This post was originally published on April 25th. It’s a speech I gave at church, and I thought, since I’m working on a project for the church right now and in desperate need of faith that what I’m doing is going to work, it would be nice to revisit how I feel about my faith and the path I have traveled to get here.
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From where do I come at life?
That’s the question that popped into my head as I reached for the shower tap to turn off the water.
I had spent a few days staring at a blank page in my notebook and at a blank screen on my computer, unable to find the words to express my faith despite my promise to Father Al to participate in this series.
I should have known that a good hot shower would get the ideas—and my courage—flowing. I find there’s something restorative about water. If I need to solve a problem, I wash dishes or take a shower. Until quite recently, I had always thought of these activities—and how they connected to my great ideas—as being governed by Murphy’s Law. The minute I put my hands in the dishpan, the very second I step in the shower, the moment when it is not possible for me to put pen to paper without disintegrating the paper with puddles of dripping water is when I will have my brightest idea of the day.
Then, one day—while I was in the shower (of course)—it hit me.
Who is Murphy but a child of God?
Murphy isn’t trying to throw a curve ball at all of my best-laid plans. He’s trying to show me that God won’t hand me anything that I can’t handle. And by raising hills and sometimes mountains in my way, he’s working on behalf of God to build my strength and show me that, if I just have faith, I’ll get to the top. Because no matter what Murphy throws my way, I do always get through it.
And so it was that I was about to step out of the shower when my starting point for this presentation became clear to me. From where do I come at life?
Keeping the Faith
Having struggled with keeping the faith my whole life, I have found that the place that I thought was within me, the place where I start each day and go out into life is somewhere more reliably outside of me. I carry the light of faith within me. But God is holding onto it. I’m putting my faith in Him. I might not pay it more than a flicker of attention as my feet hit the floor each morning and I start each busy day, but it’s there, shining its light and waiting for me to call on it.
So I have come to this point in my life, having been raised in the Anglican Church by parents who thought it was the right thing to do to take their kids to church but who never openly questioned or encouraged questions about Faith and God. I turned into a bit of a rebellious teenager and left the church the moment my parents gave me an out: Grade 8 Sunday School Graduation. I figured I knew better and I wasn’t lookin’ back.
What I didn’t count on was that God was coming with me. No matter where I went, He was there. At first I didn’t notice. I was young and caught up in the excitement of life. But slowly, over time, I started to notice that when I was questioning life or when I was spending a moment in quiet contemplation wondering “where do I go from here?”, I’d get a sign. Sometimes subtly. Sometimes glaringly obvious. But a sign nonetheless. And if I had truly been without Faith, I never would have put any stock in those signs.
They were little things, like a call from my mom right when I needed to hear her voice; a morning dove (a reminder of my mother) cooing on a wire just outside my office when I was having a bad day; an article about spirituality in a magazine in the waiting room at the doctor’s office or my sudden, unexplained interest in quotes relating to spirituality. And of course, there were the songs on the radio; the songs filled with words that so neatly applied to the questions that I had about my Faith.
After these signs had been appearing for a while, it made me think that maybe I hadn’t left my Faith behind after all. But I didn’t want anyone to know that I believed in God. I was afraid I would be judged as “religious” and my friends would think I was trying to convert them or something. So I kept it to myself and talked to God sometimes when I was alone, usually in my car—and always with the radio on. And God kept sending me signs.
Like the time I was sitting at a stop light, waiting for the light to change and thinking about where my life was going and feeling a little sorry for myself that things weren’t as I wanted them to be and wondering where God was in all this. It was a cloudy day, which was definitely contributing to my grey mood. I realized that the radio wasn’t on for once and I thought some music might help me out of my slump, so I turned it on. The song that came on was Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey. It was close to the end of the song and the chorus was playing. As I listened to the words Don’t Stop Believin’ being repeated on the radio, I noticed that the clouds had broken a little and there was a patch of blue sky with the most brilliant sunshine coming through, just in one spot. I looked through the windshield, chuckled up toward the sky, and said, “OK, God. You’ve got my attention. I get it. You’re there. I believe.”
I started thinking of these signs as God’s way of using his sense of humour to get to me. Turns out, He wasn’t so restrictive after all. He’s just a parent, trying to teach his children. And as I have learned since becoming a parent myself, the best way to get your children to do something is to make it fun and light-hearted. My kids rarely listen to me if I give them an order. But if I make it fun and make a joke about it, they laugh and then they do it. And they are happy to comply because they feel like they are part of a little inside joke or game. In the same way, God found a way to make me listen. He was sending me signs, using the things that I would connect with to reach out to me and speak to me on my level. He wasn’t expecting me to rise up to his level. And that realization was the beginning of my return to Faith.
The Universe, Vibes and Prayer
In my years away from God, looking for answers, I still believed in something. But I called it The Universe. It made sense to me before I had children. I read books and had discussions with everyone I knew about the Power of The Universe. God rarely factored into these conversations. I believed that if you sent vibes, positive or negative, out into The Universe, that’s what The Universe would hand back to you. It certainly made the case for being a positive force in the world in order for positivity to come back to me. But it felt lonely. It was me in a vast cosmic space; alone to set the mood and trajectory of my life. And looking back on that now, I see that what I was doing by sending out “vibes” was actually praying. I just didn’t realize it at the time.
And how do you explain the abstract concept of The Universe to children? Yes, it’s true, we don’t “see” God anymore than we can “touch” The Universe. But within our church family, with the people who share our faith, we hear stories about the ways that God is in our lives and in the lives of the people who came before us. And family is something that children innately understand.
Some years ago, before I had kids, when I thought what I was lacking was a sense of community and of family, I returned to the church that I grew up in. I signed on wholeheartedly to the experience. I went to church every Sunday. I prayed. I got involved with events and planning at the church. I even sat on the planning committee for the Credit Valley Area Ministry Day. But in everything that I did at that church, I didn’t feel blessed or worthy of the experience. I kind of felt like I was trying too hard and that faith shouldn’t be this hard; that it should come easily, more naturally. Though it was a good church in so many ways, being a part of that church was so much harder than my private chats with God on my way home in the car each day. Those conversations felt like Faith to me. That’s when and how I experienced God the most.
So, after some deliberation, I left the church again. But I didn’t leave my Faith behind this time. I took it with me. I just kept quiet about it. It was my private relationship with God.
Coming Back to Church
Several years later, I met my husband and we had our children. We tossed around the idea of taking them to church, but, despite my personal relationship with God, my head was still filled with thoughts of the restrictive, rule-laden church in which I was raised, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to bring my free-spirited children into that. So, we became a family who spent Sunday mornings cuddling in bed, enjoying a late breakfast together then heading to the park for some time in nature. But my husband and I kept coming back to the idea that Church, Religion, Community and Faith were things we needed in our lives.
It seemed that our lives were getting more complicated. We were getting busier and more stressed out, and there was no point in each week during which we could regroup. Sunday morning cuddle time had turned into chores and errand-running, usually separately with one parent taking one child and the other parent taking the other—something we called the “divide and conquer”. And though I felt compelled by something, perhaps my talks with God, to do something for my family’s spiritual well-being, I felt kind of powerless, too. And I attributed this powerlessness to fear. I was afraid to go to church, to take my kids to church. Afraid of it not working out, afraid of my kids misbehaving, afraid of not being able to answer the questions that my children would inevitably ask, and afraid of losing my personal relationship with God by making my Faith about attending an institution instead of being about spirituality.
But then the school shooting in Connecticut happened and it was clear to me and to my husband that, fear or not, we needed to pray. We needed a place to pray; a place where my children would learn to pray and to ask questions that mattered. We needed God, Faith and Spirituality in our lives.
That’s when we came to St. Philip’s. Walking through the doors of St. Philip’s on that December morning was like coming home.
The people, the building, God’s presence, the feeling of acceptance. It was like a second chance. I was so excited to be here with my husband and my children. And excitement is the only word that I have been able to find that perfectly describes the feeling that I had during those first few weeks at St. Philip’s. Whatever fear I felt seemed unfounded suddenly. Even the fear of bringing two rambunctious children into the peace and quiet that I was raised to believe permeated the very stone of every church.
Children are more open to spiritual possibility I think than adults are; likely because they have yet to be touched by the world outside. And far from losing my personal relationship with God, by bringing my children to church I have dug deeper into my faith and found myself comfortably at home in God’s love.
And I have gained a place from which I can go out into life each day and tackle it with the faith that God will be there to meet me.
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The name of the series was Speak What You Feel (Not What You Ought to Say)—Testimonies of Faith. It’s a series that we did at my church in the spring that saw eight speakers participate and tell their stories about their Faith.