Thursday, 18 February 2010
Opening the door...
I have found it really hard to actually sit down and write this post ~ not physically, but emotionally and spiritually. But it is something which I very much want to share with you, so here goes!
My spiritual path has been a very difficult one to walk for many years. I spent a good portion of my adult life totally denying the existence of God ~ an avowed atheist, in fact. There came a point of recognition, though, that there really was something more to life ~ I realised that there was indeed a Creator. This was a little difficult for me to handle, actually, this "knowing" that I and everyone/everything around me was not just some kind of freak happening, a chance-in-however-many-billions. Eventually, though, I did sort of manage to wrap my head around this new-for-me concept. But I was most definitely not ready to accept the concept of God! Instead, I tried out some pagan pathways. I really did try hard to believe in Gods and Goddesses, spells and magic but time and again I found myself struggling with these ideas. I couldn't settle on a pagan path which felt "right" to me. Oh, don't get me wrong, there are some aspects of paganism which I do feel strongly about ~ a love of the natural world, for example ~ and looking back, I think it was this which kept me trying to "be" a pagan for quite some time.
Then, in my early forties, something distressing happened to me (which I do not ever intend to reveal or discuss!) and I found myself calling out to God! I really cannot say which was the most shocking aspect of this: the fact that I had called out to God for comfort or the fact that He answered me! But I cannot deny that He did indeed answer my anguished call ~ with love, compassion and forgiveness. I felt His arms around me, holding me to Him; I felt the love pouring out from Him; I "heard" Him call me His child. I had opened the door to Him and my life was never going to be quite the same again!
I wish I could tell you that it has been plain-sailing since then but it has not! Quite the contrary, in fact. My path has been just as difficult, just as twisting, just as strewn with pot-holes of doubt, confusion, lack of faith, lack of confidence as it was previously. To be completely honest with you, if anything it has been even worse ~ at least before I opened that door to God I could still hang on to my comfortable conviction that He didn't exist, which sort of made life easier in a weird kind of way.
So, I decided that I needed to find a Church family. Well, I say I decided but deep down I knew that this was the next step on my path that God wanted me to take. I thought this would be a simple, easy-peasy exercise. How wrong I was!
Let me explain that I do not have any experience of "church"; even though I was Christened my family were not church-goers. I never went to an "ordinary" church service, despite my Mum being insistent that we were Church of England! So this finding-of-the-right-church-for-me exercise was a completely alien experience. I decided that since I had been Christened into the Church of England, I would start with an Anglican church. Which I did. I went. It did not feel "right" at all! Now, this was a bit of a surprise to me to be honest and one for which I was unprepared. I think I had just assumed that since I had been Christened into the C of E, then I would naturally find my place there. I had to do some treading-of-water for a while whilst I tried to figure out where to go next.
During this time, a friend I had met online a few years earlier had converted from the Baptist Church into the Roman Catholic Church. Perhaps I should point out that during my many years of atheism, I had very strong anti-Catholic views. But my friend was so obviously happy and at peace on this new path that I started to wonder if it might be the right path for me, too. So I started to attend our local Catholic Church. Just as I had done with paganism, I really tried hard with the Catholic Church. I tried to push my doubts aside for quite some time, but it was starting to become more and more difficult to convince myself that I was on the right path.
Then my back "went" again and once more I was pretty immobile. I became depressed ~ both because of my health issues and my spiritual woes. I kept wondering when I would be fit enough to get back to Church but as time went by, I found that I was actually rather relieved that I couldn't get there! In the end, of course, I realised that I had stuck it out with the Catholic Church for so long because of my friend and not because of my own convictions.
So although I was relieved to have discovered that the Catholic Church was not where God was asking me to go, I was distressed to find myself back in that same old scenario of treading water once more.
Now whilst I have been stagnating, my daughter has been blossoming in her faith and spiritual path. Beverly started to attend a Methodist Church in our town and she was very happy there ~ still is, in fact :-) Beverly and I had a few little conversations about my struggles and she suggested that she could ask someone from the Church if they would be able to have a chat with me. So that was how I found myself last Friday having a visit from the lovely Deacon of the Church. We talked for a long time and I felt very much at ease in her company.
Now this is where, for me at least, life starts to get exciting! The Deacon told me that on Sunday evening the Church was holding their regular Healing Hope service and she asked if I would like to come. She also told me that on 22nd February, the Minister would be starting his annual "six week exploration of following Jesus within a Christian community ~ ideal for anyone considering Baptism, Confirmation or Church membership". I could see for myself God's hand in all this!
The Deacon could tell that I was hesitant about the Church service; I had explained to her all that I have told you in this post and she picked up that I was not very confident about going to the service alone. She told me that she would be very happy to take me to the service and indeed stay with me during it. I was very touched by her kindness and it was all arranged! She didn't have any of her business cards left so although she wrote down her email address for me, I did not have a contact telephone number. As Sunday wore on, I started to get more and more nervous about that evening's service and if I had had the Deacon's phone number, I would have rung her to cancel! As it was, I had to go through with it. In the event it was, as you might already have guessed, nothing to worry about at all.
And then came the reading of John 5: 1-8. This really struck a chord with me but it was nothing compared to the reflections made on the reading! I found myself feeling more and more emotional, as if the lady doing the reading and giving her reflections was talking straight to me! I started to feel very choked up and tears started to run down my face. After the reading, there was time given over to Prayer Ministery groups and the Deacon asked if I would like to pray with one of the groups. Although I was nervous and weepy and a little shaky, I gladly accepted her suggestion. She introduced me to one of the Prayer Ministery teams, a lady and a man, and I sat with them. The lady led the prayers and asked if I would like to ask Christ into my life ~ oh, how much I wanted this! So, I repeated the words she spoke ~ how glad I am that I didn't have to try to find the words myself, as I don't think I would have been able to in the state I was in! The man, too, said a prayer of thanks.
I can't tell you the exact words that were spoken simply because I can't clearly recall them. But what I do know is that for the first time ever I truly asked God to forgive my sins and to be part of my life. I knew for certain that I wanted to give myself to Him, freely. I wish I could properly describe to you the feelings of relief I felt after I had done this ~ it was like a great rock had been lifted from my heart and there was also a physical feeling, like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Even my back felt easier! I also felt like I had come home, that this Church was where God wanted me to be.
Funnily enough, we have neighbours who also attend this Church and when I was starting out on my search for a church family, because I knew they attended church, I did actually ask them about it. So, of course, I could have found myself there much earlier but I am sure that God first wanted me to know that other paths were not the right ones for me. There is another "funny" thing about all this! I had the Deacon's email address on a card she had given me about the exploration I mentioned earlier. I had seen the address she had written down. What I did not notice until after I got home Sunday evening was that she had, in fact, also written down her telephone number! I was absolutely convinced that I did not have her phone number, which meant I could not "cry off" going to the service because I couldn't easily contact her at short notice. God's hand yet again!
Wow, this has turned out to be something of an epic post but in the end I found it much easier to write than I had thought I would. I am not naive enough to believe that my path will now be smooth and straight but for the first time, I know that I am indeed on the right path :-)