I occasionally get emails that say something like this:
I’m what you could call “agnostic.” I’m open to the possibility that God might exist. I’ve even been sort of seeking and have tried praying, but nothing has happened. I’m not any closer to believing in God than I was before, which I take to mean that either God doesn’t exist or doesn’t care if I know him.
I’m about to give up and just forget about it. I saw in your archives that you were in a similar place a few years ago and wanted to know if you have any advice before I stop what has so far been a futile search for God.
I know exactly how it feels to be in this situation. While it’s important to understand that any kind of powerful experiences of God are a gift, that there’s not some magic formula we can follow that will guarantee that we’ll hear the voice of God or have a major religious experience, there are certain things we can do to make more room in our hearts for God’s presence.
Based on lots of reading, advice from trusted friends, and plenty of personal experience of doing it the wrong way, I do have a few tips that might help anyone who feels like their search for God isn’t going anywhere. For brevity I titled the post Finding God in 5 Steps, although a more accurate title would be, 5 Things I Learned the Hard Way That I Believe Fostered the Right Disposition for Gaining a Better Understanding of God but Since I’m Just Some Fool With an Internet Connection and Not a Pastor or a Theologian You Should Take This and Everything Else I Write With a Big Grain of Salt. So here it goes:
1. Seek humility first
If you feel stuck in your spiritual search, set aside the search for God per se and seek humility instead. The importance of this step cannot be overstated. Pride is one of the most effective ways to block God out of our lives. Throw all your efforts into becoming a more humble person. For inspiration, read up on people throughout history who were known for their humility. If you’re not exactly sure what true humility involves (I definitely wasn’t), this is an excellent article that explains that humility is not the same thing as low self esteem or thinking that you’re bad.
2. Go on a cynicism fast
Commit to a period of time during which you’ll fast from all sources of cynicism: give up watching TV shows and reading websites that make jokes at other people’s expense (even if it’s about celebrities or politicians); try to change the subject or say something positive if such conversations come up in person; avoid making cynical jokes or comments yourself. You might be surprised at how much this fast will transform your heart.
3. Read the great Christian authors
While a transformation of heart, a turning of the soul toward God, is the most critical step in opening ourselves to God, it’s also important to realize that seeking God does not mean setting aside logic and reason; as I mentioned in this post, quite the contrary is true. Asking tough questions and hearing what the great Christian thinkers have said on the matter will only bring you closer to God. Some authors I recommend are C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Thomas Aquinas and Augustine of Hippo (I recommended some specific books that influenced my conversion here).
4. Do the experiment
I believe that God’s existence can be “proven” in a certain sense, as long as you understand that God = Love, and what you’re trying to prove is Love itself. This is not something you can know about from analyzing data or reading books alone. To get the “proof” that you seek, you must enter the laboratory of your heart, and actually conduct the experiment: live, for a while, as if God did exist. Pray. Follow the Ten Commandments. Show love and kindness to everyone, even your enemies. Read the Bible. Give God the thanks and honor and respect you would show him if he did exist. As Pascal suggested, just try it for a while, and see what happens.
5. Pray frequently
This is by far the most important step. I know, you feel like you’re talking to yourself. You don’t see the point of it. I was there for a long, long time. But there is no substitution for humbly, regularly turning toward God with an open mind and an open heart. If you’re stuck for words, consider reciting something like the Prayer of St. Francis, or just pray, “God, I want to find you. Show me how. I’m listening.”
The bottom line is this: seek, and you shall find.
This statement is true. If you understand what it really means to seek (using both your mind and your heart); and if you understand that the finding part doesn’t necessarily happen immediately, that you’re beginning the long process of building a relationship that will continue to grow and change for the rest of your life, you will find God.
Also, I would be delighted to include anyone in this situation to my prayers. Please feel free to leave a comment (anonymous is fine) if you’d like for me and other readers to pray for you (thanks to Tausign for that suggestion).