In the last post, I explained how lonely and afraid I felt in grad school. Afraid I wasn’t worthy of a satisfying relationship and afraid I wasn’t going to be able to take care of myself after graduating. I binge dated as a way to ease the loneliness and find someone to believe in me.
On one particularly lonely night, sick of scrolling through random profiles on OKCupid and Tinder, I prayed. This wasn’t unusual although I rarely felt like my prayers about loneliness went anywhere.
Afterwards, I didn’t pick up my Bible — a book I’d become increasingly frustrated with looking for answers. But I didn’t jump back on my phone either.
Instead, I picked up my copy of Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach, a Buddhist therapist. I opened to where I’d left off, and this was part of the next section:
Willa Cather tells us, ‘There is only one big thing—desire. And before it, when it is big, all is little.’ We can honor desire as a life force, but still see how it causes suffering when it takes over our life. Our natural hunger for food can become an ungovernable craving for food—ice cream, sweets, potato chips—comfort food or food to numb our feelings. Our longing for sex and affection can become an anguished dependency on another human being to define and please us. Our need for shelter and clothing can turn into insatiable greed, compelling us to possess three houses and closets full of unworn shoes. Our fundamental longing to belong and feel loved becomes an insistent craving for substitutes.
This hit home. I was searching for a substitute. A distraction.
Buddhism talks a lot about desire. Many think that the point of Buddhism is to end desire, and while I’m not expert, I don’t think that’s really the point. Instead, the point is to not let desire control you.
Pema Chodron talks about this as an act of letting go, otherwise known as nonattachment. She explains that nonattachment isn’t supposed to have “the cool, remote quality often associated with that word. This nonattachment has more kindness and more intimacy than that.”
You don’t get rid of your feelings. Instead, you approach them with kindness and curiosity. In this way, she also explains that loneliness isn’t a problem to be fixed.
What I learned from Tara Brach and others is that our desires are often tied to our belief in our own worth.
Compared to this, do I even need to get into the church’s toxic relationship with “desire?” Already covered that? Great. Moving on.
Growing up in the church, I was told over and over that my worth was found as a child of God.
Girls and women were told we were princesses of God, each uniquely special and worthy of the best things of life. But none of this gave me an inherent sense of self-respect or self-worth. I seemed to have no worth apart from God’s opinion of me.
And if everyone is uniquely worthy, then why was I special in any way that truly mattered? A worth that would help me stand out and find love and find a meaningful career.
In fact, the church taught me that I was inherently sinful and unworthy. I needed God to be complete: I wasn’t complete on my own.
Think about the parable of the prodigal son. No matter how far he strayed or what sins he committed, his father (God) still accepted and loved him. That’s where his worth was: that someone else (some God) still found him worthy of love.
Where Christian doctrine preaches that humans are inherently flawed and in need of a savior, in Buddhism, we are all born with a Buddha naturethat is perfect and good … we just forget. In Buddhism, the point is to reconnect with our basic goodness and reawaken to it.
It was through my exploration of Buddhism that I began to see a new vision of self-worth. First off, one based on my own innate worth and not that of God’s. One I choose to believe about myself.
Two summers ago, I took refuge — the first step in becoming a Buddhist. It felt like honoring that which the tradition had given me: a sense of self-worth.
But, here’s the thing. I’m not ready to give up on the Christian God.
That night when I was lonely and prayed, I still believe that the God I prayed to answered my prayers through Brach’s book.
What I want now is to save God from the church’s unhealthy views of worth and desire, just as many amazing queer, liberation, and feminist theologians and Christian leaders are trying to do. They’re all weeding through the two millennia of toxic theology that has done inexplicable damage and horror to so many. They’re finding a more healthy Christianity and believing that this damage was not what God intended.
To be honest, I just don’t know anymore. Maybe I’m not ready to give up because I so fervently want to believe in the God that spoke to Jesus and who seems so radically hungry for justice (something I don’t see as much of in Buddhist communities).
I also don’t know because I’ve prayed to a Christian God for over 30 years and have found comfort there. I’ve built a relationship and to abandon that relationship is terrifying.
I’m going to write more about this soon. But at the moment, I consider myself a Buddhist Christian.
My self-worth is based on Buddhist concepts, but my understanding of justice and purpose are both deeply rooted in Jesus’s Kingdom of God.
Read the next post in this series: Why I’m no longer a Christian.