Learning to say “nope”

Quick note: this isn’t the same grandma from my earlier post. This grandma is from my Dad’s side. Grandmas everywhere!

When we were kids, my brother and I had a weekly routine. Rather, it was our parents’ routine: they’d drop us off at our grandparents’ house every Saturday evening, where we’d have some Grandma & Grandpa time, stay the night, and go to church with them on Sunday morning. More accurately, they would go to church and we would go to Sunday School. Afterwards, my brother and I would walk home and enjoy the rest of our weekend. It worked out well — our parents would get Saturday nights off from the kids, and our grandparents would get some time with us. (Our parents were what we’d call “spiritual but not religious” today, and definitely not the go-to-church types.)

This was the weekly routine for years, until one morning when I was 10 or 11. I woke up and just didn’t feel like going to Sunday School. The thought of getting dressed up and sitting in the church basement doing Bible-centered “activities” was suddenly the last thing in the world I wanted to do. So I informed my grandma that I was just going to hang out and wait for them to get back from church. And boy, she was not pleased with this development.

My grandma Louise (or Grandma Weeze as we kids called her) never showed anger or frustration, at least not around us. She was model of even-temperedness and gentle/firm discipline when we grandkids needed it. The only time I ever saw anything like anger from her was that time she dropped a container of spaghetti sauce on the kitchen floor and shouted “Well, DAMN IT ALL anyhow!” I was maybe 6 or 7 and truly scandalized.

That morning when I told her I wasn’t going to Sunday School, she was aghast. She and my grandpa took their Protestant beliefs very seriously, but they weren’t heavy-handed with it and never forced it on us outside of church. That morning, though, she was definitely worried that my soul was in jeopardy. She didn’t get angry or yell, but she begged and pleaded for me to change my mind, the distress in her voice very clear. She really, really wanted me to go. But while I felt bad for upsetting her that way, I just couldn’t make myself go. Something in me just wanted to dig my heels in. I wasn’t an asshole about it; I just said no thanks. (Oddly, I have zero recollection of any reaction or feedback from my grandpa on all of this.)

I didn’t give her a concrete reason for it, which probably made it even worse. Maybe she would have understood if I had been having some kind of problem there, like getting bullied or dealing with a mean Sunday School teacher, but that wasn’t the case. I saw several of my friends there every week which was fun, and the church ladies were friends of the family and always nice in that church lady way, so I didn’t have any problems with them. I just…lost interest.

So I stayed put, playing records and chatting with my buddy Doug Walton on the phone until they got back. Saying “no” to my grandma — and to God, in a way — produced a feeling of freedom I’d never had before. I was making a Big Decision for myself for the first time, and (gasp!) risking God’s wrath in the process. And somehow I didn’t think God would mind.

I consider that day to be the first of many where I challenged what I thought I believed. Sunday School was more of an obligation than something uplifting, and I never really saw the point of it. We played games, had discussions about Bible stories, occasionally took turns reading scriptures out loud…but nothing that really did much for me faith-wise. It had become this thing I had to do because we had always done it.

So I never went to Sunday School again. At my grandparents’ urging I did go to the church’s teen-centered services a couples of times later, but when the youth pastor told us to bring in some of our favorite music so we could “see what messages it was giving us”, I quickly decided that was a big NOPE for me as well. I enjoyed a steady diet of Weird Al, Talking Heads, Art of Nosie, and other 80’s awesomeness, and the last thing I needed was some guy dissecting them for messages from the devil. Nobody fucks with my music!

My takeaway from recounting all this is: even at a young age, I somehow knew that religion wasn’t for me. Over all these years I’ve explored (and continue to explore) different paths to try to make sense of the world and my place in it, but I’ve never second-guessed this decision I made as a kid. And I just realized that this feels pretty good.

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