Go toward God

Sometimes I’ve wondered about people who find this blog and what they might think about the content of it when coupled with the name “Catholic-esque.” I don’t talk about God all the time on here. I wasn’t really sure what direction this project might go in, but in going through it I have often had to remind myself that the content should come naturally.

What does that look like for me? It means I write what I feel like writing and I try to be truthful in how it reflects life as I know it. The only way I know how to make any of this palatable is through clarity. Sometimes I hit upon a subject that I can’t see through to its end, and it’s usually because I find that the writing lacks clarity of thought or feeling. Those would-be posts remain in my unfinished drafts–they are often useful at future points, so I don’t agonize over their incompleteness. I only regret not being able to finish one of them that I began writing after my brother’s graduation from medical school. I tried to fit too much into it–not just his graduation, but updates on buying a house and becoming engaged. I hadn’t written anything in a little while, and I had too much to say. The main point of the post was lost in all the details. I regret not finishing because it was going to be very happy. I’m not one for big events or celebrations, but my brother’s graduation affected me deeply. I had a difficult time writing about it, though.

Wanting the content of this blog to come naturally means that I’m not going to search for a Bible verse to tack onto the end of each post, and I’m not going to shoehorn God into situations where–if I’m honest with myself–he’s not playing a prominent role. God is everywhere and is present in all things, I do believe that. But if I’m sitting down to write about my problems with work, I know it’s probably not going to end up being a post about my spiritual journey. I need some room to vent. I do look toward God in times of turmoil, but I know who I am to some extent and I know I wouldn’t use those opportunities to then write about my relationship with God. God is always good to me. He is somewhere beyond those petty concerns. He is helping me in bigger ways.

I took a family vacation recently and it was mostly very pleasant. I only had some minor little brother problems–nothing worth writing about–and some confusion over how to best carve out some time to spend with just my fiancĂ© and his son (something that I thought was important for us to do). But overall it was excellent.

We rented a house, my favorite feature being the deck. The surrounding trees were growing so near that it felt like the deck was settled upon them somehow. It was very relaxing to spend the morning time alone, on the deck, floating in the treetops.

I was trying to make a decision about my job, or to be more accurate, I had decided against taking a new job. I didn’t know that I would receive a counter-offer that would force me to reconsider my initial decision. So at the time, I was trying to make peace with my choice to remain at my current job. I was doing some writing here and there. I watched the trees from the deck.

I had going through my head so many thoughts about happiness and what causes it. It’s different for everyone. I knew I had a lot of things in my life that help to create happiness–mine always boil down to love and family. I have love. I have family. It’s hard for me to admit when I feel there’s a missing piece to that puzzle. I feel ungrateful. The knowledge that I have love and family helps put everything else into perspective, because if it came down to a matter of choice, I would choose those two things above a career, or money, or recognition. That didn’t stop the gears from turning, though. Career. Money. Recognition. Freedom. Travel. Leisure. I kept asking myself, where does my ambition lie? I tried getting myself to really imagine and feel the presence of those things in my life–what I imagine they could be like. I imagined and felt what it might be like to have a job that I loved someday. I tried to let that feeling sink in. It would be wonderful to be proud of my job. Of course it would.

I imagined what it might be like to not live paycheck to paycheck. I imagined taking my car in to the shop after the slightest hiccup, knowing I could afford the repairs. I thought of all the work we could do on the house with just a little more money in the bank. With money, I might even be able to go back to school. I could study whatever I wanted with little regard for practicality. I was imagining the kind of money that is separate from the money you work for. I don’t believe that all hard work pays off–monetarily, it does not. I just let myself imagine a life lived not hurting for money. Where that extra money would come from, I tried to imagine as well. What would I be willing to sacrifice for more money? It doesn’t appear out of nowhere. I considered what my own values were. It became more and more difficult to imagine this life with money.

I imagined myself in another scenario, one where I had more leisure time and the freedom to spend that time however I wanted. I imagined traveling to Russia. I want to visit Yasnaya Polyana before I die. I tried to feel however it might feel to do that.

I want to visit museums, cathedrals. I want to see mountains. I want to see glaciers. That’s when I start dreaming.

I return to reality. Career and money, family and friends. Love and ambition. My own limitations–what can I do with them? What can I do right now?

I watched the trees from the deck; my mind was buzzing. I couldn’t stop it. I knew the feeling, I had felt it many times before. I had read it in Tolstoy, as the screw in Pierre’s head, turning this way and that until it is stripped and no longer catches hold and keeps endlessly turning. But then mine stopped and I don’t know how. I was looking at the trees and how they moved. I forgot for a moment where I was, who I was, and what I’d been thinking about.

I had a new thought, but it didn’t feel like I thought it. I had known it already and I had known it for a long time and I knew it didn’t come from me. I wrote it down.

The only real purpose in life is to become one with God and to pursue that always.

I have forgotten it since, only to remember it again. I get to remember it over and over. One night I cried in bed because I had forgotten it. The screw had started turning again and I couldn’t stop it. I was agitated and I could not understand my feelings. The only feelings I had that I could give names to were regret and worry.

And it hit me again, I am unhappy because I’ve been neglecting God.

I think about God all the time, but sometimes I stop searching for Him. I say that I acknowledge his presence in all things, but that’s not exactly true. It’s my ideal frame of mind, but it’s not the reality of my mind. My mind easily forgets God.

God doesn’t forget about me though. I don’t know why this keeps happening, but I really feel like at some of my worst moments, God makes Himself known to me despite the neglect I’ve shown toward Him. I want it to keep happening. I have to open my heart to Him always. I hope He knows that’s how I feel.

The first time I felt God’s presence was in Texas. Howdy! I was still with my first boyfriend, and we had driven down to Tyler to visit his sister. His sister was (and I’m sure still is) a very devout Christian. I was so nervous about staying with her in her home. I was not religious, but I also didn’t talk about my beliefs (or lack thereof). His sister is a very warm and kind person and made me feel very welcome. Still, I was unsettled by how different we were. I can’t explain it. Imagine a non-believer meeting a real Christian for the first time, one who actually seems to embody everything that is Christlike and good. Again, I can’t explain it. I was so nervous about staying in her house. My boyfriend and I slept in separate rooms during our visit. I never did well sleeping in new places, especially alone. I remember wishing we could stay up and watch TV all night together, just so I wouldn’t have to be alone. I was nervous about going to sleep. When the time came, I felt panicked. I laid down in bed, overcome with nerves. I felt like crying. On the wall next to the bed hung a picture of Jesus. I gazed at it and felt like a child. I always had trouble at night. Scared of the dark, scared of everything. Monsters were everywhere.

I was looking at this picture when suddenly I was struck by the most profound sense of peace I had ever felt. I couldn’t compare it to anything from before. I felt it through my entire body, I felt it envelop my mind. I kept looking at the picture, not understanding what was happening. I fell asleep shortly after. I never spoke to anyone about it. I couldn’t tell my boyfriend because I thought he would laugh at me. I still did not believe in God. I couldn’t explain what had happened. In my heart, I knew God was making Himself known to me. I didn’t think things like that could happen though, so I never told anyone. You could say I ignored it. My beliefs did not change in that moment, nor did they change in the wake of it. But it gnawed at me, and continued to do so for a long time, because I had no explanation to offer.

God did His work that night; I believe that completely. I, on the other hand, was not working toward God in any way, and I wasn’t ready to start. I did not want God in my life. God was too complicated. I abandoned the idea of God in the first place because it complicated my life too much. If I acknowledged God, that meant I would have to reckon with a lot of things that could be painful. I’m a sinner, and I sin against God in my thoughts and in my actions. If I acknowledged God, I would have to try to stop sinning (or somehow live with myself while knowing I was sinning against God). If I continued to ignore God, I could keep sinning and feel no guilt. Back then, I liked to think that living ethically was a fine substitute for living faithfully. Forget whether I actually lived ethically–I didn’t, and don’t–it was a convenient distraction. I wanted so little to do with God, but at the same time was very much concerned with how to fill the void left in his absence. If God isn’t real to me, there should be no void to fill, right? Somehow that never occurred to me.

I haven’t found a human invention that is a perfect substitute for God’s law. Our own laws are meant to ensure justice, but they lack the moral guidance of “turn the other cheek,” Christ’s comquestand (made up a word to mean halfway between a command and a request because of how nicely it was phrased so please just roll with it) that pushes far beyond what is addressed in human law in that it acknowledges every human being’s ability to grow spiritually, to be more than mere law-abiders: to become active peacemakers in the world. Our collective purpose is to create the Kingdom of God on Earth.

An aside: I say I don’t write about God very often. I write about my beliefs and values and I consider them adjacent to my faith in some way. My faith may inform my values, my values may inform my faith. It would feel unnatural for me to exclusively talk about my faith in everything I write. Still, my moniker on here is “Catholic-esque” because I think it’s important for people to understand that faith is complicated and that is does not necessarily prescribe certain viewpoints that are typically associated with folks who believe in God. I believe in God. I really don’t care if you do or not. I know that some of the most avowed atheists are doing a better job of protecting God’s creation than are some of the most vocal Christians. It often takes the courage of a non-believer (or maybe I should say a differently-believing person) to bring attention to the most callous acts perpetrated by the Church. The Catholic Church is long overdue for a good toppling. I suppose it’s possible that someone reading this blog, expecting to find more faith-based content, would be left disappointed. I’m not writing for them. I’m writing for myself and others like me. Maybe some of this content goes down easier because readers can assure themselves that the writing is coming from the point of view of someone with faith. That’s an absurd thing to even write, given that many of my posts receive zero views. Zero, and I’m thinking about my audience. It’s a laugh. Still, I consider that this content could be read, so in some way I write for an audience and imagine who they could be. End of aside.

When I look back on the events of the last ten years or so, I see clearly that God was guiding me toward Him. I feel like he began by guiding me toward some very beautiful things in life that would serve to put me in touch with God. I wasn’t going to be a person who suddenly decides to go to church again. I wasn’t going to take comfort in reading my Bible. But I did experience a resurgence of interest in reading, just one example of God providing me with a source of comfort through a difficult time. It led to me discovering many new passions that lend the spice to life. I think God gave me Tolstoy so that I might find Him. And He made sure that I continued to experience Him through other works of art as well. It’s the only way I could ever hope to make any sense of God. I had to connect Him with everything that is good, beautiful, and true in the world.