My Spiritual Journey Continues ..
When we are younger we’re taught to get down on our knees and recite a prayer before bed. Close your eyes, bow your head, fold your hands and recite a prayer before a meal.
Growing up in church and in private, Lutheran schools I remember being taught specific prayers or just to listen while pastors and teachers prayed. I experienced religion in a few different ways .. in a few different settings. I attended Lutheran schools from kindergarten to high school, long Baptist church services in my earlier years & then short Catholic Masses in my teens. They may all have different ways of praying but they all pray. Prayer was always the common denominator. I always knew its importance.
In high school, I was somewhat rebellious when it came to religion. Being forced to practice one religion at school & choose between two others at home made me question it all. I refused to claim a denomination, mostly because I felt like my teachers wanted me to choose. One day in junior year Christian Living class, we learned about Agnosticism. The teacher defined it as a belief that there is a higher power but not acknowledging that that higher power is “God.” A person who identifies as Agnostic neither believe nor disbelieves in God. That was it! That was what I was feeling. I was so frustrated with the subtle differences in the religions that I was exposed to. Some differences so subtle that I felt like they should just merge. Some differences so drastic that I don’t know how people came to conclusions on what “set” they claim. Agnostic. That’s what I was going to be. I was good with that.
My freshman year in college was when I realized that after countless hours in church, chapel and religion classes – I didn’t know how to pray amd now I really needed to.
College was hard for me. I was quickly humbled. I wasnt as secure, capable or all-knowing as I’d thought. Quickly, I had to run back to what I “knew.” I needed something to believe in. It had only been a few years and Agnosticism no longer worked for me. Ambiguity no longer worked for me. Depression and anxiety forced me to examine my spiritual life; return to what I was taught and figure out why I ran from it.
In 2010 & 2011, there was not a day that I stepped foot out the door without having a talk with God. Pleading for strength to walk to class. Begging for clarity. Reciting affirmations and mantras throughout the day just to get through. Long story short, things got better. Slowly. Very slowly. I began going to church with my then best friend, Gabby & her family. Church was the only place I felt safe. Church was the only place I felt at peace. I looked forward to it every week.
On Sunday, March 20, 2011, I sat in a pew with Gabby’s family as usually. But something felt different. Nothing was particularly special about that day but i remember being “in the spirit.” Our award winning choir sang some of my favorite songs and Pastor Hunter’s sermon seemed to be just for me. Pastor preached about not living in the past. “If you try to walk forward while looking back, it’s safe to say youll fall,” he preached. He said that no matter if your current situation is good or bad, it is meant to re-position you so that you can be in the right place at the right time to receive God’s blessing. All you have to do is put your trust in Him and believe that you have already received it.
Pastor then went on to preach about how most Christians are “on the fence,” meaning that they havnt completely given themselves to God and dont completely trust Him. Pastor had gotten into my head & my past. Right then I knew he was talking to me. I was “on the fence” and I wanted to get off. I was in some type of state of paralysis as Pastor spoke. I felt as if I was alone in the sanctuary and he was talking directly to me. Thoughts of assurance and confidence that this was a sign ran through my mind. They were met with brief thoughts of doubt & shyness but I knew that when the doors of the church opened, I had to get up from that pew.
As the Deacons opened the door, I felt open; vunerable. I sat there for a minute, rethinking the situation, doubting if this was the right move. Was I really ready to commit to God? And at that moment of doubt, I remembered that I had been hesitating for 19 years already. I could hear my grandmother saying, “Just do it baby.”
I began to cry as I stood. I moved through the pew across Paige, Stephen, Mr. Simmons, and then Mrs. Simmons (Gabby’s family, she was away at college in Indiana). I didnt say a word, I didnt make eye contact. I kept my eyes fixed on the altar as I approached the chair waiting for me in the front of the sanctuary. People began to clap and “Amens” and “Hallelujahs” rang out as I took my seat. I looked back at the Simmons. Mrs. Simmons’ eyes were full of tears. Paige, Stephen, and Mr. Simmons all stood with grins. I smilled back. I felt liberated, and as if I was light as a feather. I watched as two other girls my age joined me. Their faces were emotionless but I could tell their hearts were as full as mine. They too had felt what Pastor said and decided to give themselves to God. I was excited, nervous, calmed, thankful, and scared all at the same time. Pastor Hunter asked us to stand, hold hands, and pray with him. After prayer, he told us that at the moment we decided to get up out of our seats, we were saved, and no one could take us away from God.
I didn’t know what to expect from the journey I began that day but I felt ready now. I had taken the first step – for me. Though I still wasn’t big on “religion” I knew at that time it was MY journey with God and I didn’t need a denomination to define what that meant.
The next week, on Sunday, March 27, 2011, I was symbollically emerged into a pool of water as Pastor Hunter said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father because He is your father, in the name of the Son because He died on the cross for your sins, and in the name of the Holy Ghost who keeps you. Amen.” And a new chapter of my journey began. Ideally … I had it all figured out. I was good now.
Now, 4 years later, I haven’t been to church in a year & I found myself frustrated at the fact that I still don’t know how or when to pray. Sometimes, I can be that person that only prays when I need something or when I’m stressed.
Today I realized that there might not be a formula to prayer & that my journey didn’t end at baptism. I talk to God all the time. I write in my journals “Dear God, …” & spill my guts. I drive to work with the radio off and talk to Him like my best friend is sitting next to me. Granted, I could do it more often. I should be praying just to say thank you, I should pray more specifically and I should pray for myself more often. But I pray. I might not always kneel at the side of my bed or know what to say but IT’S OKAY. I’ll continue to pray & talk to God the way I know how. My spiritual journey continues …