You gotta have faith

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.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel


Anonymous said...

wow that post was really out of the blue. I've enjoyed reading your blog since I discovered it a month or two ago, because you post almost every day, you can punctuate and spell and don't overuse the exclamation mark, and write seriously about potentially frivolous topics. I was aware you're a Christian but admired that you didn't feel the need to witter on about it endlessly, and didn't try to corral your readership over to your church. This post has completely changed all that. I'm also slightly offended that, despite your religious awareness, you didn't seem to take my religion, Hinduism, seriously, but rather, lumped it in with Scientology, in a throwaway line. And you revealed yourself as a Tory! Aaahhh ... so disappointing for this reader.

Erica Bartle (nee Holburn) said...

Hi Melbourne reader,

Sorry to have disappointed you with this post. It's not often I post about my spiritual leanings, and I am putting myself on the line when I do so, but when I feel the urge, I don't like to hide from it. The intention of this blog, and this particular post, is certainly not to corral my readership but rather to share my experience. God knows I've been reluctant as anyone to fall victim to the pressure from Christians to conform.

I make apologies for the fact you took offense at my 'lumping' Hinduism in with Scientology - I was merely trying to convey the sheer volume of religious inclinations/options in a single sentence. I don't know a lot about Hinduism, but if you should have the inclination, I am always open to conversation.

With regards to my comment on economics, I am actually more left of centre than right but the recession we experienced after the last Labor government we had in power has left a sour taste in my mouth. At present, there is very little difference in the policies of the Labor and Liberl parties, anyway.

So much on the web is secret and anonymous - I don't like to pretend.


Unknown said...

Hey Erica,
What an excellent post. I really enjoy reading your blog and this post has to be one of my favourites. Very brave of you to write it, I found it inspiring.
Keep up the awesome work.
Bless you heaps,
Olivia x

AVD said...

Ahh, good old religion... you can always count on it to stir things up...

AVD said...

Ahh, good old religion... you can always count on it to stir things up!

frangipani princess said...

wow! It's so reassuring to know that you can be a well-known journalist and still have time for God. I'm a christian and loving every minute of it! Thanks for the great post,

Anonymous said...

Yeah i can understand you weren't intentionally bagging the other religions (esp Hinduism which is like the one of the OLDEST religions around hello?? not exactly scientology.......) but yeah maybe in this politically correct world its a bit hmm (posts like these)in your face? anyways i like your stuff on the mags i LOVE mags :D *another Hindu reader*

Anonymous said...

i agree with frangipani princess. this post has really encouraged me as a Christian, and reminded me that we really DO have a choice to stand up and stand out for Jesus in this fast paced world.

it is so important for us to always put God first in everything that we do, and you're a great example for that.

thanks for this post, erica! keep doing what you do. :)

Erica Bartle (nee Holburn) said...

Hi guys,

This post sure did stir up some emotions. Your comments, critical and supportive, have given me plenty of food for thought.

What started out as a post with the intention to get us thinking about the place spirituality plays in the lives of Gen Y, with my own journey as a subjective reference point, has become a sort of 'us' versus 'them' debate.

Religion and our beliefs are extremely personal but it's a shame to think intelligent women can't openly discuss their experiences, in a forum such as this. While I call myself a Christian, I am always keen to learn about other religions and the place faith plays in women's lives. Politial correctness aside, and the fact that about 60 per cent of Australians aren't aligned with any specific religion, we surely all believe in something?

Why is sex open for discussion, while religion (and your political preferences, apparently) so taboo?

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

Anonymous said...

Hi Erica, Melbourne reader back again,

Love your work - had a whole response written in my head but don't have time to get it down right now - but in essence, as you make in your last point, it's very admirable how open you are not just about your faith but your personality, etc, in this blog (particularly in such a voracious industry) and I'm glad you appear to be the sort of Christian I do admire - open and willing. What I mainly got upset over was that the post did read a little preachy, and I get offended when I feel people are trying to say they're morally and spiritually superior because their faith is stronger. I'm not saying this was your intention when you wrote it - this was just my interpretation. Anyway, it's your blog after all, you're free to write what you feel!

Erica Bartle (nee Holburn) said...

Hey Melbourne reader,

Sincere thanks for reading my responses to your comments and taking them into consideration. Feel free to email me with a longer response, time permitting, via I'm off on holidays this week but will endeavour to get back to you.

I do apologise if I cam across as preachy - certainly not my attention. I still get offended when Christians are preachy when talking to me (cue rolling of eyes)!

I admire anyone who has faith, not just Christians.

And I often feel vulnerable and crap because mine could be much stronger.


Anonymous said...

Hi Erica,
Your column unashamably conveys your faith and deep committment to Jesus Christ.

There is nothing more powerful than the written or spoken word. It is obvious that you are using this marvellous skill to make a difference in the lives of others.

Well done!