You may be struggling with the idea of God. Even if you BELIEVE in God, you may be wondering what the f*ck is wrong with God LOOK AT THE WORLD or wondering what use God is if he/she/it loves us but does not seem to help us.
I get it. I grew up in a tough environment and even though I “believed” in God, I thought that God cared about us in the same way I care about ants: I’m not going to burn them to death with a magnifying glass but I don’t go too far out of my way to avoid stepping on them.
Basically, I believed God “cared about us” (maybe, kinda) but that this care didn’t translate into any action whatsoever.
So it’s been a long road to connecting with a God of my understanding. A God who can be trusted and who loves me and is always on my side, whether I am on my best behavior or not. Something that I trust, whether I get what I want or not.
I’m not gonna lie. It’s not always easy. But most days, I know that there is something that loves me – God – and that thing can help me, no matter what.
So how did I learn to connect with this God?
Here are some of the things I tried. If you’re looking for a more connected relationship with God, Spirit, or whatever you call it, or if you are just wondering if there is anything out there that cares about you, try this.
I know I'm starting with the hardest one for some people. (If that’s you, then go on to the strategy and come back to this when and if you’re ready!) I am surprised how many of my friends tell me they want their kids to have some sense of a Higher Power, to have the sense that they are not all alone in the universe, but do not know how to help them learn to pray.
In my family, we just ask God for help with something, and we thank him for something. And we aren't required to know what God is.
The point is, there is something that can help us (call it intuition, God, Jesus, Divine Guidance, the Universe, the Secret, whatever – it still works.)
If nothing else, even if prayer feels like a message in a bottle, it’s still an act of hope and an indication of openness to at least the POSSIBILITY that I am not the only one in the world who is responsible for fixing all of the world’s problems. (Thank God, because we’d be f*cked if I was.)
So I send it out – the message in a bottle. Whether it arrives or not, it helps me to calm down. And then I can reach out to God when I need to.
It’s like when you have a friend you’re getting distant from – you want to talk to them but feel like WHO HAS TIME TO GO INTO ALL THAT BACKSTORY? So you don’t call and you get more distant.
But if you call or text them often enough, then when you NEED to call them, you will.
So I build the relationship, not so God answers the phone (he always does) but so I WON’T BE AFRAID TO CALL. So I’ll REMEMBER to call. When something crazy happens, I’ll feel like, Oh, I know who can help.
So: Pray. Just try it.
2. Practice gratitude
Gratitude lists can feel silly and Pollyannaish. But I am not seeing the world clearly when it all looks bleak.
I first started writing gratitude lists when I stopped drinking. Writing gratitude lists gave me a few minutes of relief each day from hating myself, my life, and everyone around me.
I didn’t love it.
I just wrote a gratitude list as a practice: every morning, ten things.
I tried to be really honest. Even if I knew I “should” be grateful for something, if I wasn’t feeling it, I didn’t write it.
My early lists looked like this:
I am grateful for:
- This coffee cup because I would be burning my hands if I had to drink coffee from my cupped hands.
- This chair because I’d be cold if I was sitting on these freezing-ass hardwood floors.
- Tonight, when it is night, I can go to sleep again and not have to do anything or talk to anybody.
You get the idea.
So over time, my life has transformed (to see how, read here.) Now I have a lot to be truly grateful for. But sometimes I’m still not grateful for the things I “should” be grateful for.
Often my lists still look like this:
I am grateful for:
- This fuzzy blue blanket that I bought for myself from Target.
- The birdsongs in the still dark morning outside.
- That I live on such a quiet street and I can hear people riding their bikes by or see people I know jogging every morning. (I love that lady Heather who has been speed walking past my house at dawn. Hi, Heather!)
Gratitude adjusts my sight.
Sometimes I take the empty toilet paper roll on my way to the kitchen recycling and I look around my apartment just to see what it looks like when I block out everything else and focus on one thing at a time – the print on our wall of a girl with a horse’s head, the light on the ceiling reflected from a cd sculpture my son made in kindergarten, a mess in the corner – the laundry still sitting in the basket from when I did it a week ago. We just keep coming out to the living room to get clean underwear.
The truth is, seen this way, the world looks pretty good. Different, at least. Manageable.
Gratitude refocuses me.
3. Receive all good things as a gift from God
For me the quickest way to this attitude is to go on a hike. Look around, I tell myself: THIS IS AMAZING and THANK YOU TO GOD OR SCIENCE OR THE GOD OF EVOLUTION OR WHOEVER WHO BROUGHT THIS ALL TOGETHER. But if you’re more of an indoor person, try going to a movie, or taking yourself out to lunch or to a museum, or shopping. Whatever would feel like a gift to yourself.
While you’re there accept this as a gift from God – accept it with thanks. Even if it feels stupid, say Thank you, God, for taking me to this movie, thank you for buying me this popcorn, thank you for this new sweater, thank you for bringing me to this awesome restaurant that you know I love.
This is one way to understand God – as THE SOURCE OF EVERYTHING GOOD. On my hikes, I say, THANK YOU, GOD for these mossy trees, this pileated woodpecker, this little stream and this tiny waterfall.
Thank you, God, for bringing me here today when YOU KNEW I DIDN’T WANT TO BE INSIDE WORKING ON MY COMPUTER ON PORTLAND’S FIRST SUNNY DAY IN YEARS. Thank you, God, for getting me out of the house.
When I do these 3 things:
Receive all good things as a gift from God
I feel more connected to God, and I feel better.
I know that God loves me.
I may not know who God is, but I can feel it/him/her as a benevolent presence that loves me and wants the best for me and has provided an array of choices for me – an abundance of love and awesomeness and also has the strength to get me through anything – has faith and hope and perseverance to spare.
God can help me, but if I’m not connected that help can be hard for me to access.
So try to connect. It will feel crazy at the start. (You can read about my faith journey here.)
Pick one of these 3 strategies and do it for 10 days and see how it feels. Or just do it for one day, and then another, and another, and another. See if it makes you feel better. More connected to something good.
Take it as an experiment – an experiment in faith-building, relationship-building.
We’re trying to take the weight of the world off our own shoulders and put it on God’s shoulders. Try it and let me know how it goes.
Leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me how your faith life is going, what you’re struggling with, or if you even feel connected to a Higher Power or not. I’d love to hear from you!