If you haven’t already, click here to read my previous article.
Sunday night (the night I posted my previous article) was an interesting night. I expected my truth quest to be grueling and frustrating before, finally, a light switch would turn on in my head and I’d realize that God was helping me that whole time to get the answer. From my experience of spiritual searching, that’s usually what happens. It didn’t happen how I expected it to, though.
It was supposedly my “last night of faith.” I spoke with and confided in God all evening. He made it quite clear that He was not angry or disappointed in me for making this decision to live “Godlessly” for the sake of proving whether or not I needed a belief in God in order to live a life of happiness, kindness, and service. I thought that was kind of weird. I thought He’d be kind of, you know, against me purposely abstaining from worshiping Him. I guess I don’t know God as well as I thought I did.
When I went downstairs to my room for the night, I sat down on my bed and continued our conversation. Essentially, my approach was, “Okay, Father. I’m ready to be taught. Tell me where to look, what to do, what to think about, whatever. You’re the Boss. Tonight I rely completely on You to teach me.”
Supposing I might as well be proactive, I about reached for my scriptures, but God stopped me.
Just keep talking to Me. That is all I require of you at this time.
I can’t recall the conversation in detail, but I remember it mostly involved Him encouraging me to explain over and over again why I was doing this. He knew why, but He wanted to make sure I knew why. When it all boiled down to becoming the most loving I was capable of being and doing the most good in the world I could possibly accomplish, He’d just give me that kind, cunning smile of His and say nothing, but I knew He’d just succeeded in coaxing the answers He wanted from me.
It was a good night because, for once this week, I didn’t have to worry about being unfairly biased towards one possibility over the other. I just gave myself fully to belief for that night. It was a relief, and I was filled with peace and love as I sat at the kitchen table in my pajamas, sipping hot tea and enjoying the air of a cool summer night. Me and Jesus, just chillin.
I think I might have conveyed a false message in my last post. I was in no way demanding a sign. I didn’t need a physical sign or miracle to convince me that God exists. All I needed was a reason to choose God’s plan over mine.
I won’t go into detail with the life choices I’m making right now, but I’ll put it this way: God’s plan, from my limited view, seems like the lazy one. I have a mission during which He will use me to accomplish marvelous things, but I need to wait for it for who-knows-how-long. My plan was basically to get off my lazy butt and get moving. Plan my own adventure. Get out there and do something.
Once I considered the paradigm of “God is in my head,” that caused some problems. Maybe it wasn’t God telling me to stay where I am for now and patiently await orders before I do anything crazy. Maybe it was my procrastination-prone mind rationalizing staying at home and putting off risk and adventure for the sake of social and financial security. By obeying God, I would risk wasting my life away awaiting a mission that might not ever happen, when I could have taken bold action to do something good when I was young and healthy and without as many obligations.
A reason would have been enough; just a reason to keep waiting. A reason to not pursue the truth in this manner. God was talking to me all day. He could have just told me in the same way that He was telling me everything else He said to me that night. It would have been simple, and I would have been satisfied with the simplicity and non-miraculousness of it. But I didn’t even get an answer. At least (spoiler alert), I didn’t think that I did.
I woke up that morning just before my alarm went off. I hit snooze.
“Father. Look, technically it’s morning and I’m supposed to be living Godlessly starting now, but I’m going to break the rules real quick just this once and say one last prayer, pushing aside the possibility of brain-God. I love you. I don’t want to do this. It’s going to really freaking suck. (Yes, I am this informal when I talk to God. He doesn’t give a damn so neither do I) I’m going to miss you. I love you, and I’d really hoped you would’ve intervened by now. You set the deadline. You told me multiple times that I would get my answer before this morning, but I didn’t get it.”
My alarm went off. I pressed snooze again and kept praying.
“Please, please don’t let me do this. It’s going to hurt me. Even worse, it’s going to hurt You. Why don’t you stop me already?”
My alarm again interrupted my pleadings. I turned it off and got out of bed.
I’d made a commitment to finding the truth. Even if my method was stupid, it was really all I had. It may seem that my morning was off to a depressing start, but it wasn’t that bad at all. I was optimistic. I even felt something you could call a spirit of adventure. I was on my way to self-discovery. I knew that even if this road was painful, it would teach me something valuable.
Here’s the interesting thing: Throughout my day, I didn’t feel any sense of loss. As I got ready for school, I heard Him in my mind.
Sandi, I love you.
This really wasn’t fair because I was committed to not pray for the sake of the experiment. So I couldn’t reply. When someone says “I love you,” you can’t just ignore them. It’s rude, okay? And since brain-God feels like a real person to me, it felt really weird and wrong to just be, like, “Mmhmm. Okay. That was a thing that came from my brain.” So that was awkward.
Then, as I was getting dressed for school:
Sandi, I haven’t left you, and I never will.
Before this point, my day-to-day life was an ongoing dialogue with Jesus. When I’m talking to myself in my head, He’ll join in on the conversation. Prayer is more than a habit for me; it’s evolved into pretty much my whole thought-pattern. So, needless to say, not praying took an unexpected amount of effort.
ESPECIALLY BECAUSE GOD KEPT FLIPPIN’ TALKING TO ME.
So there I was, doing so well with “being Godless,” but then, as I was at my computer editing digital graphics, I heard Him again.
Sandi, this is God speaking.
Nope, nuh-uh. I’m not supposed to talk to you. Talking to you is praying, and praying will botch the experiment, okay?
Sandi, you can’t deny that I am speaking to you. This isn’t in your head. This isn’t chemicals in your brain. This is Me communicating with your spirit.
So I didn’t even get through half the day before I messed up my own experiment. Or Jesus messed it up, I guess. Yeah, I’ll blame it on Him.
I expected Him to withdraw as soon as I withdrew from Him. But that didn’t happen. Why not?
I think I know why. It dawned on me as I began typing this article. You see, I didn’t really abandon God. I remained committed to embracing every kind thought, every appreciative moment of gratitude, every expression of love. I saw strangers of every shape and size walking in and out of my school building and thought, “People are beautiful.” I stopped by a rose bush on my way to lunch and took the time to appreciate the masterpiece of nature. I observed a beautiful thunderstorm wash over the mountains. I watched in charmed fascination as a baby spider crawled over my hand and across my desk. I grinned as I overheard my adorable instructor say something funny to another student behind me. My best friend Sydney and I had a conversation over text and I realized again how dearly I treasure our friendship.
I did some shopping for my coworker who couldn’t do it herself because she worked literally all day and only had her free time when the store she needed to go to was closed. It took a lot of patience and phone calls to get the items she needed, but I wasn’t annoyed. I realized that I was happy to help her out even though I wasn’t getting anything out of serving her besides the joy of knowing her life was made a little easier because of something I did (which is all I really need).
My heart thrived with gratitude and appreciation throughout the day, but it wasn’t because I had temporarily abandoned my brain-God. I didn’t actually abandon God. He is all goodness and life and beauty. By embracing that, even if I didn’t attach the label of “God” to it, I was embracing Him. Despite my commitment not to, I was still worshiping Him.
I didn’t give up on my Godless life because it was too painful or too hard “without God.” I simply discovered that it was impossible to embrace selflessness, charity, and gratitude without also embracing the God who is all of that. By clinging to everything good in the world; love, charity, and gratitude, God couldn’t leave me. That’s why He was okay with this silly experiment of mine. He knew what would happen.
You sneaky, sneaky God, you.
It’s true that God rarely teaches us in the way that we expect. Okay, for the sake of clarity, let’s look at the concerns He answered. On that last night before I began the experiment, God assured me multiple times that He would give me that reason to continue in faith. That night of contentment, freedom, and peace was a sneak-peak into the kind of life I would live as a believer. What would be so tragic about getting a steady career as a digital 3D modeler or whatever, settling down, having a family, and living the “boring life” I always felt was cut out for me? If this state of mind (i.e. the clarity, acceptance, and peace I was feeling Sunday night) was going to be my attitude resulting from actively seeking and interacting with God, there was no conceivable way I would be led through a life of sloth and selfishness.
I already knew that if God was God and not my brain, I could trust Him with guiding my life choices. When I was introduced to the possibility that “God” might just be me, I realized that I couldn’t trust my brain to choose the selfless path full of risk and hard work. I asked for a reason to trust Him, and God gave me that reason right on time, like He said He would. Like most answers, I didn’t realize it at the moment He gave it to me, but I see it now.
Concerning the subject of charity, I learned that the possibility of losing a sense of charity (by abandoning my brain-God) was nothing to be afraid of. I remained charitable as ever throughout the experiment (for as long as it lasted). As long as my greatest desire is to love everyone to my greatest capacity, my greatest desire is the companionship of God.
Dedicating myself to charity and dedicating myself to God turned out to be the exact same thing.
As for my pursuit of truth, I’m satisfied that I’m able to go as far beyond my beliefs as necessary for the sake of finding it. Not to brag, but committing to go “Godless,” for me at least, was a brave thing. It showed me why I believed in God in the first place. It revealed what my true values were. Why did I rededicate my life to God? Because He proved Himself to be the personification of charity and truth.
I grew up worshiping Christ because that’s what my Church taught. After my first faith “crisis” (which I wrote about here), when my foundation which was the Church crumbled into nothing, my action and my reason for that action swapped. I went from worshiping Christ because the Church testified of Him, to going to Church because the Church testified of Christ. My testimony of Christ was no longer dependent on the Church; my reason for going to Church was now dependent on whether I came closer to Christ by attending. It no longer mattered what the Church said or did or became; it wouldn’t affect my love for Jesus. It’s similar to the faith crisis I experienced just barely, but a step deeper. This time, it wasn’t the Church I was questioning; it was God.
For a while, my reason for doing anything hinged upon whatever God wanted. But what if my God was taken away? What would my choices hinge on? It turns out that those things were charity and truth. Stripped of my God, charity and truth were all I had left. I determined that if there was a God, He would have to be the personification of charity and truth. Anything else was insufficient and unworthy of worship.
Yes, I’m being picky about what kind of God I worship. But shouldn’t we all be? Should you worship a being simply because he has all power? If power alone determined worthiness, then a powerful dictator would be more worthy of worship than someone like Mother Teresa (I know, not the most creative example).
Should you worship a being simply because he has the ability to consign you to heaven or hell? That’s not enough for me. If acting upon charity somehow landed me in hell, I would still act upon charity. If I knew that forsaking the truth and running away from my doubts would land me in heaven, then I don’t want to go to heaven. I’d rather go to hell and associate with the other damned truth-seekers, those who had the courage to look doubt in the face and follow their own moral compass rather than blindly obey their religious leaders. I like this quote from Joseph Smith:
“And if we go to hell, we will turn the devils out of doors and make a heaven of it. Where this people are, there is good society.” History of the Church, 5:516–17
I no longer worship God because that’s how I was raised; I worship Him because He is a Being of truth and charity. And here’s the irony of my whole experience: The God which I came to know through traditional worship is that same God which led me out of traditional worship and into true worship. And what does true worship happen to be? Being one with charity, seeking truth, and expressing gratitude. It’s not so much about doing as it is about being. Love isn’t giving because you feel it is your duty to God. Love is giving because that is who you are. Or, rather, who you’ve allowed God to make you.