At the beginning of this semester, I looked at my calendar, realized I had an extra free night, looked around for something to fill it with, and decided to join a Bible study. I signed up for Bible study with my best friend, and as we walked into the church on the first day, we realized that we had signed up for different Bible studies: one was a dvd series over Thessalonians, and the other was a spiritual training group on “The Good and Beautiful God”. For whatever reason, we choose the latter, and at that moment, I never would have thought of the immense transformation that would take place.
“The Good and the Beautiful God” is about learning to slow down and develop a relationship closer to God. Each week involves a spiritual training exercise, such as counting your blessings, re-reading the Psalms, getting good sleep, slowing down and paying attention to the world around you.
First, I had to learn to listen to God’s messages to me: As a literature major, I am always looking for signs and symbols in my own life: What does it mean that a blue bird just flew in front of me? What does it mean that I just stumbled into a Enoch? If I get cut off randomly by a Ford F-150, what does that symbolize? As a church goer, I have always believed that God sends us signs, but I never quite knew how to decipher those signs into messages, and how to determine if they are in fact messages, or rather coincidences of this chaotic universe, until just recently. I first started by asking strong believers how they know when God is sending them a message. My mom said she knows when she finds herself arguing with herself; the ladies in my Bible study said they know when they are constantly bombarded with a sign or feeling. So, I began paying attention to how God might be planting these things in my own life. Sure enough, one morning, I woke up and had this strong urge to apologize to someone I haven’t spoken to in months. I ignored this urge for about a week. On my way to Bible study one week, I got cut off, not by one, but by two cars with license plates of this person’s state. As I parked, a not very popular song came on the radio that reminded me of this person. Yet, I still ignored the message, until a few days later, when I was feeling physically sick and had this tension looming over me all day. So, I picked up my phone, called this person. Amazingly, as soon as I hung up the phone, the feeling went automatically away. The constant bombardment of messages ceased, and my nauseous feeling went away.
Part of this was also learning how to look for God’s messages. Whenever I am put through a trying situation, instead of focusing on how trying the situation is itself, I try to ask myself, “What might be God trying to teach me through this?” Of course, sometimes the message does not come immediately, and that I must learn to be patient, and to wait until I am ripe to receive the message, but inevitably, it always comes, and I am always left in awe of the precision and meaningfulness of these lessons.
In my last example, I learned not to be so stubborn.
Next, I had learn how to put God first. At our church, a part of the service is dedicated to ‘Prayer Partners’, where, if there is something you want to pray for, you can get up, walk down one of the aisles, and pray with a skilled Prayer Partner. I usually stay in the rows (mostly because I don’t want to miss the singing, since that is my favorite part of going to church), but one day, I decided I would just take a stab at it. If you are a regular reader of my blog, a dear family friend, Ryan, was scheduled for brain surgery a few weeks out. I didn’t say anything to the family at the time, but I was feeling very anxious about this surgery. I could not quite pinpoint it, but I was worried that something might go wrong. So, I marched myself down to a Prayer Partner, we prayed about the surgery, and I walked away with a huge weight being lifted off of me; it was at that moment that I knew everything was going to be ok, and having that faith, I could be a different support center for the family.
They say that the best marriages are those who put God first, and I did not understand exactly how to do that until now. At the end of the day, everything that I do and everything that I am comes from God and His plan for me. When I look back on my short 24 years of life, I feel quite accomplished: I graduated college in three and a half years with three degrees, accumulated a teaching job before I even got out of teaching school, jump started a really awesome poms team, etc. But, when I look back on all of these accomplishments, I have to remember that they did not come from me. It really wasn’t me who decided to enroll in three degree programs; it was God. It really wasn’t me who lead me to that teaching job; it was God. And, it really isn’t me who built that dance team; it was all in God’s plan. Keeping this mentality reminds me to remain humble in all of my accomplishments; that it really isn’t ME doing these things, but rather God. It reminds me to be selfless, and in a marriage, selflessness is an important virtue.
After, I had to confess some of my sins, and make a contract. One evening in Bible study, we did the typical, “write a confession down on a piece of paper, rip it up, and throw it away”. At first, I thought my confession was supposed to be about being too judgmental, and not compassionate enough. However, we were given five minutes to think of a confession, so I decided to use this time, reflect, and wait to hear if there was something else I was supposed to confess. And, of course, there was, something that hadn’t even crossed my mind as a necessity to confess.
Next, I had to learn to read God’s plan for me. I had to learn how to read myself as a pawn; that God was placing me in this situation, because He needed me to do this, and that He placed me in a conversation with this person so I could learn this, and that He wanted me to teach this particular student, because that particular student would need this from me.
Of course, as a 20-something, one of my main focuses (and prayers) involves asking for signs and message of who I am going to marry (I really want to just be assured that I will NOT end up like the crazy cat lady). About halfway through the Bible study, I realized that God was putting me through these sets of tests, because He wanted to set me up for something spectacular. I had to learn how to put God first, how to be humble, how to listen to His messages. And, I realized that, by the end of it all, when I was done learning these lessons, He would probably present me with a husband, which is actually very relieving. I am not sure when I will be done learning, and I am not sure how many more messages or checkpoints I have to go, but I do know that when I am presented with a One True Only, that will be a signal that my journey has come to a close.
Last, I had to learn to see myself as a human with agency. As an analytical person, I have always had a really difficult time accepting that God is in control of everything. Like, if my nose bleeds in the middle of church, then why would God do that? Or, if I fell over during my yoga class, why would He want me to do that? Then I had two realizations: first of all, because God is creator, and because He orchestrates so many different things at once, He probably created the laws of science and nature so that He can assume everything will always work properly. For example, the brain is such a complex structure that we know very little about. But, God created the mechanisms of the brain, so that He can spend his time working on other things. He created a freezing point for water, and the number of electrons an iron atom needs, and the density of air so that He can work on other things: His people. I also realized that, while God is in control of a lot of things, He also releases a lot of control to us. While He pushes us in certain directions, as people, we ultimately make the choices that will govern our lives. He may try to throw us curve balls, and try to put things in our paths so that we pick up on what we should be doing, but at the end of the day, it is ME who is responsible to make those choices, to ask God for help, and to listen to his messages.
I can now finally say that I am transformed.
(I would like to say thank you to all of my spiritual mentors, as well as the wonderful ladies in my Bible study: YOU helped me see the light)