The Love Habit is a place to explore what it means to live life from a spiritual level–without religion. It’s a place to learn how to see life compassionately. For me, spirituality is about you—my brother, my sister, my fellow traveling companions on this grand adventure. I want to hear your voice, your wisdom, and the insights you’re gleaning from living. Take something, leave something, and always continue to evolve! Light & Love, Shelah
A long time ago I thought I gave up on God. I suppose it was for the same reasons many do. I was disappointed.
I was raised in a Christian family so the natural course of my spiritual path required giving my heart to Jesus, praying a lot, and reading my Bible. I have journals filled with ten years of that journey—both love letters and supplications. I approached spirituality and God with a certain level of intensity–characteristic of my perfectionist tendencies no matter what the pursuit.
I was never the kind of person that needed to understand spirituality from an intellectual standpoint. I’ve always believed that mysteries are part of the fun in life—and that with time, answers unfold. So I wholeheartedly tried to live out my faith without needing to really understand. During my college years, when most of my peers were out partying, drinking, and enjoying casual encounters, I remained abstinent and sober— finding solidarity with students involved with the Campus Ministry. I have countless recommendations and accolades from professors, clinical supervisors, and bosses. They all shared the sentiment that I had my priorities in order, I excelled in responsibility and diligence, and as my freshman English professor said, I had “wisdom beyond years.”
The problem was that my faith wasn’t working for me on an emotional level. Despite my commitment to live for God and the fact that I lived an outwardly upright life—inside I remained broken, in need of healing, and full of fears and longings.
You’re not a real Christian
“Maybe you haven’t really given your life to God,” other Christians offered when I began to let the veil down. There were some who offered pat phrases and verses—platitudes aimed to settle me back down into a place of acceptance. Then there were many others who gave me feedback along the lines of this sentiment: if my faith wasn’t working for me, it must mean that I never was a real Christian. I wasn’t doing it right.
I struggled with it for a long time— feeling like I was failing at being spiritual enough to actually receive the benefits of all I was giving up in the material world. Still I plugged on, trying to become real about it all.
Then something happened.
Maybe it was desperation at waiting or maybe it was an attempt to quiet those doubts. Maybe it was both. When I was in my early 20s, I took a leap of faith and married a Christian man I knew only six weeks. Why? Because from the first night we met, we both believed we were going to get married—just like my parents believed on their first date. Oh, and I decided to give him all that I had been saving physically.
There were some Christians in my life that judged my decision, implying that I was simply justifying a decision to sin, saying things like, “If you really have faith you’re going to get married, then just get married.” When I told the guy I was dating what others were saying—to my astonishment—he valiantly bought a ring that first month we were dating, proposed, and off we went to the justice of the peace to prove just how strong our faith was.
When I signed the divorce papers a short nine months later, I was forced to confront the fact that faith without common sense makes no sense. Understanding my faith from an intellectual perspective became of upmost priority to me. Frankly, I was beginning to realize that my experience of Christianity didn’t make sense to me on that level. I suppose that was the moment I became lost—and started to find myself.
I stopped going to church and gave up worrying so much. It felt great to just enjoy life without the incessant internal dialogue reminding me to consider the deeper implications of every choice I made or thought I had. During what I perceived to be an indefinite spiritual hiatus, I married my now husband. He lived from the level of intellect and I felt at home with him. Everything circumstantially fell into place but most importantly I began to feel fulfilled on an emotional level—without spirituality— for almost seven years. Sure I had these occasional nagging feelings of restlessness, but if there was one thing I knew for sure—I had gone too far intellectually away from Christianity to ever allow myself to go back to that kind of faith again.
Have you imagined your own death yet?
I have. When my 32 year old friend Nicky died of a rare form of throat cancer, I found myself really looking at it. For the first time I really accepted that it was inevitable. I imagined it in detail. I visualized my funeral and stood witness as my soul floated away. “Did I obtain anything of value?” I wondered. I felt a compelling urge to understand what I would feel like in that moment—the one where I had just crossed over to the other side.
Since exploring this topic through the lens of religion had been exhausted, I did the closest thing I could think of to experiencing death. I ran out to Barnes and Noble and bought two books about others’ near death experiences. “Life after life” by Raymond A. Moody, Jr. M.D. and “There is life after death—compelling reports from those who have glimpsed the after-life,” by Roy Abraham Varghese.
If the accounts in these books were true—which I accepted them as such, there seemed to be a general consensus that I would likely face a question the moment I cross the other side. The question will be something along the lines of, “Did you love?” It seems my answer to that question will completely sum up whether or not I fulfilled my purpose while living.
Did you love?
If I were asked that question today, I wondered how confidently, I could answer, “Yes!” The truth is that I’ve spent a lot of my life focused on this idea of “Do others like me? Do others love me?” It never really occurred to me that I was asking the wrong questions. It never occurred to me to ask myself, “Do I really give love to others?” I knew that if I were to die in that moment, I would have failed to answer affirmatively—that big question. I immediately felt grateful there was still time for me left on earth—there was an opportunity to change. I guess it was kind of like a Scrooge moment–having glimpsed the future, I longed desperately to change my course. I didn’t stop to wonder if I just had a spiritual moment. I just set my mind to the task.
I decided to make giving love my life purpose. Simple enough—or so I thought. Within a week I felt deflated and overwhelmed at the difficulty of the task. I decided I needed a strategic approach to tackling my heart and mind—a sort of self-development plan with clear goals and small, achievable objectives. I also decided to journal my progress. The Love Habit chronicles this journey. I hope you will join me in discovering how to become the kind of person that can say at the end of our lives here on earth, “Why yes, I really loved.”
image: flickr creative commons Leland Francisco