Updated: Aug 29
I've been wanting to share this for months, but was afraid I couldn't do the topic justice, and that I wouldn't be able to speak what is inside my heart clearly. This is a loaded topic filled with baggage for many, myself included, so if you're reading this, please read it with the intention of keeping your heart open.
How to start this.. How do I unpack a lifetime of learning, rejecting, and re-learning the scope of God’s love, in a silly little blog post?
I’ll start with the catalyst, I suppose, because it’s what woke me up and got my attention. At the end of July in 2022, having just turned 32, I was hurt by someone I loved, and it gutted me. I was brought so low, the pain and grief I felt honestly terrified me. It was inescapable, I couldn’t quell it or self-help it away, and believe me, I tried.
I tried books, podcasts, exercise, therapy, talking with friends, astrology, journaling, all my usual tricks and more, but the reality was I was at rock bottom and no amount of self-help, mindfulness or positive thinking could pull me out of it.
In hindsight, it was the most necessary rock bottom, which re-routed my life in ways I desperately needed and so I will always live with gratitude for the humility it taught me.
There is a phrase I think of often that says "lessons not learned in blood are soon forgotten" and while I wish I could say I'm the outlier, that phrase has applied to nearly everything I've ever learned.
So there I was, at the lowest I'd ever been, grieving the life I could no longer claim as mine and knowing there was no escaping that grief. I decided to stop running from it, or rather exhaustion decided it for me, and instead just let it break me open, which is exactly what grief does. It turns you inside out and upside down, like a rag doll out to sea.
I don't remember the date, but at one very low point, a prompt came to me to simply... pray. I didn't exactly welcome the thought, as I hadn't prayed for years since my Dad died, but I do remember writing the very simple prayer of "please show me the way" down in my journal one morning. I remember how foreign and painfully humbling it felt to acknowledge I needed help outside myself, I almost couldn’t even bring myself to do it.
It wasn't a silver bullet, of course, but slowly over time, it became a daily prayer- "Please God, show me the way, I will pay attention." And slowly, over time, that's exactly what happened. God revealed his love for me in so many ways, and softened my heart to real love- not the fragile human sort of love that is often tenuous and transactional- but the everlasting and transforming love I could never fully claim or feel until last fall. My heart was filled with peace, a peace that “passes/transcends all understanding” just like the bible promises in Philippians 4:7.
I still had my grief and worries, but they were mitigated with the deep knowing that no matter what happened in my life moving forward, God’s love would never leave me as promised in Hebrews 13:5 "...I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee" and I would continue to be transformed and refined by his love.
I recently started listening to some of Sinnead O’connor’s music after her passing, and the song “Thank you for hearing me” has become a song I listen to daily, while I reflect on my gratitude for God's love, because it puts to music what I feel in my heart.
I grew up in christianity, and I would say I had some faith in God, but my vision of God was seriously flawed (and still is in many ways I'm sure- I'm learning and will be on this path for a lifetime).
I didn’t truly love God, or fully comprehend pure love.
Instead, I viewed God as punitive and angry, something unknowable and partially contrived by people, and so that’s how I moved through the world. Punishment was always attributed to God when I was a child, and so I was always subconsciously waiting for the other shoe to drop in life, always waiting to be punished, and so reflexively I built up walls around my sensitive heart.
I began to view God as "unknowable"- as a powerful and undeniable "force" in the universe, but an impersonal and distant one, whose truth was subjective as I adopted the philosophical viewpoint that truth is largely relative.
My line of thinking was essentially accepting that others believed in God/claimed a relationship with God, and that their belief may have been “true for them” but I didn’t view God as absolute truth, as I have come to.
Eventually, I turned my back on God, because my relationship with him wasn’t healthy or founded in truth, it was rooted in fear that started early in childhood for me (the 90’s were a heck of a time to grow up in a “fundamental” church with legalism modeled by many, but that’s a whole other story.)
I was also incredibly arrogant at times, and began to think of people's claim to a relationship with God as unrealistic at best, as well as unintelligent and naive. Being a follower of Jesus is not exactly lauded in our world, and my own ego has always craved validation in the form of others recognizing my mind and intelligence.
Over time, I cobbled together my own religion of sorts- a little bit of whatever appealed to me, which morphed all the time. I cooked up some remnants from my christian upbringing, bits of philosophy I read, the now trendy practice of “manifestation” etc. My guidepost, I decided, would be my own heart and intellect, and this appealed to me because I was still living from a place of pride and subsequently ruled by my ego. I simply didn’t want to be instructed what to do, in any capacity. Who better to direct my life and my motives than… me? Spoiler alert- I'm not the best orchestrator, much to my chagrin haha. I, like everyone else, am a master at justifying my own behavior.
For a while, I fooled myself into believing this was working. On the outside, you could say I’m a “decent” person. I haven’t committed any egregious crimes in terms of the law. But what I came to realize quite painfully, is I have hurt people I love, sometimes knowingly and intentionally, and when I really reflected on that, I realized knowingly hurting other people out of my own selfishness was just as shameful and wrong as anything else.
My own moral relativism was flawed, and I realized I couldn’t honestly rely on my own barometer of “goodness/decency” because it just kept leading me to justifying and downplaying my own selfish tendencies, on the hamster wheel of hedonism. In Kierkegaard’s worldview, I was stuck firmly in the first stage of life- the aesthetic stage, and I lacked deep inner peace because I lacked the truth. Thankfully, Jesus’ words in John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” struck a chord with me in my lowest points. He wasn’t simply claiming to know the truth, instead he stated he was the truth.
People can tell you all day long, just as I’m trying to, about how much God loves you. I heard it too, but only last year did I learn the limitless depth and truth of real love. If you’re in a low point, or maybe you’re reflecting on your life and the direction you’re heading, but things feel fine, I hope to encourage you to consider your definition of love and truth. Much of the fragility in human love stems from how we love “transactionally”. That is to say “if they do xyz for me, I will reciprocate in kind” but of course, this isn’t real love although we’ve all experienced it and subjected others to it.
In contrast, God’s love for us is contingent on nothing, save an open heart to accept and receive the purest, most perfect love. Romans 5:8 reminds us “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” The bible teaches us we were created in love, by love, for love.
We don’t need to perform for him, to “achieve” anything, his love is just there for us, waiting for us to accept and be transformed by it. The imagery in Revelation 3:20 is powerful “Behold I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come into him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” God is always inviting us to be in relationship with him, but we have to be intentionally receptive to the invitation.
Think about the beginning stages of falling in love with someone. You ask questions, you listen well, you make time for that person, you prioritize them, you intentionally act lovingly.
Getting to know God isn’t much different, in my experience. The main requirement is willingness, I believe. A willingness to be loved, and a willingness to love. In order to know God’s love, we must come to know him and his character.
Jesus said in Matthew 22:37 “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” But before you can love someone well, you have to get to know them, with intention and devotion, which leads me to the practices that have been crucial for me this past year.
A few practices that have been instrumental for me are "prayer journaling," spoken prayer, intentional silence in God's presence, and of course, reading/studying the Bible daily. I would recommend a "study bible" for a better understanding of the scriptures- I have this one.
The beauty in reading scripture is not the knowledge you accumulate, but what the scriptures do to your heart- in reading about Jesus' life and his teachings, we begin to be spiritually formed in ways that can completely refine us, as I have personally learned. If you doubt the validity of the bible, consider the promise in 2 Timothy 3:16 "all scripture is given by inspiration of God", and read it daily with an open heart and the simple intention of learning.
Read through the gospels, and consider underlining and annotating verses that stick out to you as you go.
When I started a daily practice of reading the bible, I had to set aside my preconceived notions and concepts I didn't understand, while asking God to reveal the truth to me through the text. If we want to grow, we have to be willing students, willing to put in the effort to study and learn.
Prayer journaling has been life changing for me. I’ve had a “morning pages” journaling practice for a few years now via “The Artist’s Way” and so I found the transition to dedicating some of my journaling practice to writing down prayers fairly seamless.
If you’ve ever tried to pray, you know just how quickly your mind can start to wander. Something about the act of writing helps me to stay focused, and it’s also very powerful to flip back through my journal and see how many prayers have been answered, and how much has been revealed to me over time.
I like to write a couple specific prayers in addition to whatever comes to mind like-"please show me the way” and “please reveal any lies I may be believing."
If you’re new to journaling and would like to adopt it as a daily practice, I highly recommend reading “The Artist’s Way” and following Julia Cameron's prescription of free-writing 3 pages every morning, come hell or high water.
The practice of free-writing felt painful and chaotic to me at first, but with time, I learned to love it and now wouldn’t be without it.
In a similar vein, praying out loud (as opposed to silently in your mind) is very helpful for me. I pray out loud when I’m driving alone in my car, and if this sounds bizarre to you, you’re not alone. I felt weirdly embarrassed the first time I did this, but quickly learned how wonderful it is. To me, it feels like therapy- I speak frankly and openly with God in a way that doesn’t happen when I write my prayers down. I come to him with everything, not just what I think sounds good or proper.
Philippians 4:6-7 says “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” and I really take God up on that promise by praying about literally everything. This is an excellent podcast episode on the topic of prayer.
Lastly, I try to spend time each day in intentional, peaceful silence in God’s presence. Psalm 46:10 reminds us to “Be still, and know that I am God” and similarly, Psalm 37:7 tells us to "Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him" and those verses really can be as simple as they sound. I just carve out a few minutes or more to sit or walk in silence, with the intention in my heart to simply be with God. I focus on deepening my breath, and try to let the world fall away for a bit, while I intentionally seek his presence in silence.
This is the most challenging practice for me, out of the three, but has been very powerful.
Everyone who comes to have faith in God and a relationship with God walks their own path, and so we all must decide for ourselves via our own intellect and free will what/who we will follow and be shaped by in life.
If you’re reading this and curious about God, my advice from my own journey would be to simply ask God to reveal himself and his character to you, and to then pay attention. Be attuned to subtlety, and leave space in your life for peaceful solitude, to leave room for God to speak to you as he sometimes does, through the "still, small voice."
A part of walking with God begins by taking a leap of faith (and if you put any thought into the matter, it is initially very much a leap of faith, but a leap that God always honors) and then allowing God to open your eyes and soften your heart to the truth one day at a time, with the promise in John 8:32 "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
For the books below, I recommend purchasing a hard copy so you can underline and annotate as you go. I found each book's contents worth pondering over and re-reading, so I haven't listened to the audiobook versions.
Timothy Keller Sermons (podcast)
John Mark Comer Teachings (podcast)
Live No Lies (book)
The Reason for God (book)
Mere Christianity (book)