How do I Find God?
There are six paths to God – I was driving my twin daughters to school on Wednesday. I find the rides to and from school with my daughters enthralling to say the least. I find that these rides are when they converse the most with me. I am so blessed to have that time with them.
On Wednesday, my daughter said, “I don’t think I believe in God.” Her comment took my breath away. “What do you mean you don’t think you believe in God? I find that my faith gives meaning to my life.” Both girls jumped in with a resounding, “You don’t need faith to give meaning to your life. There are many other things to get excited about in life that gives meaning. Science proves religion wrong.”
I thought I had failed as a mother. For several years, I had taken them to church for Sunday school. They were baptized Catholic, made their first Communion, and were confirmed. I was brought up Catholic and found my way back to the Christian faith.
When my girls reached 12 years of age, they no longer wanted to go to church. I didn’t force it. I was forced when I was young and then started to hate church. So, I didn’t want that to happen to my girls. I started to question whether or not I should have forced them to go to church.
I told my daughter, “Well maybe this is a time to start exploring your faith and religious beliefs.” She proceeded to tell me. “I think I want to be Jewish.” She said that her friends Ben and Jason are so cool. They are Jewish. This remark reminded me of the values of a junior high student, which is to fit into the cool group, which she identified as Ben and Jason.
This brings up the question, “How do I find God?”
Right now during the holiday season, many people are celebrating their faith in God. The celebrations bring people together and remind us that faith gives meaning to the struggles and joys of life. God reminds us that we are never alone. Life within a faith-based community provides comfort and companionship. During tragedy, faith is an anchor. The Christian faith promises us that there is life beyond this earthly existence.
We have all questioned our faith at times. Faith is like life, we have to continue to evolve. Faith needs patience, understanding, and even work. An adult life requires an adult faith. Most of us haven’t gone beyond our childhood teachings when it comes to our faith. I couldn’t have survived with a 3rd grade education in math. We need to learn more about faith as we mature. There are six paths to God and they have benefits and pitfalls. All of them are not without their stumbling blocks.
The Path of Belief
For those individuals on this path, the belief of God has always been a part of their lives. They were brought up in a religious family and have never strayed. They found fulfillment in their religious community and haven’t questioned where they belong.
Their faith helps to support them in good times and bad times. They find others that share their same passion in their religious community.
We may envy those who stand strong in their faith and wish we had faith like them. Don’t fret because many of us have periods of doubt before they become to know God.
One pitfall for those on this path is the temptation to judge others who don’t share their same religious beliefs. A certainty about their religious beliefs may prevent them from being compassionate towards others during their sufferings. They may not be tolerant of others who aren’t as certain as they are in regards to their religious beliefs. Their ego may turn them into the “frozen chosen.” This path is not without it’s pitfalsl.
The Path of Independence
The individuals on the path of independence have made a conscious choice not to belong to any secular religious entity. However, they still believe in God. The church through insults or abuse by a pastor or priest may have hurt these individuals. They may find church to be boring and repetitious.
These independent individuals keep away from churches, mosques, or synagogues but they are still strong believers in God. They still may find peace in some of the religious practices they learned as children.
The benefits of this group are that they can continue to see things in a fresh way and aren’t bogged down by religious dogma. They don’t have restrictions on what to say or how to think and they can be more honest about their religious viewpoints.
The pitfall is that they can set up any religious sector to fail due to perfectionism. There is no religious organization that is perfect for us.
As the Trappist monk Thomas Merton wrote in The Seven Storey Mountain, “The first and most elementary test of one’s call to the religious life-whether as a Jesuit, Franciscan, Cistercian or Carthusian – is the willingness to accept life in a community in which everybody is more or less imperfect.” This holds true for any religious institution.
The Path of Disbelief
Agnostics and atheists are on the path of disbelief. They search for the truth of God’s existence. They want to know for sure that God is true.
The benefit of this group is that these non-believers have questioned and studied religion sometimes more than the believers. They don’t take any religions for granted. They are some of the most selfless people in our world. They can keep us Catholics on our toes. Try telling a disbeliever that it is God’s will and see what happens. They are apt to give you a lecture on taking accountability for what has happened in your own life.
The danger of this group is to intellectualize faith and a belief in God. We don’t want to ignore those things that touch us deeply. Atheists may expect God’s presence to be proven solely in an intellectual way. We don’t want to ignore those things that science can’t explain.
Remember the story of the atheist caught in a flood. A flood threatening an atheist’s home finally gives him a chance to prove that God doesn’t exist. So he says to himself, If there is a god, I will ask him for help, and he will save me. He hears a warning over the radio to move to a higher ground, he ignores it. If there is a God, he will save me,” he thinks. Then, a firefighter knocks on the door to tell him to evacuate. “If there is a God, he will save me,” he says to the firefighter. As the floodwaters rise, the man climbs to the second floor. The coast guard boat motors by his window and offers to save him. “If there is a God, he will save me,” he says and refuses help from the coast guard.
Finally, he ends up on the roof, with the waters rising around him. A police helicopter is flying overhead and drops a rope down to rescue him. “If there is a God, he will save me?” he shouts to the helicopter.
Suddenly a giant wave sweeps him over and he drowns. He finds himself in heaven. God welcomes him. The atheist is surprised and then furious. “Why didn’t you save me?” he asks.
What do you mean? Says God. “I sent the firefighter, the coast guard, and the police officer, and you still wouldn’t listen!”
The Path of Return
This path is increasing in numbers. Individuals in this group began their religious journey at home in a religious family and then drift away. They got tired and bored with the religious doctrine. They may have gotten upset at being forced into a certain belief system. Their religious values may remain distant but still spark curiosity. A major crisis may provoke a new interest in God.
When I was 20 years old, I was told I had invasive cervical cancer. I was pregnant at the time. The doctor told me to abort the baby, because the hormones of pregnancy would proliferate the cancer.
This was in 1979 when I was diagnosed with the big C (cancer). Back then, the big C felt like a death sentence. I was scared. I had turned away from my Catholic faith in my teens. I thought religion was to blame for so much death and destruction. Religion is responsible for all the wars and conflicts around the world. Cancer made me turn back to my faith.
I thought about God and how I wanted to do what I felt was right in God’s eyes. I wanted God to help me. I already had a son who was 2 yeas old. I wanted to be here for him. I wanted to be here for my new baby too. What is the right decision? God this is me, Pam. Do you hear me God?
My body and mind just wouldn’t let me abort the baby. My values and beliefs told me otherwise. Two wrongs don’t make a right. I was thankful for the life growing inside me. I chose not to abort the baby. After the baby was born, the doctor told me to get a radical hysterectomy. I chose to ignore him. Now 36 years and 4 children later, I am cancer free.
I discovered it is important to be in a relationship with God, even during a crisis. God doesn’t create bad things to happen. God is there to support us when bad things happen.
The Scottish philosopher John Macmurray, who contrasted “real religion” and “illusory religion.” The maxim of “illusory religion” is as follows: “Fear not; trust in God and he will see that none of the things you fear will happen to you.” Real religion,: said Macmurray, has a different maxim: “Fear not; the things you are afraid of are quite likely to happen to you, but they are nothing to be afraid of.”
The Path of Exploration
“I have wandered freely in mystical traditions that are not religious and have been profoundly influenced by them. It is to my Church, however, that I keep returning, for she is my spiritual home.” – Anthony de Mello, S.J. (1931-1987).
As an American, exploration comes naturally to our religious beliefs. Many of us may have been turned off by our childhood faith, or the wrong doings of our religious faith, and start to venture off on a journey to find one that truly fits our religious needs.
The benefit of religious exploration is easy. We may find a religious fit for our personality. We may also return to our original religious community with a greater appreciation and understanding of our original faith. We may now have more gratitude in finding what we need.
The danger is similar to the path of independent. We may find out that none of the religious faiths are perfect and we may denounce religion altogether.
Another pitfall is a lack of commitment. Your entire religious journey may be a constant exploration that never ends. When you don’t find one that fits your needs, your life may be one that feels unfulfilled, confused, lonely and even sad.
The Path of Confusion
This path can enter in our lives at various points. They haven’t really “turned away” from their religious beliefs or stay connected to their religion. They cry out for God to answer their prayers and become confused when God doesn’t answer them. They may pray at times, particularly during a crisis or go to church now and then mostly on a holiday.
For those in this group, finding God is a worry, a mystery, or a problem.
The benefit of this path is that it helps them to mature in their religious beliefs. These people haven’t made up their minds yet, and they are consistently looking at their beliefs and refining them.
The risk is that the confusion can lapse into laziness. You can avoid church services because you disagree with a particular piece of the religion. Religious participation can be come too cumbersome and it may take too much energy so you abandon your religion altogether.
These are the six paths on which you may travel on your journey to God. You may be in the midst of a terrible crisis. You may have lost your child due to a horrible illness and you are struggling with the question, “Why Me?” or “How could this have happened.”
In each of these times, happy and sad, overwhelming and puzzling, or emotionally devastating, something special is happening. It is a time for soul expansion. Happiness opens the heart and sorrow opens the soul. During these times, I believe, you are feeling your innate gift of your attraction to God. You are feeling what St. Augustine described in the fourth century. “Lord our hearts are restless,” he wrote, “until they rest in you.” The attraction that draws you to God comes from God.