought much about my 'religion', prior to meeting Husband. My university experience taught me to question everything from political parties, to the role of the media (4th estate and all that jazz), to the sacred canon of English texts, but not my faith. Not the big picture.
And so, like so many Gen-Yers, I found myself, in my early 20s floundering. I was searching for something deeper than a new lap-top, job promotion or boyfriend. I'd found some quietness within myself, after going through a phase of major anxiety and why-am-I-so-miserable, and I was confident and loving my work (oh, so important – as an aside, I watched a documentary on Grace Kelly yesterday: the poor woman lost it, joining some weird religious sect in Monaco in her later years, after the Palace forbade her to pursue her acting career – work be giving us purpose, people). But I needed a code to live by. A way to achieve deeper happiness and to feel connected to something bigger than the world.
Along came Husband. We argued for HOURS on end about his faith and my lack thereof. I was rational, smart and worldly... he was a Jesus freak. I was not easily won over, no no. He was handsome and all, but I was a critically thinking journalist, damnit. Over time, I came to see how his faith added a depth to his life that no amount of spending, accumulating, achieving or idolising could bring to mine. His family are devoted Christians of the Baptist church; he's non-denominational – a kind of on-the-road evangelical (he be riding motorbikes 50 feet into the air to show young kiddies how much fun you can have without drugs and alcohol). I didn't get a lot of the Christian jargon that was spoken at his church or within his family (it still gives me the irrits), but I could see what I was missing out on – deeper, meaningful, purposeful living. The stuff that could sustain you right into old age, should you so choose. Stuff that could strengthen you through divorce, financial struggles, illness and grief. This Jesus guy, right, makes Oprah, for all her wisdom, generosity, spiritual awareness and smarts, look amateurish.
These days kids look everywhere for a spiritual fix – it's like popping into Starbucks for a coffee, there are so many choices on offer. Buddhism, Hinduism, Scientology, meditation, yoga retreats, self-help books of every spiritual leaning... it's a veritable spiritual smorgasbord. But we're bored easily and skeptical. We'll try anything once. To cater to this restlessness, the craving for the new, for a quick spiritual fix, the Christian faith has a range of opportunities for interaction outside your standard Sunday mass – cafe churches, Bible study groups, one-on-one mentoring, Christian surfers, Christian radio, Christian TV, conferences, concerts, workshops, spiritual websites and blogs... pick and mix to suit your lifestyle. And next year, Christianity is coming to us [um, Sydney] in a big way via World Youth Day.
As a busy career gal, with work, friend, family, travel and new marriage commitments, I need to build flexibility into my faith interaction (though my faith itself is a stabilising force). I can't always make it to church, though I really enjoy going (mine is a relatively small, non-Hillsong-like establishment with a young night service crowd). Thankfully, the Bible is portable – I carry a small one in my handbag at all times for inspiration, consultation and guidance. I listen to sermons on Sydney Christian Radio and spend time sharing my experiences and grievances with those of similar spiritual leanings. And I pray. Every day.
Where does this leave me? I'm on a journey. My boomer parents aren't on the same one, though I think that, as they grow older, they'll begin to question why they've been so reticent to act on the spiritual hunger they hold within. I'm still enamoured by material things and am tempted by all the exciting/fleeting things the world has to offer (hello, magazine addict!), but I'm not content to just have nice clothes, a cool car and a whopping mortgage. Especially if a Labor government sends us into recession within the next 10 years... or the world is doomed 'cause we were too slow to react on global warming. While much is out of our control, what we choose to believe is definitely within our grasp.
Girl With a Satchel