As with many things in life, my understanding of God has evolved greatly over time and perhaps most profoundly within the last few years. Growing up, my understanding of God was rather vague. As a small child I remember learning to pray and being taught the basics of the Bible. I recall once telling my mother that I prayed to God about my Christmas presents, which she explained to me was not the best use of my conversation time with God.
When I started to look back at the entirety of my childhood experiences of church, God and religion, a sense of angst washed over me. I was a painfully shy child and, because our visits to church were infrequent, I remember feeling uncomfortable, unprepared and out of place going to Sunday School classes with the other children. As I sit here in reflection, it's no wonder that I've struggled with finding my own spiritual path as an adult when religion was so angst-ridden as a child.
As an adolescent, we began to go to church more frequently, joining my Aunt Donna and her family at the small country church where she played piano. I remember fumbling through the hymnals to follow along, singing shyly as my voice was overshadowed by the gaggle of white-haired ladies singly proudly, yet rather loud and off-key. It was, I believe, during this stage of my life that I begun my own humble conversation with God. I recall folding my hands to pray each night before going to bed. At the time, I likely shared only my hopes and dreams in my conversations with God, but always ended my prayer in this way, "Dear God, I pray that you will keep us all happy, safe and healthy. In Jesus' name I pray, Amen." I held on to this prayer closing for some years - it has likely been the most consistent conversation point with God throughout my life.
As a college freshman or sophomore, I took an Introduction to Religion course that both enlightened and confused me further on my own religious stance. I recall sitting in our bright, modern classroom learning about Buddhism, Judaism and other worldly religions and thinking to myself, who am I to decide what's right or wrong? After all, each new chapter in our text book brought to life a system of beliefs that had deep rooted histories and devout followers. There seemed to be something fascinating and warm about each religion - I felt a sense of angst when I considered the idea that our society demanded you choose only one. To make the issue more confusing, I was going to school in the heart of the Bible Belt, where many folks made their beliefs about religion very known. I received the message that there was one way, and little room for interpretation. To me, they all seemed to teach a similar, loving message with a slightly different tone or message of delivery. While confused, I continued my prayer hoping someone was listening and that what I felt in my heart might be true: there could be many paths to this loving light that I longed desperately to know and understand.
As I transitioned out of college life and into adulthood, I continued my struggle to know God. I infrequently popped into church services, always feeling a slight discomfort - as if I were still that little girl, back in Sunday School, unsure of where - or if - I belonged. My experiences always peppered with interactions that caused me to retreat further into my own sense of confusion and overwhelm. Yet, I continued each night with my consistent prayer, "Dear God, please keep us happy, safe and healthy. In Jesus' name I pray, Amen." This prayer became almost ritual. Though I'd grown afraid to commit to religion, I was also sure that if I stopped talking to God altogether, he would surely stop listening.
It wasn’t until my late 20s that I began to openly wonder if there was another way out there. A path that didn’t leave me feeling confused or anxious about religion and God. I gained a longing to truly know and understand spirituality. As I began to open my heart and mind to a new way of understanding the Universe, new opportunities and teachers began to present themselves. I learned from great spiritual teachers who reassured me that I could make this journey at my own pace, that I could find a path to God that was of my own understanding. Suddenly, my conversations with God began to change drastically. Instead of asking God for what I thought I wanted or needed, I could simply pray for guidance. I felt a sense of comfort as I came to understand that God had a plan for me that was greater than my own. I started to understand that I could let go of the wheel and allow a power greater than my own to direct the path. Today, my conversations with God have evolved from requests and pleading to gratitudes and questions.
I am comfortable in simply saying a prayer of thanks or asking for assistance in solving a problem or seeing a situation differently. I am no longer afraid to ask for help, not knowing how the aid will come. I am also more open to the possibility that it is not the world around me that should change, but perhaps it is my perception of the world.
Recently, I was going on a day trip to the lake. There would be a girl there who I had gotten off on the wrong foot with. I didn’t enjoy her company and I was dreading spending the day with her as part of our group. On my way there, I stopped and said a prayer, “Dear God, I need a miracle. Please help me to see this person differently.” It worked, I was able to see this girl in a loving light. I was no longer annoyed with her presence or judgmental of her. Not only were my prayers to see the situation differently answered, I also gained a friend. I could have easily asked for the outcome I wanted at the time. Rather, I turned the problem over, and remained open to the outcome that would provided.
Though my spiritual understanding and practice have evolved greatly over the years, I still honor that little girl who was anxious about going to Sunday School, the adolescent who was confused about religion and the young woman who was unsure if there was a spiritual path that was right. I am still learning to balance the concept of living your life actively in search of your goals and aspirations and releasing the outcome of how you reach those goals and aspirations. Most importantly, I am learning about more effective ways in which to have conversations with God. Some days, my prayers are short. Some come in the form of long journal entries and some involve tears and my knees hitting the floor. Some days, I even borrow prayers from others - my favorite sources being Marianne WIlliamson - who is notably one of the most passionate and positive prayer-givers I’ve ever heard - and the metaphysical text A Course in Miracles.
Recently, I had one of my favorite prayers from The Course printed on a coffee mug so that I can carry the simple and effective prayer with me. The prayer is, “Dear God, where would you have me go, what would you have me do, what would you have me say, and to whom? It serves as a beautiful reminder that the guidance of God is available to us all, should we just be willing to to have the conversation.