My first experience with God occurred when I was fourteen-years old. My mother, after finding racy pictures and lingerie pages from the Sears catalogue hidden under my bed, confronted me about them in the middle of family dinner. The trauma has largely erased all specific memories, but lasting guilt about masturbation was one of them.
The next Sunday in church, sitting remorsefully in a pew, I decided to seek forgiveness. As the preacher droned on, I explained to God the nature of my sin and my desire for clemency. I didn’t expect anything; it seemed like the right thing to do. To my surprise, I felt an immediate sense of relief that left me feeling physically different. I literally felt lighter, even though I didn’t lose ten pounds waiting for the sermon to end.
That’s how my personal spirituality began. Of course, this didn’t mean I refrained from further mortal sins through some discovered magical power. Instead, what stayed with me was the sense of being heard. Something responded after I said a few words in my head. I have approached God in a relational manner ever since.
When I look back on that Sunday morning, and wonder why it occurred, I find there is no easy answer. It’s not like I was in regular contact with the heavenly realm prior to my confession, and so already in God’s good graces. Worship was mostly spent looking at my girlfriend one aisle over. And while I have had other, similar experiences, I have also sought forgiveness without receiving any palpable relief. Why that time?
It’s something I think about, simply to gain a better understanding. This is what I’ve managed to glean:
1. God is available to anyone at any time. Prior acts of goodness or previous expressions of interest are not required. There are no office hours.
2. There is no single way to approach God.
3. That being said, it’s important to make the approach. God does not read minds or act without an invitation. Find some time to be available and present yourself.
4. Honesty is essential, but not honesty in the legal sense we usually have in mind. Honesty is transparency, and transparency is thoughtless. We speak, think, or act in a manner so genuine that we don’t need to think about what to say or do. It just happens, with no filter or persona. To put it in Taoist terminology, it’s when you simply “is.”
Unfortunately for myself, that has most often occurred during a moment of crisis; I’m trying to get better about that. It makes life much more peaceful. Shedding those personas can be difficult, even traumatic, but that’s also where love is found.
5. Let go of expectations or anticipations. Patiently pay attention. God has come to me in all kinds of ways; the Creator is creative.
6. The common denominator for any experience of God will always be one of love, but it is essential to understand the nature of love. Love always seeks what is best and views everyone as equally deserving of love. Emotions are often engendered by love, but love is not an emotion. Neither are emotions a stand-in for love. It is also true that love does not form attachments, which can be disconcerting for us humans who want to feel attached.
7. God requires nothing from us. That’s why people can successfully live without God in their lives. For the same reason, everything that separates us from God is found within ourselves. See the previous discussion on transparency.
8. Even though God needs nothing, saying thanks is still a good idea, because it’s the loving thing to do.