On a gurney in the recovery room after the birth of my first child, Amy, I couldn’t stop my legs from shaking. I tried willing them to stop. I put my hands on them. They kept shaking on their own. I was totally out of control of my legs. The nurse brought another blanket, and though that felt nice, my legs kept shaking.
Then I felt a presence in the recovery room that was not the nurse. I said, “Oh, my God.” And that was my first personal experience of God that I remember. I was aware that God was in on the child-birth deal. I felt supported, like God was saying, “Well done. I am here. Don’t worry about the legs.” Eventually, the legs stopped shaking. I was amazed that God would show up for me, an outspoken atheist. You mean God cares about me even if I don’t believe God exists? My mind was a little overwhelmed at the time, so I didn’t really see the contradiction in that. I just accepted it.
Later, I realized that my loss of control may have been linked somehow to the appearance of God, not just because God wanted to comfort me in my distress, but because it’s easier for God to contact us when we are not in control.
Control is something we are taught as we grow up: control your bowels, control your temper, control what you say. These controls make society function smoother. But they keep God out, somehow. The more controlling we are, the harder it is to surrender to love. Think of the most controlling parents you know. (Maybe they were yours. Maybe they are you!). When you go over to their house, do you “feel the love”? Or do you feel the anger, correction, domination, and intolerance?
Control makes us feel like we are powerful and in charge. My whole life I have made choices to give me control. I chose to teach so I wouldn’t have a boss breathing down my neck. And when the regimentation of lesson design set in and I lost some of my autonomy, I retired.
I wear my hair short so I have control. In art I use pens, pencils, and collage because they give me control I don’t have with watercolor. In writing, I like sonnets and rhymed verse because they are more controlled than free verse. I have been working on letting go of control, starting with my children (now grown), but I still uncover more layers of control as I strip off the top one.
Many people call out to God or encounter God when they are at an out-of-control place, like the death of a loved one, a cancer diagnosis, a divorce, or near-death experience. In fact, near-death experiences in which the person encounters a “figure of light” are just as common among atheists as among believers. When we let go of control, we are in a better position to contact God.
Note: this blog is from A Doubter’s Devotional 2, chapter 2, available here on Amazon:order here