By Kirstina Gratz
My religious journey has led me to believe that fun, play and love are the ways I connect most in my spiritual relationships.
My spiritual journey started in third grade. My friends and I were discussing religion and everyone was saying what religion their family “was.” When they got to me, my only reply could be: “I don’t know.”
I asked my mom when I got home, and she responded: “whatever you want to believe.” I found this answer rather odd, as it was pretty clear to me that no one else my age had a choice in the matter. I already understood that my church was the same and yet different from my friends’ churches, because my church was the Unitarian Universalist Society of Iowa City.
I started to become more interested in UU principles as well as other religious systems. If this was my choice, I had better make a good one! As a family, we would discuss moral and spiritual lessons from many sources, including “Star Trek, The Next Generation.” I started paying more attention to Bible lessons when I went to church with my cousins, and to the ritual of Latin mass, which I attended with my Grandma Josie.
Until the passing of my Grandma Josie when I was in middle school, no real decisions on what I believed spiritually needed to be made. Perhaps that is why I mourned my grandmother for such a long time. I had to decide what I believed about death and how this would affect my grandmother, and someday myself.
I wasn’t satisfied with the idea that there was only one answer, as my grandmother’s Catholic roots suggested. I wanted to play in a plurality of God, allowing each religion to receive what they wanted out of the afterlife. I didn’t want there to be a universal truth about life and death, but an encompassing loving plurality that allowed for many different truths. A belief I maintain to this day.
I came under a significant amount of peer pressure throughout high school to be “saved” by Jesus. I studied the Bible and came to the conclusion that it was a tool but not the end-all-be-all of religion and spirituality for me. I liked the idea of forgiveness, a loving God, and the music was great, but I could pass up on all the rest. I also found the exclusion of people based on a poor interpretation of the Bible distasteful. I discovered friends who didn’t push me one way or another religiously and other UU’s my age that helped me to seek many truths through many paths.
Perhaps it is in the nature of being raised a UU, but I have been attuned to the privilege I enjoyed from a very young age. As UU’s we are constantly seeking justice, but that also means that we must first see injustice. I have amazing parents. Parents who gave me a beautiful childhood full of love and diversity, travel and stability. I’m heterosexual, white, I’m moderately attractive (a 10 if you ask my husband), I’ve never truly struggled financially. I am the end goal of a utopian future. As such, I put an immense pressure on myself to “do good” with what I have been given. I felt, and still feel at times, that I should be doing more.
At the end of my second year of dental school, age 25, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. As I navigated the medical process with the immense support of my family, I discovered something that would have taken me a lifetime to learn otherwise. I was shocked at how many people knew who I was and recognized me as someone who brightens their day by simply being myself.
By smiling and saying hello, by singing while I worked, by bringing play and fun to every situation, I was bringing joy to those around me. I started to realize that perhaps I was already the person I was beating myself up for not being. I started to feel more grounded in myself as a source of lightness and love for those around me.
A few years ago, my husband and I encountered a TED talk by Simon Sinek about “Finding Your Why,” as in the driving force or reason we each individually contribute to others. We were so taken that we started the online course to help us discover our own “whys.”
The theme of my life has been play, fun, and love. In the face of anything, I want to find the fun of it. I believe this is why UU has been a religious “fit” for me. I want to play in all spiritual houses and take and give love wherever I find it. This is also part of what has led me to my career choice of dentistry. Dentistry, a traditionally NOT FUN experience, in my loving hands can become playful and a dental office a place of joy.
My husband and I started a dental office in a small town in southeast Iowa and opened the doors immediately upon my graduation from dental school. He ran the front office, and I did the dentistry. We “birthed” a dental practice and it became our child. We worked for, and thought of, very little else.
After years of trying, we found that I could not birth our own flesh and blood child the old-fashioned way. Coming face-to-face with infertility has been a struggle for me. Every day I see the need for amazing parents. Parents like I was blessed with, parents that I know my husband and I will be, and I want to be selfish. My spirituality has given me permission to have play, joy, and love guide me on my path. Yet in this aspect of my life, I have been reluctant to let it in.
With nature’s biological drive tugging at my heartstrings, my husband and I took a leap of faith. We started our journey into parenthood in an unconventional way. I applied for and was accepted to train as a Pediatric Dentist here at the University of Iowa College of Dentistry. We sold our “business baby” in southeast Iowa and are continuing on this new path.
My husband tells me that our fertility challenges are a gift for thousands of children that I will now serve. A path we would likely not have turned on otherwise that allows for a greater expression of my spiritual self.
I am overjoyed with the decision my husband and I have made. After 18 months of training, it has become abundantly clear that I can be a wonderful pediatric dentist and a wonderful mother and wife at the same time. As of now, my husband and I are planning to become foster parents once we have chosen our future pediatric dental office location. This would be my greatest expression of love and service, and hence spirituality.
I want to be fully at peace with my decision not to have biological children when we have our first foster child in our home. That child will deserve, and likely need, the greatest extent of my ability to bring love, fun and play to their life. I look forward to the journey.