Archive for ‘My Story’

November 20, 2011

How to attract God by being yourself (or why “more of You, less of me” doesn’t work)

My husband and I get into unproductive cycles in our relationship sometimes. One that I’ve been recently noticing is when he starts feeling needy. When I hear him express that, I groan inside. I simply cannot make myself feel turned on by his neediness; instead, it pushes me away. Maybe this is because it turns something that should be about desire on both sides into obligation for me. I think that because I’m married to him, I should meet his needs, but it turns out that his needs are really for me to desire him, and I cannot desire him based on obligation or neediness. Instead, I want him to meet me where my heart is at so I can feel connected. For me, desire springs from that. When he’s feeling needy, I think it’s because he is not believing that he is attractive enough that when he is himself, I will be drawn to him. So he begins to feel sorry for himself, believing that he cannot attract me, and he then tries to turn me on by expressing neediness, but when that does not work, it reinforces his belief that he is not attractive to me.

I was thinking about how this dynamic has often existed in my relationship with God. A lot of the worship songs I used to sing both in church and by myself were downright needy. For example, take these lyrics from “Breathe” by Michael W. Smith, one of the most popular worship songs of all time: “I’m desperate for you; I’m lost without you.” My heart connects to that song because I used to sing it over and over with such passion. I could feel the tears welling up inside as I sang, “You’re the air I breathe.” I just listened to the song again, and I could feel myself connecting once again to the idea that being with God is the most important thing in my life, and I don’t want anything to get in the way of that.

But while this and similar songs have helped me to become aware of my heart’s desire for God, worship songs have also led me down a path of emptying myself of me. Lots of songs present the idea that I should decrease so God can increase. I googled “more of you and less of me,” and I found a beautiful song by Brian Johnson that I used to listen to. As I listened again, I found myself reconnecting with the ideas in the song. The words “more of you, less of me” are repeated only a couple times, and the rest of the song is about how wonderful it is to be in the presence of God. The lyrics, “I’m satisfied by you alone” carry the sense that I am already with God, and being with God fulfills something in me. But while I relish the idea of feeling God’s presence more, I wonder why Johnson wrote, “less of me.” Why do I have to decrease, becoming less of myself, to get closer to God? Perhaps Johnson meant that as God increases in my life, bad character traits I’ve exhibited will start to fade. Or maybe he adopted a Christianese cliché without thinking too much about it. More likely, the phrase comes from a bible verse (John 3:30) where John the Baptist says, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” I think in context, though, John was probably talking about increasing and decreasing in popularity, not in personhood. I have attended the church where Johnson leads worship, and I know that this church encourages its members to find the gold in people, Christians and non-Christians alike. When we tell people the truth about who they really are, this church teaches, that reality will start to show up in their lives. I think that’s a great concept because it doesn’t reject the person as useless without Christ. But a lot of Christianity does. “Amazing Grace,” for example, calls the pre-Christian a wretch. And there are quite a few songs about becoming more like Jesus.

Several years ago I took myself on a personal retreat. I had been trying for years to get closer to God and advance in my spiritual journey, but things were not going well. Every time I tried to join a church, I enjoyed it for a short time, but then I would begin to be miserable. My heart would say, you don’t belong here, but I took that as demons and tried to force myself to stay. (I wrote about that experience here.) I was about to move again, to another church, and I went to the beach to try to hear God. I couldn’t hear much, but the one thing I did hear became a turning point in my life, “I would rather have you be yourself than worship me.” This gave me the permission I needed to be free to be myself, but it was months or years later before I actually did stop going to church and singing all those songs.

I have an almost-two-year old toddler who is still nursing. (I blogged about that recently on my other blog here.) Though she wants to nurse a lot, I don’t find her desire unattractive. Rather, I like the fact that she wants me, and nursing makes me feel close to her. I was thinking about what is the difference between how she approaches me and how my husband often does, and I think it is in confidence. My daughter trusts me to meet her needs, and she has no doubt that I want to meet them. She doesn’t doubt her identity or wonder whether I love her. I’m pretty sure that such a thought has never crossed her mind. Because she is so confident in our relationship, I’m always totally attracted to her. Even when I don’t feel like nursing, I look at her reaching for me, my heart melts, and I scoop her up and latch her on.

When I used to listen to teachings from the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, I loved a phrase they often used: “confident in love before God.” I think that phrase expresses the idea that I am saturated with the knowledge that God loves me, I love me, and I love God. When I know that I am loved for who I am, that God believes in me, there’s no limit to what I can do or be. (Darin Hufford talks about this idea a lot.) “Confident in love before God” also carries the sense that what really attracts God is our confidence in being who we are. My reality is that God desires to have a relationship with me for who I am. God’s not looking for another Jesus. Jesus is Jesus, and I’m not him. And I don’t want to be him. I choose to be me. I do believe that my personal unique self is far more attractive to God than an empty shell or shadow of a person who is trying to be like Jesus in order to please God and divorcing myself of my own heart in the process. What I have to offer in a relationship, whether with God or anyone else, is my own being, and the more I am confident in that, the more attractive I will be as a person. Who wants to be with someone who is constantly down on herself, berating herself, or saying, “what a worm I am” as some old hymn states? I am not a worm. At my core, I am an amazing being, made from love, filled with light. I am completely unique, and there’s no one like me in all the world. And I shine with a beautiful radiance that flows from my inner being. Okay, so I have bad days where I cop an attitude or say negative things. But that’s not me. When I say, I want to be more of me, I realize that the more I manifest who I truly am, the less negativity will show up in my life. As I am who I am, I attract God. And when I believe that God loves me for who I am (which I discover when I am with God) I am more likely to live from that reality. So maybe I should rewrite the song, “more of you, more of me.”

June 27, 2011

Why I stopped going to church

So often in life I have found myself in bondage to something I “should” do. A big one for me has been church. I was raised with the idea that I not only should but must go to church, and not just now and then but to every meeting of my church, and not just any church, but the particular one my parents believed has the “truth.”

Although I left the church I was raised in years ago, I could not get away from the command that I must be a part of some church. Yet my heart screamed an emphatic NO! The mantra “I do not belong here!” reverberated from my heart while my will and reason demanded that I faithfully attend.

illustration by Brian Linn

This internal battle grew to the point that going to church became sheer torture. When I went, the ache in my heart grew to unbearable, almost physical pain. I became panicked, ran outside the building, huddled down in my car, and sobbed. The pain often did not subside until after a good night’s sleep. I convinced myself that these were simply demonic attacks, and I was just lonely. When it became clear that I could not stand going to a certain church even one more time, I would move to a new town and try all over somewhere else. Yet no matter how hard I tried to connect with the people at church, and even after I became very happily married, the feeling that I cannot belong at church would not leave.

In December 2008, I discovered a book that would change the course of my life: The Shack. The funny thing is, I learned about this book at church. While The Shack spoke to me in many ways, what really helped me get free of church was the podcast I found by the co-authors of the book–Wayne Jacobsen and Brad Cummings. I needed to hear that I was not crazy to think that going to church was just not working for me. Listening to their podcast, I realized I am not alone. Lots of people have stopped going to church, and I can too. Wayne and Brad supplied the permission I still needed at that point to leave the church.

I don’t need their permission anymore; in fact I rarely listen to those guys now. When I do hear a podcast it is usually my husband’s new fav: Into the Wildbut sometimes I go weeks or even months without listening to any religious voices at all. I stopped reading the Bible. I stopped praying. I can feel my soul clearing.

Sometimes it scares me that I am wandering so far from my religious roots, but at the same time, I am filled with exhilaration. I no longer am chained to a certain way of thought that demands I put on a certain mask and pretend to be a person who fits in that archaic mold.

One turning point came more than two years before I found The Shack. In my last few days in California, I took a personal retreat at the beach. I didn’t hear much or progress far spiritually; I was actually very distracted. But I did hear one thing: “I would rather have you be yourself than worship me.” Sorry God. I just cannot pretend to be someone else in order to please you any more. The good news is, you never wanted that in the first place.

June 23, 2011

I rename myself

I have never really liked my birth name. Going into my contemplative mode the last couple of days, I have been toying with changing my name. I finally thought of one I like: Eva. It is simple with only 3 letters. My old name has 5, but it is hard to spell. It is old-fashioned and archaic. Worse, it is my mother’s middle name, and though I love my mother, I need to pursue my own identity completely separate from hers. As I sat in contemplation today, the thought came to me: why do I have to spend the rest of my whole life with a name I do not like? I feel that it sets the tone for my identity, that I can never rise above the feeling that I get from that name, and honestly, I am sick of it. It feels like settling for less that who I am to keep my old name. Every time I say it, I have this feeling, “Here’s my name. I wish it weren’t, I really don’t want you to think of me this way, but I am lame and weird, so just think of me as that anyway.”

(I am not going to say what my old name is–I am sorry if you are dying of curiosity, but I do not want my readers to think of me by my old name.)

I have already tried to change my name once. I moved to a new city to go to college, and I introduced myself to everyone by my middle name, Michelle. The name stuck, and though it was hard to get used to, to all my acquaintances there, I was Michelle. I did eventually get used to it. The problem was, I actually did not like that name a whole lot better than my first name. And when I left that town at the end of the year, I decided to go back to my original name.

So I know I can do it. Right now I cannot imagine myself as Eva, but I do like the meaning: “giver of life.” This is so much more “me” than “gracious warrior,” the meaning of my old name. I no longer want to be a warrior, but as you can see from the name of this blog, the idea of life and being alive is very important to me. At one time I heard the name LIVE! as coming from the core of my identity, so “giver of life” falls right into that.

And Eva is not so out-of-style as my old name. Although it is uncommon enough that I don’t know anyone by that name (thus it is fresh to me with no baggage associated), it is ranked as #99 in popular baby names. My old name is not even in the list at http://www.babynames.com.

So I am going to try out Eva as my new name and see if it fits. As I am about to make a major change in life and move away from Georgia where I have lived for the past 4 years, it is perfect timing. I will simply introduce myself to people I meet as Eva. The only problem I can see is that I am moving to a Spanish-speaking country (Uruguay), and in Spanish the long sound of our “E” is their “I”. I don’t want to be spelled “Iva”! So I guess I will still have to explain my name’s spelling or just pronounce it with a short “e” like the “e” in “egg.” I actually think that pronunciation is sort of pretty, and it reminds me of “ave,” the Spanish word for “bird.”

Have you ever tried to change your name? Do you think your name sets the tone for how you see yourself as well as how the world sees you? Let me know in the comments.

June 22, 2011

Welcome to this blog

The last three days I have been rediscovering contemplative prayer. This is a practice I learned about several years ago, and I knew then it was going to be a lifelong passion for me. Lately I have been challenged to think about my real goals, and I realized that my real life-long goal is to BE. To be who I am, to discover myself and God through the inward gaze of my soul upon God.

I decided to start this blog to chronicle my contemplative prayer life. I want to do this to keep accountable to pursing this lifestyle, and I hope that things I discover along the way can be a help to others. I would love to engage in a community of people who are practicing similar types of meditation.

Since the subject of this blog is gazing upon God, you might be wondering what religion I am.

I used to be a Christian, but I don’t know if I am one anymore. Since I left institutionalized religion 2 1/2 years ago, I have been laying my beliefs on the table. I think faith and beliefs are separate. Beliefs are of the mind, but faith is of the spirit; it comes from being in contact with the divine in reality.

I don’t know if the beliefs I held as a Christian are true or not; nor do I know if beliefs of other religions are true. I’m not very interested in figuring all that out either. What I do want and what I set my intentions for in my life is going deep in experience of myself, God, and other people.

If you are a Christian reading this blog, I welcome you. I come from a Christian background with experience in many branches. What I have learned about contemplative prayer in the past has mostly been based on Catholic mystics such as Madame Guyon (who is also embraced by non-Catholic Christians), St. John of the Cross, and others. I hope this blog challenges you to go deeper in your experience and encounter of God.

I hope if you are not a Christian that you do not shy away from this blog. This blog is NOT about spreading any one religion. One belief I do hold to at this time is that God (whatever that word signifies) exists outside of religion. The divine being, whoever that may be, emanates with Love and touches the depth of any person who comes deep to Be. I do not think that God is the property of any religion or that you have to be a part of any religion to connect with God.

Also, whatever your beliefs are about God, you are welcome here. A close friend of mine believes that God is merely an energy, a divinity to which we can all attain but not a separate personality. Even though she uses different words and comes from a different background, I have realized that we both have encountered many similar things. Reality is reality, we have merely glimpsed it from different angles.

And if you just want to live deeply but don’t necessarily believe in God at all, I would love to have you here. I want to meet anyone who practices contemplative prayer-style practices, whether or not you think of what you find there differently than I might.

One challenge in writing will be to avoid the word “he” for God. Obviously, God is not a man and does not have gender. In my past, the use of “he” was automatic, but I think this has been part of my problem with religion in general. I hope this does not make my writing stilted, and I might eventually resort to “they,” but I will not use he/she since that implies gender. I am a proponent of the idea that we need a non-gendered singular personal pronoun in this language and that our writing suffers from not having one.

But isn’t that part of what we realize through contemplative prayer? I just did a web search for Contemplative Prayer Blog, and the post I found talks about how this is a prayer of silence. Words are simply not enough to express reality, so we can encounter a more real essence through silence than through language. In some of my English classes in college, we discussed some of the inherent problems of language. I suspect that that might be a subtheme of this blog.

One thing I want to avoid here is religious debate, especially if it seems to be motivated by the desire to convert others to one’s religion or beliefs. If it happens on my blog, I will delete it. I hope readers feel free to share personal beliefs as a part of sharing who they are and what they are learning, but I am not open to anything that seems to be in the spirit of debate. If you are not open to learning from other people’s experiences but simply want to spread your own view, this blog is not the place for you.

Everyone else, welcome.