Published on Elephant Journal website, July 23, 2015. 1.3K views
I am not sure where to begin.
I was not raised in the church—quite the opposite. I think I went to church with my immediate family exactly once, in the 7th or 8th grade. I was part of a ceremony for the Honor Roll, or National Honors Society, or the Girl Scouts, or something. It was great, I think.
More than 20 years later me and church have had some more encounters, most of them hostile, judgmental, homophobic, racist, preachy, intolerant of other faiths and generally terrifying. I was wondering where God was in such a restrictive environment. I thought I read somewhere that God is Love.
My steps towards a spiritual path came from an honest look at myself, who I was, who I wanted to be, and the vast difference between those two reflections. Part of me innately believed in the power of forgiveness, faith, unconditional love, universal truth and the abundance of joy to be found everywhere in our everyday lives. This part of me desperately wanted to act on these beliefs, to live as I thought and felt.
It seemed much was in my way. The other part of me clung hard to decades of built-up resentment, frustration, loneliness, fear, grief and sadness. Some days hurt and confusion took center stage. Other days it was regret, judgment, anger and pressure. The worst of all is pride and envy. I would watch myself as I numbed out my feelings in various fun but ultimately destructive ways. I was desperately missing the love and connection from people in my life: dead (a few), absent (a bunch) or distant (varies). At times I resembled a vampire, sucking the life out of people who offered me attention, excited to have someone who might want to spend time with me, see me—really see me—and most of all, not leave.
I can’t recall exactly what changed; I think I just got tired. I was tired of feeling alone, tired from apologies and regrets, exhausted at my inner double life. I was tired of wondering how to access this spiritual side that was begging to be recognized, honored and nurtured.
It was very hard for me to disengage from my anger. I had to allow myself to feel my most intense pain—grief of missing loved ones. I stopped asking why and learned acceptance of reality. I read feverishly. I exercised, practiced yoga, got great therapy, cried, felt guilty for crying and eventually let that pain go too.
One day I looked up and I was okay! I felt my pain and it didn’t destroy me. That blew my mind, because I thought if I faced my feelings they would swallow me raw and spit me out mangled, slimy and well…dead. Devoid of life. Used up. Bled dry. And honestly, falling into the pit of feelings is scary as sh*t—but you don’t stay there unless you want to.
I still had no real working concept of God, mercy, self-love, patience and generosity, but now I was in position to learn. I read In the Meantime by Iyanla Van Zant three times. I did the work to be honest, loving and forgiving. I stopped thinking so much about what others had, and began to see the fullness of my own life. I saw that I was my own biggest enemy and my own best friend. I was powerful in those roles. I could choose the energy, direction and intention of my actions, thoughts and relationships.
Things shifted. I was let go from my high level position. I graciously thanked my manager for everything she taught me and sailed towards my next adventure, which, turns out, was a much better fit. Instead of being angry I was grateful, eager. I stopped blaming others and took accountability for myself. I watched how I spoke to myself and others. I chose loving messages and felt loved in return. I smiled more and felt lighter. I worked on myself in this way for several years. God still hadn’t shown up but I was getting closer.
Then I read Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. And honestly, I was like “Whatever—there is no way some rich white lady can tell me how to get myself right.” So—spoiler alert—I read it twice, cried a ton, and immediately wrote about the infinite nature of love, letting go, meeting God and meeting you.
At some point, a friend mentioned church. And I was like church, interesting. I had only known church as a hateful, scary place. I grilled her: Is it homophobic, racist, sexist, intolerant? No, no, no and no. Are you sure? Yes. I went. Magic didn’t happen right away. I was a little intimidated and very shy. But I liked the sermon and the singing was terrific. I continued to go.
Slowly it dawned on me. Everyone was there to get healed, to feel Love! I started to understand that we were all in a place to receive love from a source of infinite abundance and overflow. You can get so full from God’s love! You literally get so full you just have to be more loving to other people. It’s too much to keep to yourself!
Recently I was reflecting on how much things had changed for me, and how grateful I was for the presence of God and love and joy. I thanked God out loud. And the voice I heard reply said, “You’re welcome. Now don’t be mad when some bad sh*t happens.”
Laughing, I was like, “I won’t!” That’s how I met God. I walked a long road, basically showed up at his house, asked to be let inside, and never left. That’s how I learned to feel good, even when I feel bad.
Author: Melinda Abbott
Editor: Travis May