Though the memory is vague, I can recall the time when I first declared I didn’t believe in God. I was nine or ten years old and began questioning the existence of something that couldn’t be seen, felt, tasted, heard, or smelled (so I thought). Mom was the recipient of this announcement and unflinching, responded that she believed in God, and it didn’t matter that I doubted because God loved me anyway.
I don’t remember what else she said, but I remember her gentle reaction. I’m sure she thought I would come around someday. She was right, of course. However, many years passed before I fully learned to appreciate the nature of God, eventually leading me to understand that I don’t know Jack Crap about the Almighty. But that doesn’t mean I can’t have a decent relationship with Her.
I come from a family of Presbyterian preachers, so it was more or less expected of us to accept God. A little questioning was encouraged, but my parents raised us as Christians and hoped we would all continue to be Christians as adults. For the record, I haven’t belonged to a church for many years, although I attend different ones periodically. When I left home for college I continued to go to church for a couple of years.
Eventually, church began to feel more ritualistic than spiritually fulfilling. Besides, it ate into my Sunday morning free time, so I stopped going. It wasn’t that I had a problem with God, I just couldn’t feel the strong relationship I had expected.Chalk it up to indifference or ignorance or a little of both. For whatever reason I just wasn’t feeling compelled.
Over the years I explored different ways of connecting to a supreme force, mostly through what is sometimes pejoratively referred to as New Age practices: books, meditation gatherings, lectures, physio-spiritual healing (I just made up that term), whatever came my way via encountered kindred souls. I even hung out with Buddhists for a while. These experiences began to strengthen my belief in, and relationship with, the universal force I choose to call God.
They also strengthened my conviction that there is no single True Religion.
That doesn’t mean everybody is wrong; it actually means everybody is right! Everyone is free to practice the spiritual path of their choosing without fear of going to Hell. You may disagree, but that doesn’t make either of us wrong. In my view, it demonstrates the beauty of the Divine, who loves us all so much that She doesn’t care that you call yourself a Snexle and I call myself a Hooliewoo. Or that you worship ten times a day and I worship once a week. Or that you prefer to get your divine inspiration from Person X and I prefer it from Person Q.
Regardless of your chosen path, being filled with the love and presence of God feels brilliant! Until it doesn’t. If you don’t have a Person X or a Person Q for inspiration, or even believe in a divine universal force, I hope you have at least experienced elation or felt deeply loved by another. So we don’t always walk around feeling fantastic. Sometimes life sucks. Sometimes a lot of times.
I went through a phase of having what I thought was a pretty good understanding between me and God. She took care of my needs, and I was grateful and tried to be a good person. Then things weren’t so great in my opinion. My life felt like a dead-end deal. I started blaming God for
it. If She wasn’t going to fix it, I was going to turn my life around by quitting my job, selling my house, and leaving the country. It actually worked. Eventually. But not necessarily because I quit my job, sold my house, and left the country for a spiritual retreat in Scotland called Braemar.
It worked because I hit rock bottom emotionally before realizing my life was my responsibility. Actually, I hit bottom several times, but it was my time at Braemar that lit the fire under me, lifted me up. Life got better, not because life got better — that is, everything was pretty much the same — but because I changed my attitude about it. I started seeing things differently; responding instead of reacting. I also developed a deeper affection for God. Then things got sucky again, then better, then. . . well, you get the picture.
But the bad times were easier to weather because I knew it was my response to them that made the difference in my experience of them. It wasn’t God pulling strings or dumping on me. God was just there saying, “Look, if you want help, I’m here. But you gotta take responsibility for your own thoughts and deeds. So whatta ya gonna do about it?”
If you’re like me, you’ve done a lot of crying to or bitching at God. And when that doesn’t work, you try bargaining. But have you tried taking responsibility? God hasn’t really let you down; She just has more faith in you than you do. Parents have to let their children fall so they can learn how to get back up. God can guide you but She isn’t going to take over and make your life all rainbows and unicorns — or rain clouds and dragons.
You reap what you sow (karma in the Buddhist tradition). So put on your big-person pants and start doing the heavy lifting. We’re here to enjoy this stunning world, to experience joy and love and laughter. The yucky things remind us to be grateful for the nice things and also remind us that with enough will — and sometimes hard work — we have the power to slay the yucky things.