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Being honest and sharing what you believe


Question & Answer

Q: By Susan

I am changing from beliefs I was taught all my young life as the daughter of a minister with Southern Baptist Church. Though I do think my Dad wanted to “step outside of the box” of traditional beliefs. Ever since being “missionaries “ to West Africa back in 80’s and 90’s and I returned back to US I haven’t been the same as far as my “traditional beliefs” go. I didn’t fit into any Baptist Church anymore. I have wrestled with this for 20 years. Didn’t think I could talk to anyone I knew fearing I would lose their friendship. I read most of Dr Spong’s book “Unbelievable “ and realized I identified with most of his thoughts and beliefs. But still how can I be honest and share what I believe with the people I grew up with? Don’t think they will speak to me again. And some are my family members. How do I share my new beliefs when discussions come up?

A: By Toni Reynolds

Dear Susan,

What a delicate and powerful question. I can empathize with you in some ways. My parents were raised Southern Baptist and I have found myself struggling with the same question as I continue to find myself more settled in a set of traditions that often feel like 180 degrees and half a plant away from Christianity. I have noticed in myself that I had to get clear about my motivation to share my beliefs with my family, and with others in general. I had to decide if I was more interested in being right, or being understood. Or, if I was more interested in changing their minds, to help them “evolve” like me, or, if I just truly longed to speak with them about a piece of my spiritual life that was enlivened for me at that time.

That clarity of intention matters greatly. People know when we’re engaging with them for ulterior motives, such as changing them or judging them. For matters like this, where it can feel like relationships are at stake, it is so important to move with certainty about why you’re sharing such a deeply intimate piece of information. In my own experience, when I offer my new thoughts as less of my own and more as other ideas that exist in the world, things have gone more smoothly. If I enter a conversation and take the posture of “I know this better” or some such, it has not gone well. This seems basic, but it’s a subtlety that changes the tone of a meaningful conversation. Know why you want to say what you want to say.

Another aspect that has mattered greatly for me is adjusting what I expect of my family. I wouldn’t go to Dunkin Donuts and expect to order a Big Mac. As we grow and change we have to continuously check in about what we need and where we’re able to get it. If talking theology and spirituality enlivens you, and you don’t feel safe sharing those truths about yourself with your family, it may help to find some place to share your spiritual truths. If that’s the case, it will be important to properly mourn what it means that you’re family can no longer offer that for you. It need not mean that you disengage with them, but that you become more careful with yourself about how and what you share with them.

We’re all on different journeys. Even that truth can be difficult to say in certain company. Still, when I can remind myself that everyone has the freedom to journey as they see fit, it helps me respect that mine may not be so well understood by others. So, when I find myself in conversations like the one you have in mind, I imagine finding a way to be “the curious one” in the conversation. Instead of answering their questions about what I believe, I often try and hear more from them about why they think and feel what they do. Are there things they believe that cause them to feel they’d be outcast if they said them out loud? Have they ever experienced something unexplainable? Something that doesn’t quite fit the traditional understanding of what’s possible or “allowed” by their faith tradition. Underneath the scripts and narratives they’ve memorized, are their differing thoughts, experiences that cause them to question. By centering my family in those conversations I have found that they share more similar feelings to me than I expected. And, I can leave the conversation with a better sense of the boundaries, what else actually can be talked about. A latent effect of this centering of their perspective every once in a while is that they have learned quite a bit about me, without my need to say anything specific. They have gathered enough information about my growth from my questions. Every once in a while they even surprise me with an intuitive read of where I’m located on a certain issue. It seems that we’re always learning about one another, even if it’s not explicit in a conversation.

Susan, another challenging reality may be that you aren’t able to share your beliefs with your family. That may be a territory that you explore with a different set of select people in your life, people who “get you” in a way that your family used to. It may be that you only suspend this type of sharing with family for a short while. Change is happening all the time, they may be the next person you know to read Unbelievable and want to talk to you about it. Until then, ask yourself some questions about how you can feel like yourself without exposing so much of yourself that you lose precious relationships. Every relationship goes through seasons, and has its own set of expiration dates and limitations. It is possible, and normal, for this to happen between you and your family.

I hope this was helpful in the midst of an uncomfortable aspect of human growth. I wish for you to find a way forward with your family that doesn’t jeopardize your emotional safety or integrity. There is definitely a way forward, I trust it will emerge smoothly

~ Toni Reynolds

About the Author
Minister Toni Anne Reynolds is committed to singing flesh onto the bones of the Christian tradition by incorporating recently found texts of the ancient world into liturgy, sermons, and poetry. Toni’s Christianity forms a holy trinity with the psychological medicine of Tibetan Buddhism and the eternal Life found in Yoruba traditions. Balanced in an eclectic faith and focused in theology, Toni’s ministry offers a unique perspective on life, theology, and spirituality.

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