By Erin Sofianek
I can’t count how many times I’ve been told that high school is about discovering who you are and who you want to be. But if our public schools have become a place where it is difficult to talk about our beliefs then it becomes impossible to discover who we are and what we believe.
As a Christian at Bozeman High School, I’ve noticed that discussion of faith and religion is often not well received. The second I mention anything about religion or church or God, many people’s reaction is to immediately change the subject – to something easier to talk about.
For many people their religion – whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim or any multitude of religions that exist within our school – is a large part of what defines them; and if religion has become almost faux pas for students to talk about, it’s almost like shutting off a part of yourself in public settings.
Kelly Ruby, a youth Minister for Resurrection and Holy Rosary Parish shares an experience she had in high school while she and some friends were out to dinner and conversation turned to the church:
“Listening to their conversation about the church I got more and more disheartened and frustrated at their assumptions and accusations of the church, until finally I broke my silence. Up until that point, I don’t think any of my friends realized how actively involved I was in my faith, and quite honestly neither did I. I’d never hidden that I was Catholic or that I participated in youth group, retreats, service projects, and attended mass regularly, but I had never really given voice to my religious beliefs, especially around my friends.”
Ruby went on to say that over the course of the discussion she realized that her defensiveness wasn’t helping anything, so she remained calm and answered their questions to the best of her ability.
“After that day, my friends had new information about the church, but more importantly about me,” she says.
About eight in every 10 Americans have some sort of religious affiliation, so it shouldn’t be such an intimidating subject; but it is. It doesn’t help that in America we have put such a stress on the idea of separation of church and state. Unfortunately, the understanding of this idea has morphed over time until it is not just a way to protect the freedom of religion: it has almost become a way to prevent the practice of religion.
The fact is that people don’t feel comfortable talking about their personal faith so they are bottling up an important part of themselves inside and not allowing anyone to see it.
It’s easy to get defensive and self-righteous when the discussions become personal. But according to Ruby, “defensiveness is the enemy.”
The outcome of speaking your heart to your friends will most likely be positive, as it was for Ruby.
“No one stopped talking to me, no one shunned me, there was just mutual respect,” says Ruby, adding. “Conversations on faith and religion continued that year, and if anything those conversations only solidified my beliefs. But more so they gave me an understanding of how to live and communicate with those who may not share in the same beliefs as me, whatever they may be.”
Developing the sort of relationship with your friends in which they know what you believe and what your convictions are will lead to a more comfortable, safe environment for you to be yourself.
Sometimes we need a boost from people with similar beliefs, such as a youth group or a bible study.
But regardless of who the friends we turn to are, regardless of how many people we share our true selves with, it’s important that there is someone who we are comfortable expressing ourselves to. With this support, high school can be the place where we discover ourselves and who we are meant to be.
By Erin Sofianek