My own spiritual crisis came during college. After a long drunken night in which I allowed myself to become the subject of much gossip and much humiliation, I found myself crawling into a shell where I believed no one could touch me and where I believed that every feeling I’d ever have would go completely numb. I spent days cursing the God I’d been raised to believe in, wondering how a being that was supposedly so good and powerful could allow something like this to happen.
Three years later, I found myself once again wondering of the actions of God, though this time in a whole different light. A close friend of mine was evicted from the home she and her husband shared. For them, it seemed like their darkest hour, and in sympathy, I listened to their grief with smiles and nods and tried to tell them everything would be okay with as much encouragement as I could muster. Two months later, my friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. The tumor was found in time to treat it and she’s now in remission. Had she stayed, it would not have been found in time since the doctors she’d been seeing in our small northern town had all passed it to the wayside as nothing more than a normal breast lump.
It was this incident that started my own realizations that there was indeed a thing such as fate, and if fate were to be controlled by anything, it must certainly be a God of some type. I ran through the all the cliches: “The lord works in mysterious ways,” “Everything happens for a reason”, and “There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel” were some of my favorites. These phrases began finding their own truths in my life and I found myself throwing out random prayers here and there, not just the “Please give me what I want” kind, because I realized that I didn’t actually every really know what I wanted, but also the “Give me strength” and “See us through this” kind of requests as well. Through the rest of my college career and a three year relationship that ended a month before a wedding, I found myself growing closer to the God I’d once cursed and then questioned. I was not only accepting the fact that there was a greater being than myself, but I was welcoming that power into my life for better or for worse.
I’ve never been one to preach to anyone else. Raised Catholic, I’ve been friends with Baptists, Jews, Jehovah Witnesses, pagans, wiccans, and atheists. Having considered myself agnostic at one point, I was drawn to others who were as confused about religion as myself and who, at some point, had shown much of the same bitterness. The one thing we all seemed to have in common was a need to turn away from the teachings we’d been raised with, to find something new, something that didn’t feel so forced and that would allow us to be our individual selves and not impose so many rules on us in the name of God.
Envious of my friends who’d grown up in strong backgrounds and were comfortable with their spirituality, my own trek consisted of reading up on several “new age” type religions, visiting different churches, and dabbling in Wicca. What I found from all these is that my own religious comfort zone could not be found in any church, temple, or synagogue. It could not be found with canned prayers or elaborate ceremonies. My spirituality had to come from within. I had to figure out what I believed in and establish an individual rapport with my own holy spirit. My God would accept me for who I was, would show me when I did something wrong, but would lead me on the path of doing unto others and doing my best in the world. This may sound dodgy, but once I realized that my beliefs were right there with me the whole time, I was able to cope with the hard times in my life and prayer became as common to me as a regular meal.
The following tips are not in any way meant to be preachy, nor are they mean to detract from anyone’s current beliefs. Everyone has their right to their own spirituality and I would never impose my own ideas onto them. Nor am I trying to tell everyone “Hey, you need to do this!” What these tips are meant to do is give a guideline to those seeking some sort of presence in their lifem whether it be a God or simply some form of validation that there’s more out there than meets the eye. I will never assume the role of an expert on the matter. Using examples and techniques from my own life, I do nothing more than pass these on in the hopes that perhaps one person out there might be able to find some use in them.
1. The invisible is actually all around you – Many people have a hard time believing in an invisible entity to guide them through their everyday routine and the wrenches that life tends to throw. Sometimes its okay not to force yourself to believe in something that’s not there. Instead, take a moment to look at the world around you. Some of my deepest moments have come through the appreciation of a brilliantly sunny day, the first fresh snowfall of winter, or a warm spring rain. Take a deep breath and enjoy these things for what they are, the gifts of nature and the reminders of a world that is far more vast than what we actually perceive.
2. Sore knees are not a requirement of prayer – It’s an old idea that in order to really pray effectively one needs to sit on their knees for minutes, or even hours, on end. You wouldn’t need to assume any special stance to talk to a close friend, and I’ve always believed that the higher power would just as soon be talked to like a close friend. Most of my prayers have been done in the comfort of my car on long road trips. Just recently, I did nothing more than lie in bed and have a long conversation with my God. Sometimes I’ll be standing in line at the grocery store or waiting in the doctors office and just start praying in my head. It’s this frequent spiritual communication that gets us through our days much more effectively than kneeling down everytime we feel the need to have a Godly conversation.
3. Buildings have their place, but not if they make you uncomfortable – There is a classic quip that is used quite frequently among my circle of friends: “I can’t set foot inside a church. The moment I do it will catch on fire.” While this phrase is laughed off, it’s true that many people feel uncomfortable inside the confines of a house of worship. This could stem from childhood experiences, a distaste for the idea of organized religion, or of simply not wanting to be around others during worship. This is okay! The church experience, for those who give it a try, can be a good one, offering a place to meet friends, become closer to family, and take part in fulfilling volunteer activities. But if you’re not a person who finds these things important, or someone who just doesn’t like crowds, spirituality is found inside yourself, not in a foundation. God is going to find you and hear what you have to say, no matter what.
4. Realize the power of unanswered prayers – Many times, people get caught up in praying for the things they want only to be disappointed when they don’t get them. Even I’ve fallen into this trap in my life and I still sometimes do when the selfish side of me takes over. What we have to realize is that there really is a reason for everything, but sometimes alot of it depends on your own outlook and the strength you find within yourself. For instance, when my fiance and I broke up, I thought my world was ending. By the end of the year I’d found someone who showed me the kind of love I was missing with my ex. Had I not endured the trials of that ordeal, I never would have found the man who’s going to be my husband. If my friend hadn’t been evicted from her place, she may very well have been a victim of breast cancer. Rather than praying for the things you want, remember that things take their own course. I’ve found that one of the best things I’ve ever prayed for is the strength to endure the things life throws at me. This prayer has never gone unanswered.
5. Karma is a wonderful thing when it comes to spirituality – The idea of karma is usually used when talking of the beliefs of India or any form of “new age” religion, but karma itself is simply a shortened term for an idea that is used in religions around the world: Treat others the way you yourself wish to be treated. This not only extends to being a good friend to your loved ones, but also to treating well those you come in contact with on a regular basis. Random acts of kindness aren’t just a pop culture phenomenon. They really do make you feel good about yourself! And when you come upon your own times of difficulty, chances are you’ll be treated to the same courtesy you’ve shown others in their own time of need.
Spirituality isn’t about how many hours you spend gazing at a statue of a religious icon, nor is it about how much money you donate to your church. Many people find comfort in these things, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But some of us, at some time, need a little more of a push in finding our own prayer voices. Don’t let the rules deter you from allowing your soul its own otherwordly relationship. Find what suits you and remember that there’s not just one right way to pray.
My own blessings go with you on your journey.