This post was originally published on the McGill Christians Blog.
By Desiree D’Souza
The term religious young person has almost become an oxymoron. Surely one can’t be young, intelligent, fun, and dare I say liberal, and still believe in God? Or at least that’s what it seems like outside of my Christian circles. When I tell people I’m Catholic, they usually assume that it’s more of a cultural remnant, something I was forced to identify with when I was younger and still feel the need to associate with today. I guess that’s the only way they can make sense of why I’m out dancing on a Saturday night instead of praying the rosary ten times and actively protesting the secularization of the state. I feel like people only have one idea of what a “religious person” is, and that is militant, aggressive and in their eyes, a little strange. However, sometimes among my Christian friends it’s not much better. The rest of the world, especially the social scene outside our group, can be made out to seem like a degenerate zone full of loose morals and a lack of conscience. Why would anyone want to hang out in those places? What does “beach day everyday” even mean? (full disclosure- I LOVE beach day) I have struggled with fitting in with these different groups of people and dealing with these negative stereotypes.
I only started to identify with my faith about halfway through university, after returning from World Youth Day in Brazil. Although I was excited about this new journey of faith in my life, I found that I wasn’t being genuine, and this was hard for me. I’d play down my religious side when I was around some friends and then play down the more social side of myself around people from church. As someone who is aggressively extroverted, I didn’t want to be an outsider, but I also didn’t like how I wasn’t truly being myself around anyone.
My saving grace came in the form of people, who like me, believed in God and wanted to learn more about our faith, but were also extremely socially compatible. These people helped me realize that I should stop trying so hard to fit in, and that it was okay, and perfectly normal, to like both of these aspects of life. Being religious is not incompatible with being social. They also gave me the courage to be my authentic self around others. I began to feel comfortable sharing my beliefs with people outside of Church, and also felt comfortable asking questions about parts of my faith that I struggled with, or disagreeing with something without feeling like I was no longer welcome at Church. Being myself also helped me relate to so many people, and I got to know people I previously wouldn’t have thought I’d get along with. I saw my friend circle grow and my relationships with people go from 0-100 on the friendship scale in a matter of weeks. I felt truly happy, appreciated, and loved, and can confidently say that these past few years have been the best of my life, because I’ve been completely myself.
I recently graduated from McGill and I’ll be leaving Montreal at the end of the summer. Although I am excited for my next adventure, I’ll be sad to leave this beautiful city, but most importantly my group of friends, both religious and secular. I’ve already said my goodbyes to a few of them, and it’s been nothing short of heartbreaking. When you find people who completely understand you, it’s hard to accept that your whole life and social circles now have to change. I’m afraid that my balance will tip and that either my social side or religious side will get played down when meeting new people and starting this next step of my life. However thanks to my friends, my prayers, and this amazing fruitful year, I have the courage for that not to happen. I know I can be completely and fully myself, a witness of my faith to others, and a social butterfly, and still fit in with both groups.
So, if you are a young religious person feeling like you’re selling part of yourself short to fit in, whether that is toning down your faith or pretending you’ve never been to Korova, know that you CAN truly be yourself. The people that matter will accept you, respect you, and love you, probably even more than before, because they are finally getting to know the real you. God made you as you are, and that is a beautiful, worthy person deserving of love. Never forget that, and keep smiling.