TO CELEBRATE THE OCTOBER RELEASE OF MY BOOK THRASHING ABOUT WITH GOD, AND TO EXPAND THE CONVERSATION BEYOND MYSELF, I HAVE ASKED 31 BRAVE PEOPLE TO SHARE A GUEST POST WITH THE THEME OF #IAMTHRASHING. THESE ARE PEOPLE I HAVE PERSONALLY DIALOGUED WITH, PEOPLE WHO I KNOW HAVE RISKED A LOT TO WRESTLE WITH THE HARD STUFF THAT COMES WITH SPIRITUALITY. OUR FAITH MAY NOT LOOK LIKE YOURS, BUT WE WELCOME YOU TO THE DISCUSSION.
Religion, and more specifically Christianity, have been ingrained in my mind and soul since a very young age. I am thankful for the family that I was born into and I am thankful for the communities that they raised me in, but up until the past six to seven years I had a very narrow way of thinking that was not conducive to my current path. Growing up in a conservative church, I was taught early on that Christianity and the Bible are not to be questioned. I also got a sense from a young age that women were not meant to be leaders in the church or even society. Through most of high school and part of college, I felt that the best thing I could ever do for myself or my God was to attend church multiple times a week and to tell others what they needed to do to be “saved.”
My freshman year of college, I was enrolled in Biblical Literature. It was the first time in my life that I was encouraged to question the fallibility of the Bible. With this questioning of biblical events also came questions about the interpretations I grew up listening to in church and that I took away as truth. By exploring difficult questions about the Bible and many of the stories in it, I came to understand the book as a beautiful collection of stories and teachings written by people who were inspired by God, yet normal like me. It rattled my world when I learned that certain books of the Bible had been removed and when I read parts of Thomas for the first time. I began to deal with guilt and frustration each time I questioned the belief system of my upbringing. I felt ashamed that I could no longer go to my home church and take everything the pastor said as fact. It bothered me that I was no longer sure about the bubble of Christianity that I had been living in.
I met the man who is now my husband at this same time. Early on in our relationship he welcomed my questions and challenged me when I was not asking them. We married young and had a great deal of growing up to do together. When I was 21, we moved to China for 18 months. This was the greatest challenge of my life. Even though the questions had began in college, I still had a pretty limited view of life and of people. I still felt that it was my responsibility to evangelize and to lead people to become saved. I still believed that there was only one path to God and that there was no salvation outside of Christianity.
The people that we spent time with on a daily basis gave themselves a variety of religious titles that ranged from atheist to agnostic to universalist. I believed that if they did not have the title of Christian that they must be unhappy and that they were absolutely doomed. It was still important for me to spend time with them so that I could influence them and help change them, but I was certain that their path was wrong.
Over the course of 18 months, I began to recognize that they each held their own truths and that they were really good people. I learned about their own questioning and battles with religion. The conviction of changing them became less and less and the desire to be in community and to build relationships with them became stronger. Not only did my understanding of this community change, but my understanding of other religions began to change.
My husband and I would travel to S.E. Asia every opportunity we got. The first time that we went into a Buddhist monastery it was transformational. I witnessed love, community, compassion, peace, awareness, and sacrifice- the same things that I read in the teachings of Jesus Christ. I had a newfound reverence and appreciation for someone devoting themselves to a life of simplicity and service. I became emotional when I understood the meaning behind the morning ritual of almsgiving. It felt as though my eyes had been closed and suddenly they were opened to a new world where evangelizing was not the mission, but extending and capturing love were.
We have been back in Oklahoma for four years and my ideas are constantly evolving. It would be a stretch to say that I am completely comfortable and at ease with what I believe, but I am learning to be more open to new ideas and to change in my personal and spiritual way of thinking. I was asked a couple of weeks ago in a questions game if I could sum up my religious way of thinking from in the past to what it is now. What I came up with is that I used to think that God was only in church (specifically Christian churches) and now I believe that God is love. I believe that when I see love in someone else it is God that I am seeing. When love is extended to me that is God’s presence on earth. The love that I share with others is the God that is present in me. God is love.
There are weeks that the time on my yoga mat is more spiritual than the time I spend in church. There are moments that I learn more about love from a rap song (Same Love- Macklemore) than I do from pastors in our community. There are days that I shudder when labeling myself as a Christian because of the confinement accompanying the title. There are days I fight my spirituality and there are days that I cling to it. The only constant that I can seem to settle on is that in loving others I move closer to God and in fearing others I move closer to hell on earth. My mission in life is no longer to change others, but to be in community with others. My view of God is no longer a man sitting in the sky, rather God is in everyone I encounter. My new perspective regarding my spirituality still feels a bit foreign, but foreign and challenging is a welcome change from comforting and complacent. I no longer want to be comfortable blindly making claims, I want experiences and life to develop and shift my views. I want to struggle and question and fight and cry and be alive and present with my spiritual ideas.
Betina Wills is a certified yoga and Barre3 instructor in Oklahoma City. Teaching flows naturally from her background in education as well as her desire to lead others in living a healthy and active lifestyle. Betina was originally drawn to yoga because of the physical challenges and balance that were required in an asana practice. She now has a deep love for the peace, humility, emotional stability and spirituality that yoga brings. Betina is grateful to share her passion and energy for movement, music, health and balance in a community that she loves. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, eating, traveling, running, cycling and spending time with her husband, family and friends.