I had a neighbor once who lived a couple doors down from me. I saw him out in his yard frequently. We didn't really talk because of the distance between our houses. We would wave or nod and acknowledge each other whenever we saw each other out. My husband had talked to him so I knew that he was a nice old man and he had even come over and tilled our garden up the first year that we had moved in. He was nice enough to do that for us even though we were virtually strangers.
I knew that he was there, he was nearby and if I had an emergency I could probably call on him for help if I absolutely needed it. When my first husband passed away though, I actually had an opportunity to meet him and talk to him. He surprised me by bringing us food. A very kind act from a man that I had always known to be there but I had never had any sort of relationship with.
A few months ago, my pastor challenged us to share our story with others. I thought that this would be a great opportunity to talk about my relationship with God. It reminds me of the interaction with my neighbor a few years back. I knew God existed, I had exchanged pleasantries with him, He had done good things for me despite me being a virtual stranger, but I had never really had a relationship with him.
I was raised in the church, so I had all of the foundation that you'd expect. I knew the Bible stories, I knew how to pray, I knew that God existed. I don't think I ever for a moment truly doubted that God was there. I had the typical theological questions that I think a lot of us have had. However, when I hit my teen years and into early adulthood, I didn't have a relationship with God.
I even had a WWJD bracelet at one point. But of course if "What Would Jesus Do" was different than what I wanted to do, I went with my own choice. I was young and wanted to do what I wanted and when I wanted. Now, I'm not saying that I was a rebellious teenager or young adult, but other than loosely following the ten commandments or praying when I was in dire need, I didn't have a relationship with God.
"God, please help me pass this biology exam."
"God, please help me find my missing wallet."
"God, why is this bad stuff happening to me? Please make it end."
I called out to God in an occasional time of need. I honestly doubt I even thanked God when a situation resolved itself or just for anything in general. I lived my life as I saw fit with a shaky basic moral compass and deciding for myself what to do and when, even if it wasn't God approved.
When I had children, I taught them about God from the beginning. I knew about God and Jesus so I wanted them to know about God and Jesus also. But I'm sure that my words were often contradicted by my actions and my LIFE!
We ended up joining a church twice when they were younger. I won't say what denomination but those churches were not a good fit for me. They were way too strict in a lot of things and had more of the effect of bringing me down and making me feel like I was never enough. If THIS wasn't happening in my life it's because I wasn't close enough to God. I won't go into many of the details but it was such a pristine standard and looking back I'm not even sure a completely Bible backed standard, that I just couldn't live up to. It was discouraging.
The best part of those years, though, was that I got baptized...twice. Yes once for each church. I don't know if this was a requirement by God since I had backslid and honestly I'm not going to get into that. This post isn't for arguing over theology so let's not get distracted.
When I came out of the lake water the first time, everything was literally golden. I'm not kidding. The lake, the trees, everything I laid my eyes on had a gilded hue to it for about a minute. It was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my entire life.
It wasn't long before I left those churches though, not feeling like I could measure up to their standards and being more concerned with what the church members thought of me than what God thought of me. I was back to following my own path, trying to live my life by my own moral standards.
It wasn't until years later, when my first husband was diagnosed with cancer, that I honestly talked to God. I mean I really had a conversation with God and Jesus and we began a real, true relationship. This time around was different than before. I wasn't just calling out to God because of a time of need. I submitted myself to Him and His will. I decided that it was no longer enough to wave at him from three yards away and expect Him to do everything for me but give nothing on my end.
At that point, in the summer of 2009, I felt like I truly gave my life to God. With that came the desire to live a better life that pleased Him. I wanted to be a light that shined for others so that they could, hopefully, look at me and say "She's a child of God." I wasn't trying to mold my life to a standard set by a church but instead I was trying to CHANGE my life to the example that Jesus gave in the Bible. There was a huge difference this time around. My heart was different.
I didn't just know Him and know that he was there, I had a relationship with him. Since then, I have seen the hand of God move so many times in my life. I have leaned on him to get me through the death of my first husband, financial hardships, trying parental moments, the interesting moments that come with having a kid with high-functioning autism, and on and on and on. But this time around I don't just call to Him when I'm in need. I thank Him daily for all of my blessings. I look for my blessings in my time of need. I try to spend time daily hanging out with Him and in His Word. I try to be what God wants me to be.
The difference in my life has been amazing. I won't say that my life is without trials now, but I will say that it is easier to get through the trials, knowing that God has my back. Knowing that God has a plan for each moment, and knowing that He has a plan for your life, it really changes you. I now fully, truly understand that Sunday-School song I used to sing when I was little, "I've got the joy joy joy joy, down in my heart to stay!"