Spirituality for Difficult Times Part 3 of 5

The Practice of the Presence of God

By Harriet, Editor At Large

During our lives we may well face financial crises that might include the loss of all our assets and more, becoming disabled due to injuries or disease, coping with being chronically or terminally ill or just becoming increasingly decrepit due to advancing age. We are going to face the extreme existential issues of what is now my purpose in life and how am I going to live this life from now on?

These are some of the most extreme issues a person can face. Society ignores our pain or has glib answers, but without a way (no process) of working through them. “Trust God,” they say, as if those two words actually tell you how to do it. Or “God will never test you more than you can manage”. That one really used to annoy me. All it meant to me was that God had never allowed them to be tested more than they could manage. God had frequently allowed me to be tested more than I could manage and the results were not good.

Now I can quote scripture with the best of you. In fact during my worst of times I was studying at theological college, so I know the official version. But I was also very aware of the number of people, Christian and others, who have been tested more than they could manage. They just plumb ran out of strength. Many died (think of torture and starvation during the wars and those martyred for their faith), many were broken, some for the rest of their lives.

So how did I manage to keep going day by day? For a start I realised that suicide was a definite option, and one I nearly took. It was a good option for me for where I was at the time, though it wouldn’t have been for my family, though they didn’t factor in my decision. It was as though all social understandings and social contribution had been stripped from me. I was totally alone and my suffering would only end when I died.

My way out was to accept that although I couldn’t feel anything from God and the local church was anything but supportive (controlling, manipulative and down right nasty in this particular case) I accepted that the great body of believers accepted that God was good, we were created by God to be in relationship and to be called to a vocation. God had something God wanted me to do. Although God seemed ultra-distant, I couldn’t believe that millions of believers around the world had it wrong.

Given the huge variety of religious traditions, I decided that the particulars of my belief weren’t as important as practicing the presence of God in my life. My measures were whether the time with God lead me onwards to peace, love, goodness, kindness, gentleness and faithfulness. Nothing would separate me from the love of God. So it came to practicing being with God, minute by minute, day by day. For a long, long time there was nothing. But over time I came to be comfortable in a minute by minute walk with God. My understanding of God changed, as did my understanding of myself, my role in life and how I fitted in.

Warning: Rant Ahead. Now before anyone wants to chip in and say, “There, God gave you the strength.” I would have to say that those words are meaningless twaddle to me. God didn’t give me strength. God gave me weakness. And that is OK. When someone is in-extremis, don’t give them platitudes. You may use biblical quotes for yourself if they help you. Just don’t land them on others and expect them to work. That is magical thinking and magical thinking is not an indicator of faith. What someone in need needs is solidarity and support. If you can’t provide someone who has lost everything some material assistance or you can support them emotionally in a way THEY find satisfying, then back off. A person in huge need needs respect, honour, love and material assistance. Rant off.

Basically it comes down to accepting what is, to making the decision to live minute by minute through the day so that one thinks and acts so that the outcome is serenity and awareness, a new understanding.

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