I’m a child of the seventies born to working class Midwest parents. Perhaps this is why my formative years were steeped in practical-ism and laced with the notion that hard work was the path to success (and the highway to God’s approval).
Another facet which greatly shaped me was being reared in the Baptist church. My family attended private Christian School, which meant daily chapel services and because our mom served in ministry, we became the ‘shining example’, reflecting flawless attendance at mid-week service. Saturdays were reserved for canvasing (going door to door, talking about Jesus.) and Sundays were all-day extravaganzas of morning and evening church services.
I wouldn’t be dramatic if I claimed sitting still in pews was a huge part of my childhood. Despite how it sounds, not all of it was bad. Who doesn’t enjoy hearing the exploits of Joseph, Esther and Moses? I clearly remember a spike of jealousy upon discovering Abraham was a friend of God. Secretly, I wished God would see me this way.
When the choir sang hymns, I’d belt from the bowels of my being, hoping God could hear my desire to know Him more. When the preacher asked for bowed heads during prayer, I’d close my eyes and instantly transport to a galaxy containing only me and Abba. When I was alone, playing in my room, I wondered if The Almighty was paying attention. Whenever thoughts like this drifted through my mind, a loving presence would coat my skin like a cozy blanket. These small heavenly encounters were the highlights of my childhood.
The older I got, the deeper I desired knowing the source of this love. Yearning for more, I often wondered:
Did giving up Saturday morning cartoons and humiliating myself (to my neighbors) actually make God proud?
Being an introverted people-pleaser, I found intrusively knocking upon stranger’s doors its own kind of hell. But, I soldiered on, because making God happy was a pretty good cause.
Throughout the years, I learned (from the pulpit and the attitude of the adults around me) God was a perfectionist who could never be satisfied. Knocking on stranger’s doors was just the beginning. According to my Baptist preacher, apparently God hated fashion and makeup, too. Living for Jesus meant I must carry my cross which implied, releasing my desires in order to fulfill God’s endless demands. This is where my personal encounters faded into the abyss of religion and shame. My developing brain wasn’t equipped to ask the logical questions: Is this God’s truth? Or, Is this man’s perception?
It wasn’t long before I berated myself for ever thinking God would consider friendship with a wretch like me. Eventually, the burden of never measuring up became so great I stopped trying to please God. The rigid ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ just wasn’t worth the uncomfortable sacrifice.
Deep down, I was dying to be me and hoping God would be okay with that. But, according to religion, I wasn’t enough.
You see, when a person does not feel worthy of God’s love, they’re unable to love themselves. I teetered between confident rebellion and inner self-loathing during my fifteen-year search for value and purpose. Deep down, I knew my soul was meant for more, despite what others were saying about me.
During my quest for inner healing, I discovered God and Religion are two separate entities. One is the infinite Almighty who created heaven, earth and all the galaxies and dimensions in between; God is the supreme order behind this beautiful chaos called life. Religion is a man-made construct influenced by time, culture and sometimes nefarious forces bent on control and manipulation.
After discovering God was not looking to ‘curse or condemn’ me into perfection, I was faced with the choice. Should I place my my trust in Him? You see, ignorance has its advantages for trust is far easier when you don’t know. When I was innocent, faith was easy but after the sting of life taints the heart, faith and trust can be a bit of a tussle.
My heart felt God was extending an invitation to know Him deeper; the intimacy I always yearned for! He wasn’t asking me to give up my lipgloss, stop listening to feel good music or even sign up for torturous Saturday Canvasing. He was simply asking me to trust and be with Him.
Here’s what I’ve learned so far.
- God honors our faith. When we choose faith over fear, He promises great and mighty things. Keep in mind there is no ‘time-stamp’ guarantee; we must be steadfast in our faith that God will make good on His promises, in His time.
- God honors prayer. Expressing your desires is a part of intimacy. We only share our deepest longings with those worthy of our trust. Keep in mind prayer is not a transaction or a means to an end. It’s actually the place where your spirit stands in the presence of The Almighty, communicating your heart.
- Face your limiting beliefs about God. If you were reared in a religious environment, get intentional in pursuing truth. As Christians, we know the expression of God’s heart is reflected in His word. Throughout the scriptures, it’s also implied His Spirit speaks through people, circumstances and directly to our spirits. We must be vigilant to untangle God’s Truth from Religious Tradition. This cannot happen passively sitting in the pew, soaking in messages from ‘the man of God.’ It is our responsibility to be our own ‘man or woman’ of God.
We’re all looking for the peace that passes all understanding; what a noble cause and worthy pursuit! I can attest this peace can be found and believe it or not, you might not discover Him in church (as many expect). If your heart aches for an encounter with God, just know God has been patiently waiting for an encounter with you. Receive His invitation with an open heart and a measure of child-like faith. There are ‘no strings’ attached.
“Dear Heavenly Father,
Your love for me runs deep…even when I am fickle and shallow.
Forgive me for not separating the heart and spirit behind your words of truth. Give me continued revelation of the real you.
Remove any distortions, judgement and trauma I have gathered through imperfect men or bad church experiences. I choose radical forgiveness, mercy and grace for this is your heart and will.
When I get overwhelmed, lost or confused, help me to hear from you. Thank you promising to never leave me; I trust you to be my guide, comfort and very best friend.
Help my life reflect my deep thankfulness for a priceless gift. In Jesus’ name, just because I love you, Amen.”
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
“Even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” John 14:17
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” John 16:13
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” 2 Corinthians 3:17
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7