How Personal Growth and Spiritual Awakening Led To A Major Shift In My World
It’s difficult to say exactly when I began to realize that my life needed a rethink. These things often come in stages, and up to the time I was 40, I was fairly content with the direction things were going.
Maybe it was simply that I was tired of pretending. But whatever the initial reason, mid-life became a time of pulling apart my crumbling life-framework and seeing it for what it was — a road to nowhere; an empty shell.
“I made a conscious effort to hit the pause button and look around.”
I’m probably a bit of a slow starter. Sometimes I wonder if I was really awake in my 20’s and 30’s. Life seemed to whizz by and there was never any time to stop and evaluate. Or if I did, it was within carefully set-out guidelines. This could be questioned, that could not.
But change really began with the big existential questions, when I started to ask myself things like — “What the heck am I doing with my life?”
I think I can be forgiven for believing that it was all about doing. After all, that’s what society feeds us with all the time. What do you want to do to become who you want to be?
I want to study mathematics so I can become a statistician. That kind of thing.
What am I doing? It’s a good place to start, even if you’ve passed the big four-oh. I made a conscious effort to hit the pause button and look around. Only then was I able to see that my life was filled with the mediocre, with excuses, with compromise. And even if I didn’t know exactly where I wanted to go, at least I knew I didn’t want to compromise anymore.
For a few years I was happier. I began to stretch myself. I became a student once more, a student of life. I learned some new skills, pushed the boundaries a little, explored some possibilities. All good stuff that took me forward.
Change — Tearing apart your nice life
Big change often leads to internal shifts. Something happens on the outside — moving to another town, getting married — which then becomes a catalyst for change on the inside. I had a lot of catching up to do because I’d already made some big changes in my life, but inside I was still the same person.
The good thing was this — there was some kind of momentum. I was doing something to force me out of my comfort zone, so it was inevitable that sooner or later it would impact my self-imposed mindsets and habitual thinking.
Those initial paths of change where about myself. Who did I really want to be, if I could change? Then, once it was clear that I needed to listen more closely to my dreams and tune into my desires, I could begin to identify the real problem.
Once I’d got past blaming the government and the economy and my parents for my lack of progress, it became plain to me that the only thing standing in my way was…me.
I had to rethink my thinking.
And rethink how I thought about myself.
What I believed about me. Everything needed to be undone, so that something new could come forth.
And what I believed about myself was inextricably linked to my spiritual beliefs. The unquestionable tenets I shaped my world around were, I thought, something that would never change.
But even that, finally, began to crumble.
Deconstruction — Tearing apart your heart
Change can be good. And change can be painful. And change can be both at the same time.
It was about five years ago that I first began to ask the forbidden questions. About God, about faith, about my religion. If you’ve been, or are in, any kind of institutionalized belief system, you’ll know that there are lines you can’t cross.
For instance, you can’t question the Bible. You can question different verses, explore different interpretations and what they mean in today’s world. All fine. But you can’t question the place of the Bible itself at the core of the faith.
It’s even harder if you grew up in that environment. What would your parents think if you started questioning their long-held traditions? I didn’t have to deal with that scenario, but many people do.
Or God. As Christians, we kind of have God all figured out. We know what “he’s” like, we know what he’s done. We’re down here, he’s up there. And he loves us. And that should be enough.
My questions weren’t very original. Probably the same questions you’ve asked yourself : How can a good God send people to hell? Why am I living in constant fear of the End Times when I believe in a loving God? If God has a plan for my life why is it so sh1tty?
Ask these kinds of questions in church and people are going to give you strange looks or avoid you altogether. Did I mention the fact that if you walk down this path you’re going to find it lonely at times?
Deconstruction of faith is really messy. There’s no other way to describe it. I thought my life had fallen apart. I felt empty, fearful, lost. But I also felt free. Free to rediscover faith in a new way. Free to find out just how big God could be.
I remember the first time I dared to listen to a podcast by Rob Bell, the former pastor of a mega church who’d written a book that a lot of people disagreed with because it talked about God loving everyone.
Rob’s podcast felt like forbidden territory. I was waiting for the lightning bolt to strike, but what happened was that I found another human being asking big questions about what it meant to be human.
Maybe God spoke to ex-pastors who didn’t go to church anymore. Who’d have thought? That would change everything.
Emergence — The beginning of a whole new dance
And who’d have guessed that there could be life beyond? Beyond the boundary lines of religion. Beyond the walls of church. Beyond the questions, even. Beyond the me that I once was.
Once things began to wobble, they fell apart pretty quickly. I discovered how full of holes this whole thing was. But then I found what felt like a huge blank canvas; a wide, winding road under open skies. Peace. Hope.
Plants grow in the strangest of places. On a rocky ledge halfway up a mountain. In a dry desert. Underneath a concrete slab. Clearly I had a lot of growing to do, but then apparently I still had a lot of growth in me too.
The questions have changed now. I feel like I’m right back at the beginning in many ways, but now I don’t ask what I want to do with my life anymore.
I ask what I want to be.
Now that (I think) all the layers have been stripped away, there is nothing ahead of me except…
It’s as if the universe finally noticed that I was ready. That God had been waiting for me to realize that this whole thing is for me, not against me. That the odds are in my favour.
And there’s an invitation that goes something like this — “It’s all good. So let’s see what we can do together.”