What If: I Cannot Trust My Inner Voice?

There is a voice inside of you
that whispers all day long,
‘I feel that this is right for me,
I know that this is wrong.’
No teacher, preacher, parent, friend
or wise man can decide
what’s right for you – just listen to
the voice that speaks inside.
Shel Silverstein

As a kid, I was not a lover of words. I did not read. I did not enjoy writing. There was one exception to this rule. I had a handful of books that spoke. Their words lept off the pages to give feelings and meaning to my very confused thinking. As a pre-teen, Go Ask Alice was one of my favorites. Dark and twisty should have been a life label for me in 7th grade. As a younger kiddo, Where The Sidewalk Ends was a favorite ‘I’m pouting in my closet’ read. There seemed to be an understanding of mutual head dwelling with these authors. As I have worked to understand my own inner life, I came across this 1996 poem from Shel Silverstein’s children’s book, Falling Up. The line that had me hooked was “a voice inside of you that whispers all day long.” Two things struck me. One, the voice is whispering so I have to quiet my mind to hear it, and the voice speaks all day long.

One of the single greatest impediments in my ability to listen and trust my inner voice is a very real fear that my own voice is not trustworthy. I grew up with a foundational understanding of my sinful nature, an understanding that I could not escape from, an understanding that I was not able to overcome it. And while I cannot recall a specific conversation where I was told that my intuition was not trustworthy, I developed that belief and I certainly don’t think that thought pattern was ever discouraged. Even when I began to shift to a creation narrative that was founded in a place of goodness, the presence of Original Sin in our world penetrated the ‘goodness’ of my own voice.

I can honestly say that I cannot name one time, not one single time, that I have trusted my intuition and inborn voice 100%. For four and a half decades I have continually told myself that self-revelation was not of God. Sure, I could wrap it in the correct words like ‘Holy Spirit’ and ‘God’s gentle voice,’ but I have feared that the whisper was my own…forever. As I have worked to try on new models of faith, I have defined some aspects of this thought insanity differently, especially as a parent. I remember the first time that one of my girls said, “I just get this weird feeling, Mom.” I almost cried. They heard from themselves and BELIEVED. I’m sure I dork-factored this simple statement by vomiting words of encouragement at the revelation. Many times since then, I have (in so many non-chill ways) told both my children to TRUST THAT VOICE OF KNOWING.

Even when I have been unable to listen to my own voice, I have worked so hard to develop in them a belief that their intuition and whispers are trustworthy. When I think back on the most devastatingly painful moments of my life, I am able to identify that so, so many of them could have been avoided if I had just – for even a tiny second – trusted my own internal voice. I could have challenged my self-inflicted shame of “good girl” choices. I could have stood my ground and not gone or done or felt obligated. I could have stepped out of relationships and into good risk. Perhaps, in some weird way, I could have lived the life that the Divine intended for me all along, instead of avoiding the preconceived judgement that I knew would come if I ever trusted.

A wise soul said something the other day that flat threw me for a loop in the best way possible:

"There is no process or system that is better to trust than the deep loud internal discernment God gave me." -my friend Kim

With these words, I began to unpack my fear. How do we start trusting? If you want to learn from a middle-age Kindergarten level truth seeker, here is my wisdom. I can’t hear if I don’t stop talking. Listening is not possible if I am constantly making noise. So the very first thing I need to do is shut my hole. While I am quiet, I breathe. My only “words” or “prayer” in breath is to breathe in Goodness (or the Divine, or Knowing – whatever you invite to teach you) and breathe out fear. I have so many fear voices, so I have to give them a swift kick in the ass to be able to hear my own truth. And then I sit. Sometimes in the silence. Sometimes as I drive. Sometimes as a listen to some music. And as the thoughts and words come, I don’t fight them or their origin or their “truth.” I listen. And then I listen some more.

What I know about growing and changing thought patterns is that it’s takes work. I cannot un-learn years and years of conditioning without years and years of new practice. I’m sitting here today, as I type on my porch, smelling the tomatoes and basil of my garden and listening. And what I hear is good. It’s my voice. It’s my truth. Me. Mine. Goodness.

What If: The “Rules” of Church are Outdated?

This question is a loaded bomb. I love it and I hate it all at the same time. Like so many other things in the world of the Christian Church, there are many layers to the “rules” that people associate with the Church. For the sake of giggles and conversation, I did an interesting experiment: Google. Literally, I searched for the rules of the Christian Church. I wanted to vomit. Instantaneously. All of these things were listed in articles and writings on the rules:

  • Never allow someone to embarrass your morality, your essence, your innocence.
  • A man has the right to lead his woman in life.
  • Look casual and modest but attractive enough.
  • To come to church you should wear clean and appropriate clothing, as required by the holiness of the place. Women should exercise Christian modesty and decency.
  • To derive spiritual profit from going to church, it is very important to put yourself into a prayerful mood on the way to church.
  • Read your Bible daily.
  • Be a wholesome Christian. Our lives and appearance should commend the Gospel and make it attractive to others.

What I want to do at this point is give you a sarcastic commentary on all of the above. It is actually taking all of my restraint not to be a complete jerk, cause you know I could. Let’s try and talk about this without the attitude. Of course, people that think in terms of rules and black and white-ly defined circles will always fall on the more extreme ends of this conversation. But, can we just be really honest? These rules exist because these people exist. Even in some very openminded, thinking and searching spaces, you will find these rules. People with this approach to faith can be found in most Christian circles today. The core of these rules are valuable to many modern Christians and that single fact is the reason that so many of us look at the Church today with, on our best days, irreverence and on our worst days, disdain.

The saddest part of this entire conversation is that the rules, the tools by which the Church would like to help define people of faith, are the very things that push people away from the possibility of connection. In my years of stumbling around the heart of the Church, I have found the ability (or maybe I should say stubbornness) to ignore most of the rhetoric. I have worked hard to define for myself ways to hear the words to the rules and reshape them to fit the heart of the God that I understand. Let me give you an example.

Most of us that were brought up in the last 30 years of Church culture have been taught to believe that the tangled web of purity and chastity are some of the most tightly held rules of the Church.

“Purity culture” is the term often used for the evangelical movement that attempts to promote a biblical view of purity (1 Thess. 4:3-8) by discouraging dating and promoting virginity before marriage, often through the use of tools such as purity pledges, symbols such as purity rings, and events such as purity balls.”

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/faqs-know-purity-culture/

Not only did I come of age at the beginning of the purity culture, with so many confusing and convoluted messages, but I was a youth pastor in the height of the movement. To say that every area of my faith was impacted by the rules of sexual behavior is an absolute understatement. I wore the ring. I grieved the mistakes. I tried to define “good” and “boundaries” to gain approval from a rule imposing God. I drank the Kool-aid. What happened over the last 30 years of my life is an excavation project of the soul. As I began to look at the bizarre (and ridiculous) tools by which we tried to teach love and fulfillment, I have come to understand that we failed. In every way.

But, here is the interesting thing about purity culture. It did not come into existence in a vacuum. Like every other “rule” of the church, it was a reaction to something that no one knew how to put in a box. In the 90’s, the children of the 60’s came of age. For many of our parents, finding a way to prevent unplanned pregnancies and protect us from the AIDS epidemic somehow morphed into a bizarre attempt to develop rules to ground a “biblical” understanding of sexuality. Do you remember our conversation about the mess that we make of the church? Yep. Exhibit A.

So, are the rules outdated? I’m not sure that’s the right question. I think the better question is What If: The Church Didn’t Have Rules? I think human rules are some of the greatest mistakes of the modern church. What if rather than making rules and trying to tell people how and what to do, we used that energy to listen – to people and more importantly to the Spirit? Behind the rules are always attempts to avoid pain, misguided as they may be. I wonder what would change if instead of telling others how to do things or how to be, we instead placed before them the desired end goal? Instead of giving me rules and shame to define sexuality, what would have happened if a trusted adult had instead said, “Lacy, I want you to be whole. I want every part of you, even your physical body to be deeply connected to the heartbeat of God. What feels whole to you?”

I’m guessing I would have spent much less on therapy. Just saying.

What If: We Have Messed Up the Church?

If there was ever a question that just needed a one sentence response, it is this one. We have messed up the church. The WE that is the clear cause of the problem is humans. All of the humans. Anytime that humans try to control and give order to and manipulate the work of God, it is absolutely going to be messy. So messy, in fact, that sometimes I do not even recognize it as the work of the Creator.

The next 7 days of “What If” posts are about the Church. We are going to tackle things like the “rules” of church, the role of church and the need for church in the world. I am going to be as honest as I can, and that honesty comes through some well earned Church scars. But before we dive in, I need to invite you into my own church journey.

Year ago, I wrote about my formational years in Church. As a young child, this is the Church that I saw. My heart for and love of the Church began by watching a group of my parent’s friends be Church to each other. Here is a piece of that story:

I never felt shamed. I always knew I belonged. I believed that I was included. I saw the adults in my church give of their talents and time and sleep to impact our lives. This happened in the church building on Wertheimer Rd., but it also happened in my living room and in the back room at Los Tios restaurant. It happened in the car on the way to camp and as we were jumping off cliffs in central Texas. I don’t remember a single “Jesus said not to…” lecture. If you have been around the Church very long, you know that not every experience is this much fun. There were rocky roads ahead. But when I look back on the formational years of my life, I have no doubt that the preparation for my calling and love of the Church was rooted by a group of 30-somethings that said that they needed Jesus and each other to get through life.

In the mid 2000’s I experienced my own moment of adult discovery as I once again was reminded that the Church has never been defined by a building, a program or a leader:

We all realized that the bread and the cup and the conversations that we shared were more life-giving and hope inducing than conversations about cutting budgets and evangelism and debt payments and attendance numbers. For each of us, coming from very different denominational backgrounds, we found the story of tradition-breaking Jesus to be a breath of fresh air. One Monday night, over dessert, laughter and I’m sure some tears, someone said out loud what we all had been thinking. This IS church.

The road is long. My love story of falling in and out of love with the Church is treacherous. I have a firmly cemented belief that attaching an unrealistic expectation of human performance to the work of God through the Church is a dangerous step. On many occasions, I have been a part of messing up the Church. Anyone who has lead would be lying if they said differently. And even as I recall beautiful moments of deep personal and Spirit connection, I need you to know that that the road of Church life has not reached a tidy happily ever-after. I still fight to find my place. I still wrestle with connection and belonging.

I ask myself, daily, if I still feel called to participate in or if it time to step out of connection to the Church. I hope I never stop asking these question. This is one of the most honest conversations that I have with God today. Letting go and not being in control do not come easy for me. With the experience of ups and downs in Church life, these have become key components of making peace with where I need to experience personal resurrection inside the Church. I hope that God will always open doors for me to find connection to the people of God in moments of good conversation, around dining room tables and as we care for each other. That’s what the Church is to me in its very best form.

What If: I Can’t Say That I’m a Christian Anymore?

When I asked for questions for this series, I received such a beautiful array of topics. Because most of my blogs have a spiritual undertone, I fully expected that many of them would center from this space. It was clear as I started curating questions that there were a handful of themes that dominated, but there were two that seemed to need some thoughtful unpacking. Clearly, my sphere of influence had some big questions about the Christian faith the Church. This was no surprise to me, but I was honored that I was trusted with some of these questions. While I am doubtful that I have sufficient answers, I have thoroughly enjoyed the personal exploration that I have been gifted in this process.

Today’s question has so many layers. The only way I know to begin is to start on the outside and work inward. First of all, the wording has implications. “Anymore” implies that there is a basis for understanding the word Christian though the questioner’s life experience. I hear from this word that at some point in the past, the word Christian has been a marker of identity. Assuming this is true, we open up an entirely different level of question. A textbook definition of “Christian” is not applicable to those that have been personally woven into the faith. With the experience of embracing faith comes beliefs, rituals, direction and dogma that is not universal to every experience.

There is not one way to “be” Christian. Even within the faith, some define it as friendship, some a relationship, some a Baptism and others a mystery. At the core of all of these expressions is the rooted belief in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. The way that Christians express, pray, talk (and just about everything else) are as different at the people themselves. This has caused splits and separations in the Church for centuries. The varying insights, truths and experiences are vast. So vast, in fact, that some inside the circle have a steep sense that claiming the name alone is not sufficient. The laundry list of do’s and don’ts is vast. The proving ground to gain entry is ever growing. Ultimately, the meaning of this word is loaded from every angle.

With that as the foundation, I hear this question and I immediately hear wounds. I hear the weapons of exclusion and the judgement of faithfulness. I hear the preconceived ideas that ______ is not enough to be considered in the club. I hear a struggle to reconcile all of this person’s being to the presentation of Christianity that has not fit. I get it. I really do. This is such a deeply personal seeking that I must dig deep for the response. I ask myself this question on the regular. I can do Jesus. I can read and study the Gospel accounts of the life of Christ. I can see the deep well of compassion and grace that embodied his life. I can rally around the Jesus of the broken and poor and women and sick. I can feel acceptance in his welcome. CHRIST is the not the problem with this word. It’s the -anity section that causes me to stumble flat on my face.

I have been out of youth ministry for years. Most of the teenagers that I served are in their 30’s…some at the upper end of that decade. They have lives and families. They have joined churches (or not) for themselves. They have had real pain and struggle and many have lived to tell about it. But some have not. Because life is real and foundation rocking and gut punching. Not long ago, I was at my house when the doorbell rang. One of my former youth was at the door. I had not seen them in years. We talked for quite some time and in the midst of painful truths, they asked, “Lacy, are you a Christian?” The sure-fire Sunday School answer was coming out of my mouth when I stopped. My mouth froze and their eyes met mine. With all of the truth that I could muster in that moment, I said, “I’m not sure that we agree on what that means these days. I can’t answer that question in one word. The automatic response that I have always given doesn’t work for me anymore.”

To say that this only further confused this conversation is an understatement. What they needed in that moment was the assuring, neatly packaged “yes” that I would have gladly passed out with cheer in years past. What they got that day was a historical and practical conversation about love and welcome. They were reminded that a label is not diagnostic. For the first time, to one of the teenagers for whom I had neatly packaged all the things, I had to unpack the ways that I still have faith in the person of Jesus but cannot claim the label of Christian most days. I can tell you all the things that I honor and treasure about so many aspects of faith. What I can’t do is honor and treasure a word and movement that has sought to divide, politicize, weaponize and defend the very things that Jesus stood against. The camp of Christian just feels like a pair of jeans that no longer fits. On some days, this is freeing. On other days, I am heartbroken. Either way, I’m choosing honesty in the process and worrying less about the label that I don’t want to wear, and more about the connection with the Divine that I need to develop. I think Jesus would be just fine with that.

What If: I Never Feel Spiritually Fulfilled Again?

I have a text saying that friends have recently received from me excessively. No commentary, no explanation, just “GOLD.” When this question appeared on my screen last week, I wanted to send back my favorite response. In the realm of truthful, hard, beautiful ‘what if’s’ for the spiritually seeking, this is GOLD. I’m going to do my best to unpack this gem, but before I begin, I need to place myself in the posture of learning. This is a question that I share with the asker. Regularly.

When you grow up in a tradition that is known for promoting and loving the experiences of faith that exude emotional responses, you have a warped “experience” of faith. As I have moved though different seasons of growth and tearing apart and construction, I have come to understand that my moments of greatest connection do not come when I FEEL spiritual. I falsely equated feelings with connection to the Divine in my younger years. As I have endured pain and struggle and grief, I discovered that the moments when I feel the most distant, even cold or uninterested, that God is actually working and shaping me into an entirely new spiritual shape. But these moments do not feel full. They actually feel quite lonely and empty.

When I first began to see these as holy moments, it was painful. I struggled because they did not present themselves as moments of fulfillment. They hurt. They made me question. And then I would walk a few more steps and I would realize that my soul felt stronger. Not because I was happy or had answers, but because I found that my grounding was secured with experience and reflection. As I learned in high school theology class, these are the very roots of faith. When we walk, one heavy foot in front of another, and realize that we are trusting that the God of the universe is at work – in spite of our undoing – we find our faith. A faith that is deeper, and more real and more full of questions. Instead, a faith that will be trustworthy when faith FEELS inadequate and incomplete.

One more thought that may give another dimension to this question: For those of us that have grown up with a context for faith that is wrapped in a handed down expression of spiritual connection, we often reach a moment(s) that require us to choose a different path. Do you remember the Pick-a-Path series from childhood? I think they were also called the Adventure Series. In these stories, you would reach a moment of the plot and choose a direction to continue. If your experience of faith is anything like mine, you have reached these moments multiple times in your faith life. Sometimes the path was obvious. Sometimes more hidden and nuanced. No matter the circumstances, taking the first step down the chosen path is the hardest part. But an amazing thing happens as I embrace the adventure. The weight of the situation shifts from the choice to go or stay or believe or deny, and transforms into the beauty of the journey. I’m not saying this is easy. I would actually admit that it is one of the hardest things that I have experienced in life. But a shift in the path is not a destruction, it’s simply an opportunity to change course. Honoring the journey is one of the most spiritual things that we can do. Allowing ourselves to honor the journey rather striving for a feeling allows us to be present all along the way.

What If: Religion is not Spiritual

Over the last decade, I have had countless conversations with friends that would label themselves spiritual but not religious. This posture is a growing trend. Almost without exception, I find myself coming back to the same conclusion after these conversations. We are all wired to explore. We all experience things in life that we cannot explain. For so many people, the awareness of powers at work in the world can be attributed to a divine source. There is interest in conversations about ancient texts. There is a natural desire to understand healing and forgiveness. But these questions hit a road block when the point of view shifts from God, to the way humanity organizes to express their faith.

This is the point in the conversation that things get tricky for me. I am a church girl. I was baptized as an infant. I was in the pew every Sunday. I was a youth group officer, a retreat leader and a religious drum beater. Then I went to seminary and became a youth pastor. These are usually not interesting talking points for non-religiously interested humans. My life experiences define the things that repel them.

A fascinating thing has happened as I explore these conversations. The more relationships that I have built with non-religious people, the more I have seen God – in their questions, in their seeking, in their faith. There is a lack of fear in saying things that many of us have been taught were off limits. There is no such thing as a bad or wrong or too stupid question. There is not an preset belief about what you should or should not believe. From that space, the most seeking, pure, holy questions are asked.

So, back to the original question. What if religion is not spiritual? I don’t think it is. Religions are belief systems. Religions contain rituals and moral codes. Religions are rooted in culture and history. Religions are humanity’s attempt to communicate the experiences of the supernatural and organize those moments into a road map for living. Religion is not bad. But it is not fundamentally good, either. Religions, all religions, have failings and shortcomings. They have ways to communicate with followers that push them toward more devoted lives. But there are plenty of religious expressions that fall short of connecting followers to life giving strengths like love and peace.

I fully believe that the Divine Mystery of God is best celebrated as just that, a Divine Mystery. When we take the questions and wonder and expansiveness and beauty out of our practice, we drift far from Spirit and rally around expressions of uniformity. It is in these moments that religion becomes dangerous. When religious communities become about conformity and rule following and power, they lose the delicate connection that is rooted in listening and responding. When I think about religious communities that have traded their process of discovery for the lie of security, I often witness an obvious disconnect with spirituality. In these religious expressions, division and exclusion thrive. Unfortunately, these are the religious communities that attract the attention of the world. They are loud. They are politicized. They are machines of culture. And in mixing these things with the name of God, most un-religious seekers are not only uninterested but completely turned off.

For the sake of good, honest, ‘what if’ kind of living, may we shed the labels and the pre-programmed questions and answers long enough to listen and hope and ask. Together.

What If: This Season Changed the Way We Do Life?

How is your household holding up? Is anyone else tired of trying to sift through the entire book of emotions (all of which have probably been felt at some point) to put your finger on the pulse of today’s crazy? I have not driven a car in more than a month. I have not been in a building that was not my home in 36 days. My two big “outings” have included riding in a car with someone else driving too remind myself that, in fact, the world has not ended. To say that I am on the crazy making roller coaster is a serious understatement. Some days I am completely content to have my simple schedule. Some days I am ready to claw the eyes out of all of the people in my path. Today may be one of those days…

For all the Enneagram lovers, I was quite fond of this accurate description of people like me:

“This type is mad. They’re mad they can’t protect or provide for everyone. They’re mad that people they think are incompetent have the power to restrict their movements. They’re certain if they were in charge they could do things better than everyone else. And they’re especially repelled by what they perceive as weakness in the people around them.”

One of my greatest struggles has been my inability to control the irresponsible actions of other people. I am the person that sees your Snapchat picture with your “one best friend” and judges you for being in public. That’s me. I realized that part of my struggle is that I am completely uncomfortable with anyone except for me being in charge. I hate it. And I would really be much happier if I could control ALL the things. But I can’t. And I can’t see my mom and dad. And I can’t watch my daughter graduate and go to prom. And I can’t hang out with my friend. While my go to is anger, the root is sadness. I am sad. This is hard. So, very hard.

On the days when I can find some clarity of thought, I try to be mature and wise and thoughtful and ponder these types of ‘what if’s,’ but you must know, this is not my natural posture. But for the sake of this question, here are 5 things that I have picked up from this bizarre and challenging time:

  1. I need my people. My people are more important than I thought. I have loved the time that I have shared with my husband and daughters. We have cooked and laughed and yelled and worked puzzles and had movie marathons. I love these 3 with all of my heart. But, GOOD GRIEF, I need the other people. I need the ones that talk to me in different emotional languages. I need the ones that sit at coffee with me for 3+ hours…something that would be painful for the current occupants of my home. I need the ones that like to challenge my thoughts rather than my instructions to load the dishwasher. My other people are necessary.
  2. I need to adventure. I miss getting in my car and driving with the windows down and the radio loud. I know what you are about to say, “you could still do that.” But if you have ever been around me, you know that my drives include big boujee drinks and frequent bathroom stops. Neither of these are stay-at-home friendly. I would also be the jerk that has a wreck joy riding…and I would NEVER hear the end of it.
  3. I need to have a better rhythm. I resist being told how and when to do things. But one thing that I know that has to change after this season is that I must build into my life rhythmic time for walking and thinking and soul stillness. I can know these things are necessary, but until they are thrust upon me I don’t appreciate them. And even then, no one is making me do them now, but there is so much down time that in my boredom I have done the things that I really need. I have seen these moments transform my quarantine experience. I don’t always enjoy what these moments expose, but I treasure truth. Rhythm is gold for people like me. And I hope I can continue to see the value when the schedule fills again.
  4. I need to say “no” more. I like to be needed. Because I know that I can do all the things, I tend to take the reins of projects that should not be mine in the first place. This season has taught me that it is healthy to step out. I am not responsible for all the people. I am not able to control the people or the things. So, dear Lacy, know your role.
  5. And here is the big one: I don’t need to go to Target, Marshall’s and all the other places like it is my job. I miss wandering. I miss being lost in a moment of dreaming of new and exciting. I have traditionally found that in shopping and buying. While I have purchased things on the internet, I have honestly not missed wandering in a store. I find wandering in my neighborhood walking trails has produced a similar experience with less debt and more wisdom. I’m not saying that this won’t ever happen again, but I do think this new awareness has been insightful and challenging. I’m looking forward to finding new places to wander and dream when I explore again.

What If: Science Has More Answers than God?

When I first saw this question pop up on my screen, I immediately thought, well it does. And then I thought about what I just “said.” That’s how these questions become the What If’s, especially for those of us that have the pre-programmed right answer. You know the one that makes you smart and sure and FAITHFUL? That’s the dangerous ledge that I find myself on when I hear questions like this one. I cannot count the number of times that I have been asked a question and my gut, my inner knower, knew the answer that should come out of my mouth, but instead the years of being taught how to answer a question demanded that my lips move in a different direction. So for the record, science DOES have more answers than God.

Here’s why: Science is factual. Science has provable data with clear right and wrong answers. Science produces the same results for every person. Faith, God, humanity’s connection to the Divine…well that is far from scientific. Rarely is it even quantifiable. And even when the moments of measurements are experienced by more than one person, the internal journey to process and bring meaning to the experiences varies as vastly as the hair color of humanity.

For many years, my belief system taught me that the answers to the things of faith were equally as precise. My religious system prided itself on the answers. Those that studied and attained and read and got letters behind and in front of their names were capable of offering the masses the clarity of answers to all of the questions. There were books and courses and studies to learn. There were words to memorize and songs to sing. When committed to pursuing the truth in black and white, you could find it. This all worked so well for me until the first time that I allowed myself to think about the answers that I so easily spouted. As I began to question and think about the reflexive responses, I began to cringe. I wish I could tell you that the answers in the Divine realm were clear. There are clear experiences. People can report their own journey. Others can tell stories that are factual in their own soul. But the majority of understanding and experiencing God comes down to a tricky little thing called faith.

Faith requires us to listen and question and think and process. The things of God are felt and experienced and nuanced and extraordinary and tender. These words make for a full life experience, but they do not reflect an acurate or even factual measuring of answers. At least not in the way that people who are willing to ask this question usually mean. If, from a place of sincere question and searching, this question is posed to a spiritually “smart” person, the attempt is to tap down the doubt and give the sure-fire Sunday School answer. I’ve spouted it off with great conviction on many an occasion. But if instead, if the questioned one listens to the heart behind the question, we see the seeker longs for truth. The most honest answer is to admit that by all worldly standards, science will always have more answers. But what if clear answers are not the end game? Connection and holistic beauty are the ultimate answer, but they won’t be measurable in a graph. Here’s to a soul journey that empowers the imagination and wonder and leaves behind the measurable success.

What If: Prayer Doesn’t Matter?

My relationship with prayer is complicated. I grew up believing that prayer was a way of wish listing my needs and wants to persuade God to intervene and fix my life and the life of those that I love. I learned to pray using words that I didn’t normally use in every day conversations like “come before you” “burdened” “beseech” and “traveling mercies.” I listened very closely as the really Godly people in my life prayed, and I modeled my prayers after them. They all sounded so very spiritual, so I thought that prayer would be somehow more successful or fulfilling if I could learn how to pray RIGHT.

Praying in front of people was something that came naturally to me. I perfected a prayer ‘voice’ that made me sound like some kind of wise pray-er. I would lead congregational prayer time and people would come up to me in great affirmation of the words that had “touched their soul” that Sunday morning. They would ask me to pray “over” them for healing and peace, and I would gladly oblige. All of this only furthered my internal belief that I somehow mastered prayer.

This all works great until it does not. Until the day that your own life falls apart and you have no ability, much less desire to pray. As long as things were following the very conformable pattern of: live…hit a hard life issue…use the prayer words…things get better…praise the Lord…

But when you pray like you have been taught and suddenly you don’t experience the religious “feeling” then what? This was certainly the case in April of 2007. I was newly sober and the people that I went to for help in my darkest hour told me that my condition was a spiritual one. On one of my very raw days, I went to a meeting that I often attended. I was scared and angry and people kept talking about things like ‘let go and let God.’ It was all I could handle. I’m not sure if I had ever spoken in this meeting before, but they heard my voice that day. Through some colorful language and fierce passion, I explained to them that I knew a thing or two about God. What did they know that I did not?

You see, I went to school for Jesus-y things, my career was in the church, I was certain that I was far more qualified for the God conversations than this group. It was clear in my mind that if God could have saved me, I would not have ended up in these damp, dingy rooms with a pounding head and a broken soul. After I threw my public fit, NO ONE EVEN FLINCHED.

They let my pain hang in the air and one of my favorite men in the room said in his rough voice, “We’re glad you are here. Keep comin’ back.” That was it. No one tried to fix me. No one told me I was doing anything wrong. I didn’t get shamed. And most importantly for me that day, no one said, “Oh, honey, I’ll pray for you…”

It was in working the 12 steps that I realized that my understanding of prayer would never work for me again. I needed a bigger, more complex and simple and beautifully wonderful space to be still. Prayer had to change or I was sure that I would not pray again. No longer would I ask God to “fix things.” Instead, my prayers became space for me to align my heart to the heart of God. This shift is beautifully explained in a book we in recovery call the 12 and 12.

“It is when we try to make our will conform with God’s that we begin to use it rightly. To all of us, this was a most wonderful revelation. Our whole trouble had been the mis-use of willpower. We had tried to bombard our problems with it instead of attempting to bring it into agreement with God’s intention for us.” – The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions pg 40-41

So, for me ‘What if prayer doesn’t matter?‘ is not the best question for this subject. Rather, I go back to ‘What if authentic encounters with God require me to redefine prayer?‘ Because as I have opened myself to the reality of a more gracious and less boundaried experience of spiritual conversation, I have realized that my language, rather than my participation was the stumbling block. We all pray. With our very breath, we are taking in the life-giving energy that our body needs to thrive. Our intake of oxygen, whether recognized or not, is an act of inviting Spirit into our continued existence. We are praying as we breathe. The language and tone and voice and words merely complicate the delicate conversation you have been exchanging with the Creator since the moment that your sustained life was separated from your birth mother. I believe each breath is a prayer. And your “prayer life” started the moment that you first oxygenated the cells in your body.

So what if, just for today, you sit with your holy prayers of breath? Listen to the connection of your lungs filling, and as you do, imagine taking in with your inhale the very presence that longs to come alive in your soul. With each exhale, may you return back to the Universe anything that does not assist in aligning your spirit with God. That’s all prayer is. Sure, we can use words, but in our very basic life form we are praying creatures. May we realize that just as our breath gives us life, so does our connection to the heart of the Creator.

What If: We Live Into Our True Self and We Lose People We Love in the Process?

Ouch. This one hurts. Not because it might happen, but because it has. It does. It will. I don’t feel like I have great certainty on many things in this life (isn’t that just a kick in shins – the older I get the less I know – what is this?), but I know this one thing to be true. When we own our truth, when we live with clarity and purpose, there WILL be people that don’t like it. Not because they don’t like us, but because honesty and truth tell the fake and empty world to get lost. Being who you were created to be, who you are at your creation core, flies in the face of society that wants easy, low key sameness. Authenticity is threatening. Truth is convicting. Especially to those that are not comfortable with honesty.

When I first faced the reality that I was an alcoholic and addict, just saying those words out loud was gut wrenching. I knew it to be my truth. I knew that the chaos that I was making in the midst of binge drinking and crushing pills was ruining my relationships and my soul, but others did not. I can remember sitting over meals with friends telling them that I was in treatment and later as I made amends. I would summon the courage to tell the truth about my actions and behavior and often, more times than not, it went back to them.

“If you are an alcoholic, I can’t even image what you think of me.”

“If you think that story is bad, what about the time _____”

When we shine the light on our own truth, others have a choice. They can chose to look inward and search for the truth of their own life, or they can run. This single defining moment, even when not recognized as such, shapes relationships forever. To be fair, the journey of opening to truth is not instantaneous. For some, there is a time of observing truth telling that opens the possibility that honesty is freeing. In watching the inner work and acceptance grow in other people’s lives, they are willing to live into a way of life that changes things. But, there is always a moment. The moment when your inner voice says, “What if I really freed myself from the expectations of the masses and honored the only voice that matters, my own?”

This transformational question is a gift. It’s a beautiful, scary, glorious, terrifying gift that quiets the rules and expectations of family and religion and culture. For most of us, these weighty bags have defined careers and relationships and behaviors. They have shaped parenting and marriage and friendship in ways that we can’t even articulate. The ‘should’s’ and ‘we’ve always done it that way’s’ and the ‘but that’s not normal’s’ have prevented us from owning and loving things about ourselves in the name of loss prevention. The fear of disappointing a parent, pastor or friend has prevented us from claiming the very things that make us who we are.

Because I believe in practicing what I preach, I need to be honest with you. I have allowed this single “What if” to drive my adult life in ways that I am terrified to admit. Sure, I have lived 90% of my truth in some very public forums. I have talked about things that many wish that I would keep to myself. As a good southern woman, I have deeply embedded the lie that there is no need to invite the neighborhood to see my girdle and pantyhose on the clothes line – keep those things in the privacy of your own bathroom. Many of my public stories probably cause both of my lovely, proper grandmothers to clutch their pearls as they roll over in their graves. I know.

But that 10%, that remaining hidden (or at least purposely avoided) portion is terrifying to admit. I love a good shocking conversation. I love to throw a bomb in the middle of the room in the form of disagreement or unpopular opinion, but that’s not what we are talking about here. The hidden part is not the getting a tattoo to be different or to piss off your parents. The hidden part, the real and vulnerable part, is telling the people that love you that your tattoo is more than a middle finger in the face of traditionalism, it is actually marking the place on your body that was violated or the area that you cut because you just needed to feel. The 10% is the truth- the honest, humiliating, no-holds-barred truth- that shapes your being and honors all of you. But this truth is brutal. It allows others to see and know the pain. And for people like me, pain avoidance is priority #1 on most days. Pain numbing is my first instinct. To go to the 10% place is to choose an uncomfortable and unfamiliar road. One that could cost me relationships, not because of me, but because seeing me telling my truth calls out their truth. And much like the courtroom scene with a fiery Jack Nickolson as the mouthpiece, “You can’t handle the truth” is real. The loss of people comes not from a rejection of my truth, but a denial of their own.

So if you want to get real, get ready. People will walk away. People that don’t walk may pull away. It happened, it is happening and it will happen again tomorrow. But, before we conclude this conversation, I have one final thought. Real truth is transformational. Sometimes coming to terms with our truth is not just accepting, but embracing that the people that we love don’t have the capacity to love our truth. The only version of love that they are capable of loving is the facade. And yes, this will require the relationship to change. From all human perspective it will require loss and death in relationships. But what if, as we live into truth, as they see that our truth only creates a more loving and capable and whole human being, they open themselves to a new dimension of growth? Our truth telling, though it feels like loss, is often the death that is required for resurrection to take place.