Honorable mention — College essay contest: Maya Givens

Conditional love

Maya Givens

By Maya Givens

The beginning of summer meant two weeks at my grandparent’s house. These two weeks were spent attending vacation bible school on weekdays and Sunday church service. Each Sunday, I had to sit absolutely still through an 8-hour service held in an un-airconditioned brick church filled with the heat of the El Paso sun. Vacation bible school was another 8-10 hours a day in the same conditions, being forced to recite bible verses while wearing my uncomfortable Sunday best. For a child, it felt like torture. By age 10, I was set to be baptized in the coming year. My grandparents were extremely excited, and my father so proud that I was accepting Jesus as my lord and savior, but I wasn’t. Everything I did was for them, not God. Their love was conditional upon my love for God, a concept I did not and still cannot comprehend.

Over the next few years, I slowly separated myself from my family’s religion. I pretended to be sick on Sundays, planned for summer camps instead of vacation bible school, even hid in closets during services I couldn’t avoid.

Surrounding me were violations of the 10 Commandments: my parents divorced, a grandfather (a pastor) had a child out of wedlock, a family member committed adultery, another was obsessed with material possessions. My life was consumed by sin — how could I possibly be a Christian? I had too many questions and my knowledge of the bible, which once made my family proud, became my greatest weapon against them. I began asking them to explain things that they simply couldn’t. Their only explanation was everything is “God’s plan” but could never explain what that meant.

As I grew older and experienced more of life I was exposed to tragedies around the world. It’s been said a million times and continues rings true: How could a god let people suffer as they do?

I couldn’t stand to continue supporting something I didn’t believe in. Christianity began to resonate hate for me and I needed to separate myself. When I told my father I was agnostic, he told me I wasn’t his daughter. He looked at me with disgust. In his mind, he had sentenced me to hell. For a long time, I was closed off from his love. Because of this, I will never tell my grandparents about my agnosticism. I love them too much to lose them over a spiritual disagreement, so I’ll play the part to keep their love. When I told my mother, she was more receptive and eventually after many conversations and years she, too, became agnostic. My mother was always a freethinker, but religion was routine. It was refreshing to be understood and speak to someone who experienced a similar revelation.

Being able to develop a perspective unbound by the rules of Christianity was like a rebirth, I felt I was finally discovering who I actually was. I began to explore other religions and understand other cultural approaches to life. However, while I understand its foundations, my distaste for Christianity will always be rooted in the conditional support I was shown. The more I experienced life, the more I found better ways to live without religious confinement. I found people to love and people who also returned love. I now conclude that love is meant for everyone, not just children of Christ. Without fear, regret, or shame exploited by Christianity, I can experience and share love beyond the scope of what my family demonstrated. The release I experienced after becoming agnostic feels limitless. The love I have for those I encounter has made my world a better place and has made me a better person.

Maya, 20, is from Tampa, Fla., and attends the University of South Florida, where she is majoring in biomedical sciences. “I’m a military dependent, so I’ve spent most of my life traveling the world and gaining valuable cultural experiences,” she writes. “This largely influenced my perspective on the world and the ability to appreciate the human experience from different perspectives.”