Looking for God
It seems I’ve been looking for God my whole life. It’s still a daily choice to keep looking, because quite frankly, some days, I wonder if God has gone into hiding. Who could blame him, right? I mean, when I look around in most of the places I was taught to find God, I can be extremely disappointed these days.
Here’s a little excerpt from my book about part of my early faith journey:
*Religion started shaping my story very early in my life. It was important to my parents that I had a clear view of God and how much he loved me. It was the culture I was born into and brought up in. I was “dedicated” to God by my parents in front of our church congregation and a little Bible was placed into my hands before I could even read or write. I was taught to pray before bedtime and before each meal. I practiced memorizing scripture and learned all the rules of how to be a good Christian girl. I was taught “right” from “wrong” and bought into the belief that to get to heaven I must act and behave in a certain way. I was loved and sheltered within the confines of our little Christian community, and I honestly didn’t know people lived any other way.
What I have learned as an adult is that everyone’s spiritual journey is different and that’s okay. That makes so much sense to me now. I say “now,” because as you probably could glean from my childhood spiritual experiences, I thought everyone had to believe the exact same way, worship the exact same way, and interpret the Bible the exact same way in order to get to heaven. Catholics, Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Anglicans, Episcopalians etc . . . were all out of luck! Clearly there was only one direct route into God’s graces and that was the Southern Baptist way.
And then came the boy. I call him “the boy” because we truly were just kids when we fell in love, I got pregnant, and we got married—in that order. He was 19 and I was 20, and his religious affiliation was Church of Christ. Man, I thought the Southern Baptists were narrow in their religious views, but they were little hellions compared to the Church of Christ! At least that was my experience in the Church of Christ we attended in Arkansas. I now found myself in a church that was telling me that their way was the only path to heaven, NOT the Southern Baptist way. It was very confusing to me for quite awhile.
This new church even made me get re-baptized because, according to the minister there, I had “only been baptized into the Baptist church, not God’s church,” so apparently my first baptism didn’t count. That was news to me! There were some lovely people in that church, but it was legalistic in the harshest way. I always felt I was failing at being a Christian. I could never keep all the rules and never felt truly close to God.
I didn’t last in the Church of Christ very long, and after that I actually walked away from God altogether for awhile. Why? Well, you’ll have to get the book to read the rest of that story! Ha! But I did eventually find my way to another church, and then another church, and then another. I’ve visited many churches as well - including a Baptist church, Lutheran, Anglican, Non-Denominational and a Progressive Christian church, but nothing quite “took”. So, when I was in my early 50’s, I left organized church altogether, choosing instead to spend the last several years diving into my relationship with God on my own, without attending a church on a regular basis.
Here is where I stand on all of that today: What you seek, you will find. I have found that I can find God when I earnestly look for him, no matter where that is. Whether in church, my home, in nature, or on the streets - I do believe that God is all around if we keep our spiritual eyes and ears open. For me, though, it took leaving the confines and rules of the church in order to be free enough to see God in a much bigger way.
Brian McLaren is a pastor, speaker and author of a couple of my favorite books. His book, Faith After Doubt literally saved me when I was ready to walk away from the Christian faith completely a few years ago. His new book, Do I Stay A Christian? has been equally helpful and gives me hope for the Christian religion in general. I can’t recommend both of these books enough if you are in a place of doubt.
Here’s a quote from that recent book that resonated deeply with me:
**“Even though I share with my atheist friends “a disappointment with the narrowness and limitations” of many concepts of God, I do still dare to believe there is a You to address in the universe, a Presence, a Love that loves through all loves, a radiant and holy mystery, the Spirit of life and creativity, the Wisdom woven into the pattern of the universe, the “still, small voice” that beckons creation, including me, toward love and maturity. I can’t help but see that You shining through in the face of Jesus … and through the lives of holy, compassionate, and wise people I meet everywhere. That You that I encounter in life is far better than the He that many of us were taught in church.”
Yes, that “You” is who I’ve been looking for. And I feel closer to You everyday as I search earnestly in all the places I never was taught to look.
In the last couple of years, I found a church I attend here in Nashville that feels like a safe place for me once again, but it took a l-o-n-g time to get there. If I’m being honest, I still feel a hesitancy to dive in deep and commit to being a full-time member. I still have triggers pop up as I sit in the pews, surrounded by other believers. I may be dealing with that forever, but I’m willing to take a chance because this body of believers is quite different. No one is requiring me to believe a certain way in order to belong and be welcomed. No one is telling me that I’m going to hell if I don’t believe the way they do. No one is expecting my faith journey to look exactly like theirs. SIGH. That feels so nice. So… inviting and holy.
I have attended some other churches recently with friends that I really enjoyed as well. All differing religions. And yes, I have seen/felt God in all of them. I also see and feel God when I’m out in nature. I saw him yesterday in the eyes of the shy boy bagging my groceries as we engaged in small talk and he made me laugh and my laugh made him smile. I see God in the eyes of animals I come into contact with. I saw/felt God recently in hospital workers who were lovingly taking care of patients while I was there visiting a friend. I mean, really — if you just look for God watching the evening news on tv, then yeah - you’re going to wonder where he has gone. But if you look around in your daily life, and really seek him, he will be found.
If there is one thing I have learned in my many years on this planet… God does not hide. What you seek, you will find. If you are struggling to find God these days, look in the unexpected places. Don’t limit your searching to only the ways your particular religion tells you is acceptable. Finding God in so many places that the religion of my youth told me not to look has been a beautiful exploration. So many surprising discoveries along the way! Turns out, God is wayyyy bigger than I ever imagined. And he’s in many more places than I imagined too. God is everywhere when we have eyes to see.
Let’s all keep looking together. — M
What I’m digging right now:
BOOK: I just finished Matthew Perry’s biography, Friends, Lovers and The Big Terrible Thing on audible. My GOSH - what a story! This one truly shows that money and fame will definitely NOT make you happy in this world. Happiness has to come from inside and when you are messed up inside, well… money and fame will hurt you. Warning: if you are sensitive to curse words, this one isn’t for you. The “F” word flies around a LOT. He also has a snarky wit, and some listeners complained about him sounding bitter - but I like the snark and I didn’t get the feeling he was bitter. He’s just telling it like it is. Matthew is a great story-teller and I was pulled in quickly and stayed with it right till the end. It left me rooting for him to continue to stay sober and find a real journey towards peace and happiness. Go, Matty, go!
PODCAST: The Barb Knows Best podcast is quickly becoming one of my new favorites. This is hosted by Barb Schmidt (Instagram-ers know her as @peaceful_barb) and her daughter, Michelle Maros. I’ve been listening to Ep 42: Releasing Self-Doubt and it’s soooo good, but just about any episode is packed with great info.
MUSIC: I can’t stop listening to the album My Tribe by Blessing Offor. Uplifting and beautiful. A beautiful blend of pop and soul, I promise you’ll be smiling all the way through this one. The last track, “Looking for God” inspired the title of this post.
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*excerpt from my book, God, My Girlfriends and Me: Nurturing the Three Most Important Relationships In A Woman’s Life.
**quote from — Do I Stay Christian?: A Guide for the Doubters, the Disappointed, and the Disillusioned by Brian D. McLaren
***image at top of post borrowed from: https://utmost.org/am-i-looking-to-god/
Dearest Marcia…as the sister of James Casto I’ve had the opportunity to meet you on several occasions. I recently ordered your book but have not yet had the opportunity to read it but am looking so forward to doing so. I just wanted to thank you, to let you know how deeply this blog post touched me. Having “accepted Christ” at a Baptist youth retreat when I was 15 I spent the past 46 years involved in or working for ministries, attending church, Bible studies, etc. From day one I had questions (as I am a seeker) and was shut down by those in positions of authority. I learned not to ask but my questions were merely buried, not gone. When Covid hit and my husband brought it home from playing on worship team where several were sick I took a step back. I was caring for our mother and it was my responsibility to protect her so I sheltered in place after recovering from my bout with Covid. Best thing that ever happened to and for me! For years I had felt the tug (perhaps need) to step away from church (not God but the organized Americanized church). I found it to be a distraction from a real relationship with God for me. I’ve been “deconstructing” as they say for the past few years and I’ve never felt more authentic nor have I ever had such peace. I am loving this new journey of discovery and am so grateful for your voice, your words that speak my heart. I can’t wait to read more and to start reading “God, my Girlfriends and Me”!!