Last Sunday, I returned home from a wonderful family weekend, celebrating the baptism of my niece. I was dropped off at home, and after putting my things in the house and changing my clothes, I headed out to my car to go pick up my dog. As I reached the driver’s side door, I noticed a HUGE dent in the side of my car. A sizeable, unexpected, infuriating dent.
“Oh my God,” I said, staring at the dent. “OH. MY. GOD.”
I repeated that a few more times, not yelling but slowly repeating the words so my head would register that something bad had happened to me. And then I did the next thing, for a while: picked up my dog, called my insurance company, ate some dinner. I felt okay, confident even, that I was handling the situation appropriately. I was even fortunate that a friend talked with my reticent neighbors about the car and discovered that they saw the whole thing, AND they had the name and phone number of the person who did it. Situation handled.
So why, when my alarm went off the next morning, did I sit up and immediately become overwhelmed by my misfortune? By the “to-do” list that now framed my Monday? I was enveloped by feelings of inadequacy for the tasks at hand, as well as anger and frustration that I had to do those tasks at all. I didn’t want to get out of bed, but instead crawl back under the covers and pull them over my head.
As the battle waged between my desire to stay in bed and my awareness that I still had to get up and go to work, I found myself turning to a well-worn belief that I hadn’t touched on in months, and the words came pouring out of my mouth, “I feel like this is a test, and I’m failing. I feel like God is testing me.”
This way of thinking has not been a part of my daily life for months, thanks to my recovery. But these thoughts follow deep, wagon wheel grooves through my brain, and in my exhausted early-morning state, my brain started following the trail. Until it smacked into a wall of faith I hadn’t known until just over a year ago, and I said, “God doesn’t test you. God just loves you.”
That thought is a profound shift for me, and I became almost giddy with happiness as I realized what I’d thought, then said out loud. For so long I’ve believed that my life was a series of tests, administered by a stern Higher Power, measuring my value and worth in the world. Every life challenge was a reminder that I still hadn’t proved my worth. I still wasn’t enough, which became a thumping pulse underneath everything I believed about myself and the world around me. It affected every aspect of my life.
My views around God began to change a couple of years ago. I began meeting people who conjured a different image of a Higher Power: gentle instead of stern; kind and loving instead of harsh and judgmental. Those people showed me that my perception of God was limited only by my own beliefs and expectations. If I believed in a “getcha God” and expected to be tested and found lacking, that would mostly certainly be my experience. But if I was willing to be willing to consider the possibility that God wasn’t trying to hurt me, my experiences might be less frightening and more comforting. I might be able to experience grace.
Then I found recovery, and learned the concept of a Higher Power of my own understanding. I began really considering, for the first time in my life, how I perceived God. I asked myself questions: does God have a gender? Does God look like a person? What DOES God look like, anyway? I drew pictures and had conversations and really listened to how others experienced a Higher Power. Eventually I became aware of how a Higher Power manifests in my life, and although the picture is still a bit fuzzy, I feel closer to understanding my own spirituality than I’ve ever felt in my life.
Sometimes I use the word “God,” and sometimes the term “Higher Power,” just as I’m called “Casey” and “Mom” and “sweetheart.” I converse with my HP often; sometimes asking questions, sometimes just chatting about things, sometimes in prayer. I believe God is love, and connection, and energy that flows through all living things, through the universe. I hope I am humble enough to realize that there is much I don’t know, and much I will never know. I hope I continue to have the willingness to learn.
Sometimes things just happen, like someone hitting my car, and it’s not a test. Sometimes good things come in challenging disguises: the door that was dented had a broken door handle, which will now be fixed since the entire door has to be replaced. Sometimes I am faced with things that feel tough or sad or infuriating, and I can handle them, because I’m never alone. I always have a Higher Power watching my back.
My life is not a series of tests that I have to ace in order to be here. In fact, I already passed the test – I made it here. And now I ask myself, in the words of Mary Oliver, “…what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”