24 March 2014

Defining God

And there are so many things going on in my life right now. Remember a couple weeks ago I shared with you about my friend who is battling a terrible drug and alcohol addiction?  Being that I too have my addictions, legal as food addictions are, the behaviors and triggers can be the same.  She is on her path to recovery, having been clean since the end of January.  And at this point on her path, her program is asking her to embrace the concept of God in her life. And then once she's done that, she must turn her life and her will over to God as she understands God to be.  And this is where she has been having a lot of trouble.  And we've had many discussions over the past week or so about defining God.

It's difficult for me to understand life without God.  I was born into my Christian faith.  My family practiced our Christianity when I was a child as we do now.  And although there were times throughout my life, that I may not have walked as closely with Him, there was never a doubt in my mind about God's existence.

This past week has been especially challenging for me, because my friend has had to define God in her terms, and I have been trying to guide her.  And let me tell you, it's tough to tell someone --  who has no concept of God -- what God and faith are all about.

We started off with our Armodoxy concept:  God is Love.  Christ is Love incarnate.  Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one.  So when we study and apply Christ's teachings of love and compassion in our lives, we are doing as God wants us to do.  Commands us to do.  It all sounds so plain and simple right?
I thought so.  But it's not so simple when you are talking to someone who does not share the experience of unconditional love, let alone a love that can be trusted and is a constant in life.

Our first experience with love is from our parents.  We are born into this world, completely helpless and dependent on our parents to nurture and protect us.  And that happened in my friends life.  Let's call her my friend Anita for the sake of this writing. At a very young age, her parents divorced.  And it was not a pretty picture.  Her childhood has memories of her parents hating one another so much that they would need to drop her off at the police station in order to exchange physical custody and not come into contact with one another.  When she was with her mother, she heard stories about her father.  And vice versa when she was with her father.  So right there, that "LOVE" factor was absent.  When parents divorce, it's difficult on everyone in the family, but most difficult on the children.  Parents  need to be mindful that it's not the child's fault.  It's not healthy for the child to have to choose sides, or even get involved in the drama and the pain.  In our conversations, Anita did share with me that she didn't understand why she was conceived in the first place since her parents were so against one another.  That's a terrible burden for a child to bear.

Then later on, as she grew older, rather than unconditional love, their love was filled with conditions.  She had to be perfect.  She had to dress and act a certain way.  There was tremendous pressure to achieve, and then having achieved early graduation and entrance into high school at age 13, she was stuck socially.  There was no one in high school her age, or her stature.  She didn't fit in.  Yes, she was brilliant in math and science, but you have to have an amazing support system outside of school in order to deal with the pressure of being unique and not fitting in within the confines of school.

I think of my own childhood.  Bullying was always there.  I was always the chubby kid.  And yes, I did get teased, but I knew that I had my support system.  My parents where there.  And I knew that if I really had a problem, I could go to them and they would make it better....at least they'd be on my side.  I think about how that would be if I didn't have that support.  Parental support, paired with an early knowledge that I could ask God to guide me, were comforting to me.  When I was a child, every night my mom would come to our room to pray with us and tuck us in.  I have to say, that although as a child, the recitation of the Lord's Prayer was not really something we gave deep thought to, it was comforting to know that there was something greater than ourselves we could rely on.

Anita didn't have that.  Just last week she commented, when she saw the cross around my neck, that she used to wear a cross.  And her father told her to take it off because "you don't want people judging you a certain way."  She said she was criticized for searching for faith.  "I used to go to church.  But that stopped. If I wore a cross, I got yelled at.  If I wore a buddha, I got yelled at."  She was in so much pain at home with an abusive father and a self-absorbed mother.  When I asked her why she didn't reach out to aunts, uncles, anyone, her answer spoke volumes.  "I thought it was normal.  I thought getting beaten was normal.  It was my normal.  As I got older, I just accepted it as my reality."  So it's no wonder that she tried to escape with substance abuse.

So back to the God concept.  So how do you explain the concept of being able to trust in a loving God, an omincient and compassionate God,  to someone who has had no experience with unconditional love, or being able to trust in love?  Not easy.  I talked this out with Fr. Vazken.  He reminded me that I had many years of working on my faith, and that as simple as our learning is - the concept that God is Love - it has come from many years of study on Christ's teachings.  He suggested that we start with the Gospel of John. So we gave it a shot, but even so, it wasn't resonating.  In order for Anita to work on her recovery, she had to find her God, a power greater than herself.  And she was at a stalemate.  This was causing her great frustration.  She had never known God. She had never needed God.  And our conversation ended with "What does God have to do with my sobriety!!!  I don't get it!!"

She has been searching.  She has a dear friend whom she talks to, so I asked what his perception of God was.  Maybe that would help her.  And I think it did.  Hearing it from one of her peers helped.  She said that her friend relied on God to be there at all times.  That it's the one thing he can trust in even when everything else around him is not going well.   God is there for him.  That was her friend's truth. Now we needed to find hers.

So we tried different concepts of God.  I understood that what Anita needs is not to believe in my God.  But to believe in God as she understands it.  And I have shared with her my insights always telling her that this was my truth, and my understanding and in seeking the truth she will come to her own understanding. So we talked about finding God in nature.  She seems to have a respect  for nature, so what was wrong with that? We talked about that.  Then one morning, after having the full moonlight shine on her through her window, she told me that she thought she maybe should would choose the  moon as her higher power.  After all, the moon was always there.  She could rely on it rising each night.  She had always identified with it.  So the moon it was.  Until it wasn't!  Because try as she might, she couldn't understand how she would rely on the moon to help her in her time of need?  That just led to more frustration.

Then I shared another analogy I had heard.  Believing in God is like riding a tandem bike with God at the front and us in the back.  It's up to us to do all the work.  To put forth the effort for our lives, our healing...and God is steering us, around all the potholes and obstacles.  I liked that.  But then again, I'm used to God being there for me.

The talks may not have been working, but the power of love was present.  I keep praying each morning that God give Anita the willingness to be open to this search.  And along with the prayers, there have been a lot of hugs and love.  Open dialogue.  I told her that my way was not to try to convert her, but to love her and help her come to her own understanding.  And I shared with her that it's difficult for me as well, to trust in God's will sometimes, and I have been brought up with God.  I am active in my faith.  And I struggle with letting go as well.  So I understood how difficult this must be for her.  It's hard, given that we are created with free will, to just give up our problems to God....to love.  But when we do, they do resolve themselves if we believe.

The problem has been that she has questions.  As to the existence of God.  And those questions cannot be backed up by scientific fact.  She is good in science, and I explained to her that science and religion go hand in hand...they complement one another.   But that what I was viewing within her was the need to BE GOD.  Not find God.  She wanted the control.  She wanted the infinite understanding of life.  She wanted to control all situations and have answers.  And so far, this type of thinking had not led her down the right path.  Because clearly she wasn't in control.  We are not in control of life.  It happens.  With all its and downs, twists and turns.  She agreed that my perception of her was true. I can't judge her on that given the cards she had been dealt.  If you can't rely on anyone, you have to rely on yourself.

Letting go, and letting God in your life is a total leap of faith.  You believe, and you trust.  And you take that jump.  And that, for the nonbeliever, is terrifying!  So we tried visualization.  Her recovery program encourages her to "act as if" she believes.  Saying that it's okay not to understand it all right now.  Just open your heart and have a willingness to believe.  Believe in the idea that there is something greater out there, and it will happen at the right time.  She wasn't really buying it totally, but I also didn't see her fighting this idea too much.

And then just two days ago, she shared with me that she felt like she was in a good place with all of it.  She said, "I'm okay.  I'm happy.  And I think I'm finally okay with where I am with it all."  I didn't question it, because most important is the need for her to hear herself say that.  And to live that moment.  I didn't ask what happened, what she believed to be true.  Just a hug.

She asked what I'd be blogging about this week.  I told her I was going to write about lent and our lenten journey together since we have been listening to Fr. Vazken's Lenten Journey each evening, but that I was thinking about our talks about defining God, and that I'd write  about that.  She thought it was a good idea. She asked me to write about it, because maybe someone out there can learn from all this.  Earlier in the week, she had a long discussion with my husband about our solar system, space, the planets, the universe, and she was very interested.  She shared this with her friend and the two of them decided to take a trip to the Griffith Park Observatory.  She had never been there despite growing up in southern California.  And she was blown away.  She showed me her cell phone pictures, and shared what she had learned.

This morning, as I was typing up my blog, I asked her what she was feeling.  Since I was blogging about our discussions, could she share with me where she was in her quest to find her God.  And she did.  She said that understanding the universe, as she had seen it last night made her realize how very small we are in the grand scheme of things.  How tiny and insignificant we are.  Yet how real our problems and our lives are to us.  She said she knew that part, but it was reinforced last night as she saw the solar system mapped out in front of her....and saw how tiny the earth was in compariston to Jupiter.  And how infinite space was.  She shared,
 "I have always had trouble relying on something consistently because my opinions on things are always changing.  There hasn't been a constant.  But looking at it all, I realize that it would be stupid of me not to believe. It's all created so perfectly, and we're a part of it all  We all fit in together, in the grand scheme of things - and we are right where we're supposed to be at this time."  

That's HUGE, right!??  I saw in her a sense of peace, for today.  And although she is not yet finished defining God, she is well on her way toward the next step of her healing. I am so grateful for Anita, and that God has blessed me and brought her to me to share this journey with her.  By doing so she has helped me to define God as well.  I am 100%, absolutely sure, that God is Love, and when we open our hearts and minds not only to God, but to one another - unconditionally - He will find us - Love will find us.  And the healing will begin.

I had shared with Anita this quote...which I read to her, and she completed because she was familiar with it,

I will take this quote one step further.  I would change the "believe in you" line to this - 
"Believe in GOD within you!


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