Lauren ZadalisMay 28, 2021
photo by Karim Manjra on unsplash

I grew up at a Catholic grade school, went to a Catholic high school and now attend a Catholic college. For my whole life, Catholicism was a part of me I took for granted and never questioned. If I didn’t go to church on Sunday, God would be angry. If I forgot to say all my sins in confession, God might not forgive them. Everything was so cut and dry. There was no room for questioning my faith. I just accepted everything they told me and assumed that listening to what my teacher said was what faith was. This fake faith life I was living continued with me from grade school into high school.

At the start of my sophomore year, I was on cloud nine. I lived for my faith. I attended Mass every weekend, went to confession regularly and prayed after school with the Decade Darlings, a group that prays the dolor rosary each day with Sister Lucille, a Servant of Mary who lives next door to the school. I prayed every night and felt faith-filled. I went to Christian concerts and listened to K-LOVE, my favorite Catholic radio, every night before going to bed. I thought my faith was my identity. However, that all changed rapidly.

I just accepted everything they told me and assumed that listening to what my teacher said was what faith was.

The first week of October 2017 started off like every other week. I was an avid dancer, and Monday night dance class was the same old same old. But Tuesday night class was the best. My close dance friend Alex and I made up a dance to “Barbie Girl” and taught it to the class. We had the time of our life, laughing and dancing. “I’ll see you Thursday. Love ya!” were the last words I spoke to her. Wednesday, after dance, Alex got into a major car accident caused by a drunk driver and died at the scene. I had no idea until Thursday after school, when I received the horrible news through a dance friend. It was beyond belief.

At first, I was frozen. I panicked and ran into my room. I cried and cried and lost my mind in my bedroom. I had never been more angry and upset and shocked at once. It was beyond any emotion I’d ever felt before. My mom came up and saw the text and hugged me. I couldn’t control my emotions. I went to dance class that night, and it was the most painful thing I’ve ever done. Hardly any of the other dancers or teachers knew about what had happened. I walked into ballet class and I cried when I saw the empty spot at the barre next to me. I went home and bawled uncontrollably. I couldn’t believe what had happened. I was so unbelievably angry at God and myself for not getting the chance to talk to her the day before she died. It was by far one of the hardest things I had gone through in my life.

“I’ll see you Thursday. Love ya!” were the last words I spoke to her.

I was surrounded by love and support, but I could only focus on my anger toward God. I stopped going to Decade Darlings and Mass. I quit the worship choir at my school, pushed away my closest friends and completely isolated myself. I dropped out of dance for a while and ignored all my responsibilities. I didn’t pray for a long time, unless it was me blaming God for taking away such a good friend.

Not only was I struggling with Alex’s death, but that year my mom became ill. She had a rare advanced case of uveitis, which is an incurable autoimmune eye disease. My mom is the most faith-filled woman I know, so what I saw as God punishing her with this awful disease damaged my relationship with God even more. She was taking lots of medical steroids, going through chemotherapy and slowly losing her eyesight in the process. It was a lot to process all at once. How could I sing in worship choir the words “Our God is an awesome God/ He reigns from heaven above/ With wisdom, power, and love/ Our God is an awesome God!” when all I felt was bitterness towards God? I walked around furious all the time.

How could I sing in worship choir “Our God is an awesome God" when all I felt was bitterness towards God?

At the beginning of my senior year, my mom’s eyesight loss miraculously started to stabilize. After two years of struggling to find any sort of belief in God, I found a reason to try again. I began to realize that, along with two difficult situations I had faced, God had given me so many blessings. I realized I was focusing on the less-than-perfect circumstances rather than making the best out of situations.

I became extremely close with my parents and brother and now appreciate them more than ever. I rebuilt relationships with the friends I pushed away the past two years. I stopped attending Decade Darlings every day, but I did start to attend church more regularly with my family. I started singing in the worship choir again that year. I even sang a solo and actually believed in what I was saying.

I started to cry in prayer. It was such a unique experience to fix the bond with God that I lost.

One day I gathered the courage to pray by myself. I hadn’t prayed since Alex’s accident in 2017, except to tell God how angry I was with him, or in classes where everyone had to pray. When I started to pray, I started to cry. There were so many emotions that overcame me. It was such a unique experience to fix the bond with God that I lost. I was not as close to God as I thought I once was, but my new relationship with him had become more real than ever before.

 

Without these two difficult times, I would have never realized how rote my relationship with God was. My faith was no longer forced. I no longer simply accepted what others told me about God. I owned my faith. I created my own relationship with God, and it felt good. I never realized how much bitterness was stacked up inside my heart until I finally let it go and I could breathe.

I miss Alex every day, but instead of crying, I lift her up in my prayers, knowing she’s up in heaven watching over me. I am beyond blessed to have my mom and her eyesight in my life, watching me thrive. My faith life is my own and I understand who my God is—loving, forgiving and merciful.

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