Even for those of us who consider ourselves to be of strong faith and committed to maintaining a secure sense of spiritual fortitude, it can still happen, at least occasionally. Even for those of us who have encountered our own individual miracles firsthand in our own lives, who have faced and conquered what would seem like insurmountable tasks with the odds stacked against us only to emerge victorious against whatever imagined fears were repressing us, and who have devoted our lives to maintaining a sense of gratitude to God, it still has the potential to trip us up and allow our faith to be temporarily obscured by a sense of fear. Even though we might know deep in our hearts and souls that God is ever Present for us, in our times of need and even when we either refuse to or get too wrapped up in our own concerns to acknowledge that deep and secure sense of being Loved and Cared for Unconditionally by our Creator, it can still take place even when we cannot imagine how it ever could.
Sooner or later, we may find ourselves having what is commonly referred to in our culture as “having one of those days,” and we can suddenly and unexpectedly find ourselves in a place where we seem to temporarily lose focus or sight of our spirituality and connection with God, our sense of gratitude, and all of the blessings past and present (and hoped for and believed in with faith for the future) which we may be fully aware of the majority of the time. From time to time, I honestly feel that even the most faithful, spiritually fit and grounded among us of can transform, even if briefly, to a place clouded by fear, anxiety and stress and search our faith and return wanting. We can go in a moment from a sense of God Blessing us abundantly, to God being set against us, or even absent.
This has happened to me more frequently in the past than I would like to admit. The majority of the time, I am very grateful that I am able to recognize these moments and times for what they are, and put them in the proper perspective. As with most people, I have had in my own life experience plentiful occasions when things did not transpire as hoped for or planned, times when I felt certain in my heart I had done the right thing only to have it returned with what I perceived to be an unjust outcome, and incidents where unsolicited kindness or anger responded to with kindness was met with a sense of ingratitude or in a few rare cases, defensiveness, apprehensiveness or, in even rarer cases, hostility. But most times, I can just shrug it off, reflect on all of the good things (which nearly always overwhelm the negative things in our lives, even when our conscience cannot always fully recognize that as fact), and thank God for getting me through whatever it is that caused me to feel slighted, wronged, or temporarily indulge in self pity.
However, there are times, especially in the fast paced world we have created, where we find ourselves stretched so thin that we are akin to a rope stretched to its breaking point, where our lives are so hectic that we are at a pace destined for a metaphorical state of terminal velocity – allowing ourselves to be pressured so much, take on so much, and move so fast that we are in danger of collapse. It is most often during those times when everything seems to be happening at once-at least for myself and many who I know-that we can get so frayed that we reach a breaking point and allow our focus on what keeps us grounded spiritually to be obscured.
About a month ago, during the process of my assisting a good friend of mine through a tribulation we all unfortunately find ourselves faced with from time to time – the task of moving – we had a rather interesting conversation regarding God and spirituality, and it shed some insight into how the type of feelings about God I previously referenced can come to develop.
He had been in the same apartment home for ten years, a very small home, essentially one decent sized room divided into a bedroom and living room with a small kitchen and bath attached. Although my suspicion is that he had reached a personal epiphany that he had outgrown his home long ago and would find a larger home more comfortable and conducive to an environment as stress free as possible, he had remained content to keep residence there. That is, until a new next door neighbor – one seemingly crafted from my friend’s worst nightmares – arrived.
My friend unfortunately suffers from health conditions which prevent him from getting decent sleep, and he has gone to great lengths to take care of his health and does everything within his power to maintain his sleep schedule and keep his home as restful as possible. Being in a smaller apartment community directly next to a busy intersection, that was a challenge at times, but he still managed to cope very well. Perhaps the least beneficial thing that could have transpired would have been for a next door neighbor complete with a loudly barking dog, a general lack of consideration for the welfare of others or a sense of courtesy and respect for others, and a penchant for loud late night drunken parties to move in.
Unfortunately, that was exactly what happened. After numerous complaints to the management which were met with an overall sense of apathy, unpleasant conversations and conflicts with his new neighbor, phone calls to the police which went unheeded by the neighbor, the neighbor or the neighbor’s dog being so loud that he had to go and stay with family or in hotels in order to get a decent nights rest, and his stress level going through the roof he called me for some support and advice.
I need to relate that this particular friend of mine and I have had numerous conversations in regards to God and spirituality; he is very much what I would consider to be more Agnostic than anything yet leaning towards more of a liberal Christian view. He, like me enjoys the “Daily Word” devotionals and has expressed interest in someday attending the UCC church I belong to. He became interested in things spiritual after joining AA, embracing sobriety, and beginning the process of seeking spiritually as part of his recovery. Prior to this, he had eschewed pretty much anything dealing with religion, as he is adamantly against fundamentalist, conservative evangelical brand of Christianity and prior to meeting me as well as people he met through AA, that was mostly all that he had associated with what being a “Christian” was and in his words, “Something just doesn’t seem right or, pardon the pun, very Christian about all of that.”
During the conversation, as he related to me how he was dealing with this challenging neighbor, he asked me what I thought of the book “The Sermon On The Mount” by Emmet Fox, as one of his friends in AA had recommended it to him as something that could be of help to him. That was an excellent question to ask me, as that remains one of my favorite spiritual books of all time. I agree with the majority of the ideas in it, and especially how it analyzes Christ’s teachings in what I feel to be a very practical, open minded and common sense manner. I highly recommended it, and told him it was, in fact, one of the books that really changed my life and opened my eyes to a different understanding of what God, Jesus, faith and spirituality were all about. I recommended that he pick up a copy and read it, offered to discuss it with him if he wanted, and even threw a few other book titles out there he might find of interest (Conversations With God, Meeting Jesus Again For The First Time, and a few others.) He said he would check them out and it was my hope that perhaps he would find them as inspiring as I did when I was seeking spiritually and beginning my own spiritual journey. He also said he would let me know if he decided to move, and if he would need help should that be the outcome of his situation; I kept him in my prayers as I do with all of my friends and hoped things would improve for him.
About two weeks later, I received his phone call. He was, in fact, moving and asked if I could help. As it turned out, his apartment complex had generously offered to upgrade him to one of their large apartments, in a quiet and shaded corner location away from the busy roadways next to some quiet neighbors-for substantially less that he had been paying. I fulfilled my promise and went to assist. While challenging, as any move can be (and especially with some of the lower back issues I have had to deal with in the past which return to haunt me every now and then with a vengeance) it was easier than some I have been a part of-especially considering that it was merely transferring everything from one side of a community to the other (albeit a journey which included going down and up stairs burdened with large and heavy objects). But we managed to get it completed, thank God, and after we sat down for a sandwich and the other person helping us had left, we engaged in some exhausted post-move-completion conversation.
I started off by saying, “This is a much better place. You have to be happier here.”
“Oh definitely, this is much better.”
“Hey, have you had a chance to read any of ‘The Sermon On The Mount’ yet? I’ve been meaning to ask you what you thought of it.”
His response surprised me a shade. “To be honest with you, John, I haven’t really wanted to give any focus to spirituality or God over the past few weeks. In fact, my general thoughts towards God are that most of the time I feel like flipping God off.”
He paused for a moment, before I had the opportunity to require as to why.
“I know that sounds terrible, but look at all of the (he used a different word here, but I will euphemize the word “stuff”) I have had to put up with lately. Job stress. My health has suffered. All this (stuff) with the new neighbor and the nightmare that entailed. It just seems like God has it in for me and I’m fed up with it.”
I smiled, and laughed a bit jokingly, and said, “I guess I can understand why you would feel that way, I think we all have at one time or another and I know I have in the past. I didn’t go through what you did firsthand personally so I cannot say that how I would be feeling, but I can see how it would be extremely frustrating.” I paused and then added, “But hey, I know it was bad and a rough time for you and sorry you had to deal with it. But it looks to me like things did end up turning out for the better after the fact. You have a great new place for less money, it’s a better place in a better location, and no more conflict with the neighbor so I would say at least something good came of it all.”
He was quiet for a moment and then he said, “You know, you have a point there. Im going to have to give that some thought.” He then shifted the conversation topic turned to something completely different, which I took as a hint to act accordingly and drop the issue for the moment. We haven’t discussed it since then.
I could sympathize with how he felt from past experience, yet it still seemed somewhat alien and unreal, even inconceivable to me how someone could feel as if they were in a state of conflict with God, and feeling angry at God or as if God were somehow “against” them during trials and tribulations, or at best the collective build up of little things which irritate us until they seem to grow to a point where they collapse on top of us and become to great of a burden to bear all at once. As I was driving home that night, I felt a sense of not personal pride but gratitude and joy that I no longer felt that way towards God when I was stressed and things were not going as I had planned or hoped for and then thought a prayer of thanks for that and of hope for my friend.
It should come as little surprise that almost as if on a cue to test my resolve (even though in retrospect I now know it was not but rather one of those idiosyncrasies of life) that a just a few short weeks later I personally experienced “one of those days” and was shocked to find myself lapsing into a similar state as my friend had related to me.
It started out innocently enough. I had after several months of constantly working at one of my three jobs seven days a week and a minimum of six to eight hours per day (usually twelve or more hours per day average) save for the day off I took to help my buddy move finally been able to secure a full day off to go out of town with my girlfriend to an event I had been looking forward to.
The issues began with my waking up two hours past the time I needed to be up the and having mild lower back pain which usually comes about and gets aggravated as a result of my getting overly stressed. I took something for it, hoped and prayed it would improve, and got on with the day and even felt good enough later to go to the gym. Later, at the gym, I had the unfortunate experience of dealing with some people who seemed to be there to use the machines as lounge chairs to watch the television, and not being the confrontational type, I was there longer than I wanted to be as a result. On returning, I was late getting ready to go, and the stress level continued to increase – yet I persevered and refused to let it rattle me. Just typical day to day stuff I either felt I had or needed no control over.
The next morning, after a stay in a hotel, we got over to the event. It was then that I noticed that my back pain was really starting to flare up badly; fortunately, I had some pain medication and took it and just sort of bit the bullet; it was unpleasant but tolerable for the moment. As the day continued, much of it was outdoors and involved a great deal of walking and standing – which was not helping the back pain – and being out in some nasty hot weather. All of these factors resulted in it becoming worse and worse-yet I was not about to leave the one day I had off because of it. I was dead set and determined to have fun even if I felt miserable. So I carried on, although I could not help but think to myself this was the worst possible time a back pain flare up could have gotten started.
I managed to get through dinner and then the pain got worse, so I took another dose of medication – although, since I took it too late after dinner, it caused me to become violently nauseous as it can occasionally do – meaning I lost the medicine and did not have another dose with me. It was shortly after this that the pain level shot up from a 10 to about a 50. I think the most accurate word I would use to describe it is “exquisite.” It was all I could do to try to ride it out, tune it out, and get through the rest of the day – which, by the grace of God, I did. I was very disappointed and upset in how my “day-cation” had gone due to the pain, but was just anxious to get home, get some medicine, and get on a heating pad in the bed.
So we started home and got about halfway there – and that was when, at 2:00 am, we found the entire freeway ground to a halt and closed for construction. Fortunately, there was a detour, and we got through it. We proceeded another five miles only to find that freeway closed and everyone parked in one lane. My lower back felt like someone was driving a red hot spike into it to the point where I wanted to scream, cry, faint or all of the above, I was tired and exasperated from all the stress in the weeks leading up to getting some time off, and I was completely livid that my one day off which I had been looking forward to for weeks had ended up with me feeling miserable the entire time. Now, I was sitting in grid locked traffic-one of the few things that has the ability to really lean on my personal anger button-when I was feeling this way.
That’s when I momentarily lost it.
Although what I said out loud to my girlfriend was “Why? Why? WHY is this happening today???” my mind was saying something I had hoped a few short weeks earlier I would not ever think again. It was asking a question I used to ask constantly in years past, and thought I and hoped that I would never find myself asking again. My mind was shouting: “God, WHY are You doing this to me?!?”
I was actually thinking that and feeling it at that second. For one terrible but thankfully brief moment, all of the negative, imagined ideations of a capricious, punishing God which was somehow against me, opposed to me, determined to make life miserable for me or worse yet, create the illusion that I could believe in things being good only to cruelly yank the rug out at just the perfect opportunity I had long since let go of were filling my mind.
The horrific memories of times when I was certain that God could never listen to the prayers and hopes I had for anything because of my being bisexual, my sexuality, my relationships, or my beliefs and refusal to conform to the accepted ideas of who others thought I should be. The fears that others who did not understand me were praying to a God that would make me suffer until I “repented” of who I was and bent to their personal will or understanding of what God was or how, who or what they thought I should be. Had I hurt my back from helping my friend move? Was I paying a consequence for being kind? How just was that? Or perhaps I had not been spending enough time doing good for others, caring for or praying for the well being of others, and this was retribution for taking some time for myself when others needed me to do things. Was this some sort of Divine test of my will or my faith based upon how good I had felt when talking to my friend that I no longer saw God as being against me? Or maybe it wasn’t because of who I was or anything I did. Maybe it was just that God had more important things to do than care about me.
Very uncharacteristic of me, for certain, and all of these thoughts completely irrational and completely unfounded (especially over something so trivial in the Grand Scheme of things), I know, but you have to understand how I was feeling at that moment. The physical pain was definitely a factor as well, I know, but it still appalled me that after all this time, I could even dare to begin to think of God in those ways. That still small and extremely kind, caring and gentle voice from within my heart-the one I equate to being where I hear and listen to God seemed to state one simple sentence: “John, what is it finally going to take to convince you everything is fine even during the times when it seems like it isn’t?”
About that time, my girlfriend touched my arm and told me to “Relax, it’s going to be alright, we’re not that far away,” and offered to pull over so she could drive. I declined and said I would be okay. That was when I mentally slapped myself in the face and told myself to snap out of it and out of the self destructive chain of thought I had momentarily allowed to get started. I took some deep breaths and began to deal with the physical pain and emotional frustration that I was feeling in the best way which has always worked for me: I visualize how I would feel if whatever I am going through was better and imagine how I would feel if I were not stressed, not afraid, not worried and knew beyond a shadow of a doubt – despite whatever false and fearful ideations my mind had thrown out during a time of duress had tried to convince me of otherwise – that God was taking care of me and everything was taken care of, no matter how it might seem at the moment. The phrase, “I will get through this; God will get me through this”-regardless of whether or not I can fully connect with that reality at the moment-helps me to maintain focus during times like this. Sometimes, if I don’t find that possible, reaching out to help others in need puts me in a better place as well but this particular night, I felt as if I needed help. There is nothing wrong with that sometimes; after all, if we are not in a good place, sometimes it can make it challenging for us to be there for those who need us.
We got through the traffic and arrived home shortly thereafter. By the time I arrived home, I was in a state of total shame and embarrassment for how I had felt, even if it had just been for a moment. God had not been “doing” anything to me, was not “against” me or trying to create conflict or create an environment contrary to my well being or happiness or even to deliberately test my faith; those were all fabrications in my own overtaxed mind. How could I have ever even thought such things? Based on how I feel about God, it seemed like outright blasphemy. Somehow, this made me feel worse than ever.
I spent the entire following day in bed – off of work – and it gave me time to reflect on what happened, to process it and to fully comprehend just how absurd that my thinking had truly been. To begin with, with the multitudes of people out in the world dealing with serious issues and challenges, truly traumatic experiences, devastating losses, intense feelings of separation or life threatening concerns and health issues which make mine seem like a mild headache by comparison, how could I possibly be getting so upset over having one really bad day? It seemed a more than a little petty, if not outright selfish. While I definitely do not believe in the idea that any God desires for any of us to feel pain or suffering on any level, I also wholeheartedly believe in keeping things in perspective. Overall, there is too much good in my own life and in the world (at least, how I view it) for me to be unhappy about anything, let alone something trivial (however seemingly distressing it may be on a personal level) when viewed in the correct perspective and contrasted with the concerns of others.
I also spent quite a bit of time thinking about how often things have gone the way I had hoped and truly felt and believed that my prayers have been answered, and contemplated why it is that so many of us always seem to focus on the comparatively rare times when things don’t go as we had hoped for rather than the multitudes of blessings we receive on a regular basis but allow ourselves to take for granted if we allow ourselves to get too caught up in worry rather than embracing, cherishing and expressing gratitude for each moment. (The way we seem to quickly selectively remember the times things have not gone right over the times they have reminds me a little of how those of us who are of an artistic or creative bent will suddenly forget 20 comments of praise over something when confronted with one minor criticism.)
I thought of the times I have been through and the challenges in my own life which had proven to be far more distressing and devastating than the brief times when things were not going that great, and how although I had felt as if the world was coming to an end, I had maintained at least that tiny mustard seed of faith that carried me through and everything not only turned out okay in the end, but better than I could have initially conceived or imagined. I thought of how God had guided and carried me through times when everything seemed to be going wrong and I was sure there was no way I would ever make it through; loss of loved ones, friends, heartbreaks, anxiety, recovery from alcohol abuse. I thought of times when I prayed prayers of longing for some small reassurance that was miraculously answered, be it through a loving gesture from another or those who came into my life to offer support in a time of need. As much of a mystery as God can be at times, while our own minds can occasionally limit the possibilities, God seems to be infinitely more creative than we could ever begin to be, at least in my experience.
There was a time in my life when I felt that either there was no God, or that there was and that God neither approved or accepted of me as I knew I naturally was, and therefore I had felt that there was no reason to seek any type of relationship with God since I would just be required to change or be met with conditions in order to be deemed worthy to receive blessings or love in my life. I stumbled through life a great deal while holding on to that idea, but as I was reflecting on the day after my lapse into fearful thinking, it was then that I truly began to remember and identify the abundance of time that God reached out to me-sometimes through opportunities, mostly through other kindred souls who came into my life, sometimes just through written or spoken word or other times just a feeling to let me know that I was, in fact loved and accepted for who I was by God and that all I was required to do was open my heart and take a leap of faith – something I look back on and wonder why I was so afraid to do so for so long.
I recall how at one time I was fearful that God could never accept me as a bisexual man, let alone one who experiences being bisexual as needing intimate and honest relationships with both a woman and a man and who is happiest and fully whole in a committed relationship with both. I recall how due to the irrational fear that my sexual orientation and sexuality was somehow not acceptable to God and to others that I had felt I was forced to either live a silent and secret life where I could never be true to myself, let alone anyone else, or conform to the standards of others in order to be accepted and never really be able to be true to who I was.
I recollected how during those times I had friends and loved ones in my life who were aware of who I truly felt and truly was and who encouraged me to accept myself as I was, how I now know that God made me, even when I could not at the time acknowledge or accept it myself. But at the time I was too frightened to, because of either “what everyone else said,” or worse, “what everyone else said that God said.” I recall how there were dozens of people who would have gladly been there for me or helped me through the process of coming out as bisexual, numerous girlfriends who would have had no issue with my bisexuality and would have in fact embraced it due to either their own bisexuality or open-mindedness, and scores of articles, news pieces, even overheard conversations which had I been able to let go of my fears, would have permitted me to be at peace with who I was many years before I actually did.
And it was not just issues concerning being bisexual, but my spirituality in general. For years I lived within a stone’s throw of the church I now belong to, and was constantly invited to go there by a liberal Christian friend, but based on all of my fears about God and Christianity at the time, I was not open to it. I had another friend who would constantly invite me to services at their UCC church (the denomination I later ended up joining and still belong to), yet I remained fearful of anything involving “church.” This same friend often spent a great deal of time trying to convince me that being a Christian and being a fundamentalist or believing in all the dogma did not have to be one and the same, but I would hear nothing of it at the time. And many of the books I later ended up reading that assisted me a great deal in my own spiritual journey later in life-including the earlier referenced “The Sermon On The Mount” which I recommended to a friend – were books given to me years before that remained untouched on the shelf until I finally gave them a chance.
Even later, after I reached a point where I opened my eyes and learned not to limit God’s Voice or God’s Reach to what others had said and came to the full realization that there is nothing unnatural about my sexuality or sexual orientation and I had discovered that not only was God there for me but did accept me as I am, there were still plenty of moments when I was worried about an outcome and later realized that God had been there to fully Love, accept and support me all along and I had nothing to fear. Perhaps most profound was how I was terrified of coming out to a girlfriend and acknowledging that yes, I am bisexual and for me that means I felt the need for a relationship with a man as well as with her – only to discover that she was relieved as she too identified as bisexual and felt the need to a relationship with a woman as well as with me; I am forever grateful that I did not just run away from that relationship and trusted in faith to act out honesty and love rather than fear. The same type of event occurred upon my coming out to friends and family members who later told me that they had always known I was bisexual but never brought it up. I later felt bad that I had felt as if I had to pretend to be anyone other than who I was or censor myself for so long.
There are countless other things: times people have come into my life just long enough to make some sort of impact that might have seemed insignificant or meaningless at the time but became totally relevant at a later date; missed opportunities or sometimes opportunities that returned later which I would have embraced sooner had I been more aware and of a positive mindset as opposed to a fearful one, connections which have presented not only the opportunity for me to offer help to another in some unique way but which have come back to help me somehow at a later date. All of these are perfect examples of and reminders to me of times when God has been there for me, knocking at the door, even when I was reluctant, hesitant, or too afraid to answer, or downright rejected God out of fear.
Those are just a few times I can remember when God was there even when I was not acknowledging Gods Presence; there has also been an abundance of answered prayers, blessings to the point where I feel the cup is not half full but instead overflowing, and times when I have been spared the consequences of my own errors and had a second chance to learn from mistakes rather than repeating them or reaping a negative result. All of this filled me with a tremendous sense of peace and assurance.
I could not help to think of the hymn, “To God Be The Glory” when it states:
“How can I say thanks for the things you have done for me
Things so undeserved
Yet you give to prove your love for me
The voices of a million angels
Cannot express my gratitude
All that I am or ever hope to be I owe it all to Thee”
I felt a tear in my eye when I thought and felt that, as it was truly sincere. Here I was – overall in good health, despite my current ailments likely brought on by bringing too much stress upon myself and taking on too much work, a wonderful and blessed relationship with a woman and a man I love dearly, a profound sense of peace about my spirituality and sexuality, family that loves me, friends who care about and value me, a healthy cat that I love, a decent job and the skills to find a less stressful one if need be, a wonderful home in a nice town, people around who care and who help me through the times when there are no easy answers and things are difficult, and most importantly, above all of that, a profound sense of knowing that God Loves me as I am, and is always there for me, even when I have these irrational moments of doubt and self pity. How could I begin to consider the idea that God was “doing” anything to me when things were not going well? It made me feel even more insignificant than usual. I felt a little like the kid on Christmas morning who had planned to run away from home if he didn’t get what he wanted only to find it had been wrapped up under the tree the entire time.
I was able to quickly and easily discard all of the fearful ideations I had entertained the prior evening. As far as God not accepting me as I was or withholding Love and Blessings based upon who I was, my life experience as well as what I know of Jesus, of God, and my understanding of the teachings in the Bible rendered those thoughts invalid in an instant. As for the idea that others who were opposed to who I am were engaging in what I jokingly refer to as “conspiratorial prayer” against me, I was able to dismiss that in that I feel that God always hears any sincere good intentions that others might have for us, yet disregards the requests which others might make in accordance with their own will for our lives as opposed to God’s Will for us as individuals or our own free will as children of God (which more often than not coincide beautifully when our heart is in the right place).
If I had, in fact caused some kind of injury to myself assisting in the move, that was not God “letting” it happen, but could more likely be attributed to my own carelessness with lifting and trying to move too fast, so any imagined “injustice” was ridiculous. Even if it had just been some badly timed accident, sometimes bad things do happen, even if we are doing something good; that is not God punishing us for anything; sometimes, well (stuff) just happens, to paraphrase my friend. As far as my thoughts that having a rough go of things was some sort of retribution for not caring enough about others, while I do believe in the concept of sowing and reaping, to beat myself up about taking a balanced amount of time for myself is just self defeating thinking, likely brought on by self imposed stress. The idea of a God who would smite me for “not spending enough time in prayer” was just nasty residual leftovers from the toxic spirituality I once dealt with. The idea of a God that would demand religious ritual “or else” is not only a God I could begin to love, respect or worship, it is anathema to all Jesus taught about God. He Embodied and taught of a God Whose yoke was easy and Whose burden was light (Matthew 11:30), Who desires mercy over sacrifice (Matthew 9:13) and places Love for God and others over religious ritual (Matthew 22:37-40). Any imagined tests of my faith were fabrications of my own mind in the moment; and the inaccurate delusion that “God had more important things to do than care about me” is just limiting God, especially when I know from experience I was cared for by God even back when I didn’t care whether God did or not.
In just a few short minutes, I was shaking my head and could not believe how quickly I had allowed myself, in a vulnerable state which I more than likely placed myself in from pushing too hard, working too aggressively, and not taking good care of myself (interestingly, in retrospect I recall some warning signs about that from others in the prior weeks as well) to allow my faith to be shaken that way.
Needless to say, it was a humbling afternoon of self discovery and reinforced my sense of faith. My inner response to the question “what is it finally going to take to convince you everything is fine even during the times when it seems like it isn’t?” was seven words: “Nothing more. Thank You. I Love You.”
But I am chalking it up to a momentary lapse of reason. I had thought of calling it “temporary insanity” instead, but that seems a bit severe and besides, I like that term. It’s very me; it’s taken from the title of an old Pink Floyd song I love and it perfectly epitomizes how I feel about any time I get into a state where I allow fear to temporarily obscure my own faith in and trust in God in my own life.
Some might argue that reason – or rationality – has little or no relevance when it comes to matters of faith. While I definitely agree with that sentiment to some extent, my own personal opinion does differ slightly. For me, faith and reason can not only coexist beautifully but are naturally congruent in much the same fashion that science and religion, spirituality and sexuality, and LGBT and Christian are, at least in my personal understanding.
While faith provides to me evidence of things not seen and assurance that whatever mysteries of life and the Universe which are beyond my level of understanding and ability to comprehend are in God’s Control as well as knowing that somehow, everything will turn out as it is supposed to, reason is something I base upon life experience, what I have seen and have come to understand, and knowledge.
And my own experience, time and time again, even when I doubt, even when I have gotten frustrated and angry and nearly given up only to find out later I was very wise not to as there was no cause for it and it would have been a mistake to, even when I have questioned God “Why?” when there was no immediate answer, even when I have, as my friend described it, long ago felt like “flipping off God” during those times has taught me that God will always be there for me, no matter what, and will always be the same Loving God regardless of whatever fear, anxiety, or negativity I might temporarily allow to obscure that knowledge and what life experience has taught me.
Reason tells me that God is there for me, and my understanding of the teachings of Jesus and the spiritual knowledge from not only reading those and taking them to heart but putting them into practice only serves to strengthen that reason. Jesus is resoundingly clear in His teachings that we never have any rational cause to be afraid and to always be fully aware that God is taking care of us:
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from God. And even the hairs on your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” -Matthew 10:29-31
That is just one of many examples. One of His constantly repeated sayings, mentioned frequently in the Gospels, is “Be not afraid.” This is perfectly reasonable and rational to me. As I have said many times, if there is a real “force” of evil, I feel it is fear, which most often compels us to act in a negative way which will lead to negative things in our own lives or in those around us. At the very least, succumbing to fear can allow our faith to temporarily falter and create negative results.
Take the example of the story of Peter attempting to do what seemed impossible:
“Peter answered, Lord, if it is you, command you to come to you on the water.’ Jesus said, Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when Peter noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, Lord save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out and caught Peter, saying to him, You of little faith, why did you doubt?'” -Matthew 14:28-31
This is one of my all-time favorite passages. Even if you don’t take the idea that anyone was actually walking on the surface of the water in the literal sense, it’s the metaphor that carries the deeper meaning. Peter nearly ending up in the drink when he let fear get the best of him reminds me all too well of the occasions when similar things have happened to me; and yet when he did realize what was happening and ask for help, he was caught and saved-not too unlike those times I have felt my own fear cause me to slip and temporarily obscure my faith only to find out there was no cause for alarm. Had I just believed even when it seemed like I couldn’t, there would have been no issue.
In yet another passage, Jesus encourages the disciples – and ultimately, all of us – that God has blessed us with-to take hold of the gift of our faith during times of concern, crisis and fear:
“One day Jesus got into a boat with the disciples and said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side of the lake’. So they put out, and while they were sailing, Jesus fell asleep. A windstorm swept down on the lake, and the boat was filling with water, and they were in danger. They went to Him and woke Him up, shouting, “Teacher, Teacher, we are perishing!’ And Jesus woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves and they ceased, and there was a calm. Jesus said to them, ‘Where is your faith?'” -Luke 8:22-25
I find it interesting that this story mentions Jesus being asleep and the disciples waking Him when they are afraid only to realize there was nothing they needed to be concerned about. This parable to me seems to infer that while they could always call upon God for help and they would be answered, that through their own faith they too could have been answered.
The metaphorical meaning to this story, in my opinion, is that God guides us on our own journeys to places where we need to be, even if we might not initially plan to go there (going across the lake). On those journeys, we might find ourselves in the midst of unexpected turmoil (the storm), and fear that God has left us or is somehow absent (being asleep when we are in a time of crisis). However, if we merely maintain our faith and either trust in God, or call out to God when it gets to be too much we will ultimately find there was no cause for concern.
I could go on and on regarding all of the positive messages Jesus blessed us with in His teachings or the spiritual jewels of wisdom and powerful and timeless messages contained in the Bible (when read with an open mind and tempered with experience), as they are nothing short of plentiful and offer a wealth of strength, hope and inspiration to anyone seeking to strengthen their faith and trust in God. My point in discussing them was that even though my belief in the relevance and the wisdom of the spiritual teachings within is a matter of faith, their application through personal experience and the results from doing so are what are a direct influence on me to combine a sense of reason with faith.
So I identify these times, these moments when I might temporarily be in a physically or emotionally vulnerable state and for a moment not remain fully connected or focused on the Truth that not only is God there for me, but God is taking care of me even when the contrary might appear to be true as “Momentary Lapses Of Reason.” Granted, they do not always last for a moment; I have in the past, and a great many I know have experienced periods of time that went on far longer than a moment, where they suffered the illusion of a sense of separation from God. I know there are many other bisexuals such as myself who have endured or who are enduring these feelings, many others in the LGBT Community, and many of my heterosexual friends who are.
For anyone going through this state of feeling who has been following along with my story here, it is all too simple for me to say something trite and cliche like “Hang in there, it will get better, everything will be okay,” so I will avoid that. But I will say this, with confidence, and from experience:
I honestly feel and know in my heart that God absolutely does not want us to experience or encounter anything which is distressing to us, but wants only to bless us. I feel we are called to show our gratitude for that and for all that God has done for us by being true to ourselves, whatever that may be for each of us as individuals, in a fashion which is harmful to no others and as helpful to as many as possible. If you are in a place where you feel as if God is against you, think on the times you have felt God was with you or how you would feel if you knew this were the case, and act as if you know that is always the case even if it may not seem to be at the time or you feel incapable of connecting with or actualizing those feelings at the moment. I can say from personal experience that this has worked for me and for many others I know; it is at the very least worth a try.
What you will likely find if you do so and persevere in doing so is a sudden realization of just how much there truly is to feel joyful about, a recollection of how many dreams, aspirations, visualizations and answered prayers there actually have transpired and become realities in your life, and arrive at a profound sense of peace in knowing that there was never any reason to doubt even for a moment. If you don’t yet know God, you might find that God has been reaching out to you all along – through others, through gifts you have been blessed with, through events that might not have made sense at one time but can now be viewed with a sense of meaning and clarity, through your own hopes and dreams, or deep in your heart – just waiting for you to realize and acknowledge how much you are loved Unconditionally as you are.
Often, the method by which God does things can be mysterious and perplexing, and with all we have to deal with in this wonderful adventure called life, it is not surprising to me that we have these “lapses of reason.” After all, we are only human. But one thing is certain: as quickly as they may come upon us, remember that there is always a way to quickly discard them and move on. And as I learned first hand not too long ago, perhaps the one good thing and the greatest blessing that can always come with a “momentary lapse of reason” that could be minor or even shake our faith to its very foundations is that more often than not, we emerge with a stronger faith, and a deeper connection with and sense of being Unconditionally Loved and cared for by God than before.
John Campbell is a native of Alabama.