I don’t talk about religion much. Years ago, sometime right before heading off to college, I learned that intelligent people don’t need religion. Somehow, it became doctrine to me that the smartest people live without doctrine; that religion is only for the weak and needy. I went to my prestigious college, after serving my time as my church youth group president in high school, primed to have the religion learned out of me. College didn’t disappoint. I learned we just need learning. And books. And science.
But today, I am in a different place. Those college lecture halls are far behind. Today, life is incredibly raw. The terrors and horrors and the worst of humanity hit me hard. I am a mom – my heart is outside my body every single day in the form of two little, breathing beings. And I can’t lock my heart back in a safe place. Thus, religion has been on my mind a lot over the past few years.
Underneath it all, I suppose there has always been a seed of what I believe (God, Holy Spirit, Christ as Savior, Christmas, Easter). But that seed wasn’t growing. I didn’t know what it really meant to me to be a Christian. There are lots of shades of Christianity. And, further to that, I didn’t know what I wanted to pass along to my sons. How do I want to raise them when it comes to the heavens?
As part of my Beyond the Comfort Zone, I decided to tackle these questions. I knew it was time to challenge myself to dig deeper with my faith, to see what I really believed and perhaps chart a course of where I wanted to go.
When our church announced that they were starting a new session of their women’s Bible study group, centered around Priscilla Shirer’s Armor of God workbook, I decided to sign up.
Being a busy mom, it was hard to convince myself to find the time. There are, after all, a million other things I could do with those two hours every week. But I looked at myself hard in the mirror one night. kind-of-sort-of praying and thinking (more on praying later), saw some age-related wrinkles, and decided that if I don’t make time for this, for my heart and soul and spirit, then I might have my priorities wrong.
It didn’t take a lot of bravery to walk into the class. We had been attending the church for a few months quite regularly so I knew the facilities and some of the faces. It did take some courage to actively participate, though, and to say “no” when asked to do other things during meeting time each week.
I was the youngest person in the class by a noticeable difference. I was surrounded by women who exercised their faith even more than I exercise my body. When sharing their goals for the course, they all sounded similar,”I want to dig deeper and really hear what God has to say to me. I have just been reading my Bible every day without really stopping to think.”
My turn, and I was blunt: “I have two kids who are tiny. I think I have a Bible somewhere around the house but I am pretty sure it is buried by LEGOs. I just want to challenge myself to think of faith again.”
They all smiled. It was okay.
Being surrounded by such a group of women was inspirational. They were all so loving, and I felt like they could be good faith mentors for me, if I decided to let them in. They were an example of how a faith-centered life can bring peace. Which was good because they also were a little overwhelming – the prayer requests. Every single class they opened soliciting prayer requests. The pain, suffering, illness and trials that come with aging made me weep inside. The prayers asked for scared me about my future. I have it so lovely right now, I am in a golden age. According to their prayer requests, life has nothing but cancer and surgeries and tests ahead of me.
But these women weren’t overwhelmed or weeping. They just nodded and wrote down the name and request of each person. They wrote it down! They were serious about prayer. They believed in the power of prayer. And they exuded supreme peace, even in the midst of these hospital visits.
It turns out, these prayer request moments were God knocking me on the head to pay attention. For as we dug into Shirer’s text, prayer became a central tenet of the lesson I needed to learn.
Do I really actually truly pray?
I mean, I will breathe a “Dear God, please keep him safe,” when my son needs a nebulizer treatment at night. And I will smile a “Thank you, God,” when a school lottery works out in our favor. But I wasn’t living like I truly believe prayer matters.
I blame my decades of acting as though smart people don’t need God. Or prayer. I think I believed that prayer made no difference and was merely a crutch to lean on when a human feels helpless. I don’t like feeling helpless. I guess I have made my religion over the past few years “make a list and take some actions to fix things.” Prayer didn’t fit into that religion.
But the Bible study opened my heart. It turns out that it is incredibly complicated, this prayer thing. The way, the reason, the motivation, the HOW. In fact, when done properly, it takes a very smart person to really understand it.
What I am learning is that to really understand religion, God, and prayer, to formulate a mature belief system, takes a lot of intelligence, education, studying and reflection. So take that college professors. Religion isn’t a sign of an uneducated, desperate person (all the time, anyhow). The deepest faiths have significant foundations in a lot of education.
I am not saying I am fixed, nor am I announcing that this Bible study caused me to pray fruitfully and meaningfully every day. It is a long road to fix years of habits. Plus, because life happens and kids get sick, I didn’t get to complete the study. The last few weeks found me with more pressing needs, unfortunately.
But this study pushed me forward in my journey. It was one lesson (in the million I am sure I still need to learn) that God presented to me. I was so glad I leaned forward and took this. I was so glad that I looked at those beautiful women once a week and opened my mouth to share my thoughts. I was so glad that they nodded and made suggestions. I was so glad that they hugged me every time they saw me like we were old friends.
And I send up prayers for every person they brought forth in our time together.
And I send up prayers for us, friends – that we may look into the eye of our faith (whatever we profess) and challenge ourselves to dig deeper and learn more.
About Beyond the Comfort Zone –
This challenge was designed in September 2015 by me, to push myself outside of my comfort zone. I wanted to force myself to try new things, to learn to embrace my life, to take a situation where I was feeling sad and lonely and force a new perspective. I was feeling stagnant but I realized it was my own fault. There is way too much fun, adventure, laughter and good people in the world for me to feel sad. I didn’t have true goals when I started: just to get out of self-pity and to get in the middle of the road and rush straight forward.
I encourage you to join me! Share your Facebook photo album link or your blog link below, and I can’t wait to get inspired. I’ll be doing this every month, and I can’t wait to share it with you, friends.