Coming to believe, making the decision and conscious contact...... My emerging love affair with God...
I grew up in a traditional Christian faith, a denomination whose doctrine was relatively rigid and really intimidating. I rarely felt home there, and so many of the beliefs, I just couldn’t wrap my mind around. Even at a young age, they didn’t make sense to me. If God was so powerful and created everything, why would he act like an insolent child and with the stamp of His big foot, destroy the world? Sure, people were acting in an unrighteous manner, but isn’t He supposed to be above the pettiness of retribution and judgment? After all, He’s God! And what about His forgiveness message? I need to forgive others to be forgiven? Didn’t that apply to Him too? Turning folks into pillars of salt, or condemning them to eternal flames didn’t sound particularly compassionate. To me, He acted like a big bully. I can’t say I didn’t believe in God, because I did. I just really didn’t like Him much. I attributed any suffering in my life as His punishment, doled out because I was a bad person. The Bible alluded to that, and I probably couldn’t pay enough dues, nor would there be enough of Jesus' blood for me to gain admittance into heaven anyhow. I later decided, I really wouldn’t enjoy heaven much anyway since the folks that were going to get in, were obviously brown nosers.... and it must be just a big clique based on favorites and exclusivity, not really much different than life on earth. There was enough dishonesty, judgment, and anger already present in my life, and if that’s what folks were all about that entered the kingdom, it wasn’t for me. This idea of calling Him my Heavenly Father was absurd too. He was sure doing a lousy job of taking care of His child (me) in my mind, and frankly a real poor example. Did He walk like He talked? No way. If that was what God and religion were all about, well, who needed it!
For many years, I drifted after cutting the cord of my childhood faith and dipped my toe into the fountains of one religious affiliation after another. No immersion for me, just a short visit to review the particulars of each one's varied beliefs. When any scent of punishment or damnation entered the picture, I would be off and running in my quest to find a God of love. I seriously traveled many spiritual roads; from TV evangelists, to the study of other religions, until one would disappoint, again, in their imperfection and humanness. Perhaps man may have been created in God’s image, but I didn’t want my God to think like man! I just knew I was better off taking care of my own business because there wasn’t any tangible support coming my way - not from Him, not from anyone.
I thought I was doing a fine job of it, until I got into a little trouble in my late 20’s with alcohol. As I spun out of control leaving a wake of destruction in the path of those who had the unfortunate sentence of being a part of my life, I began to recognize, this was something even I couldn’t manage to take care of on my own. All my attempts at self-control, discipline, and will-power were failing miserable. I was in a real predicament. Praying to THAT God of my childhood was not an option for me here either. At the lowest ebb of my darkness of the soul, I cried out to ANYTHING out there, literally, and asked for reinforcement. Seems the plea sounded like this... “If there is something out there, please help me. I can’t do this myself.” From that point forward, my problem with alcohol was lifted. It wasn’t until several years later I recognized what had happened. Twelve step groups are based on a series of suggested instructions for release from the bondage of addictions, self will run riot, and hopeless lives, providing a pathway towards rebirth, and serenity. The First Step asks me to surrender and recognize my powerlessness over alcohol, life, food, relationships, (pick your poison). No doubt, I was powerless. The Second Step asks me to come to believe there is a power greater than me (totally against everything I was taught but what were my options) who could restore me to sanity. The Third Step asks me to just make the decision to turn my will and my life over to A power greater than me. It doesn’t define that greater power.... It doesn’t say, it’s God, Jesus, Buddha, Lao Tzu, the Republican Party or the current man of the day. It doesn’t tell me I have to be good enough before He’ll help. It doesn’t even say it’s a He. Just a power greater than me. The simple acknowledgment that there actually could be SOMETHING greater than myself, was enough to set into motion the best journey of my life; seeking a God who works for me in ways that create an environment of love, kindness, flexibility, honesty, growth, and evolution. This God is the God of my understanding. Not my daughter’s, my neighbors, Moses, the Dali Lama, Buddha, or the Christian Church. Instead, a God I have come to know as pure love, present in my life always, revealing Himself (or Herself depending on whether dudes are in my good graces that day- it doesn't matter, I can't put a label on God) through others, nature, and acts of generosity, compassion, and love. What a beautiful beginning...
Step Eleven came about a few years into my pursuit of the Twelve Steps, and this new found God of my understanding. Step Eleven asks me to “Seek through prayer and meditation to improve my conscious contact.” This is not a chore for me. This is where the joy comes in. I know now, all those years of questioning and conflict have simply brought me to a place where I yearn to move closer and closer in my relationship with my God. There is a lovely Sufi saying which says, "Our longing for God is God’s longing for us." I believe we are all born into this world with that longing. It may get hidden under layers of fear based teachings designed to keep the masses in check, but that desire for relationship calls us home, and asks of us that we just recognize that there is a God, and we aren’t it. Then, the fun begins.
Religious Beliefs are as unique to an individual as fingerprints. Sadly, we live in a World of intolerance. We attach labels to people and their faith - He’s a Muslim. She’s Catholic. He’s a Buddhist, or a Spiritualist. We have so many versions of suggested pathways to God. Christianity in itself has too many denominations to count. I used to wonder if they all read from the same Bible, each one interpreting it from the mind and voice of man and a diversity of personal opinion. I wonder how many people are sacrificed at the altar of Religion because of close-mindedness, judgment, and attempts at control through fear. Fear never works as a motivator, not in the long haul. Fear is the Petri dish of intolerance, hatred, isolation, and a myriad of other ugly byproducts like deception, dishonesty, murder and war. My God is a God of love, and love alone. My God would never be a champion of any of that. My God works for me and in me, to create the kind of human being I want to project to the world. I'm not perfect, but I do now have a goal. And that goal is to think like God thinks, one day at a time. In order for me to do that, I can't afford to entertain those qualities that arise from man - fear based judgments and territorial teachings.
I have come to know, in an intimate manner, there is a Power Greater and I'm not it. Thank God. Because I'm not it, means I have no right to impose, or judge others Power Greater. All those years.... walking away from the God of "my religion's" understanding has led me to a better, more honorable place for me. One of awe, faith and joy. It's brought me to a place where I can take what I need from the roots of my childhood religion and discard the rest. I enjoy gathering with like minded others in the worship of our Creator in many places. I just tune out the judgment parts and keep my eyes on the examples of His LOVE in the cross of Jesus, and the faces of those who have found a God of their understanding. CS Lewis says it best: "A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, “darkness” on the walls of his cell." I believe that and I believe God reveals Himself in many beautifully different and divine ways.
I choose a God of Love as the God of my understanding. May you recognize you can choose what works for you too. If you're struggling to find one, you can borrow mine until you find your own. My God loves you deeply too!