…if I was so religious, why was I so miserable?…


I have been a religious person since I was 15 years old. Although I stepped away from religious participation for a couple of years in college, I quickly found my way back. By graduate school, I was considered an authority on religious subjects: giving sermons, conducting marriages, and participating in interfaith panels. It often seemed as though I could not go anywhere without being asked a religious question for which I could expound for at least an hour.

The mystery of my life was painfully obvious to me: if I was so religious, why was I so miserable?

The answer to this riddle didn’t come until several years later, at the point I had been driven to despair. I was deeply depressed and begging God to free me from the pain, when I dear friend of mine said to me, “You are the most arrogant person I have ever met.” This statement baffled me.

“Are you even listening to me? I loathe myself,” I retorted.

He was insistent. Then he began to describe a tiny person climbing onto the Throne of God and playing a little game of judge, jury, and executioner. “You must be pretty arrogant to think you can criticize God’s work and then have the audacity to demand a recall.” He was right, and I was stunned. I couldn’t accept God’s design of me and His Plans for my life because I was too busy paying homage to my true god at that time: myself.

Despite all the hours spent playing the good religious person and fulfilling all the rituals of my faith tradition, I could not receive God’s Love. I had blocked myself with many layers of control. In a way, the religious rituals became my desperate attempt to reach God. Alas, I could not find God in my thoughts and actions. He was deep within my soul close to my heart. To finally revel in His Presence, I had to let go of the illusion of control. I had to allow myself to be loved by Him. When I finally stopped worshiping my intellect, I could accept that perhaps there is much I do not know.

In God’s world, I am just a tiny molecule but, by His Grace, a happy one today.

Guarded and Grouchy

Lips rolled tightly, I asked my family not to speak to me tonight…

Lips rolled tightly, I asked my family not to speak to me tonight.

Tired after a long week with minimal sleep each night and having recently given up caffeine, my brain is not functioning and everything is grating at my nerves. I stopped at the grocery store to buy milk on the way home. My son loves cereal and has had no milk for two days. I wandered the aisles like a zombie trying to search his way through a maze. My only lifeline was the grocery list on my phone.

When I reached home, my son asked, “Where’s the milk?” Letting out a deep sigh as my shoulders dropped with my dejected disposition, I replied, “It wasn’t on the list.”

My wife was scheduled to work late, but came home before me to surprise me. My tired brain did not register that her car was in the garage. On a day like today, my historical reaction had been to become a terrorizing bull, bashing and crashing my way around the house while attacking my beloved family.

Today, I just tightened up like a well-rolled umbrella. My family knew I was not myself and received an occaisional retort, but by the Grace of God, I was quiet most of the evening as my wife and I prepared dinner.

After a pleasant meal together, I began to feel slightly better. Gradually, my petals began to unfurl like a flower opening up to embrace the morning dew and welcome the rising sun. Sitting in bed now, I can thank my God for saving me from myself. When I surrendered, He could help me be a better version of my exhausted self.

Spiky Sweet

…forever guarded with sharp words and fearful retreats…

I have often pondered the interesting paradox of the rose. On the end is a beautiful flower of soft petals with one of the sweetest scents on earth. However, the stalk is protected by spiky prickles ready to poke a curious hand.

In many ways, this describes my relationship with the world. My heart is soft and eager to love; but I am forever guarded with sharp words and fearful retreats. On every turn as I aspire to reveal my true self, I hesitate and withdraw behind my walls. Sadly, each missed opportunity to be vulnerable results in more loneliness.

On the days, when I can be myself —honest and true— I can find union with God and others. In those moments, freedom is my course and warmth is my cloak. The painful pricks of my own thorns become a distant thought as I breathe in the sweet scent of God's Love.

No Judgement

…judgements became my separation…

I've squandered many of my days in useless pursuit of perfection in myself and others. By elevating myself onto God's Throne, I was able to justify all my judgements of myself and others. How could be any more ridiculous?! A invisible speck imagining myself in a Majestic Place looking down on all of creation and deeming everything and everyone inadequate especially myself.

The sad part of it all is that those judgements became my separation. I was completely disconnected from God and His beautiful world. As I would peer out from my solitary confinement, I could only label myself and others as "useless", "hopeless", "pests", "stupid", "evil" and so forth. How could I connect with anyone from that lonely precipice?

As I have begun to accept God's world as being intentional and my own flaws as part of His design, the walls of judgement have begun to crumble, and I can finally truly love and appreciate others. Most notably, I can finally allow God to love me exactly as I am. In the warm embrace of His Protection, I am safe to love and be lovable.

Sparkling Sprirt

…God’s Light shines through my walls, and my spirit begins to shimmer…

Through my years I have wallowed in darkness. My soul was blocked off from the Light of God. A simple attitude of judgment shuts off all sources of reprieve. When I place myself in a position of imagined righteousness, I quickly begin to judge other humans as unkind, unintelligent, evil, selfish, immoral, etc… With my ego bloated and my attention focused on how others benefit me, I cannot be of maximum service to others.

On the other hand, on the days when I can direct all my energy toward helping others and following God's Will for me, my self-centeredness begins to deflate. Slowly, the God's Light shines through my walls and my spirit begins to shimmer.

Symphonic Souls

…my inability to be transparent and vulnerable kept me from making a true connection with others souls…

Although I have always been surrounded by numerous close friends, my journey has been a rather lonely one. To many, the first sentence my seem to make little sense. I suspect there may be a few who can relate at a deep level.

The barrier between me and true companionship was not the quality or quantity of friends. Quite simply, my inability to be transparent and vulnerable kept me from making a true connection with other souls including my spouse.

Although my subconscious goal was to protect myself, my lack of honesty resulted in a very selfish slant to my relationships with others. Since I was unable to give freely of myself, there was only one way left for the love to flow. As a result, I became a self-centered, taking from others to fill up what was lacking in me.

More recently, I have received the gift of transparency. God has shown me how to be open and honest with others. This is not difficult so long as I rely on His Direction. The path was slow at first, but over time God has allowed me to reveal more of my shortcomings and fears to more people.

Amazingly, when I prayerfully open myself to others, I have not been hurt. The more of my true self I am willing to share with others the greater the intimacy between us. This is especially true if and when others can open up as well. This happens more than I originally thought possible. When I am willing to be vulnerable, others seem to be relieved. Suddenly, they realize they can drop their masks as well. Love can flow freely in both directions.

Today, I feel that I am part of a beautiful symphony of souls.

Surrendering Shame

…I carry a painful sense of inadequacy…

In my younger years, I applied to several medical schools over a three-year timespan. Despite the abundant attempts, I was not accepted by any of the schools. Over the years, I have often wondered what I did to be rejected.

Unfortunately, deep in my soul, I carry a painful sense of inadequacy. Were my grades too low? Was there something missing in my application? Did I come across as too immature? What could I have done differently? Am I not acceptable? Am I unlovable?

Although I was not accepted, I did receive invitations to interview at two of the schools. During the interview process, I was nervous and excited. Finally, I had a chance to impress them with my wonderful personality and charming words.

Considering that I was unable to woo them as I had originally thought I could, I sometimes feel a sharp pang of shame regarding three events in particular. Here they are in chronological order:
1) One of the interviewers saw me without shoes later that day, and my sock had a new hole in it.
2) After lunch one day, I noticed that many of the interviewees with me did not pick up their trays or discard their trash. I decided to capitalize on the opportunity to stand out and in an embarrassing display of self-righteousness, I cleaned the lunch room while everyone else watched me questioningly.
3) One of the interviewers and I were walking back to the common area, and I said something to the effect, “What makes me a better candidate to be a doctor is my ability to explain things to patients. For example, I remember learning that one should not touch a toothbrush head with fingers. This could cause an infection in the gums. I would be very good explaining something like this to patients.”

Even listing these three things here now, I can hear the bullying voice inside me scoffing at me, “How could you be so stupid? No wonder they didn’t select you?! You are a useless mistake and do not deserve the prestige, respect, and income of physicians!”

I take in a deep sigh and release the shame. Today, I do not have to listen to the lying voice that tells me I am not worthy. I am as God created me, and He loves and accepts me. I may not be a physician, but that is okay. Actually, over time I have come to understand why God took me in a different direction, and I am grateful.

God has a plan for me, and I trust Him to carry out that plan through (not despite) my mistakes. I can surrender my shame and find serenity in His Embrace.