We used to make fun of holy water.
And then I had to go and ruin all the laughs. One Sunday spent at Mass, and suddenly, renewing baptismal promises wasn’t something I found humorous.
As I embraced my conversion to Catholicism, I began to practice new rituals. I went to Mass every week. I memorized prayers. I went out and bought a rosary and a Marian icon. I crossed myself. I downloaded Catholic apps. I wore a crucifix. I bought an enormous stack of books by Catholic authors.
I went from being anti-organized religion to poster girl convert.
I was zealous. My husband could appreciate my newfound fervor for the Mother Church, until he couldn’t. It became too much; my intensity started to wear holes in the comfortable places between us.
My husband wanted me to practice my faith. He really did. He just didn’t want it in his face all the time; the rituals, that is. Believe me, it was in his face. I did not ease into any of it.
During the time of my spiritual rebirth, he was of the Baptist variety. He owned a copy of Desiring God and an enormous study Bible. There was no holy water font in his church. Extemporaneous prayer was the norm. He was on the worship team, and was married to a woman who was a no-show at church 80% of the time; a no-show who would soon increase that percentage to 100% of the time. My unexpected Catholic wanderings weren’t exactly easy for him, but he gave me more grace than I gave him.
I was stingy with grace because I wanted to protect myself.
At least, that’s how I rationalized it.
Friends and family, on both sides, shared concerns about what an interfaith marriage would mean for our future. Some said encouraging things. Some did not. We, as a couple, had to make decisions about which voices were worth listening to and which were not. Throughout this pruning process, my husband was incredibly supportive of my faith and defended me, but that wasn’t enough to squelch all my insecurities. I still wondered if someday he might begin to reject my faith too.
I began to see Protestant things as a threat. I couldn’t stand seeing his Bible on the table. Any and all theology books by authors who depreciated the practices of Catholics or who called Catholics heretics were also the object of my disdain.
All my life, misinformation was stashed away in my mind about Catholics, particularly during my time spent in reformed churches. I’ll admit that much of what I remember hearing or reading was honest ignorance spreading more honest ignorance, but sometimes it was deliberate spite. Now that I had seen for myself what the Catholic Church was all about, I couldn’t reconcile the Protestant views I had heard growing up. If I couldn’t reconcile the views I was familiar with hearing, then I didn’t think I could reconcile having Protestant things within my line of vision.
I boxed up books and put them in the basement. And the fat study Bible? I slid it in a plastic container and pushed it under the bed.
It’s embarrassing to admit that I couldn’t stand to look at my husband’s Bible.
Instead of talking about it, instead of being honest and saying, “Look, seeing your study Bible over there intimidates me. I feel like you’re going to be doing word studies on everything that I say, and that you’ll begin to look at me differently. I’m afraid you’ll look at me differently because I believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and I pray the rosary. I’m afraid that if we ever have children you’ll tell them what I believe isn’t accurate. I’m worried that you won’t understand me anymore.”
It took several months for me to arrive in a place of humility and have the kind of conversation I wanted to have with him; to let him know that I wanted to practice my faith without feeling fearful of what it might do to our relationship. The study Bible stayed out of my sight long enough for me to recognize that it wasn’t just me that needed the freedom to explore new rituals. He needed the freedom to continue to practice his faith expression. How did I miss something so simple?
I missed the place of humility; I passed right by it because I was more concerned about tearing down arguments against Catholicism than I was about anything else. I forgot how to ask questions in effort to understand someone else, and in doing so, became caught up in speaking to be understood.
I lost my balance.
So how did I find it again? I found it little by little, fumbling and tripping along the way.
I stopped feeling like I had to defend my faith tradition to my husband. He wasn’t asking me to defend it. I was asking myself to defend it, and I needed to do some self-exploration to see what was at the root of that.
We’ve done some growing since our faith traditions began to diverge. Do I still get upset sometimes, and struggle with the desire to share the same faith rituals? Yes. But then I get a text message like this:
“I’m watching The Walking Dead right now, and I almost crossed myself when a character died. I think your Catholic is rubbing off on me.”
And I smile at this text message because, for me, it is an olive branch.
When my husband leaves my saint candles lit until I come home or when he doesn’t give a sideways glance to a shrine around a Marian icon, that’s an olive branch. When he points out our son’s baptism book, and tells him about the day he was baptized in the Catholic Church, that’s an olive branch. Peace is poured over conversations and silence in these little ways. When we ask one another questions for the sake of the question, not putting all our weight in answers, we move forward as companions in this messy spiritual journey.
Living in the questions instead of avoiding them, this is the way I strive to practice peace.
What about you? Have you ever felt defensive or insecure about your faith because it looks different? What olive branches have been extended to you? Please join me next Wednesday as the “When Faith Looks Different” series continues. Thanks for reading.