I’ve received a lot of feedback in response to my post called Finding God in 5 Steps. Of all the interesting and insightful things that people shared, there was one email that hit me right between the eyes, and made me realize something that I’ve hardly gone a day without thinking about. It was from a young man who fell away from faith for many years and had only recently returned to a close relationship with God. He said that he agreed with what I wrote in that post, but thought that I missed one thing:
There was one thing that was essential to my reversion that you do not mention. One must be willing to give up everything for God…I believe that the biggest problem people have with finding God is that they are not willing to give up earthly desires to find Him. People want the best of both worlds. They want a relationship with God and be able to hang on to worldly desires. I think this is all to often overlooked.
Until I received his email, I don’t think it had ever occurred to me what a key aspect of the conversion process this is; I hadn’t even realized that I went through this step myself. But when I look back, I see that before I could accept the truth, I first had to be in a place of willingness to lose it all.
One of the things that’s different about seeking the truth about God as opposed to, say, seeking the truth about a mathematical equation is that the truth about God is personal and transformative. If you’re seeking the truth about mass-energy equivalence and you discover that e=mc², it doesn’t mean anything for you personally. You don’t need to live your life any differently just because you now know that the mass of a body is a measure of its energy content. But not so with God. Because God is the source of all that is good, to know what God is is to know what Good is. Religion has almost always been understood to be about moral codes because a moral code defines what is good and what is not, therefore it defines what God is and what he’s not.
That’s why the search for the truth about God is always personal. It’s always going to bring in all your insecurities, issues and attachments, because your life will be forever shaped by whatever truth you encounter.
Here’s a rough analogy: Let’s say that a woman was seeking God, and she came across a belief system that taught that it’s morally wrong to own a car; something about car ownership, they said, was contrary to God’s nature, and therefore objectively wrong. Naturally, her first reaction was, “That’s absurd!” But then she found a lot of other reasonable stuff in the belief system, so she took another look at that crazy car teaching. To her surprise, it ended up being not as unreasonable as she’d initially thought; in fact, she had to admit that some of the defenses she read really got her thinking.
But in the back of her mind there was always this voice that said, I CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT A CAR! There was no way. She even thought through it a couple of times: She needed it to run errands, her husband needed his car for work. And she couldn’t just take the kids out of all their activities. Nope. The life that she had carefully crafted would completely fall apart if she gave up having a car.
As you can imagine, this line of thinking would bring her investigation into the anti-car belief system to an end. There’s this idea out there we can will ourselves into automaton mode and make evaluations about any kind of subject with perfect objectivity. But it’s not true (except maybe in matters of math or science, and even then I think our biases come into play more than we’d like to admit). To use the example of the woman in the car, there is no way that she is going to accept the belief system that includes the teaching against cars, even if her rational mind believes that it’s true…unless she’s willing to let go of her car, and therefore her entire lifestyle.
Again, the analogy is rough, but I think it conveys the process that many of us experience on the road to conversion. When I was first researching religion, for example, some of the Catholic Church’s teachings sounded just as crazy to me as the idea of not owning a car. At first I dismissed them as absurd. But even when I came to see that the arguments in their defense were incredibly compelling, I was still not that close to admitting that they were true, because, deep down inside, I knew that they would turn my life upside down if they were.
Around that time, everything fell apart: We faced major financial problems, then medical problems which compounded the financial problems. We had to move in with my mom, which meant that I lost touch with many of my friends because I was in a different part of town. With my health, finances, and social life all a big hot mess, I discovered the freedom of having nothing left to lose. Of course I did still have plenty of great stuff like a supportive family and a first-world existence, but I’d lost so much so quickly that I’d received a crash course in detachment. And that’s when I could finally allow myself to see the truth about God.
And so I whole-heartedly agree that that Finding God in 5 Steps post is missing a step, one that is perhaps the most important: First, you must be willing to lose lose it all.
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