Lockdown was hard for basically everyone in the UK. I struggled, especially with the lack of physical contact and the sense of community. I require a lot of attention from different sources to thrive. Seeing friends and family at such distance felt like torture and would leave me feeling more anxious and alone. I needed to find something to occupy my weeks, to stimulate my mind and spirit. I could feel the beginnings of a deep depression setting in, something I have battled since my adolescence.
I have felt a constant emptiness, a missing piece that I have tried to rationalise. I am a scientist by education and training, and I always considered myself too reasoned and logical to believe in God. In the past I was terrified what people would think of me, that they would mock me but then I felt God’s love. I believe unconditional love was my missing piece, the love that can only come through God.
What would I ask God?
I decided to try a long-distance Alpha course hosted through my local church. I was coming in at best as a sceptical agnostic at worse as a close-minded atheist. The first thing we were asked after the much too cheery introduction video that made sweeping statements and gross generalisations was:
“If God was here in this room right now what would you ask?”
I didn’t need to think about it, as a woman there is something that causes me great pain and discomfort every month like clockwork.
“Why do women have periods?”
The poor Alpha leader was not expecting that. It’s important though, periods are a key ingredient to bring forth new life – but they hurt, they are embarrassing and, in many cultures and religions around the world, they are used as a stick to subjugate half of the population. So, I want to know – Why? The elderly gentleman leading our course had clearly not thought about this before and wasn’t able to give me an answer. It is a question I intend to come back to later in my journey – for now it has a pin in it.
As the weeks went on, I started to become more frustrated the videos continued to make generalisations, I continued to get hung up on points of intellectual debate and clearly, I was missing something – faith.
A constant topic was the unconditional love of God, but I have never (or very rarely) experienced unconditional love. On top of this they kept talking about The Father, another concept I cannot readily identify with. It made the whole thing seem unobtainable, mythical, almost non-sensical. I was beginning to despair.
At the start of Alpha I had begun to pray, really pray and to read the Bible. I prayed to understand, to hear God, to feel that love. I prayed for mundane things too and I could see those prayers being answered, but still I could not feel God’s presence. I still did not know what unconditional love felt like.
During a video towards the end of the course we were shown a painting: The Light of the World by William Holman Hunt along with the passage from Revelations:
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me”Revelations 3:20
The image is of Jesus knocking at a closed door in the dark, there is no handle and so Jesus cannot let himself in to bestow divine light, I interpret that as love, on the occupants. I wanted desperately to feel that love. I wanted to open that door.
As the video progressed I prayed:
“Lord please send the Holy Spirit to guide me, so that I can open my heart you know and know the weight of your love. I am ready. I know I don’t need to understand anything please let me feel your unconditional love”
Immediately after that prayer I felt that love. An overwhelming crushing acceptance. I fell from my chair to the floor and wept with joy. I knew that whatever mistakes I may make, however broken and undeserving I thought of myself, I was loved. Utterly and completely. I was not alone, I did not need all the answers, I knew that something bigger than anything I can comprehend loved me. I could barely breathe. The members of my Alpha call were concerned for me and I went to see my husband in the kitchen. I expected him to freak out and be overwhelmed with worry and anxiety but he didn’t react like that at all. He held me close, stroked my hair and cracked a ridiculous joke turning my tears to laughter.
I knew from that moment I was a Christian. I didn’t understand much then and I still don’t, but I have come to accept that I will never have many of the answers. I was afraid of telling people, that they would mock me or assume it was something to do with my mental health condition, but I know the truth and over time they have come to accept that this is my truth and respect my outlook.
God Bless E.M.