Reflect upon your present blessings — of which every man has many — not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”
Through my experiences with a strict catholic school for most of my childhood education and being a non-catholic, I learned that God is fearsome and highly disappointed by my actions. A sinner is a horrid thing in the eyes of God, and we should strive not to be one. Perhaps that wasn’t the intended message, but it was my perception of what I heard, saw, felt, and experienced. I always wondered why God would be so disappointed that the fallible beings he created would make mistakes. Why didn’t He make us perfect if that’s what He wanted us to be? The explanation was that Eve tempted Adam to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge, so they were cast out of the Garden of Eden with the full knowledge of evil. This makes it sound as though God wanted human being have very little knowledge of the world by forbidding them to eat from that tree. To me, that illogical line of thinking implies that God is not so smart to have an expectation that humans should strive to be perfect when the task is impossible and that humans should be limited in their knowledge of the world. This left me with many questions, none of them were answered.
When I visited my biological father in the summer, he and his wife took me to a Baptist church in their small southern town. Even though the minister shook our hands as we came in as a gesture of welcome, his sermon seemed to be a lecture of blame, leaving me feel as though I was a horrid sinner beyond reproach or repair, which made me wish I could flee from the chapel and never return. It wasn’t just his message that I abhorred. He shouted louder than my mother and step-father when they were in the throes of battle. He banged his fist on his podium with greater force than my step-father when he spanked us with whatever object was nearest.
Perhaps the confusion lay in the hour I spent previously in Sunday school class before the service; the teacher taught us, in such a gentle and calming manner, that Jesus loves everyone and so should we. We just have to open our hearts and let Jesus in to share this love. It was a vast contrast from what the nuns taught at Catholic school and what I witnessed in the chapel of the Baptist church. I never felt the “relationship” that I heard religious leaders of both denominations speak of. I felt anguish and dread more than anything else concerning God and all that He was to me.
My encounters with religion also led to a great deal of confusion about exactly what “loving” meant. The nuns at my school told us that ours was a loving God. Yet, the things that happened in my life at the hands of those who said they loved me were frightening. Add to that fear was the image of Christ crucified on the cross. This image terrorized me as a child. I often thought if God can send his own son down to earth knowing he would suffer unfathomably, then of course he would continue to let me suffer. I was not deserving of my definition of love, of the way I loved my grandmother or grandfather, for example. I was doomed to a life of suffering. How was that loving?
What I discovered later in life is that since I was not a trusting person, I did not trust God. The pastor blamed me for being an intolerable sinner, but I blamed God for all the misery and terror that went on in my every day life. Every human in my life, except my maternal grandparents, had let me down. Try as I might to be a good person, a person who obeyed the laws, a person who was kind to others, a person who helped others, pain was inevitably mine to endure. I grew very suspicious about the ideas I had learned, no matter true or false, about God and religion. My perception was based on experience, and that is all I knew. What I did not comprehend was the many, many blessings and the healing power of God.
I went through phases of my life when I “pretended” to trust God. There was never a time that I didn’t believe that there was a power in this universe that was greater than myself or than any other human being. Believing and trusting are two different things. I believe that a dry cleaner can clean my clothes. I believe a stylist can cut my hair. I believe a mechanic can repair my car. However, I don’t trust that these occurrences will always happen without some sort of pain or confusion. I’ve had enough pain and confusion in my life.
The simple fact is it has taken me all the years to realize one thing, despite the foot long list of major stressors that occurred in my life that I recently shared with a friend, and when I saw its entirety, it nearly consumed me. That fact is I am alive. I have a beautiful home, even when I have to clean up after my family. I have food readily available, even when I complain about having to prepare it. I have warm clothes in the winter, even if I think their style is outdated. I have my health, even though it’s not alway stable. I have five precious pets, even though they are very messy and needy. I have a good job, even though sometimes there is extra work or extra hours. I have a nice car that I can drive (with the top down in the summer) to get the things I need, even though I have to pay far too much for gasoline. I have caring friends, even though we may disagree from time to time. I have a family who loves me, even though they don’t always show it. And best of all, I have a husband who adores me as much as I adore him.
God made certain that, no matter what I have been through, I have also been blessed far more than I have suffered. Though I may not understand it at the time, God has a plan that, no matter how hard I try, I cannot alter. So, it matters not what God looked like to me as a little child or even as a young adult, He loved me enough to understand why I couldn’t trust Him then. He gave me the blessings I needed anyway in order to sustain my life through that footlong list of major stressors, and He will continue to do so on this earth and beyond. That is worth not just believing, but also trusting.