Distinguishing between Religion and Spirituality
Friday, August 14, 2015 - Author: Chris B.
If talk about God, religion or spirituality makes you feel uncomfortable, then I'm glad you're reading this because I was once the same way.
I got sober through the programs of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, and the talk of God in the 12 steps as well as in the meetings made me think that they were trying to recruit me into a religious cult. Once I was able to have an open mind and really understand what spirituality was, my life became better than I could have ever imagined, but I had to stop resenting God and religion.
My Resentment towards Religion
Growing up, I never really went to church, but every now and then my dad would take me. I wasn't sure why he would sporadically decide that we needed church in our lives, but I never really paid much attention. As I grew older, I began learning in history class that thousands to millions of people died fighting in religious wars, and the United States was founded because people were trying to escape religious persecution. I also learned about the holocaust, and I could never understand why people would kill each other over something they have never seen.
I went to high school in Las Vegas, and this was when I found out who the Mormons were. A lot of my friends were Mormon, and sometimes I'd go with them to church. Since I came from a family of alcoholics and addicts, I thought it was amazing how wholesome their families were. I even dated a Mormon girl for two years of high school. The only thing I didn't like was their in-your-face recruitment methods. The parents of my friends were always trying to convince me to become Mormon, and I thought it was crazy how they would make the young men and women go on a mission to recruit people around the world.
My biggest problem with religion was that I always thought I was a pretty decent human being, but I was deathly afraid of Hell. All of these different people said you have to do X to go to heaven, but if you do A, B or C, then you're definitely going to Hell. It blew my mind that there might be a God who only saw in black and white, but he or she didn't make a judgement call in certain cases. Plus, with all of the different religions it was extremely difficult to know which one was right. For examples, Mormons are not supposed to drink caffeine, and if that's grounds for eternal damnation then I didn't want any part of it.
Separating Spirituality from Religion
After almost 10 years of drinking and using, getting sober was a life or death situation. I found that the people who were able to stay sober had a Higher Power of their understanding, so I needed to figure out what that meant. Someone in a meeting said it perfectly when he shared that his sponsor told him, "Take everything that you know about God, and put it on a shelf for right now. Forget about everything you've learned throughout the years about this God, and find a new God that works for you. It can be whatever you want it to be."
The first hurdle I had to jump was realizing whether or not I believed in God. My whole life I wasn't sure if I believed or if I was an atheist. Then, through the Big Book of AA, I discovered what an agnostic was. The way it was explained to me was that an agnostic is someone who is on the fence about God. They are not sure if there is or isn't one, and it also talked about in every man, woman and child there is a fundamental concept of God.
I was never sure about God because I always used my prayers in the wrong way. People in AA and NA refer to these as "foxhole prayers." I was the type of person who only prayed when I was in a lot of trouble, and I thought if there was a God, he or she would get me out of the situation. When this God didn't do what I thought I wanted and needed, then I believed I was being punished or that God didn't exist at all.
Learning How to Pray Properly
Whenever God was mentioned, I felt extremely uncomfortable and awkward. My sponsor helped me get over that by making me pray all the time. Every time I would call him with the things making me angry or upset in life, the first thing he would ask me was, "Did you pray about it?" Eventually, I was tired of him asking me that, so I would do a quick prayer to the best of my ability before dialing his number.
I would tell him when we spoke that God doesn't answer my calls, but he does. I need him to give me guidance because God has never talked to me, and I feared that I would be a crazy person if I said God spoke to me. People told me to fake it 'til you make it, and that's what I did. Eventually the praying thing felt less awkward and it became a second nature. Whether or not it was working was something that I was unsure of.
I learned that I had to stop praying for myself. I had to stop asking God for things like he or she was Santa Claus. I needed to pray for other people when they upset me or harmed me. This helped me remember that I had hurt a lot of people in the past, and I wanted those people to forgive me, so it was important for me to do the same. I also had to quit praying for what I wanted because I learned that my wants and needs were irrelevant. Everything I had ever wanted and needed never made me feel whole, so I started to pray for strength, courage and willingness to accept whatever outcome came my way.
Turning my Will Over
I was a control freak my entire life, which was partially why I drank and used, and I had to realize that I was causing most of my problems. I thought I was this master manipulator, and I could make any outcome happen if I just tried hard enough. I was completely baffled when things didn't go my way. It was so hard for me to comprehend why I did everything in my power to get a certain outcome, but something else happened.
When I got sober, I reached the third step, which states the following: "Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him."
Even if you're not in AA, this is something that can really help your spirituality. For me, learning that I didn't need to control every single situation was like a 1,000-pound weight being lifted off of my shoulders. I was able to start accepting when things didn't happen the way I wanted them to, and I started realizing that maybe they happened that way for a reason.
My entire outlook on life changed, but it took some time. In the beginning, I would only give a little bit of my will to God, but I saw that every time I tried to control a situation the outcome would be disastrous. Over time, I saw that the more I took a step back the more things would work out perfectly fine. I didn't have to tell people what I thought about them all the time because I thought I could change them. I didn't have to put myself in bad situations thinking that something amazing would happen afterwards. Mostly, I didn't have to fix situations, and this was huge since I'm a people pleaser.
Every morning, I work on my conscious contact with God by saying a prayer. In this prayer, I ask for patience, tolerance and understanding for the day. I ask for God to relieve me of the bondage of self so I may better do his will for me. I ask for him to help people who are struggling to give them strength, courage and hope for a better day and a better tomorrow. I then ask him to help me grow in his image.
I don't go to church. I don't press my God on anyone else either. I only talk about God when the person I'm talking to feels comfortable with the subject or when I'm in a meeting. At the end of the day, we have to find a God of our own understanding to increase our spirituality and serenity, and it's not for me to decide who believes in what.