By Gil Gonzalez
Random Writers – Write about what life has taught you recently.
It was Spring 2009. I remember sitting in a mandatory meeting for my son’s First Communion, and all I could think about was how I so desperately did not want to be there. That though process was the first domino that lead me to walking away from my religious upbringing. My son’s First Communion would be one of the last Catholic masses I would attend.
It’s not that I had a crisis of faith. On the contrary. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always felt that God has been with me. Jesus has always been a part of my life. But right up until that moment, it was always a formal relationship I held with my God.
What I experienced was a crisis of church.
I was engaged to a woman raised Southern Baptist. She, too, had a very strong connection with God. Like me, she was yearning for a new way to celebrate her faith. We were both looking for a way to celebrate together.
I never shied away from stating publicly I believe in God. Yet through my Catholic upbringing, I never considered myself the evangelical type either. I was bothered by self-professes ‘Jesus Freaks’, and I cringed whenever I heard someone say something to the effect of, “You have to let Jesus show you the way.”
My relationship with God had always been reverential. Much like the relationship I still maintain with my mom, it’s always been about honor and respect. Parental.
In the summer of 2009, and at the suggestion of a friend who had been facing a similar crisis of church, my wife and I began at attending a new and different place of worship. Christian, non-denominational, and situated in Ybor City in Tampa, Relevant Church was the answer to our prayers.
I remember having a conversation with a good friend of mine and how in her studies they’d discussed how Christianity needed to get back to basics. How the church needed to simplify. Relevant, with their purpose of “impacting the emerging culture with the reality of Christ”, did exactly that. They simplified the way we worship and celebrate God’s kingdom. From the moment we walked into the building and experienced our first service, Lee and I knew this was the place where we’d be able to celebrate our faith together.
As time passed and our involvement in the church increased, we found ourselves leading a growth group, which is a weekly meeting in which we discuss a chapter of the book we’re reading for that semester. We also pray together, share our stories of growth and faith, and experience true fellowship. Think of it as Bible study meets book club.
After several weeks, I’ve found a new strength in my relationship with God. My eyes have been opened to new perspectives, and I’ve been introduced with new and exciting ways to better my life and live it in way that honors God. I’ve also learned to let go of the formality with which I burdened myself in how I viewed God.
I’ve always been proud of the relationship I had with my dad. Lots of hugs. Lots of kisses. Lots of “I love you’s.” What I am realizing now is that I can have that relationship with God, too. That it’s okay to think of God as an open-armed dad, smiling and happy to see me, wanting the best for me, and watching over me in what I do. He wants me to be happy. He wants me to succeed. He wants me to know that by placing my faith in Him, there is nothing I cannot accomplish.
So here I am, three years removed from my crisis of church. I find myself closer to being the Jesus freak I mocked than to being the guy sitting in that meeting just wishing for it to be over. I’ve learned that in life, our roads our varied, but our destination is ultimately the same. Betterment, fulfillment, joy, and community. Living a good life and being a good person.
My recent life lesson is that when you open your heart to God, He helps you find that which you’ve been wanting most.