That’s right. I felt that way at one time, that God had failed me. Not the real God that I know now, mind you; the real God, the God of Love, is not even capable or aware of such a fear-based human invention as “failure.” This was a concept of God I once had that was destined to fail, and that did in many ways, and in retrospect, that was a blessing. It all started with the way I viewed prayer at the time.
Although these days I view the concept of prayer quite differently than most people, in that prayer to me is more of a state of mind than an actual act of “talking to” and “listening to” God, I still spend my fair share of time involved in the act of prayer. In fact, I devote at least ten minutes a day to my own rendition of prayer, as I have for quite some time. It is more of an act of reflection on the events of the previous day, catharsis and evaluation of situations where I failed to act out of love rather than fear and how I can improve on my response in a similar situation should it arise again, feeling grateful for all that I have, searching within to see where God may have given me ideas to cope with challenges and achieve certain goals in my life, and most importantly of all, imagining God’s Love flowing into all situations which my loved ones or anyone dealing with difficult times which I might have heard about. Sometimes I go off into a quiet place alone for a few minutes, sometimes I do so during my morning commute, and others while doing cardio at the gym. Whatever the case, it is a very important part of my day each day. Call it a desire and a commitment for maintaining “spiritual fitness,” if you will.
It is not that I think that God expects or demands some form of communication with me each day and that this is the only time I feel any type of deep “connection” on a spiritual level with God; quite the contrary. I know in my heart that no matter what situations I am dealing with in life or what I am doing at the moment that God is always with me and there is no way of being separate from God. While it is entirely possible for fear causing one to suffer the illusion of separation from God, I remain convinced that actual separation from God’s Love is not possible. And even if there were some “requirement” or “quota” for prayer, I sincerely think that all that it would amount to is a sense of gratitude. I am fully in agreement with the assertion of Meister Eckhart when he said, ” If the only prayer you ever say in your whole life is ‘Thank You’, that would suffice.” Whether that sense of gratitude was expressed through merely feeling it, or saying it, by showing it through being a kind person, or even better, all of the above.
The phrase, “I’ll pray for you,” how often do we hear that? And how often do we hear it as an excuse to absolve oneself for responsibility to another in need, or to seek to understand them rather than seek God’s guidance to be a light for that person? Or “pray about it” – how often does that prevent one from taking the necessary actions, even those which God is prompting them to, to better their situation, and instead laying the whole thing on God’s shoulders, or yoking others with it or placing it upon the shoulders of others? Or “praying for something” – how often do we hear someone talking about how they are praying for this or that to happen, while not acting with any sense of faith in making no effort to bring them into being or being aware of and taking advantage of the possible opportunities God has set before them, often in mysterious and wonderful ways, as a response?
What exactly is it that we pray for, and why do we do it? What is it that we expect God to do? Since there is no way we can be separate from God, wouldn’t God already know how we feel?
I’ve had many different answers from others on those. First of all, apparently, there really are those individuals who have so limited the reality of God to the pages of one version of the Bible, that they instead choose to remain living in fear and simply tolerating whatever hardships life brings them until God magically comes and destroys all of the people and things which they do not agree with and makes everything perfect for them as a reward for self inflicted suffering and self denial. Any unanswered prayer is considered by them to be a defect in themselves, e.g.; “I didn’t have ample faith”; “I sinned and am being punished”; or “God doesn’t want me to have that.”
I have also heard the opposite; there are those who pay lip service to the concept of prayer, most often as a courtesy, but do not take it to heart. They often do not believe in much of anything, and have a rather pessimistic outlook on most things in general, let alone the idea of a Loving God being there for them.
And finally, there is the idea of God as the “fix everything” or the “magic answer” person or the “vending machine that requires no deposit,” or the “instant solution, no effort necessary,” answer. I have met so many people who have had the solution to the very things that they were praying about right in front of them, yet did not embrace them, because they were spending so much time waiting on God to do it for them.
To me, all of these ways of viewing prayer are in some way unhealthy. If they work for someone, and they are not hurting anyone in doing so, then that is certainly their right and if it works for them, God Bless them. But for me, it took some painful experiences to learn what prayer was, and is to me-it took the idea of God I was praying to at one time falling apart like a house on a poorly built, shaky foundation, which at the time it was.
Prayer has not always been an easy thing for me to do, or to deal with. At one time in my life, the very idea of prayer was filled with anxiety, panic, terror and fear: Was I praying in the “correct” way? Was I praying for the “correct” things? If I did not ask in the “correct” way, would I receive the opposite results? What about that old statement, “Be careful what you pray for?” (I personally cannot stand that statement, as most times it fosters a sense of doubt in those seeking God or to find their own happiness with God’s help). Considering the liberal nature of my beliefs, and some of the radical things I thought about God, would God even listen to what I had to say, let alone “answer” me?
Thankfully, I went through an extreme evolution and difficult but worthwhile journey in not only what it was which I envisioned “prayer” to be, what I expected to occur as a result of it, as well as the manner in which I went about it. And a lot of it came about because of my initial belief in a God that failed.
It was not the real God, the God of Love that many of us are joyfully aware of that failed. And it was not I who failed. It was my belief, one mostly centered in and borne out of fear, in a concept of God which failed. It was the false belief in a very limited, human concept of God, one based on a system of rewards and punishments, one based on the concept of God as judge and jury that remains partial to some and silent to others, and one based upon a concept of God which can be easily rationalized in simple, uncomplicated black and white terms; and what I discovered (as many have) is that no matter how much some of us as human beings would like God to be a cut and dried, black and white, easy answer, open and shut book, that is not the case.
No, this God was not the God I have come to know and love through developing an open heart and mind and truly studying the relevance and significance of what Christ taught about God. This was a concept of God which was created in my mind through what I had been taught and what was being spoon fed to me about God by others who had their own agendas, who held a belief in the same ideas about the Creator. A few examples (most of which I am more than a bit ashamed of, until I realize and accept what stage of spiritual growth or non-growth I was in at that time) that I asked this concept of God for:
I would envision God as sort of a magical “vending machine” that would give me whatever it was I wanted with absolutely no effort or responsibility on my part. I was really one of those people who would pray to meet new friends but who would do absolutely nothing to make it happen, who would pray for a better job but never do the first thing to look for one, who would pray for (insert good thing here) to happen, but do nothing on my part to make it happen; instead I expected it all to fall neatly in my lap with no work on my part. Needless to say, these prayers all went unanswered.
I would ask this concept of God to crush the hopes of anyone who opposed the things which were important to me. I would actually ask that anyone who stood in my way have their plans thwarted, even if what they were doing was only an imagined “threat” on my part. Never would I pray for what I now know that I should have been praying for, which was a sense of inner strength in myself and the knowledge that when one is at peace with God, the only real “enemies” are those which we perceive to be enemies and the knowledge that no matter how different we all are or may think that we are all children of the same God and loved equally, and need to find some way to all live together in harmony despite our differences.
Possibly worst of all, I would ask God to make a specific situation happen which I had no control over; for example, for a specific person to do something I wished they would do (translation: that I would do if I were in their situation at the time), or for anyone who had wronged me to be punished, or for someone who thought differently from me to think exactly as I did. One very important lesson for which I am forever grateful for that I learned over time was that there is only one person whom we will ever know whose actions we can control, and that is ourselves. We cannot rely or depend solely on the actions of another person for our happiness and well being, for they too are blessed with the exact same free will that we are, and for us to attempt to thwart that is to do something that not even God would do. The best which I feel that we can do is remain at peace in knowing that God will grant us the strength to deal with difficult situations and cope with times when the action, or inaction of others disappoints us.
Of course, you have to remember that this idea of God which I was saying these prayers to was one which I no longer believe in now. It took a few things to open up my heart, mind and eyes and see that even though this idea of God had failed me completely, that there was a silver lining to the necessary (if painful at the time) disintegration of this visualization of God and it being replaced with a far stronger and infinitely healthier faith.
First was the realization that I had come to this idea of God purely out of fear. I felt out of control of my own life, and a series of terrible events had happened as well as a series of personal realizations which left me in a severe state of vulnerability; I really was the person who “would do anything” for things to get better, even if doing so meant giving up all that I had ever loved, being completely untrue to what I felt deep down inside my heart, and abandoning any remaining sense of self worth in exchange for a “magic fix” to all of my difficulties. For lack of a better term, I was willing to forfeit my very soul to escape the emotional agony I was in at that time.
Cue the fundamentalist conservative Christian acquaintances I had at the time who seized the golden opportunity to provide the (at the time) “faithless” me with the “easy answer” I was desperate for. Even though a part of me deep in my heart screamed deep inside, “This isn’t really what you believe, this isn’t you” I was so ensnared in a world of fear that I bought into it hook, line and sinker – somewhat reluctantly, but still willingly. Which led to an entirely new set of fears to deal with. A much worse one, and a much worse set of problems.
At the same time, in retrospect, I can now see how God was trying to reach out to me and tell me that I was investing my faith in the wrong places at that time in my life and that I was setting myself up for the pain, disillusionment, and disappointments that would soon follow, but I refused to be open. My fear shrouded mind simply could not seem to grasp the idea that God would love me as I was. No, there had to be conditions, restrictions – I was not worthy of an Unconditional Love in my mind at the time.
Suddenly, things seemed to make some kind of warped “sense” to me when I bought into this line of belief. Anything bad that happened in my life was the work of “demons” and “devils” and not due to my own lack of personal responsibility, errors of judgment on my part, or poor decisions I had made. If things which I wanted to happen did not take place, rather than accept the blame where it belonged-on my own laziness or inaction or irresponsible actions, it was “God not wanting me to have” something or God “punishing” me for something I had done. If I did not succeed at something, it didn’t mean I was not making the required effort, but that it was “not God’s Will” or, as I was told, I “prayed incorrectly”. Everything had a neat, seemingly clean explanation – at least for a time.
Yet the true person who God had made me to be was buried under this entire charade, as I continued to live in denial of the fact that things had not gotten any better for me, in fact, they had gotten progressively worse. I now liken it to the alcohol or drug addict who tries like mad to reassure themselves and others that there really is no problem, even though it is glaringly obvious to both themselves and those around them. I was supposed to be this happy, born again joyful person – yet I felt completely hollow, depressed, empty and a shell of who I knew I really was.
My prayers were all long, drawn out exercises in ritualistic begging for forgiveness and mercy, living in constant fear of a very capricious and judgmental God bent on some warped form of “tough love.” I was taking no time to simply enjoy the life God had given me and not making the slightest bit of effort to improve my own life; and aside from the occasional thing which would take place here and there that would bring me happiness, the majority of my prayers would go unanswered.
My prayers for the ill person to suddenly make a miraculous recovery would seemingly go unheard as that person passed away and I would somehow feel guilt that I had not prayed hard enough, selfishly thinking that I had some say in when a person’s time was or not. My prayers for issues in my relationship at the time to be resolved would go “unheard” as I was so caught up in obeying the rules and regulations that I imagined this concept of God required me to follow that I could not be emotionally available for her or fully present to listen to her feelings and needs; anything which was said that did not fit into my newly acquired belief system was “the devil trying to tear things apart” rather than someone trying to honestly express their true feelings. My prayers for a sense of inner peace were seemingly meaningless as well, as I was in a constant state of inner turmoil and conflict between who I feared I had to be and who I knew I really was.
During that time there was an instance that happened to me in the past where I encountered a person who had been through a rather unpleasant circumstance involved with the dissolution of a relationship, and was dealing with a great deal of emotional pain, grief and heartache over it. Granted, it was not a situation I had been directly involved in, but they had sought me out as someone who would listen and attempt to offer some support in a time of need. At the time, I was dealing with many of my own hardships, and when I still put all of the responsibility for things that happened on God rather than accepting any of it for myself. Rather than help that person, who was dealing with a situation that I would later find myself in and that the advice I would have given them would have helped me, I simply absolved myself of being responsible and dismissed it by saying, “I’ll pray for you” instead of doing what I now know would have been the right thing to do-to offer the help that I could and allowing God to work through my being compassionate and understanding and trying to help them or at least offer support.
In other situations, I would pray desperately for others around me to do things that I wanted them to do, whether it was something they wanted for themselves or not. I would alienate anyone who disagreed with my beliefs, refusing to even consider the possibility of allowing them to “agree to disagree.” And out of my own fear, I would also cut myself off from all of the angels in human form that God had sent me during that time; I now look back and see how many people there were who could see what it was that I was doing, who really did care about how I felt, what my needs were, and who could have shown me a far healthier way about thinking about God, had I been able to listen.
Yet, for some time three factors kept me holding on to this spiritually poisonous understanding of God. First was the insistence that if I followed everything to the letter, things would eventually be “perfect” in my life. The second was the fallacy I was continually fed that any hardships in my life were not my fault, but rather “external forces of evil” attempting to keep me from having what I needed or worse, God’s “displeasure” with me. And most of all, the most powerful force at work was fear, and today fear is what I believe is the root and source of any “evil” that exists; I think that fear is either definitely something not of God but something else, or it is the equally resistant force to Love.
Eventually, however, there were several turning points. I have related this story often, but there is one turning point that always stands out as key to me. After a few events and things I had been hoping and praying for not coming to pass, and some even worse tragedies in my personal life (many of which related to my friends and loved ones growing weary of my no longer being the unique person God made me to be but trying to be someone who I really was not) and my seeking consolation from a fellow “believer” in this very unhealthy concept of God, I falsely imagined the reason for the pain in my life being a core part of who I was made to be being the reason.
I had known from a very early age that I was bisexual, but I had never really fully been able to accept that about myself. I knew that I was both attracted to and felt the need for intimacy with both women and men, but felt as if no one ever could, or ever would have been able to accept and understand it, despite the fact that there were many around me including friends, some family members, loved ones, the girl I had been in a relationship with and especially God, Who made me, would have gladly done so. Even those who had not understood would have gone on loving me just the same and not tried to change me. Yet I kept it locked deep within myself, pretending it wasn’t really there, thinking it was all in my mind (while knowing it really wasn’t) and never giving it much thought.
One of the tenets of the toxic form of faith I had adopted at the time seemed very wrong to me, and extremely difficult for me to support or get behind: the negative attitude towards sexuality, and most specifically LGBT sexuality and relationships, or any relationship that did not fit the “norm” espoused by fundamentalist thought. Sure, I would pretend to go along with it, to save face with my peers, but no matter how terrified of this idea of God I was, I could not bring my heart to believe that God had any problems with consenting adults engaging in intimacy with one another regardless of gender, or however they chose to express it, so long as everyone was mutually respectful of and honest with each other. I simply could not understand, with all of the other things in the world that people could do which really could be harmful to each other or oneself why God would get so hung up on something (especially something with as much potential for mutual joy as sexuality or intimacy among those who care about each other) as sex.
Yet one night, I went into a state of grief, falsely thinking that who I knew myself to be was “unacceptable” to God, and that it was the reason which I was facing so many hardships in my life (even though I know now the real reason was the fact that I was not making even the smallest effort to take advantage of the abundant opportunities God had laid before me to improve my well being). So I decided to pray for God to “cure” me, to “change” me to what I was supposed to be, to what those who had poisoned my soul with these false and dangerous ideas about God had convinced me I had to be.
Have you ever been in the midst of doing something and having what seems like every cell of your being telling you “this is wrong, stop, don’t do this?” And I’m not referring to a knee jerk fear response, but just knowing what you are in the midst of doing is very, very wrong. It was a very long time ago but I vividly recall that being how this felt. Just the act of praying to become someone who I knew I was not felt like I would imagine it to feel like praying for God to murder someone I had disagreed with, or for God to make something bad happen to a person who had made me angry. And to me it WAS a little like praying for God to murder someone, deep in my heart it was like asking God to kill a part of who I was. Looking back, it was telling God, “You messed up when you made me, I’m not happy.” I was more miserable than ever after that, but even so, I felt it was what God required of me, for no other reason than fear, and because others had told me “the Bible said so.”
And nothing changed in my life. Now, in fact, I felt worse than I ever had. And bad things continued to happen. No matter how much I prayed for things, none of them would happen. Some of them were misdirected, selfish prayers (e.g., praying for someone to do something I wished they would do and attempting to direct God to make their will in accordance with mine), others were instances where I would want things to magically appear in my life without having to do my part, and yet others were constant repetition of prayers begging for forgiveness for being unable to be someone I was not and protection from “evil” -which I now believed was all around me, and trying to do anything I could to gain the favor of this truly monstrous idea of God I had come to believe in.
As powerful a force as we sometimes allow fear to become, I have learned one thing concerning God and fear over time. A faith based in fear, and a faith in God based in fear was like a very shaky house of cards, ready for the tiniest gust to blow it over and cause it to collapse. As it happened for me.
For one thing, I found myself feeling terribly alone. I was not feeling the joy that most spoke of. Thoughts of God and prayer were filled with fear and terror rather than hope, faith, love or joy. Some of the things I had been praying for not to happen took place anyway – things which might have been avoidable had I allowed myself to be fully present rather than absorbed in my own fears. And finally, in the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back, I was abandoned by those who had brought me into this way of believing when I refused to sever ties with anyone who would not convert to their way of thinking.
And most of all, it was feeling a sense of complete isolation from anything that felt like any type of honest, true and genuine relationship with God. There was a small and silent yet growing and persistent voice in my heart that kept saying to me, “The real blasphemy is not being true to who you were made to be and putting your faith in things that you know in your heart you don’t believe.” There was a deep part of me that knew that the faith I had at the time was crumbling, it was falling to pieces around me – yet at the same time, I had to wonder if it was a faith worth having to begin with.
As I had been struggling, I had started to be open to other ways about thinking about God. Perhaps the literalism I had embraced in my vulnerable state was not healthy at all but a detriment to my spiritual well being which was serving to draw me further away from experiencing a relationship with God rather than closer. Perhaps the God which I had put all of my faith into at the time was very small, very shallow, and did not even exist.
I had begun to read and investigate things which I had taken as verbatim. I began actually reading the Bible with an open mind, and looking at some of what Jesus had said about the nature of God as opposed to allowing others to feed me portions of it with their own personal agenda and spin on the meaning. I was beginning to learn that there were others such as myself who were bisexual and who had come to realize that God loved and accepted them as they are, and that there was nothing wrong, sinful, sick, unnatural or unacceptable about my sexuality, my sexual orientation, my real beliefs or who I was. I discovered that maybe there was more than one way to think about and understand God. Most importantly of all, I was discovering the possibility that what I thought I believed really wasn’t the whole truth after all. And I was coming to the realization that no matter what the consequences, I could not believe in the idea of God that I had been caught up in believing in for any longer.
It came from a recent sermon I heard, but it sure could have been of benefit to me during the time I am recollecting. There is a story of a man named Clifford Calvery who successfully walked a tightrope over Niagara Falls pushing a wheelbarrow in 1892. The analogy made in the sermon is that putting your total trust and faith in God is a little bit like being able to jump in that wheelbarrow and have confidence that no matter how nervous you are, trusting that you will safely arrive at the other side.
And that’s a lot of what I had to do at the time. For a short time, I had to purge my consciousness of all I thought I knew, as the reality was that I didn’t really “know” anything. Certainly, I had faith in a concept of God, but it was a faith misplaced. I had to relinquish and surrender not only the idea of a God which very suspiciously resembled one that all that I had been thinking and hope and pray for my faith to be rebuilt anew, and this time with some effort on my part instead of selfishly expecting all of the answers to be “handed” to me in a generic, one-size-fits-all format. I had rethink, revisit and reexamine everything I had just accepted at face value without really thinking about it. And I came to conclusions which were both devastating at the time, yet liberating: just as in the Book of Revelation where the world as it is known comes to an end and is replaced by a new and better one (a wonderful inspiring part of the Bible when taken metaphorically rather than literally), what I had known was falling apart but something wonderful was on the way in place of it.
What I had to say farewell to when I let go of that belief in a “God that failed” was letting go of the concept of a God which was partial to some, and turned a deaf ear to others, that rewarded some and punished others, and that gave neat, black and white “answers” to everything.
The idea of a God that would Create only to scrutinize and punish, and devise some elaborate game to repetitively “test” the faith of those who believe that is the God that failed me.
The idea of a God who blesses some and curses others not meeting up to a certain predefined and required “standard” that not-so-coincidentally and so suspiciously resembles the prejudices of those who promote that image of God, that is the God that failed me.
The idea of a God authoring a Universe where everything is spelled out in harsh black and white terms when the Universe is in reality a world of wonderful, beautiful, diverse and endless shades and colors, that is the God that failed me.
The concept of a God who is partial to one set of people with one specific belief system and bent on the destruction of anyone who differs, that is the God that failed me.
The idea of a God who would allow me to blame an external force of evil that is somehow equal in power rather than accepting personal responsibility for my own misguided decisions, that is the God that failed me.
The idea of God who would simplify life down to adhering to a literal interpretation of a book written long ago and to cultural standards which no longer apply, that is the God that failed me.
It was a time that was difficult; and required all of the faith I had and some that I didn’t but just had to believe that I did in spite of that fact to get through it. I began from square one, holding on to what good feelings and thoughts I had about God from when I was younger or at other times from my life but had been buried deeply in my subconscious, and discarding the damaging beliefs I had allowed fear to get me ensnared in.
Rather than expect someone else to tell me what I should or should not believe in, I began to ask for the guidance, openness and courage to “ask, seek and knock” for myself. In the past, I had foolishly allowed my happiness and sense of well being to be dependent upon the actions of others around me rather than my reaction to them, and often I had prayed for a specific answer to whatever was distressing me. Instead, when my prayers became, “Help me to see with an open heart, mind and eyes what You have already blessed me with to resolve the difficult questions I am struggling with,” then lo and behold, the answers began to arrive, often from places I never would have expected and even more so from places which had been directly in front of me the entire time.
Instead of praying to change and become someone who I was not, I instead prayed for a sense of peace and acceptance about who I really am. I was able to find acceptance and support from caring friend and others as a bisexual, and an understanding that there was nothing wrong or unnatural about my sexual orientation or sexuality. Eventually, I found a loving, caring, fulfilling and honest relationship with both a wonderful woman and a wonderful man, and those who were supportive of our relationships. Even though many may find these relationships unorthodox and not everyone I have met understands, nor would I expect them to, the majority of people are at least accepting and do not allow a lack of understanding to cause them to disregard my wholeness as a person, or the validity of my faith.
And rather than what I might have selfishly and fearfully prayed at one time for others to think, feel and believe exactly as I do, I have learned that the best prayer is to always seek to be a loving person to all others, whether we think or believe alike or not. While it is not my place or purpose-nor that of anyone, in my opinion-to determine what another person should or should not believe, I always feel compelled to do my best to attempt to find whatever common ground I may have with another and even if the search for such comes up lacking, showing that person the exact same measure of respect that I would anyone at all.
For those of us who might be letting go of an idea of God that failed us, and seeking a new way of looking at God, or at prayer, I want to relate some of the things that worked for me as I rethought my ideas about what God is, what prayer is and is not, and ways in which one can develop healthy ideas about communication with God, prayer and meditation.
The first would be that when we think of a prayer asking God for “something” to consider the idea that there is really no need to ask God for anything more; all that we need has already been provided to us in abundance and it is merely up to us to remain aware, awake and open to the multitude of possibilities that are there. If we somehow feel that some area in our life is lacking, we can get on our knees and pray, beg, even repeat the same longing prayers in a nearly obsessive fashion, but if we ourselves remain closed minded and not open to the beautiful realm of possibilities which God has already blessed us with, then nothing can happen to improve our situation! Faith in and of itself is wonderful but we need to make it faith in action and live it; as the old saying goes, “no deposit, no return.” We can pray to God to enable us to see the blessings before us, but unless we are ready to be open to them, and able to embrace them and know God is blessing us, our longings cannot be answered.
Jesus Himself says in Matthew 6:8 that God knows what it is that we need before we even ask; and I have so often found this to be the case in life. I look back to times when I would ask God over and over again in prayer for some type of guidance or hope or some type of opportunity for growth and when I finally rethought how I was praying and revised it along the lines of “Whatever it is I am struggling with or seeking, I know somewhere You have the answer for me, and I am grateful for that; just help me to remain aware and open to it,” then suddenly, things would start to happen. I would be talking to a friend, family member, or new acquaintance and they would say something that would register in me and enable me to see the solution or the answer or the doorway that was in fact right before me all the time-I was just too caught up in my own anxieties to allow myself to be open to it.
I recall once saying a quiet, simple prayer – often the most powerful ones – that I would have the strength and find the way to live the truth of who God made me to be in a way that was hurtful to no one and that brought joy to as many others in the process and then simply had faith in it. Was that easy? Not at all. Was the process of letting go of that and merely believing, living and acting as if my prayer had been answered effortless, requiring no work on my part? Absolutely not, because most times that is not, at least in my experience, the way God works. Personal growth, even with all that God has given us is often one of the biggest challenges of our life.
But when I woke up one day, feeling fully awake and alive to life’s possibilities, and realized that over time what I had prayed, thanked God for even when it felt distant and hoped and believed in had finally come to pass, I understood far more deeply what Jesus meant when he spoke of faith being able to move mountains. Sometimes, it really does seem that way. But in many cases, what might at one time in my life have seemed like a looming, insurmountable mountain of a challenge or that I may have seen as such may have in reality been a molehill; it was only when we put our trust in God that I was able to see them as insignificant in the grand scheme of things as they really were. When I think in terms of never being able to be separate from God, and God always being a part of us all and knowing our needs, somehow even the most difficult challenges are not as frightening or impossible as I might have initially imagined.
I am convinced that whatever longing and desire in life that we have, whatever fashion the desires of our heart may take or whatever it is that brings us joy, God would not deny us the ability to discover and achieve that. I believe that not only does God not require that we change who we are in order to receive Love, Grace and blessings in our lives, but also that God does not demand that we relinquish those things which we desire so long as we pursue those things in a way that is unselfish, not hurtful to others, and as helpful to as many others as possible in the process. Akin to that thought, I also think that if you find that in pursuit of your dreams and the desires of your heart that in the process you bring joy, love, hope, happiness, peace and justice to others, you can rest assured that this is something that God wants for you.
One of the most important lessons that I learned over time was that rather than thinking about what it was I felt I was lacking, to think of what I might already have been blessed with which would provide the hope, encouragement, or strength I had been seeking and instead seek the openness to it, which requires a sense of trust and faith in God as well as a belief that God already Knows and has provided for our needs and an grateful openness to those blessings. All that we are called to do is embrace all of the blessings which God has already given us, and to be spiritually wide awake and open to receiving God’s Unconditional Love – which at times can come from places and people that we might never have initially expected.
Going right along with the concept of trusting that God has already blessed us with all which could ever want or need and seeking to be aware and open and put our faith into action, an even more important, and probably the most important aspect of prayer for me these days is all about gratitude. Too often I hear people talking about praying for things they don’t have rather than expressing joy and gratitude for what it is that they do have, and that is what I feel is very important in discussing any form of prayer. I feel that our own prayers of gratitude can be as simple as taking a few minutes out each day to reflect on all of the blessings in our life and forever remaining fully aware that even when we feel as if there isn’t much to be grateful for that there always is.
But it goes one step further than that to me. I feel that we best express our gratitude for all that God has blessed us with when we demonstrate that by being a kind and loving person and following the Commandment of Christ to Love our neighbor as ourselves – meaning that we show them the same measure of love that we ourselves would desire to be shown; it’s always a “win/win” situation in the long run, even when that goal seems very difficult to achieve.
What of our prayers for others? When someone asks us to “pray for them” or to “pray about” a situation, what does that mean? Does it mean we pray exactly as they tell us to, does it mean that we pray for what we think should happen for them, or something else altogether?
Possibly the worst form of prayer is that which would attempt to impose our wishes for another person onto them; to pray for them to fail at something which is important to them but that we might in our thinking deem “unrealistic” (which I feel is in error, as I believe that nothing is impossible with faith), or for them to change their minds to think exactly as we do, or for them to make the choices that we think they should make or that we think that God wants them to make, or for the outcome to match what we think would be the best thing for them. To do so, to me, is attempting to play the role of God. Not that I believe in an idea of God that would hear prayers said “against” another or prayers attempting to exert our will over others, but I feel to even consider such a form of prayer is dwelling on negative energy and cannot lead to anything good.
For us to assume that we know what is best for another beyond whatever it is which will bring them joy and peace while at the same time not creating any negative situations for anyone else is in my opinion rather presumptuous. In my opinion, we ourselves cannot know the entire truth about what ultimately is best for them, their happiness, well being and wholeness. In the end, only God and they themselves can know that. All that I feel that we can do is to visualize the unconditional Love of God surrounding them in their times of need and giving them hope and strength, while simultaneously being open to whatever it is we can provide to them as a means of reaching that place, if anything. In most cases in prayer for others, it is often that I merely visualize God surrounding them with Love, whatever that may mean.
And then there is another form of prayer for others, those who are passing on or have passed on from this life as we know it into whatever is beyond. It is always difficult to say farewell when a person leaves; there is no easy answer. Sometimes there are healings when hope seemed impossible, and at others, that person leaves and their spirit moves on. The only thing sometimes we can pray for in these situations is for God’s Love to surround us to cope in these losses; just as with many things, there are no clear answers to anything and especially so in these cases. I cannot know and it is not my place to decide when it is someone’s time to leave. I still struggle in these situations and the only solace or comfort I have is in knowing that whatever exists beyond this world, God is the same God of Love as here, and is taking care of them.
And what of those who we might perceive to be our “enemies” based on our experience of them behaving in unloving ways toward us? Sometimes, one of the toughest things to face, and especially when we are at our lowest moments when someone has made us feel hurt with their words or actions is the admonition of Jesus in Luke 6:28: “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
The recent passing of the Reverend Jerry Falwell was, in my experience, a small example of how difficult it can be for some to be forgiving, and to “bless those who curse us” and pray for our “enemies.” I always strive to remember that anyone who persecutes us is more often than not driven or compelled to do so from a place of their own fears rather than a place of evil or malice (and even if it were a manifestation of “evil,” I honestly feel that giving in to fear is surrendering to a negative force). When Rev. Falwell died, I was shocked to hear several very kind and loving people (some LGBT people and some heterosexual people) state that this made them happy; one even stated that this was an “answer to their prayers.”
A few people I know who still maintain the belief in a “place” called Hell as a final destination and a location of eternal punishment and regret for misdeeds in the life that we know (never mind the fact that the same people did not believe in the concept of hell the majority of the time-unless they felt that someone they didn’t like was destined to go there) were celebrating the speculation that Jerry had taken residency there after his passing. I don’t subscribe to belief in such a place, but even if I did, I don’t think that Jerry Falwell would have ended up there and certainly not as a permanent resident; I was wished to hell enough times by others who thought I belonged there in the past that even if I believed in it as a place, it’s not something I would wish on someone.
Needless to say, I was not a fan of what Jerry did. I hated the way he lashed out and promoted discrimination against not only the LGBT Community, but just about any and everyone else who disagreed with him. I’m sure he had plenty of negative things to say about bisexuals with more than one partner off the record as well, and would rather not know what he would think of me and my partners, but I don’t know as I tend to tune negative talk which others make about the idea of an angry, judgmental God out. Yet his passing made me feel bad for him, that he missed out on the opportunity to know that he could have had even more reach of letting people know of God’s Love for them had he let go of the dogmatic thinking and rhetoric. In any case, to hear people feeling happy about the death of someone else seemed very wrong to me.
I received via both e-mail and news two separate comments from two people who might have considered the Reverend to be an “enemy” – and both really made me think about some things:
One was from Mel White, leader of Soulforce, whose Ministries for non-violently ending religious and political discrimination against the LGBT Community I have long been a supporter of. Upon hearing about Rev. Falwell’s death, White was quoted as saying “It breaks my heart to think that Jerry died without ever discovering the truth about God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender children. I sincerely hope that one day his school and his church will have a change of heart.” Amen to that, and I agree.
But the second was even more surprising. Pornographer Larry Flynt, who once fought the Reverend in the Supreme Court regarding freedom of speech had this to say: “My mother always told me that no matter how much you dislike a person, when you meet them face to face you will find characteristics about them that you like. Jerry Falwell was a perfect example of that. I hated everything he stood for, but after meeting him in person, years after the trial, Jerry Falwell and I became good friends. He would visit me in California and we would debate together on college campuses. I always appreciated his sincerity even though I knew what he was selling and he knew what I was selling.”
Now, I may not agree with every single thing Larry has to say anymore than I agree with most of Jerry’s opinions, but I found this rather touching in a strange way. Here were two very unlikely people who at one time would have considered each other bitter enemies who were able to find some sort of common ground and see the good, the humanity in each other.
Both of these comments made me wonder why more of us cannot see the fact that no matter how much we perceive someone to be against us, or our “enemy” that we are all children of the exact, same Loving God. Regardless of whatever exterior we put on or masks we wear to hide it, sometimes we are all afraid, sometimes we all hurt, sometimes we don’t always have the strength to do the right things and make the right decisions. In God’s Eyes, no one is better than the other; and it takes really understanding, embracing and believing in this fact in order for us to truly see that.
In what Rev. Falwell was doing when he acted unlovingly, he was not doing so out of evil intent, but rather out of his own fear and misunderstanding as well as thinking he was doing the right thing as a result of having a clear vision of God’s Love obscured by fear. Wherever he is, do I think he regrets the way he treated some people? Sure. But even though things that he said about others hurt to hear, I cannot see anyone – even someone who was trying to however misguidedly take away the rights of others as an “enemy.”
Considering these fairly recent events, I think back to what Jesus said about blessing those who curse us or who have somehow wronged us whenever I am in prayer and meditation and remember the old saying that “when God dislikes the same people you do, it’s a sure sign that you have recreated God in your own image.” A God who dislikes all of the people who make you feel uncomfortable, and would side with you in their misfortune (similar to a God I once misguidedly put my faith in) is a God destined to fail. Now I actually try to take a few minutes when I pray every day to visualize God’s Unconditional Love to surround anyone who has made me feel hurt, or persecuted, or betrayed and imagine their lives being surrounded by love, hope and joy so that the clouds of their fears might be wiped away and they can see that there was no reason to be so fearful and passing that fear and negativity on to others.
And most of the time, the people who I pray for who might have hurt me-they may not apologize, and they may keep on acting the same way towards me. But it is truly miraculous the feeling in my heart when I cannot wish vengeful thoughts, or anger or the same feelings of hurt back onto them. At times even though I suffered a great deal of hurt from others, I still feel grateful that went through all that I did to grow in understanding of and help others in life who might be dealing with similar situations. The very act of letting go and forgiving is a healing miracle, in and of itself. The idea of God that I once had-the one that failed me – was not concerned in a loving way with those who hurt me – another sign that it was destined to fail.
For all of these ideas about what I think prayer is or is not, just as with everything, it will be different for everyone. Regardless of how anyone chooses to communicate with God in prayer, I do think it is very important to always be open to looking at the way we might think about God and what it is that we believe. I try to ask these five questions if I ever find myself slipping into old and fearful ways of thinking:
-Is what I believe about God making me feel a sense of being connected to something Greater, the Creator, a Higher Source of Love?
-Is what I believe causing me to act in a way that is hurtful to others, or is it causing me to feel a greater sense of joy, peace and oneness with God and seek to bring that same sense of hope, love and joy to those around me?
-Is my concept of God one that compels me to be forgiving when I am angry at another, or one that seeks to hold on to the poison of being unforgiving and holding on to old hurts?
-Do I think there is anyone at all who God does NOT Love with the same Love that I would want to be shown?
-When I think about, meditate on and pray to God, do I feel a sense of fear and worry, or deep joy, gratitude, and somehow knowing that all I could ever need has already been given to me, that things will turn out okay if I keep the faith, and that God has already shown me or is showing me the way?
All of these help me to stay grounded and stay in a sense of spiritual health, but whatever works for one person may or may not work for another. I do know that even if there are times I may not be feeling as positive or as joyful as others, sometimes I just say a quick prayer and affirm that I am grateful to be able to feel, even if I don’t feel all that great at that moment. Oddly enough, that usually always makes me feel better.
However you choose to view, or understand God or prayer, it can be said that Jesus’ teachings are filled with constant admonitions that as we think, we are, and that which we have faith in can come to be. So maintaining a healthy spirituality and a positive image of God to me is one of the most important things in life; be that through prayer, worship, or whatever form makes one feel that closeness, connection, and positive knowledge of God.
I feel that maintaining a sense of gratitude for all that we have and especially by displaying that gratitude by allowing our blessings to flow over into the lives of others and by being the loving and compassionate people God showed us how to be through the lessons of Christ is most important. We can positively visualize God’s Love surrounding others-loved ones, family, friends or complete strangers whom we know are in need, even those who have hurt us, and be able to let go of old hurts and move forward with love and forgiveness. And as far as our own needs, God already knows and has provided for them all. Whoever we are, whatever dreams we were made to have, God knows this and our needs and has already provided for these things, it is just our calling to connect, believe, and allow God’s Love into our hearts and lives, however it may come to us. And even if your prayer is just saying thank you by showing it by striving to be as loving a person as possible and practicing the Golden Rule of Jesus to love thy neighbor as thyself, that alone is more than enough.
I look back sometimes on the days when I would say terrified prayers to the God that failed, and how I felt like I was never heard. I would cry out in a spiritual agony to a warped image of what I thought God to be to forgive me for being so inadequate, defective and “selfish” for wanting nothing more to feel loved and accepted for who I was.
Yet underneath it all, there was a smaller voice quietly whispering that there had to be more than this there had to be something Greater. I remain forever grateful that it somehow got through, and the real God heard my voice. And it is my greatest prayer that anyone who still holds on to the fear of a God Who does not Love them Unconditionally exactly as they are will know that the one true God of Love does, and is always there for them. All it takes is simply knowing in your heart that God is Love, living as if you know it and the rest will follow like a miracle.
John Campbell is a native of Alabama.