I should have been thrilled. Even without the prestige that went with the budding image of Woman of God, the financial benefits were not to be ignored. And I needed the stipends.
Instead, as I read the words of the invitation, I began to sing, unconsciously, the popular song, Draw Me Close to You.
Particular lines reflected the deepest longing of my heart: "I lay it all down again, to hear you say that I'm your own… Help me find a way, to bring me back to you. You are all I want."
My eyes brimmed with hot tears, which I let fall effortlessly on the piece of paper in my hand.
When I'd repeated the song for the umpteenth time, my sobbing increased. I lay on the floor and drained out my emotions in subdued whoops. If not for my ever-curious neighbor, I'd have boohooed a ton.
The cries of my heart were inarticulate, yet too genuine; my confusion real but complicated. What had brought me to that lowest point in my Christian life? Spiritually, I was dog-tired. Exhausted. Knackered. Ready to throw in the towel if nothing happened to challenge the status quo.
When I could utter no more loud sobs, some thoughts filtered into my mind. Because they made sense, I grabbed a pen and paper from the reading table.
"Relationship with God is simple. You complicate it. God wants you to know him, so he can't possibly be withholding intimacy from you."
I wanted to sit for a while contemplating that truth and unearthing how I'd complicated my relationship with God, but more thoughts rushed in.
I transcribed. "God is a person, not an idea, not a principle, not an influence."
"Yeah," I said. Old, sour truth.
"Yet, you've treated him like he's NOT a real person. You've always approached him like he's some force, some influence, like a masquerade to provoke to action."
"No," I shouted. I wanted to rebuke that devil, the accuser of the brethren, speaking into my mind, but somehow I couldn’t utter the words. My spirit seemed to concur with the rebuke.
My prayer warrior and singer "careers" for the past eleven years played before me. Recollections that upset me.
Majorly, I'd been sincere, but wrong. In several instances, I'd been infatuated by the acclaim others showered on me, a reputation I'd hoped to expand its horizon and later milk for the rest of my active years.
"She can pray down heaven," my friend frequently introduced me. "She's a spiritual Kalashnikov." Hannah prided in being close to me.
How little she knew of my private struggles. Lack of joy. Absence of peace. Ah, the constant striving disgusted my trapped spirit which yearned for a heart-to-heart communion with my heavenly Father.
Theologically and theoretically, I knew God was love, good and gracious and merciful, but that's not who I experientially knew him to be.
The frustration within me frequently overflowed into bursts of anger towards others, which I cleverly concealed in a wrap of holy wrath.
There was no one I wanted to spend time with like God. But each time I went to the closet, I sought an experience.
If you'd asked me, I'd have said, yes I believe God is a person. But at prayer time, I orated and sang with only one hope: to evoke an emotionally satisfying encounter. I couldn’t pray like I was talking to a real person.
If I could psyche myself to the point of warm feelings, uncontrollable screaming, rolling on the floor, or weeping, only then could I say "Yes! I've prayed."
That private image of God transferred to public events where my singing preceded prayer because my euphonious voice could stir an atmosphere of "God's manifest presence".
The people liked it, which reaction only further activated the release of my dopamine. I dreaded any occasion where I could fail to "deliver."
"I want you, Lord," I said, acknowledging my ignorance. "I want to see you as a real person. Like a father and friend. Show me how."
"During prayer, relax and enjoy God."
I didn't write down this instruction because I broke out laughing with disbelief. Enjoy God? How? I usually came to the closet charging like a pit bull ready for a fight.
I stopped laughing. "Okay, Lord. I will relax and enjoy you. If you show me how."
The answer dropped immediately. "Just talk to him like you would to someone seated across from you."
I exhaled. It would be hard. "Lord, help me."
More instructions . "When you pray, believe that God hears you. Believe, believe, and believe."
I understood the reason for the emphasis. You see, even while I enjoyed the badge, Prayer Warrior, I struggled to receive answers to those prayers.
The cumulative answers to my prayers for the last decade couldn’t fill the barrel of the pen in my hand. I got recognition for the volume of my voice and eloquence, and not for genuine results.
After supplication, for example, I usually just figured out, without God's aid, how to find solutions to the various requests, which I could still do without praying. Worry and anxiety had plagued my Christian life all along.
I listened again, my pen ready to scribble more of the revelation. "Talk to me, Lord. Show me more where I need to change."
"When you say you want to pray, talk to God, not the devil. You seem to know more of the devil than you do God."
I wanted to counter that rebuke, but I knew better. I gulped down the pain in my throat. "Talk to me, Lord. I'm ready for change."
I heard nothing further; the spiritual download had completed. Time to install.
Although that encounter forecasted a major positive turn in my life, I was disappointed because I felt nothing special. How could God speak to me without exciting my emotions?
Then I realized it was going to take more than this knowledge to wean me off my emotional approach to God. Renewing my mind was going to be painful flowing against the current of the feely and devil-conscious Christianity to which I'd accustomed.
But my face was like a flint. No going back.
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