Losing Myself, My Faith, and Finding It Again – Alyse Bartol

Growing up in a small town of 5,000 people with views that were sometimes just as small, I felt out of place, but at home at the same time. I grew up with a strong Catholic background, so for most of my life, I knew who I was; I knew my faith. I didn’t have to think—I just “was”. I was what my church wanted me to be, I was what my family expected me to be,  and I liked that. It was comforting to know that as long as I didn’t change, nothing else would, either.

But, eventually, it did.  During high school, I began to ask questions about life—and when I got to the bottom of those questions, they all came down to faith. Why are we here? What is our purpose? Is life just a series of random occurrences, or is there a bigger meaning behind it all? I tried to turn to religion to answer these questions, but at the end of the day, the answer was always “just have faith”. How could my faith be genuine if all it was was a result of where I happened to be born and where I happened to live? Some of the religious ideas that I grew up with began to seem inhuman; they seemed to preach about judging people, instead of loving people the way they are. That was a big reason I decided to attend the University of Wisconsin Madison. I needed to expand my views—not just on religion, but on the world. 

However, instead of expanding my views and finding my “purpose”, I sometimes feel I’ve lost it.  While I’m growing more than I ever have, I also feel like I’m losing my old self. I’m starting to realize that in order to grow, I cannot also continue to hold onto everything else. I sometimes feel like everyone has their purpose figured out already: their faith, their future career, their relationships. I feel “stuck” right now between who I used to be and who I want to become. While they are the same person, there is a lot that needs to happen in between. 

My point is not to complain—I realize that many people in college feel this way—but rather to say that this “transition” phase should be encouraged, not shunned. If faith really is the most personal experience we can have, how can we just base our entire religion off of someone else’s experience- even if those people are who we are closest to in our lives? It’s not that I don’t want to believe- I just care about it so much that I want to make the right decision. 

So right now, I’m searching. I’m not sure what for, but I know it is for something real and loving. I won’t know until I find it, and that’s the hardest part. I look around and see my family and friends so sure of their religion, and it hurts, because I want to be there so bad, too. I would love to be sure of my faith- but until I explore those other ideas, I cannot be confident in my own. I just have to remind myself that while at times it is scary, it is not a bad thing to “search”. It’s more common than we might think.

If you, too, are searching for your faith, have no faith, or are fully confident in it, I would love to talk to you and meet you there- wherever that may be on your journey.

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