by Helen A. Bemis
What is God really like?
Is He someone to fear and run away from?
In my youth, I was constantly told to be a good girl, and all my life, I have always worked at being a “good girl,” but….
Now, I’m told I will not get to Heaven by my “good works” but only by God’s Grace.
In my youth, I was also told that my God was an infinite, loving God. I found the words “infinity” and “infinite” hard to understand when I was a little girl. I still find them hard to understand.
What I found even more confusing is: if I committed a sin, this infinite, loving God would not hesitate to send me straight to Hell. The descriptions of Hell not only scared me as a child but still make me shiver in fear today.
I looked for love. Sometimes it was in the wrong places. I looked to be liked, not the same as being loved, but being liked did feel good. Yet I found that if I wanted to be liked, I needed to follow the expectations of others, and sometimes that would conflict with my beliefs.
My solution? Usually, I ran away. I ran away from a God I did not understand. I ran away from difficult decisions. I continued to long for love, and I wanted to understand the truth of God’s love. As I slowly began to recognize God’s love as compassionate, kind, sensitive, freely given, and so much more, I started to trust in His promises for me.
As I discovered the truth about God, I recognized His love for me, and I realized fear had no place in God’s world of love.
Could the problem with “love” be that we only have one word (in the English language) for love? Actually, there are at least three forms of love: sexual love, familial love, and compassionate (sometimes referred to as the Greek agape) love.
The New International Version of the Bible, in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 describes love as follows:
“Love is patient; love is kind. It does not envy. It does not boast. It is not proud. It is not rude. It is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
One of the places in which I found God’s presence was with Mother Nature. I took many strolls, and through the sounds, scents, and beauty on the 200-acre farm, I felt God’s presence.
My childhood home sat on a hill, and at the bottom of this hill was a slow-moving trout stream. When I walked by this stream, I could hear fish jumping and frogs croaking.
Milk-weed plants grew along the river banks. In mid-summer, their sweet perfume filled the air, luring the bees to snuggle inside flowers. I found the river area a peaceful place, though never a quiet place. Besides the river’s sounds, the birds sang in joy or squawked in protest when I visited its shores. During these times, it was easy to talk with God as I walked with Mother Nature.
After high school graduation, I attended a school of nursing. I did enjoy learning many things at this school, but I still ran away. At first, it was by sleeping ten to fourteen hours a day. Then, after thirteen months of study, I quit nursing school. I ran home.
Sometimes, the unknown scared me. Running away seemed the best decision.
During this time, I met my future husband. However, when I told my priest that I was planning to marry a Methodist, his response shocked me, “If you marry this man, you will go straight to Hell!”
My husband and I have had our share of problems, but I never felt myself in Hell after we married. I felt that my husband helped me to learn how to trust God. Our firstborn was a son. At eighteen months, he developed Reye’s Syndrome, a disorder that, I learned later, would sometimes occur if you gave aspirin to a child who had the flu.
This time, I was willing to trust God with my son’s life. My words were very hard for me to say, but they were my most honest and sincere prayer to God: “God, I realize that my son is really Your child. I may have no right to ask for his life, but I am asking that You heal him. I know You always give the highest good in any situation. I trust You. I will honor whatever You decide in this time of his sickness. Thy will be done!”
I had not run away. I would not run away from praying for God’s mercy and grace for our little boy. He did answer my prayer by healing our son.
Mistakenly, through the years, I fell into the trap of believing in a “vending machine” God. If I were a good girl and obeyed the rules, God would be “good” to me.
I went to church every Sunday, sang in the choir, and made many friends. The ministers were varied, and as lessons about God continued, I still felt something was missing. My time in the choir was my personal prayer time with God. During that time, I had a few special “God Moments,” akin to viewing beautiful sunsets or rainbows. Yet, my longing was echoed in the choir’s hymn, “Nearer My God to Thee.”
Then came the disturbing news: breast cancer. Oh, I knew that it was not the death sentence that it used to be, but I WAS scared, even as I said to others, “I’m not afraid to die.”
I did feel I had more to accomplish with my life. Prayers at church and the stories of others encouraged my resolve to “beat this cancer,” but truly, the key for me was how I began to listen to God. At that time, the minister’s wife told me about her breast cancer experience. She said that she felt it was the closest she had ever felt to God, “a very sacred time.”
As I listened to her story, I knew I wanted to feel that special relationship with God.
Medical procedures proceeded. After my lumpectomy, I was told the good news that the cancer was not in my lymph nodes. Yet, the doctors wanted to have me go through a regimen of chemotherapy and possibly even radiation.
My oncologist assured me she would use a very mild form of chemotherapy. Even so, I still became very sick. I did not understand why they needed to give me chemotherapy if the cancer had been completely removed.
I sought a second opinion. This oncologist explained the HER-2 factor that had been found in the cancer. “It’s like your body is stepping on the gas (creating a cancer-forming factor), and chances are great that you would be getting another cancer within as short a time as four years. The drug they use to stop your body from manufacturing the HER-2 will not work unless coupled with chemotherapy.
“They have done many trials to see the best combination for each individual. I believe I can find the one for you that will work without the side effects that you had experienced in the past.”
I agreed to the treatments of chemotherapy and radiation.
During this time, I found that sometimes I could not fall asleep, even though I was exhausted from the treatments. However, I discovered some wonderful blessings that only came by trusting God’s care for me. I had learned to rest my body and not worry about every little “speed bump.” I called them “speed bumps” because these concerns could shake you up or make you worry without killing you. I began to recognize that most of these situations were not worth the time to be considered.
My priority became to look for laughter as well as things to be grateful for. I listened to the silence and to the delightful sounds of the world around me. I heard the birds singing, the soft sound of the wind tickling the trees, and the buzzing of the insects. I appreciated the blue of the sky, the shape of the clouds, the bright colors in the flowers around me. I adopted the expression, “Stop and smell the roses,” as I smelled the fragrant air after a rainfall or the lawn after it had been freshly mowed.
I discovered a sweet and precious friendship with God. It surprised me. It was like discovering a very special new Friend, and I wanted to learn more about Him. We shared comfortable silences, as when you share a cup of coffee or a moment of companionship with a loved one. But it was so much better than that. I now understand why some say that their relationship with God can be hard to explain.
But is God’s love real only when He grants us our wishes? He is certainly not a wish-dispenser! He is not a God only to be valued only when giving us our desire! What I discovered during this time may be a hard-to-describe love, a love like a precious jewel or like a profound solace. It is often referred to as “a peace beyond understanding.”
I discovered my God to be a very personal God. He knows me and has showered me with awesome love. He does what is best for me, even if I feel that it is not good for me. He strengthens me in my weakness and blesses me with his gifts, gifts greater than I ever imagined.
Discovering this personal God is an experience I wish for others. It satisfies the longing we endure, and it fills the emptiness that only He can fill.
I found in God’s love, indescribable peace and joy. Because I discovered God’s infinite love, I realized that I no longer wanted to run away.
Helen A. Bemis is a novelist who has written over a dozen books about the fictional Upstate New York town of Riverview and about the Riverview Animal Shelter and the pets, loves, conflicts, and kindness of these country people.
I have had the pleasure of being her editor and writing coach. Her books are readily obtained from Outskirts Press and amazon.com: