As a teenager, I felt like I had tried religion and found it wanting. I couldn’t square what I saw as hypocrisy with a message of unconditional love. I didn’t have the finesse to separate the humans practicing religion from the spiritual messaging that was at its core.
As soon as my parents no longer required my attendance at the First Presbyterian Church of Davenport, I split. Spiritually, I wandered. Practically, I became self-reliant. I began to believe that no one could be relied upon except myself.
I hit rock bottom. And I came to a place where I had to develop a spiritual practice. More specifically, they said, “You have to find a God or a Higher Power in your life, and it has to be one that you’re willing to do business with.”
Hmm. This really wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear. Didn’t they understand, I’d already tried God. I’d been a good little Presbyterian and look where I’d landed. In fact, I thought God had a pretty terrible track record; family trauma, personal loss, grief, career stagnation, and now rock bottom.
“Why – the f*ck – would I be willing to do business with the God who landed me in this spot?”
To this objection they replied that I, “could re-imagine my conception of God” and that I, “didn’t even have to be 100% clear on it,” but this concept had to be something and it couldn’t be me.
OK, I could run with that. So I thought about it. And I decided this: “ You know what? The ocean is pretty big. If I were to be in a helicopter over the ocean, and the side door slid open and the co-pilot threw me out. I would probably either drown or get eaten by a shark.” This is an admittedly dark take on the concept of a Higher Power, but I realized that the ocean is bigger than me. The ocean is more powerful than me.
And suddenly, I had a God.
The ocean worked as my God for a long time.
About a year later, I attended a wedding. It was my first wedding as a sober woman. My friend, Jess, and I were driving to the coast together to attend our friend Amme’s wedding. I felt confident about it, way more confident than Jess. Jess knew I was sober and that I had just quit smoking cigarettes. When I got in the car she leaned over, “I know you just quit but I bought you a pack just in case. I’d rather have you smoke a cigarette than pick up a drink. Parliament Lights, right?” She was the best.
We arrived at the wedding and before I knew it, two bottles of Fireball were being passed up and down the rows among the guests. Afterward, at the reception, Amme’s father opened up a bottle of Sambuca. I remember thinking, “FML. How am I gonna get through this?”
And then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw two people hunched over their baby. I stepped closer to them. And I saw them, like, I really saw them. They had a six-month old baby and they were completely enamored with her. They were completely unaffected and unbothered by all the chaos and jubilance and excitement that surrounded them. They only had eyes for her.
It was at that exact moment, that I understood the power of love.
And my God got bigger.
What I know today is that my understanding of God isn’t that important. I don’t feel like I need to nail it down, I call it God because it’s convenient. I believe that it is conspiring with me and in my favor. But I do believe that my God has to continue to grow to be big enough to handle all the things in my life. My God must be big enough to take care of my relationship, my family, my business, my love life, my career, my sobriety, my finances, my body; you get the picture.
I am so happy that my spiritual journey brought me to this place and I am eternally grateful that my God grows to accommodate my life.
Artwork © Stephanie Hirsch. Detail from In Time It Will All Make Sense.