Since I was about 14 or 15 years old, I recognized that something was not quite right with me. I was frequently unhappy. I didn’t really like myself. I didn’t think anyone really liked me.
I didn’t understand these feelings. I had no idea where they were coming from. I had loving parents. I lived in a nice home in a nice neighborhood and had some friends. Still, I felt alone. I felt useless. I felt that no one would notice if I disappeared.
In 2012, I decided I needed to do something about these feelings that would never go away. The impetus to get help was to change sleep habits. I would stay up very late watching TV or writing or commenting on Facebook posts. The next day I was tired and cranky and often not the best dad and husband I could be. When I did go to sleep, I had vivid dreams throughout the night that would wake me up often so whatever sleep I did get was always restless.
I finally became so exhausted and frustrated with this that I decided to seek counseling.
In my first session, I remember telling the therapist only one thing that seemed to interest him. I told him, “I know my wife loves me, but I don’t believe it.” He asked me a few questions about that and I explained I didn’t feel like I deserved her love. I felt like I was not that great of man and she could definitely find hundreds of other guys better than me.
The next 6 months of therapy were challenging. I wanted to quit after each session. The therapist asked me to tell him whatever was on my mind and he just listened. There seemed to be no direction or real purpose to our sessions. I wanted to sleep more and dream less. I came to be fixed, and he didn’t do anything to fix me!
I continued to go every week, though, because I believed I owed it to my wife and kids to get better. Even if this wasn’t working, which I was convinced it wasn’t, at least I was trying and hopefully they would stay around a little longer. There was no fear they were going to leave at any moment, but I felt like they should leave and when they figured out how useless and depressed I was, I assumed they would leave.
Just before a session about 6 months into therapy, I had an unusual thought hit me. I shared it with the therapist when he asked what was on my mind. I told him that it occurred to me that my inability to believe in my wife’s love was very similar to my inability to believe in God.
Neither God or my wife’s love could be proven. My wife did many things show she loved me. She told me she loved me. I didn’t believe it. I didn’t feel it or accept it because there was no definitive way to prove it.
The same could be said about belief in God. He could do things, such as die on the cross for my sins or tell me He loves me through scripture or the Holy Spirit, but unless I believed, I couldn’t feel it or accept it.
It was a powerful revelation but it took another year and a half for me to begin to understand it.
* * *
Since my wife and I became serious about each other, I have attended Catholic Mass with her. We went nearly every Sunday. She is strong in her faith and I always believed in supporting her in the things she is passionate about.
I never had strong faith. I knew some of the stories from the bible through my grandmother (my dad’s mom) and from attending church occasionally throughout my youth, but I never developed a connection to it. I looked at God from a critical place. I loved history and in my studies of history, I saw many men use God as a tool to get what they wanted (the Crusades, as one example). I also saw how fantastic some of the stories were. Many were easy to be exaggerated since few were written down until decades after the times in which the events occurred. Some of the stories could have been explained as human will or natural phenomena.
Nevertheless, I continued to go to mass and let my mind wander while I impatiently waited for it to be over.
It was one of those masses where my mind was wondering when, again, an unexpected revelation hit me. I was thinking about all these people who told me that God speaks to them. It seemed ridiculous! I mean, if there really was a God somewhere, how the heck did he have time to speak to you?
It’s like belief in Santa Claus. When you are young, you believe he really exists. You believe he is the one bringing you presents. But, when you sit back and think critically about it, you realize it is impossible. One jolly ol’ elf cannot possible visit a billion children in one night. It’s impossible!
God has billions of people to look after, if He actually exists. He doesn’t have time to answer prayers from regular folks like me.
Ignoring the homily as I usually did, I began reflecting on the last year of my life. It had been a rough year from almost losing our oldest daughter, to moving from Omaha to Chicago to writing a book and running a non-profit organization to losing my grandmother and almost losing my grandfather. Added to that was my personal struggles with sleep and anxiety (the reason, my therapist finally told me, why I wasn’t sleeping well).
Maybe, I thought, God doesn’t literally speak to us. Through all these things that were happening to me, I wondered if God WAS speaking to me. My daughter survived. I found a good friend that was making Chicago a better place to live. My book was published. My grandmother went peacefully to see her Jesus. I was getting better sleep. In all these circumstances, and many others further back, God, or something, was speaking to me. Not literally, but subtly. Maybe, I thought, if I worked harder at listening, I would hear more.
So, I tried listening. It didn’t seem to work. I heard nothing.
A few weeks later, again at Mass ignoring the homily, I prayed for the first time in my life. I looked up at the skylights in the church and prayed silently to myself, “If you are really up there, God, tell me.”
I expected to hear Him immediately. Nothing happened. At least, nothing happened as I expected.
As mass was ending, the priest asked for a gentleman to come to the podium for an announcement. The man spoke about religious education classes for adults (RCIA, it is called in the Catholic faith). I didn’t hear a word after his first few. I knew that God had just spoke to me.
As soon as mass ended, I told my wife what happened. I said I had no idea how we were going to make it work (the classes were on Wednesday evenings and our evenings were always packed with activities, not to mention the fact that she was frequently out of town on Wednesdays) but I had to go.
I went to classes every Wednesday. It was not easy with our schedule, but we managed to make it work. But, just like my first months of therapy, I wanted to quit after every week.
I didn’t feel comfortable in the classes at first. I felt like an outcast. I was critical of the things they taught because they seemed to be contradicting themselves or appeared to be completely full of crap.
The bible is the true word of God but you should not take it literally.
The bible is free from error but not literally true.
“If you understand, it’s not God,” St. Augustine.
There is one God who is actually three: God, Jesus and Holy Spirit.
We cannot prove the trinity so it must be true.
If God wants us to live a certain way, why isn’t he more clear in the scriptures?
The New Testament claims Jesus fulfilled prophecies of the Old Testament but prophecies are vague and can be made to fit any interpretation.
Traditions within the church and beliefs of Christianity mirrored Greek and Roman and pagans. For example, Zeus (God) became human from time to time and impregnated women who bore God/humans (demi-Gods).
The seeming lack of consistency was frustrating!
What kept me going back each week was my wife. I wanted to believe in her unwavering love for me. I recognized the parallel between believing in my wife’s love for me and believing in God. If I discovered faith in God, I thought I would be able to have belief in the love my wife had for me.
As the weeks went on, I became more and more intrigued by what I was learning which compelled me to learn more on my own. I read books about the Catholic faith. I spoke one-on-one with a couple of priests about my reservations with the faith. I kept going to the classes.
However, by the time Easter came around, the day of the year all adults becoming Catholic are confirmed, I was still not sure. The volunteers who helped teach the classes told me I was under no obligation to finish the confirmation process. During the eight months of classes, I had become very appreciative of the volunteers I saw every week and the priests. They did not judge my questions or actively work to change my mind. Faith, as it turned out, was personal. No one could make you believe.
Two hours before we were to go to church for the Easter celebration and my baptism and confirmation, I was still wrestling with what to do. Did I believe? Was this the right path for me?
I did not know the correct decision. There was no definitive answer. All I knew was that it felt right. I didn’t understand how or why I felt that it was right. It just did.
I called my parents and told them I was going to become Catholic. I had not told them I was even considering it or going to classes or anything. They were happy for me, which I didn’t entirely expect.
We went to church and the nearly three hour mass where I was baptized with my wife as my Godmother and confirmed with one of my brother-in-laws as my sponsor. Joy grew within me as each minute passed. When mass ended, I knew I had experienced one of the happiest moments of my life.
In the end, it was all so simple. I believed. I put my life in God’s hands and I was happier. It also gave me more faith in the love my wife has for me.
Believing is about trusting in something you cannot see and cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt. Believing is about letting go, about leaning into the unknown. It can be scary but it is liberating. Knowing you are loved, and believing it, is what makes us able to conquer all of life’s challenges. God loves me. My wife loves me. My children love me.