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On a recent phone call, my grandma asked me if I still go to church. The first time she’d asked me that question was about 10 years ago, and back then I’d frozen. Time had stood still as I’d weighed my options: I could be honest and tell her that I was beginning to have doubts about the faith I was raised in, or I could lie. I didn’t want to break her heart, so after a long pause, I stumbled through a lie about going to church “sometimes” and tried to get off the phone as fast as possible. This time, though, I was ready.
“Do you still go to church?”
“I pray at therapy,” I joked.
When I was growing up, going to therapy wasn’t exactly taboo in my family, but it was close. We’re Black and Christian—two identities that have a complicated relationship to the idea of paying a regular person to talk about our feelings. Growing up, I thought only two types of people went to therapy: crazy people and white people. It took me until 2017, when I was in my 30s, to start attending therapy, but I didn’t tell anyone in my family or outside New York City for fear they would think I was having a mental breakdown.
Five years later, my grandma didn’t laugh at my joke or support my decision, but I still felt good about my confession. Telling her that I go to therapy was saying that I’m at least still seeking something. And as long as I’m seeking, she can feel comfort that my heart isn’t closed, and confidence that my search will lead me back to where I belong. I feel that I’m unlikely to return to her faith, but I don’t mind her believing that I will.
“We believe in a higher power,” she responded. “A mighty God.” She was loving; a shepherd rescuing her lost sheep. She asked what a therapist could help with that God couldn’t. She reminded me of the power of prayer. She knew that she didn’t need to share the Bible verses, that I knew them already.