Recently it seems that almost every book I read in which the author speaks of personal despair and adversity, God is being referenced. And it kinda infuriates me. Because I can’t relate. I love reading about people’s struggles and how they overcome them, except when they say that “God saved them” or that this is when they found God. That’s where they lose me. I frequently hear about people referencing the lord and the grace in which they find in him; the comfort and safety in knowing he is always there. But what if you don’t feel that? What if, to you, there is no God? Does that not exacerbate those feelings of isolation and loneliness? Because that’s a glimpse of how I feel.
Growing up, I went to a Uniting Church School in which we went to chapel every week. We prayed, we sang songs, and we listened to our peers share their musical talents. And I used to love chapel, for that latter reason and because of the passion of our chaplain. As for the praying and the singing, I never really engaged. I didn’t really feel anything; good or bad towards religion. I went because I had to, but I didn’t participate. It wasn’t until I came to the states, to Georgia of all places, that I started to understand my religious views.
Within a few months, I started to hate God and everyone who claimed to be a Christian. All I could see were judgmental individuals who were using their relationship with God to proclaim to be better than me. I had teammates, even strangers, try to force their beliefs onto me. I had a teammate that after admitting I have dated girls in the past (because I believe in forthcoming honesty), proceed to tell me that, “It’s okay, because I believe God gives everyone a second chance.” Uhhhh I don’t think that me being “gay” is wrong and is something that needs to be forgiven. I had other individuals explain that unless I believe in Christianity, I am bound to be unhappy for the rest of my life. Even if I decided to pursue a religion like Buddhism, I, in this gentleman’s eyes, would be unfulfilled and unsatisfied; Christianity is the only way to live a fulfilling, happy life.
And so I came to despise religion and everything that it represented. But then I went through a period in which I was determined to try and understand these individuals; to understand why it is that they believe. I went to ministry meetings, I went to church, I had conversations about God, the Bible, and religion in general. I questioned and questioned and questioned. Because that’s what I do. I cannot accept things just because; they have to mean something to me. A friend of mine recently told me that it’s apparent I do not like to conform and perhaps that is why I struggle with religion, because I see it as a conformity rather than something that makes logical sense. Amidst my questioning I came to understand the purpose of God in many peoples’ lives and I could respect that, almost admire it, but I realised and accepted it was not for me. At least not for right now.
Many people who have found God have explained that their story began with great suffering and that it was on their darkest day, a day in which they considered taking their life, that they were saved. After writing the piece, The Beauty in Pain, a friend of mine annotated it. And she annotated it with bible verses. She even proceeded to change the title to, The Savior in the Night. And this frustrated me greatly. It was almost as though my feelings, my experiences, my control were being invalidated and given to something else, something I didn’t believe in. The night in which I had intent to end everything, it was the thought of my parents that saved me. Not God. I didn’t feel shit from him. All I felt was the burning disappointment and suffering that I would cause my parents had I acted on my intent. And, given my childhood, this fear of disappointment is completely contextualised.
When I have questioned individuals that believe in God, “How do you know he/she exists?” I have been answered with, “Well how do you know wind exists? You can’t see it, but you can feel it.” I understand this metaphor, however, wind can be measured; objectively. To me, measuring the existence of God, other than individuals’ claims that he exists, is not possible. There’s nothing really scientific about it. But this leads me to my primary point and question…perhaps the reason religion infuriates me is because I can’t feel God. And what if the former gentleman is right?
Religion and faith have now become more about feeling God rather than fearing God. But what happens when you can’t feel God? Feeling is entirely separate from our conscious awareness, so it’s not as though I can make a decision to miraculously “believe” and I will be graced with the presence of God. Our feelings don’t work like that; they are not under our control. Perhaps then, I am envious of those that do feel God and feel the comfort of his presence because I can’t relate. I don’t feel what they do; I can’t feel what they do. Which leads me to question, is there something wrong with me? If life really is better with God’s presence in one’s life, why then can I not reap these same benefits of safety and security? What is wrong with me?
Some might claim it’s because I’m not open to his existence, that I haven’t accepted him into my life, but again, this is not something I get to choose. We do not have control over our feelings. Jamie Tworkowski, author of If You Feel Too Much and founder of To Write Love on Her Arms, writes about how we all have God-shaped holes within us, holes that can only be filled by his presence. I feel that hole within me, but I don’t believe in a God to fill it. Am I destined then for an unfulfilling life? For dissatisfaction? Why would a God choose this life for someone, why would they destine someone for misery? After all, God has a plan for all of us so it seems logical then to believe that God has planned this suffering for me.
I struggle to relate to writers who talk about their experiences with God and the grace in which they have found within him because all of a sudden, it makes me feel like they can’t understand what I feel. How can they understand my feelings of loneliness, isolation, and misery when they feel the presence of God? When they are never truly alone? Being alone, completely alone, both physically and emotionally, is one of the scariest places to experience. We are all humans in need of other humans, and when we don’t have other humans, nor the presence of a divine entity, then what? Can you understand then, how the darkness of these feelings might lead someone to consider the serenity and comfort they might find in reaching the other side, or at the least, lead them to consider acting on these feelings?
I admit that there is an underlying negative charge that exists within this post and I want to clarify that this is not me taking a stab at religion, rather me trying to express my frustrations of being unable to relate to those that have found comfort in feeling God. It is uncommon to find influential writers that share their story without referencing God. I understand that to many, love is God and God is love, but what if you can’t relate? Can love not exist without the belief in God? To me, these writers make it seem like it is not possible to experience adversity and survive entirely by oneself, a feeling I do not find comforting, but instead, isolating. I suppose then, that I am hoping these words might find other non-believers and offer some understanding into the loneliness and feelings of brokenness that they too, potentially feel. So in the words of Jamie Tworkowski, may you find a friend in these words.