I recently met with a friend I hadn’t seen for a while. Although we greeted each other with unbridled joy, I couldn’t help detect an underlying sadness in her eyes, as we settled down to lunch. Not wishing to pry, I pretended not to notice until it seemed disingenuous to keep quiet, so I delicately asked whether all was well. Reluctantly, she admitted her heartache over a personal matter, adding that despite praying for guidance, God remained resolutely absent.
Now, anyone who knows God knows He is never absent. Especially when He’s needed. However, it often seems that way when we’re distraught because the issue troubling us consumes our attention. With my friend, I wondered if it was because she was unable to recognise God’s presence. This was a mistake I’d made, before I learnt that in order to recognise God, I had to know Him.
My well-intentioned parents had taught me the rituals of faith, but hadn’t encouraged a personal relationship with God, because that wasn’t part of their heritage. It was only in adulthood that I discovered their teachings were the seeds of faith, which required proactive commitment, if they were to germinate and lead to the ultimate Holy Grail – knowing God.
Consequently, I gently probed whether my friend had ever encountered God in a personal relationship. “No”, she exclaimed in exasperation, adding “as if that would make a difference!” I was silent for a moment and sympathised with her irritation. However, I also knew that in order to recognise God, she needed to know Him and in order to know Him, she needed to have a personal relationship with Him. I had learnt the futility of relying solely on the teachings of my childhood or parental guidance, without being willing to make an active choice myself. I realised that I had to invite God into my life, spend time with Him and get to know Him, if faith was to deliver the promise it held. And so I began to speak directly to God.
I told God everything and spoke as if I were speaking to a dear friend, uncensored and uncut. I explained my yearning to know Him and helplessness at my ineffectual faith. If I had a problem, I shared it with Him and told Him I’d wait to hear from Him – not in that precise moment, but over the coming days. And sure enough, an answer would appear through innumerable mediums, including a person, book or song. When I excitedly shared my experience with others, some dismissed it as a “coincidence”, but I refused to be discouraged. I knew I had begun a personal relationship with God.
So, I turned to my friend and advised her to speak directly to God. I explained that the faith we’d been taught was an outer experience and often insufficient to sustain us. We needed to make a conscious decision to choose God. Only a deliberate act could trigger the personal relationship required, if we were to recognise God’s presence when we most needed it.