Last week I was asked a question I couln’t immediately answer. As a matter of fact, I have been pondering it for over a week now and I hope to shed some light for people who are asking the same question. The question is “how do I come to believe in God? I have no experience with religion and I never thought about a God. So, how do I gain that belief?
Searching for Belief
I’ve asked some people for their thoughts on the issue and here are a couple of responses:
“I am an agnostic. I had over ten years in recovery and my life just did not seem right. Things were far better sober than when I was active, but things weren’t where I’d hoped they’d be. I began noticing that some of my friends seemed to be in a better place than I was. This awareness made me conscious that they had a prayerful life, and were open about it. Most went to some kind of church. Some did not. But they were all living a spiritual life. Their family life was more peaceful than mine. So, over time I began to pray and things seemed to be getting better. I have to admit that being open to the plausibility that there is a God makes the steps easier to experience.”
“I was hurting so much that I felt like dying. I tried everything possible to feel better thinking I could do it by myself. I relied on friends to help, but the deep hurt would not leave. One day, out of desperation, I begged God to help and a sense of relief came over me. I am not fully there yet. I pray every day for the willingness.”
Another fellow in my groups stated that he noticed that those who believed in a God seemed to get the program easier.
My Belief Journey
I was raised in a religious family and have practiced a religious life for as long as I can remember. But living a religious life, I discovered, is not the same as living a spiritual life. I have to confess that I experienced my Spiritual Awakening only 10 years ago. And it was through the twelve step process that I came to a deep belief in God.
The moment I truly realized that my sober life wasn’t where I wanted it to be happened when I was 4-1/2 years into program. One day, I was trying to reach out to my son. At least, that was intent. And he told me, “Get out of my room, you drunk.” That moment hurt. That moment was not the relationship I wanted with my son. But it was an epiphany. That moment was pivotal for me and it helped me to finally and truly surrender to the program.
At that time, my deepest prayer was simple. I asked God to help me become a better person and a truly sober one. I didn’t want to be a dry drunk anymore. I had finally gotten the message that I needed to change. I prayed every day for the 6th and 7th step to be realized in my life.
Over the next few years, I really began to see change in my life. I treated my family and other people in a more positive way. I learned that I do not have to be right all the time. I learned that other people have feelings and opinions and that I need to honor them. When I tell people that my wife and I have not had an argument in over 18 years, they often find it hard to believe, but it is true. I have learned to listen to my wife and discuss things with her. I have learned to acknowledge her thoughts and feelings and I no longer feel the need to make her agree with me. Nor do I have to prove to her that my opinion is the right one. My relationship with my wife is so much healthier and richer now.
Belief and Change Do Not Happen Overnight
By examining my belief journey, I have found a few key points that helped me achieve significant and meaningful change in my life.
- I made a decision. I’m not talking about the kind of decision we make in the grocery store when we are deciding between beef or chicken tacos for dinner. I am talking about a steadfast decision — a commitment. I made a decision to do my best to live the steps of the program no matter what. And I recommitted to that decision every single day. I held fast to my decision when things were going smoothly and when change was hard.
- I took a leap of faith. As I mentioned, I was religious but not spiritual. I looked around me and saw people in program who were more peaceful and joyous than me. People who had better relationships with their family members and who had a sense of self. I realized how much I wanted that in my life. I saw how the steps and God (Higher Power) were pivotal in their lives and I took a leap of faith. I decided that if I took a chance and truly did everything I could to live the program and turn things over to God (Higher Power), if I took that leap of faith, that I too would find the peace and joy that these role models had in their lives. By taking that leap of faith and doing all I could to follow their examples, I found my belief in God. I developed a relationship with Him and have found the serenity and joy the program promises. But that leap was an essential component.
- I became teachable. I got out of my way. I listened. I learned. I gained patience and trust. I discovered that change happens in God’s time and not mine. And as a result I grew and I changed.
There Will Be Trials
Around my 11th anniversary, a person I knew in recovery committed suicide. It was someone I knew and I blamed everyone, including God, for not helping this person. This was a very difficult period for me. My prayer went from “help me to be a better person” to “God, why am I soberand what is my purpose in life?” I prayed this 11th step prayer for years and felt like I wasn’t getting an answer. I found myself drifting away from the program. Between my 14th and 16th years in program, I went to only a handful of meetings and skipped by 15th anniversary. I was in a recovery slide.
Then, a month before my 16th anniversary, I had my Spiritual Awakening (Details to follow in a later post). My prayer had been answered in God’s time. I had a purpose. For the last 10 years, I have gotten up every day with a purpose that gives me great fulfillment. I thank God for this gift and for the direction He has given to my life.
I have known other people in recovery who have had similar experiences. That is why I believe there is a God and that God’s Spirit lives in us. I believe that the Holy Spirit living in us gives us the enlightenment, the sustenance and the power to live.
I’ve gone back and done some soul-searching about why I was so angry over the person who committed suicide. I’ve come to realize that I wasn’t truly angry at God or the other people in recovery. I was angry with myself. I realized that I had made no effort to help the person with his recovery. I’m not saying I could’ve saved him. I just hadn’t fellowshipped him. I hadn’t tried to help him on his journey. I’ve grown from that lesson and now do my best to extend a hand whenever possible.
For me, that’s the amazing part of the journey. We keep on learning and growing. As we do and as we gain belief, I believe we come to embrace growth and change as friends rather than fighting them as we did when we were active.
Life is meant to be lived. We grow by learning from each other. I invite your comments and stories so we can help each other on our journey to discover life beyond addiction. I also invite those of you who live on the North Fork of Long Island to join me in a discussion about God and recovery at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Greenport NY each Tuesday evening at 7:00 PM.
— Deacon Austin