I am not a minister per se. I am the daughter of one and sister to one; however, I never felt that same sense of calling. However, I believe we are all called to serve God in some capacity. I love God. I am a Christian. I love that Jesus Christ was the epitome of the ultimate model for social justice, human rights advocacy, and just overall, loving others more than yourself. And, in order for that service to be truly for God, and not for ourselves, regular prayer is the most effective tool you can offer–yourself, and mostly, for the benefit of those to whom you will minister.
I love because God was my model of unconditional love. Conversation with God must be daily. Prayer must be honest. Prayer must be real. I have struggled with this discipline for quite some time.
A couple of years ago, a best-selling book entitled Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, was given to me and changed my life; specifically, its story challenged my current concept of what I thought prayer ought to be versus what it really is.
I wanted to learn how to pray. I mean, really pray! You’d think as a preacher’s daughter I would have this down to a fine art. Maybe in a church sanctuary somewhere, with “every head bowed, and every eye closed.” Try a cold bathroom floor in the middle of the night, crying out to God, not knowing the last time you prayed.
Early in the book, Gilbert found herself in a place of dire loneliness, which faced her one night as she laid on the cold tile of her bathroom floor. Elizabeth cried—for the gaping wounds of her heart, for the lonely places in her life, she was lonely – even though her husband of several years was soundly sleeping in the next room; she cried because she didn’t know what to cry for, and for the reality that something big was missing in her life.
What struck me greatly was this—it is odd when a writer is without words. Being a writer myself, it is powerful, actually.
She did not know what the right thing to say was. “God? Hi, I’m Elizabeth. I’m a big fan of your work.”
Gilbert’s story shook me. One night, I found myself pondering over the experiences she had over and over again. What if I was the 30-something-year-old writer, scorned by love—or what I thought was love; feeling lost, unfilled, and abandoned? Wait! I WAS those things! Then I thought, “No, that can’t be me. I’m a good girl. I pray to God more than just when I need something.” Wait. No. Not lately. Lately, I had not talked with God at all.
As I reflected, I knew I was in trouble. I thought that maybe I should go cry pathetically on my bathroom floor. Maybe God will pity me in this sad state and forgive me for being a bad person, for not praying, for not going to church.
Then, it was as if God chuckled. And some words Elizabeth wrote that she heard from God that infamous night came to mind:
I’m here. I love you. I don’t care if you need to stay up crying all night long, I will stay with you. There’s nothing you can ever do to lose my love. I will protect you until you die, and after your death I will still protect you. I am stronger than Depression and I am braver than Loneliness and nothing will ever exhaust me.” — Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything across Italy, India and Indonesia
Prayer should not be a chore. Prayer should be genuine. God knows when you’re praying just to cross it off of a list. When I do that, I am preventing God from communicating back with me. So, of course, it felt unfulfilling. Then there were times I did not pray at all. Church and anything related only made me feel out of place, upset, and lonelier than when I didn’t go at all.
Elizabeth got real with God that night, admitted she was not perfect, and that she didn’t know what she was doing. But, in the pages of that memoir, she recorded the act of opening herself up to God. I don’t want to spoil the book for those who have not read it, but she makes these discoveries in the most unique and unusual places, literally, all over the world. She genuinely found God.
There’s a crack (or cracks) in everyone…that’s how the light of God gets in.” — Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything across Italy, India and Indonesia
Over the last few months, I have wondered how to better communicate with God. My methods have not been traditional. My traditional Baptist preacher father admits to not understanding my love of yoga when he walks in and finds me in a twisted sage or a cobra pose. Yoga has become a meaningful state of prayer and balance for me. It forces me to let go of all things ME and focus on the Divine. I honor the divinity that lives within me. I breathe God in; I breathe God out. Thanks to Elizabeth Gilbert for introducing me to this wonderful practice.
I find God when I’m watering my gerbera daisies in the morning. I find Him in the car while maneuvering through traffic, listening to great music. Music awakens my soul. When I am at the gym feeling the endorphins flowing, God is flowing. When I am caring for my puppy and he kisses my cheek, God stirs my heart and says, “I love you!” When the wonderful man in my life hugs me and says, “I love you,” I inwardly say thank you to God. When I cheer on my baseball team over a hot dog with loved ones, there is God.
Unconventional? Maybe. But on my on-going journey of self-discovery, unconventional is where I find myself. This memoir inspired me to find my own path to God. I need to continue to put what I have learned into practice. I am not where I should be, but, for now, I am striving to make random acts of kindness small, meaningful ways to be God to others.
Soul search before you begin a life of serving souls. Make prayer your lifeline.
Ashley Grizzle is a freelance writer living in Atlanta, Georgia.