On March 21st of this year I started looking for purpose. I didn’t know what that looked like for me or how I would achieve my search or what the resolution would be for me, but all the same, I searched. I spent seven days struggling without any answers. I felt totally lost; I felt like an unintentional speck on the wind waiting to land like the town in Horton Hears A Who. I felt like I was waiting for something that was just out of my reach, and it was maddening.
On Easter Sunday I sat in my backyard thinking about why. Why did I feel this way? Why did I spend every Easter with my family when I didn’t even want to acknowledge the reason for the day? Why was it that I was the one who insisted every year that everyone come home to be together on that day? Why did I sit on my mother’s garden swing and see so much history and life happening around me, but not God? Why could I imagine myself sitting in my backyard thousands of years ago on top of land covered in glaciers, or millions of years ago under a great sea with awesomely weird looking creatures floating around, but I couldn’t imagine a world in which God had any part in that? Why could I imagine in science, but not in faith? Why was faith such a hard thing? I just couldn’t wrap my head around it.
And the next day something funny happened. I stopped trying to wrap my head around it. And I used my heart instead.
I wrapped my heart around the idea that I could struggle for purpose and try as hard as I could to answer all the rational questions that I had and absolutely nothing would ever come of it, because there were no answers to the questions that I had. I wrapped my heart around the feeling that there is someone out there who is bigger than me, who granted me a purpose that was too huge for me to know. Everything changed for me that day. Not openly on the outside maybe, but my entire perspective on a lot of things I had previously “known” did a huge flip.
Before this time I couldn’t even imagine the thought of sitting in a church with people singing about God and reading His word. I was terrified by it. (Not that I’m not still a little terrified.) Now I’m asking to go to church. And having conversations about God. I am reading Hannah Brencher and Anne Lamott and Elizabeth Gilbert, and I’m getting things from them. And I’m writing in books. Do you hear me? WRITING IN BOOKS! Underlining phrases and exclaiming agreement or things to look up in the future. Writing. In. Books. Do you know what my previous self would have done knowing this information? Died. She would have died knowing that she had become a book destroyer! In her eyes people who write in books are terrors to the world only behind people who dog ear and leave their books open face down, or break the bindings on purpose! At least we still agree on those last things.
At first changing into this new person scared me, and to be honest it still does a little bit. I don’t want to become someone who is unrecognizable to the people I love. I am thinking about the times in my life when people I knew found God or made a major life change and how that looked to me. It always seemed so sudden, so brainwashy, so unlike them. It is shocking to hear someone you have known your whole life, who has never spoken God’s name in your presence, all of the sudden talking about how they have found God, and how they are having conversations with Him, and that they can feel Him in their heart, and that they find themselves drawn towards people because they feel like God is pushing them together.
I think I saw it in that negative way before because I was scared of the power that had to exist to change a heart so quickly and completely. And maybe I was jealous. About all that time I spent asking for God, and others were finding Him, but not me. About how I had never felt chosen. All the times I felt I wanted to go to church but couldn’t stop thinking about how I felt attending church as a child. How I had never connected. How I was going to be picked out as a fake, a poser. A person who was pretending to be chosen by God and feeling his presence when I just wasn’t. That is how I felt my whole life.
Everyone I knew that had faith talked about God’s presence. “God is here, He is in your heart, let Him heal you.” And I thought, “Huh. Everyone says He is there, but I can’t feel it. I am praying but I feel like I’m just saying words. I don’t feel a conversation.”
I would try to talk to God, but I never felt Him in my heart, so sometimes I would talk to my grandpa instead. I have always been able to feel him up there. I would ask him to pass things along to the Big Man, or to other friends or family who were up there. I always imagined him running back and forth, speaking into this call box that would take my words up to God’s office. “Hey God, my granddaughter says she needs help on her organic chemistry exam, can you add that to your list? Also, she smart-assed me and told me that she was going to pass the class on the first try since I failed. Can you also make a note that she needs to learn some manners?” And God would be in some big white office and He would shake his head and jot down some notes, and He would laugh and wonder how he created such an ornery young person. My grandpa would run back to the place where he could listen to me, he had a call box of his own, and he would wait and listen until I spoke again and run back to God’s office. “Hey God, she passed the test and she says thank you. She said she wants me to be proud. I tried to let her feel that she doesn’t need to pass organic chemistry to make me proud. I am. I am so proud.”
Maybe my problem was that I just didn’t know God. Maybe it was easier for me to think that I was talking to my grandpa because I already knew him so well, and loved him so much. It was easier to want to make him proud because I already knew that he would be. I knew that even if I failed that organic chemistry class he would still be proud of me. Because of my will and effort and continued attempt to improve, and because he loved me. But I didn’t know what it would take to make God proud. I didn’t know how to talk to Him because I had never had a conversation with him. I had never actually let myself imagine Him as a friend or a family member. He terrified me. I didn’t feel the need to make Him proud because I didn’t know Him. He was an authority figure to me. The scary principal no one wanted to cross.
I grew up around Catholics right? I heard so much about sins and repentance, and I saw this God that was going to smite the shit out of me if I did something to piss him off. So my whole life I’m growing up thinking about all these sins. Lying and cheating and being gay and birth control and all these things are bad, bad, bad. And I was so not feeling that. I wanted the God that gave us all equal love and kindness, and forgave us when we needed it; not the God that kept of a running tally of all the times I told my mom I was studying when I wasn’t, or of all the gay friends that I chose and loved to have in my life.
Because of this, I thought that I must just not be able to follow the bible. I decided not to read it anymore because it just made me feel bad about how screwed my afterlife was. And sometimes I thought this was why God wouldn’t talk to me. Because I was already damned in His mind. I was just a straight up sinner and He shucked me to the side because I was a waste of his energy. He wanted to focus on those who aligned to the behaviors He wanted without questioning Him.
I see it all differently now that I have wrapped my heart around Him. I have a direct line to His office. No need for my grandpa to do all that running. I am imagining him sighing with relief, pulling the handle on his lazy boy, leaning back, and watching baseball all day; praying his own prayers that this will be the Indians year to win it all. Now he can relax and take my phone calls, instead of running a daily marathon for me. My world has changed.
There was this psychology experiment that was done in the late 1800s about vision and perception. A researcher made these glasses that turned his vision upside down and totally disoriented him, and he planned to wear them for eight days to see how his body would respond. At first he was nauseated, dizzy, and confused; always reaching out to feel where he was going and sometimes falling flat on his face anyway. After a couple of days he learned to get around through the disorientation, and after seven the image flipped and became right side up, despite the glasses he wore. His brain adjusted the image he was seeing, and told him that the glasses were no longer making the world turn over. On the eighth day when he took the glasses off, something strange happened. He saw the entire world upside down for seven more days. He removed the lenses that had made him disoriented and blind, and saw the true world, without impediment, upside down for seven days before everything righted itself again.
I have been looking through those lenses my entire life. My eyes had adjusted to their thickness, my brain to their view. And on March 21 I took them off. It disoriented me, it made me feel crazy, and it took me seven days to see the world right side up again. And now that I do, everything seems different.
My entire outlook on life and self and faith have changed dramatically. Four months ago I was sitting in my backyard imagining what the world looked like behind my eyes, feeling lost in my feelings and wondering what would make me feel intentionally created with a plan and a purpose. And now I’m here. Viewing the world unobstructed. I’m looking at the same things, I’ve just changed the way I see them.