I grew up in a non-religious family. My mother and father both had bad experiences in the church, so faith was almost always kept at arms length. I was baptized in the Roman Catholic Church and from time to time we attended, but the church was never really a part of my life. When I reached high school, I was more aware of the wall of separation. My friends attended youth nights at their churches, lock-ins, and mission trips. There were days I felt left out, but mostly it did not bother me.
From time to time, my world and the world of the church would meet. I remember as a child going to Detroit and being in a glorious downtown Catholic church for a wedding. In my early teens, I spent the night at a friend’s house and went with him to church and then roller skating with the youth group the next day. My more religious relatives would occasionally give me a bible for a gift that I would thumb through and set aside. In my later teens, I attended Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Sapulpa with another friend sporadically. There was contact with faith and God, but never enough to get me through the door of the church on my own.
I did pray though. When my great-grandmother was dying, I prayed for her. When any number of tornadoes came by our house, I prayed. I prayed on the difficult days and gave thanks on some better ones. The most consistent spiritual practice was giving something up for Lent. My mother made us do that. For the better part of fifteen years before I started to regularly attend church and was on course towards ministry, I observed Lent. I gave up chocolate, soda, or ice cream. One year, I pledged to play outside more or even to be nice to my two younger brothers (needless to say I did not make it all the way to Easter). For the relatively non-religious, this was as close as we got to holy practices.
Looking back now, I see that as a beginning: prayer, observing Lent, an occasional visit to a church. Too often we look down upon the beginning stages of faith or the easy spiritual practices. “You should be doing more”, we say. We do a disservice to the entire life of faith and the entire journey of faith when we denigrate a part of it, particularly for those outside of the Christian faith or just starting. We are all in different places. Our faith is individual. Sometimes those spiritual practices lead to much more later on. Sometimes giving up chocolate for Lent leads to being a minister. I know it did for me.