Quit rolling your eyes, calm down and don't get your knickers in a bunch. Today is not me pontificating or expounding on the word like I'm a member of the clergy. Nah, that's what your pastor is for. I'm just a girl who sits in the pews like you, and I'm ready to tell my story. Well, at least another one of my stories.
I'm gonna tell you about my journey. The one on how a personal relationship with God has a lot less to do with the rhetoric we do on Sundays and more about what's done in those spaces when you think no one can see you. Or behind closed doors when you feel no one is watching.
In a nutshell, my Christian life was like a bad case of gas (gas—which results from your body's intolerance to what was ingested) that no home remedy could ease. We are by virtue spirit, but I kept trying to feed that aspect of me with things meant to satisfy the flesh. As a result, I spent many days with severe discomfort.
Figuratively, most times, I felt like I was walking this tight rope, and I was not very good either because I kept falling. Each injury worst than the fall before. Yet every night at the circus, I was back up on the rope, bandages and all, before an audience that laughed far more often than it cheered.
In reality, I began to think there was this entity in the sky, intently scrutinizing my every move and keeping a record of my every wrong. I just kept picturing a figure sitting on a throne, waiting to get me the minute I messed up. "Ah-ha, unleash the plagues," He'd say, "she just fornicated, again!" And while I'd had those sparse moments of happiness, it felt like any semblance of joy was followed by an extended season of drought. After all, be not deceived, right? What I sowed, I should reap (see Galatians 6:7).
I've said it a bazillion times on this blog how I spent many years going around in circles. And by circles, I mean just doing the same thing over and repeatedly. I suppose more than being void of understanding, I was baffled by how things worked for others but seemingly not me. How was it that 'me' and sister-girl could do the exact thing, yet her result was different—and by different, I mean it appeared she got her heart's desire? Like those times, I'd will relationships to work but still end up alone while that person went on and made it work with someone else. "What Lord, am I not special enough?" No amount of questioning changed a thing, and I'll tell you this, it got worst before it got better.
In 2011, I caught a fire doing a mundane everyday thing, cooking at the stove. Something I'd done almost every day since I was 12, but this day the odds must have been stacked against me. Every time I think about that incident, all I remember is me running down the hall with flames crawling up my back. Oddly, no water coming from any faucet, and my teenaged nephew armed the fire extinguisher that wouldn't work.
I was scared you'll, but I'd already resolved in my heart that I was going to die. Still, I didn't want that to be my niece's and nephew's last memory of me—them, watching their aunt go down in a blaze of flames. So many thoughts and I couldn't zero in on any, but there came a prayer amidst the panic. The sincerest one from my heart, "God, if you don't show up right now, I'm as good as gone!" And with that thought, "whoosh," a gush of water came out the showerhead, and while I was saved, it was not without the scars that remind me. What was the reminder? His mercies endure forever (Psalm 136:1).
When this happened, it was literally my second week on a new job that required a month of mandatory training. I'm certain I would have been frowned upon had I missed a day. No lie, I was in pain for weeks, but that following day I pushed through, and I showed up every day thereafter as if nothing had happened. No one but the trainer was the wiser. After work, my sister, a nurse, would come to change my bandages. Every time I cried real tears. Not only because of the pain, but also I shuddered to think what else I would have to go through.
Anyway, I figured well, if I didn't miss work, then I sho'nuff shouldn't miss church. Not dedicated ole praise team member, like me. But can I tell you, even in all that faithfulness to the four walls, there was an area of my life that was still far from God? There was still something in me that wasn't fully submitted. People on the outside looking in were probably saying, "Oh, she must really love God," and honestly, I do. Nevertheless, parts of me questioned His plans for me and doubted they would ever come to fruition.
No, I wasn't mad or anything. Okay, that's not true; I didn't have the guts to be outwardly angry at God. So I was mad behind His back—in front of His face. How could I be? Not when I was Madam, First Lady Shady herself. Though disappointed after disappointment, I couldn't help but wonder if anyone makes it on the other side of tragedy?
A few short months after the fire, in swoops an unexpected break-up. Suppose it was a matter of cheating that I could understand. Even a 'you just don't do it for me no mo' that, I could wrap my mind around. But just to have whats-his-face vanish into thin air! Errr! I mean, on an island 21 x 7, it was unfathomable. Gone, without a trace. No call, no text, not even a smoke signal. That was when I learned 'closure' is an inside job.
A few months after that, bam hit with an autoimmune condition. I woke up one morning, and my body, it won't move. Medication after medication, none of which worked. "Arghhhh God .... what the el-em-n-o-p!!!??!" What more do you want from me?? Blood?? Must I find an unspotted lamb as a sacrifice? What??" At this point, I'm beyond frustrated 'cause it felt like life just kept taking and wasn't giving anything it was 'pose to gave. Having lost two moms before I was ten, to a non-existent career life, to watching all my siblings with flourishing families and all the calamities in between. Where was my evidence of "I have come that they may have life and that they may have it more abundantly." (John 10:10 KJV)
A few short months later, my best friend in the whole world and I had a difference of opinion which led to us parting ways. So now the one person I could talk to without judgement, you know that person I could be naked and not ashamed with, gone, no longer there—the girl who had seen me through some of my most challenging days. And just like that, "poof," our friendship erased, almost as if it never even existed.
Sigh, Job, I hear you, dude, though He slay me, but it's the 'yet will I trust Him' part I was having a real hard time with. I wasn't trying to hear that. I wasn't any shadier than the next girl on my church pew, so why is my lot so different?
It took me a long time to accept to whom much is given; much is required (Luke 12:48). "Lord, you couldn't give this life to someone else? Who do I have to talk to up there to get a different assignment?" And one day, I heard "...but a broken spirit dries up the bones" (Proverbs 17:22), and it hit differently. I had to get down to the marrow of my bone and find out what dried it out.
Finding a way to heal meant I needed to find what broke me. Then bam, I saw it, all rooted right there in rejection. Cause I was the girl that everybody eventually leaves. In brain imaging studies, it has been shown that the same brain area active when we experience physical pain is what is activated when we experience rejection. Hence heartbreaks can literally feel like you're dying. There I was asking like Ezekiel, "Can these bones live?" (see Ezekiel 37:24-25)
Ding-Ding-Ding, PSA: fix your spirit; you'll heal your life. But wait, ain't no spirit specialist on earth. True spirituality caused me to seek God in a place where I didn't know He existed. I began peeling back layers, and all I was reminded of were those moments of my sister debriding those burns and how she had to scrape away the dead tissue to avoid infection. Ah boy, my life was about to get weary painful. 'Healing' in most cases is more painful than the injury itself. It was like re-breaking a bone because it was set wrong the first time.
At first, I had to get down to the tough questions. The ones that confronted the very foundation of me. First to be addressed was my motive, and secondly, my intentions. Why was I doing life in the church? Was it just fire insurance? Was it because everything else failed, and I might as well just try this Jesus thing? The truth is, I was raised in the church, but no one can teach you how to customize your relationship with God. While church gives you the tools, it's not a one-size-fits-all deal. Although I was taught one should serve God, I was now asking myself, do I even want to?
Then it hit me; it all begins with love. I would always say I loved those dudes that I happened to be involved with. I love to say when I love; I loved hard. You know, all of me, loves all of you. I wanted to be near them, to see them, touch them, and talk to them—all the time. I even went as far as to say, where ever they were was where I considered home. By comparison, my lips said, "I love God," but honestly, there was little to no evidence of that. I wasn't out there trying to get to know Him for who He is. But I was more fixated on what this God-man can do. And while He was probably at work in my life, from my seat of wantonness, He wasn't doing a thing.
I mean, it's hard to believe this God loved me. How could He, when since I could say my name, I've been facing adversity. How could He? The decade known as my 30's was, in fact, dirty. I got dragged through the mud. I was stripped of every semblance of what I deemed happiness, from friendships to relationships, to health issues. I was gutted like a reno on HGTV—I mean, just stripped down to the studs. The only thing that saved it from being a complete teardown was my foundation. The one built on memory verses and acknowledgment of a higher power. Still, this process was like I had to unlearn everything I thought I knew and get to know God for myself.
I had to go back and define everything about me. And I finally understood the concept and the importance of finding your life's 'why!' Why do I love or serve God? Why do I desire marriage? Why do I want to start a business? Why am I hurt? Why does it take so long for me to let go? Saying, 'I don't know,' was no longer enough. There is a why! And until you find that, you'll be stuck in a perpetual loop. Believe that!
I soon concluded that if the answer to any of these questions was not rooted in something solid, it had to be eliminated. I was not satisfied until I made it all make sense. If the reasoning was not rooted in godly principles, it was a no for me. If any action didn't add to my purpose, I didn't pursue it. All this meant was I could not do anything without first seeking God. And while I heard of this God as a child, it was a different ball game as an adult. It literally came down to, sis, you cute and all BUT can you pray?
It all clicked and made sense, and I finally realized why some relationships had to go—especially the ones whose opinions I leaned on heavily. I had to be isolated to a place of solitude. Because it's only then I learned to decipher between my voice, that of my friends and God's. I had to know if I was basing life-altering decisions on what the masses would say or moving forward to please God? Was I more intent on feeding my desires than I was on honing my fruits of the spirit? FYI: You can't actively talk to God when someone else is constantly whispering in your ear. You can't speak to God when you're not making time for Him. If all you're concerned with is bae and date night, don't be shocked when you get what you get.
I scoured many resources to find the most relatable meaning of today's topic and none adequately conveyed the message I wanted to send. In contrast, religion is a specific set of organized beliefs and practices, usually shared by a community or group. Spirituality, though, is more of an individual approach than a group project. It has a lot to do with finding peace in sometimes not knowing.
Most sources spoke about the essence of the word (spirituality) but didn't speak to its core from the God perspective. I concluded, spirituality and religion can be hard to tell apart. And that's what I did for most of my life—religion. Go to church Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. And those were the most times there was a mention of God in my world or maybe the occasional repetitive prayer over a plate of food. Let me just say, that's sad as a preacher's kid. God was not a foreigner in my house growing up, but somewhere along the way, He became estranged from me.
True spirituality involves confession, healing, and the Christian f-word 'forgiveness.' While some things happened to me, if I'm honest, most of my issues worked for me. I suppose to those who have not been there, that sounds absurd, and maybe it is. All I know is that moment standing in the shower while being on fire was the first time I had ever tangibly experienced God. Forget all the other things people told me that He's done for me. It was the first time I can say God answered Raquel's request at the moment she needed Him most. And while I didn't get most of the things I've prayed for in life, it tells me 'No' is an answered prayer too.
Using the fire moment confirmed that just because I don't see God or feel Him doesn't mean that He's not there. It's hard to put into words the way this all works. It's hard to tell someone to trust God when everything, including the London bridge, falls down around them. It's hard to convince a broken person that God is love when the evidence of their life seems to be in direct opposition to what we believe love looks like.
No definition of spirituality has been given to me by Webster or Merriam. All I can tell you is, my spirit man bears witness to the sovereignty of God. While life is lived forward, it is understood backward. Take the time to look back over yours in great detail. It's only in retrospect that I realize all the pieces of my life are being shaped into a masterpiece that even DaVinci couldn't accomplish. I don't know much, but I know God is real. There is no 'knowing' of Him until you've experienced Him for yourself. I can truly say there is something to be said about living a yielded life. And in the words of Aaron Neville— that may be all I need to know.