Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Post About Surrender, Spirituality, and My Very Personal Journey

This got long! I am not trying to impose my views, feelings, or spirituality on anyone else with this post. All I am doing is sharing my personal experience, and I decided to be very open. If you do take the time to read all of it, that already means a lot to me! Regardless, thank you for stopping by.

I grew up attending a Presbyterian church. I could probably write an entire book about my church experience, but the most important things to note were that none of my questions were answered, and it felt like no one cared a whole heck of a lot about that.

I am very literal in that regard. If I need to know the ‘why’, then I need to know it, and I can sometimes get stuck on that ‘why’, unable to move forward.

So, when I raised my hand in Sunday School asking for clarification about the Bible stories, and how we knew Jesus was real, and all of those other big questions that kids can sometimes throw out there, taking adults off-guard every time… I didn’t get real answers. I got nebulous answers like, “Faith” and “It’s about learning how to be a good person” and other answers that made no sense to my non-abstract-thinking child mind.

As I got older, I got wrapped around the “facts” presented in the Bible—all the inconsistencies, idiosyncrasies, contradictions, and all that was ultimately left unsaid. It all led up to me going through the motions of attending church. I sat, I listened, I tried to get something out of it, and often, I left feeling just as confused as I was when I walked in the door.

I certainly didn’t feel a personal connection to God, or that God even understood me, if God was even real.

It didn’t help that I attended one of the biggest churches in the area, and the politics in the church dictated that those with more wealth (to give to the church, of course) were treated like royalty, and we Average Joes were treated like the politicians of America treat middle-class folks.

In other words, we weren’t exactly ignored, because at least two of my family members were useful, until, one day, they were no longer useful, at which point—they were ignored.

I felt confused and frustrated. I had so many questions, and I didn’t understand Jesus or most of the lessons I’d spent my entire childhood and adolescence attempting to learn.

At some point, I turned my back on God.

I wrote off Christianity as a religion that was fine for other folks, but I just didn’t get it, and so it wasn’t fine for me.

In college, and for most of my young adult life, I didn’t give much thought to God. I knew that when I needed to feel centered, I went to nature. In college, I went to a nearby lakes or campgrounds in Tennessee. It’s beautiful countryside there, and it was easy to connect with Earth. It did help keep me grounded.

I also had a close friend who was Jewish, and her family took me under their wing and invited me to all of the traditional Jewish celebrations and rituals. I grew quite attached to Judaism and at one point considered converting. But I realized that while the Jews I encountered were deeply invested in their rituals and gleaned great meaning from them, I still had all these unanswered questions based on the Bible and the teachings within. Ultimately, I knew Judaism wasn’t for me, either.

I also studied Buddhism, Taoism, and Hinduism, searching for something deeper. None of those took, either, although I began to realize they all had common principles, and that gave me some comfort.

When I lived near Boston, I found myself driving up to the coast of Maine on a regular basis, to walk along the beach collecting shells, or sand dollars, or to sit on my bench in Kennebunkport, but again—God was really nowhere in my life.

Over time—especially after attending Pathways, and seeing miracles happen before my eyes, I felt myself creepy-crawling closer to this concept of God. I found myself feeling more open to the idea of God, but I wasn't really sure how to get a real connection to God.

I tried what most people try: I studied lots of theologies (although, I tired of that quickly, since I’m not a details person), I prayed more—which I labeled as “talking to God”, and I did become more open to visiting places where some sort of spiritual growth is fostered.

It really didn’t help me feel more connected to God, though. Something was missing, and I couldn’t tell what it was. I knew I didn’t have the type of closeness to God that some people in my life had—their connection was actually visible, almost tangible.

I knew I wanted that kind of faith, but I wasn’t sure how to make that leap.

Even more nebulous than that, though—I didn’t have a real concept of what or who I felt God really is. I didn't see God as this fatherly figure with a beard and old faded robes.

I decided to do something to try and deepen my connection to God. In December 2009, I reluctantly signed up to do the Step Beyond training through Pathways.

I had all kinds of judgments about the training. I assumed that because many of the people who did the training were Christian, there wouldn’t be much there for me. I decided that I would just go and see what it was all about.

Boy, was I in for it.

That training changed me… I owe it a separate post (which is now here), but I realized that what I really needed and wanted was God in my heart. And finally, I let Him in.

I realized that I didn’t have to share anyone else’s view of who or what God is: the important thing was taking that leap, of allowing a force outside of myself to come inside and change me from the inside out.

From that moment on… my life changed.

I started talking less, and listening more.

My own little miracle happened. I started getting messages from God. Maybe it was my own voice, maybe it was my conscience—maybe there is some other explanation for what I have heard over the past year and a half.

But I do know that if I hadn’t heard that voice, with those comforting words, or if I hadn’t heard what was being requested of me and I in turn obeyed… I wouldn’t be in nearly as good of a place as I am in on this day. I wouldn't be who I am in this moment.

For the first time, I learned what it was like to follow. To submit to something greater than me and accept my path was altogether terrifying and freeing.

I began to realize that I don't have to live perfectly, to live fully.

But, still, there was this Jesus issue.

I refused to accept Jesus as God’s only begotten son, who died for us on the cross. I figured that Jesus just wasn’t for me. I couldn’t make that leap of faith in my heart—the huge abyss between Jesus as an Important Prophet™ to… The Messiah—it was just lost on me.

And I accepted that.

(Funny how God works, though. For someone like me, it had to be one step at a time, and just allowing the presence of the Divine into my heart was a big enough leap for me at that point.)

My best friend has been a bright light in my life, and she has helped me understand what it really means to be a Christian. She helped me learn to not judge all Christians, to not shut out all Christians just because of the bad apples who wear religion like some pedestal to stand upon and use as a way to live “above” others.

And she, more than anyone, has witnessed (with great amazement and bemusement, might I add) how God has pursued me over the course of our friendship, but especially in the last 18 months.

Over the past several months, a few friends and I have been visiting various churches around the area, trying to find one that fits the best.

The one we keep going back to is Northaven United Methodist. And, while I’d like to hear more modern music and see fewer robes, all in hopes of attracting more younger adults... there is also something comforting about singing hymns I used to sing as a little girl, too.

So, this morning, when I woke up before my alarm went off, I realized that even though my friends wouldn’t be there, I was apparently going to church. I wasn’t even sure what compelled me to get out of bed on my one lazy weekend out of a long string of very full weekends.

I wasn’t sure, but I felt pretty strongly that I needed to be there. It almost felt like I had a hand at the small of my back, pushing me out the door.

Lord of The Dance was part of the gathering music. It’s a song I used to sing when I went to Christian camp as a kid, and it made me smile, hearing it again.

Then, we sang the opening hymn, Christ the Lord is Risen Today… Alleluia.

And, as is often the case at Northaven, where I feel a sense of comfort, light, and acceptance, I felt my eyes welling up as tears streamed down my face.

Even through all of the religious and political dogma of the church I grew up attending, something managed to sink in. Some things—mostly the music—still offer me great peace and comfort when I least expect it and most need it, and this morning was no different.

I almost lost myself, but I hung on and clung to what little bit of composure I had… and then the liturgy started.

I had to stop reading when we came to this part: “We live in a world where our best efforts at order and control often end in entropy and chaos.”

Order and control to entropy and chaos.


These words resonated so deeply in my soul that I felt a stirring I didn’t yet understand.

I realized that I’ve spent the last months staking a claim on my life and trying to assert control. Control of myself, of my life, of my actions, of my very day… and at times, it’s felt like I’ve been white-knuckling it, trying to live so “right” or to do it so “perfectly” (whatever that means) because I’ve felt so wrong for so long that anything I could do to steer it “right” was better than the alternative.


What’s that??

Really, I’m only beginning to learn what that means, and how valuable it is.

I got a crash-course in surrender about a minute later.

I was sitting on the end of a row, watching the children bring flowers to the front of the sanctuary to place upon the cross, still with tears streaming down my face, still not really getting what was going on in my heart.

Ok, here’s the crazy part. Brace yourself…

And then, there was Jesus, sitting on the concrete steps next to me.

He turned to look up at me and simply said, “Do ya get me now, child?”

I found myself nodding through my tears.

I sat in awe. Jesus was sitting right there, beside me. We just sat together in silence, quietly enjoying the service. Everyone else in the sanctuary faded into a woven blanket of people, and Jesus and I were the only individuals.

When the gospel was read—John 20: 1-18, about Mary Magdalene coming to the tomb to find it empty, and Jesus standing before her… it was as if I was hearing those words for the very first time.

They sank into my heart like sweet music, and I realized that I truly was hearing those words for the first time. No matter that I’d heard them and read them dozens of times before during my adolescence—it was like drinking ice cold water after walking through a lifetime of desert.

When Pastor Eric began the sermon, I kept on crying. It’s as if his words were just for me. He spoke of theology and science—which I was quite literally thinking about last night—and how it was the theologians and the scientists who drove the eventual creation of Fundamentalists and Atheists, because everyone was so wrapped around the axle about ironing out the facts, and answering those questions!

And while Fundamentalists thump on the Bible as a literal record of history… Atheists can easily shrug that off and say, “No way!” and list a thousand logical ways to disprove those words.

Was the earth created in six literal days? Well, Fundamentalists and Atheists (and plenty of in-between folks) like to argue it out.

The truth is—it happened. Somehow, the earth was created, and here we are.

Did it happen exactly the way it’s told in the Bible?


But the truth transcends the details.

The truth is, it’s beyond our understanding.

God is beyond our understanding.

If we could really understand God, then we wouldn't need real spirituality. God wouldn’t be God, only an idol we created in our own image.

Thank God. He gave us stories to help us understand a little. He gave us stories to give us life lessons. And He gave us the deepest truth, which cannot really be explained. But, that truth gives us faith.

The service closed with the singing of the Hallelujah Chorus, which I’ve sung so many times that I don’t need any music for it.

And then, the organist played my very favorite organ piece, which I never get to hear anymore (never say never, I guess!)… Toccata from Symphony for Organ No. 5 by Charles-Marie Widor. I’ve never felt so much joy at the end of a church service as I did today… it felt so personal, like God was speaking just to me.

My soul is full and my cup runneth over. I am born anew today—the gift of new life unexpectedly bestowed upon my heart. Words really cannot express the truth inside of me, but I feel it.

New life may not happen in the way we want it to or the way it “ought” to, or the way we think it should. New life often takes us by surprise, and today—I was taken by the surprise of a lifetime.

Did the resurrection really happen?


But it is truth.

And today, it became my truth.

Today—Easter Sunday—I became a believer.

“All of your pain and suffering comes from your resistance to what is.” – Dick Sutphen (summing up the teachings of Buddha)

Yes, indeed. And by trying to control my own connection with God, and by trying to keep Jesus out, when He so badly wanted in… one might say I have been quite imperfect at living spiritually.

I don’t have to have all the answers. All of my questions won’t be answered for some time, and certainly not during this life.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy my life, imperfectly, and live with surrender in my heart and God in my soul.

And with Jesus… my own Savior.

Life aches to be beautiful. All I have to do is allow it…