Like many people, I like to feel good and happy, and hopefully all of the time. Of course, who feels happy and content all the time? I don’t; not all the time anyway.
Having in the past suffered from severe manic depression, and it now largely being a thing of the past, I try to keep from things that might start the onset of another episode. I might add that my disobedience to God didn’t help matters when I was depressed. I now try just to be an obedient servant.
In trying to feel good and happy all the time, I surround myself with things that I like; I buy all kinds of films, especially Film Noir, I try to do things that I like, like writing, taking photographs, going shopping, reading on all kinds of different topics and I especially, usually occasionally, like to travel to different places. I am also a reasonable cook and at least once a day I like to eat something nice that I’ve made like a decent curry or a pasta sauce from scratch or something like a risotto or a paella or something even that I’ve never made before; usually it works out because I always follow the instructions even when I occasionally chop and change things.
I try to get a little simple pleasure out of each day; if it’s sunny, I say ‘what a nice day!’ If it’s raining, I say ‘well it might brighten up and still be a nice day!’ I personally like thunderstorms and dramatic weather, hopefully as long as I am indoors or not getting soaked, and can watch a thunderstorm transfixed for hours at a time. Up until very recently, I also looked forward to drinking half a bottle of wine on Friday night and finishing off the bottle on Saturday. Well I tell a little white lie; I always buy another small bottle to add to Saturday’s Bacchanalian reverie! In the week I used to have a few bottles of beer, choice English ales or bitters. I have given up booze for the time being because I feel God wants me to. Even though I am not a heavy drinker I feel God wants me to give it up for Him; for the time being.
Those Private Solitary Moments
Like many people growing up in urban areas full of all kinds of people, I sometimes get the need for solitary moments; for me this can be walking along a beach near the end of the evening, just listening to the seabirds singing and looking for their food, or even taking a small holiday to North Wales and taking a walk where I may, hoping that I can enjoy the walk whilst not meeting too many people along the way; if I do meet people I’m always polite, but you get what I mean. I believe we all need moments such as this, as much as at other times we need to be around other people, especially family and friends on special occasions or just when we’re chilling out and having a laugh. But for me, at times I need to be alone, to think about things, to think about God and what He wants for me, and just to reflect on my life and perhaps where I am going.
I definitely need those private solitary moments to keep me going, and it might sound strange but when I am on a lonely path somewhere or a slightly isolated beach or even on the Great Orme, which is a hill in North Wales, near the end of the day, I feel somehow closer to God, and in the silence of the burgeoning evening I find solace and peace that sometimes I don’t find in the midst of crowds of people. I need those moments, they are part of my life.
God is in Every Experience
Some people go to church on Sundays to find God, some people go to church more than once a week to find God; as a non-church goer but at the same time a dyed-in-the-wool Christian, I try to find God in every experience. Of course, I find Him when I pray to Him, and I find Him when I read the Bible. But God is everywhere in every place all at the same time; we can’t escape Him even if we wanted to, but a Christian should feel comfort that He is always there and only ever a prayer away.
I have a calling on my life, but not coming from a Christian background or community of any kind, I have to find and experience God for myself without priests or vicars or anyone else really telling me what I should do or what I should believe. Because of this, I consider myself just a Christian, not particularly Catholic or particularly Protestant, or any denomination for that matter, just someone who is a Christian and tries to live out that faith each day. As I said, for me Christian experience, experiencing God, is something at this time that is private and solitary, yet at the same time I am aware that God is in every moment and is everywhere in time and space.
I have felt God move in my life, sometimes because I was obedient and He was rewarding me and sometimes because I was basically disobedient and He was punishing me. I believe that with those He calls, as you’ll read with the Israelites in the Old Testament and people like me and many others today, He deals with our sins in this life. I think for those He doesn’t call, He will deal with them in the next life. What in the end does God’s calling on a person’s life mean? For me, it means that, whether I want to or not, I have to serve God with a whole heart; sometimes I think I manage this, and other times I don’t. Christianity then isn’t something that is a game to me or even religion, it is a palpable and sometimes hard-edged reality. Christianity is to me God’s presence in my life; He knew me before I knew Him. When the Israelites were obedient they prospered, when they were disobedient they suffered and sometimes terribly so. We can learn much from the Israelites relationship with God in the Old Testament; how to live, and how not to live.
The Israelites and their many different prophets didn’t seem to separate the world or their nation for that matter into secular and divine, they saw everything as being a part of God and His Creation. Likewise, we should not separate things we do into secular or divine and should see that God can enter in every experience and thing we do, whether it’s praying, baking a cake, doing exercises to get fit, going out with friends or just chilling out and relaxing. God is there for all life and our whole lives.
God, a Refuge
So, for me God is a friend who I can talk to and completely rely on. I won’t tell you that I have a ‘hotline’ to God and that He treats me better than anyone else, or that I am somehow more blessed than others, quite simply because it’s just not true; we are all special to God, all those He calls for His purposes. ‘We are well aware that God works with those who love him, those who have been called in accordance with his purpose, and turns everything to their good.’ (Romans 8:28 NJB) It does help of course that we develop a love and total respect for the God who can do so much more for us than we are barely able to ask. So, even if like me you sometimes crave solitude and a kind of nice loneliness, along wind and sea swept beaches or country lanes or hilltops, God is our refuge and He will protect us and enter into our lives, especially if we ask Him to.
I’m trying to write about a faith that goes beyond the four walls of a church, that goes beyond the rituals and human traditions of many Christian denominations, that goes beyond sectarianism and fighting for sects, that goes beyond our class and skin colour and country of birth, that goes beyond everything we really think we understand and often don’t, a faith that embraces all our imperfections, all our brokenness, all our questions and misgivings and a faith that brings real meaning and hope, peace and contentment into our lives. Most of us desire such a faith, but if we are honest what we do have falls short, if not far short, of that blessed reality. I have yearned for a long time to have a walk with God that would mean me being contented and happy and for a long time have felt that what I have is something far less solid; my sins have caught up with me and caused a gulf to separate me from the perfect love of God. Yes I know He loves without let or reservation, but I still feel there is a gulf between me and God.
In time I hope for a perfect relationship with God; I’ve learnt to be content with what I have and I am learning to be more tolerant of my fellow human beings; it’s a slow process but if we make a little progress each day it all adds up in the end. Our part is merely to have faith and remain obedient.