How To Maintain A Relationship With God Without Seeming Insane

Disclaimer: The title of “God” and the gender pronoun used for such an Entity can never fully express the Creator, but are used as placeholders for the sake of this piece.

Getting Off-Balance With The Worldly & The Godly

I like to think of myself as a person with a fairly broad worldview. I have friends of differing backgrounds — ethnicities, nationalities, sexual preferences, political views, gender associations, and definitely religions. I’m not sure why, but within the past five or six years, I’ve had this overwhelming desire to not offend anyone. While I can’t pinpoint where this desire to avoid confrontation first stemmed, I feel that it grew as my worldview began to expand. The less I saw myself as a member of a certain political party or other group and the more I saw myself as simply another earthling, the more respectful I wished to become. That fear of confrontation went from eggshells to a self-imposed muzzle against views that I felt may make others feel uncomfortable. I felt that I was being a good steward of my people. Over time, my internal dialogue began to change to accompany my external expression. I began to see myself losing my very firm grasp on something precious to me — my continual personal relationship with God.

It’s not that my religious observance stopped. I still kept all of the daily, weekly, monthly and yearly tenants of Judaism and thoroughly enjoyed them. What I noticed lacking first was speaking to other God-believers about God as though He were real. Whenever the conversation would head in that direction, I would sterilize it with some talk of a religious observance that didn’t necessarily require a firm belief that something was metaphysically in control of things in the universe. Talking about an upcoming holiday? Is that certain brand of food kosher? Attending religious services? Those were effective masks for more spiritually intimate and revealing questions, such as asking a known God-fearer how they best connect to God. I felt like the mental concept that God exists, that I believe in God, and that He cares at all about me and anyone else was a muscle that hadn’t been exercised and was beginning to atrophy. That neural pathway had not been traveled actively and the trail was less worn now. I knew I believed in God and felt Him in my life, but how do I balance being someone who seeks to grow a relationship with God and being a part of the collective of all of mankind? Here are some things I’m beginning to realize.

Realizations When Attempting to Balance a Relationship with God and Being a Courteous Earthling

1. Even for those who don’t believe in God, your belief does not necessarily offend them.

One of the reasons why I felt uneasy about being open about my belief in God is because I know how I feel when someone else tries to push their own spirituality on me.

I feel very blessed to be a part of a faith that does not evangelize. Jews are not looking for converts to Judaism. This means pushing my religion on others is not one of the tenets of my faith the way it is of many other religions. When someone else thrusts their faith on me, I feel like they are attacking my own faith. In order to never put a non-believer through this, I opted to shut my mouth about God whenever I felt like a non-believer could be listening. I quickly learned that this was most situations, even in a religious setting. However, over time, I began to realize that most people don’t find someone’s own personal relationship with a Higher Power to be offensive and if they did, why would I covet their approval?

I also realized that speaking about God is not necessarily thrusting God upon a person, which leads to another realization…

2. Know your audience when sharing your heart.

Here’s an odd statement that I feel ok saying: I don’t want to talk about God with people who don’t want to hear about God. Many religious zealots will claim that a true God-fearer should never be afraid to mention God. While I believe that’s somewhat true, talking about God to someone who doesn’t want to hear about God is just, well, rude. It doesn’t increase the likelihood that they will want to have any kind of relationship with God in the future. While I don’t believe in evangelism, I’m happy to answer any questions anyone may have about my own relationship with God. How does one compel someone else to ask? By living in such a way that demands an explanation. In living an ethical life that is respectful and helpful to peoples of all walks of life, keeping God close without having to speak a word about Him is much easier and less intrusive.

3. Exercise talking about God with other God-fearers or at least those who desire a relationship with God.

My initial reason why my personal relationship with God began to wane temporarily was due to an atrophy of the part of my mental process that kept Him real to me. When I was afraid to discuss having a relationship with God, the weeds grew over that trail, making it nearly invisible. One remedy I’ve found for strengthing the realization that God is real is to have a group with whom you speak to about having a relationship with God. While this form of support group doesn’t need to exist solely for this process, this group of like-minded/hearted individuals will act almost like a spotter would act in a gym. When you feel safe discussing what it means to have a relationship with God, you can help to maintain those pathways in your heart and mind.

4. Seek out continual spiritual education.

Rav Dror Moshe Cassouto of the Emunah Center

While talking with others about how to strengthen your relationship with God on a daily basis is beneficial, sometimes you don’t want to speak — you just want to grow. For the purposes of exercising your relationship muscles with God, seek healthy spiritual education from authorities you trust. This is not to be confused with simply seeking out any religious education, which sometimes can seem completely devoid of spiritual connection. To receive instruction from a teacher who is dedicated to helping strengthen their students’ alignment to God and to build their relationship on a daily basis can be instrumental in one’s spiritual maintenance. This can be done by attending actual classes with this focus or consuming media on the subject, including video classes, reading books, or listening to such podcasts. Having a compass like this when you’re away from your core group can help maintain the idea that God wants in your life.

5. Talk to God wherever you are.

While the title of this blog does imply trying not to appear insane, it may seem counterintuitive to appear to be talking to yourself. However, making God a real part of your life is extremely difficult without letting Him in. While I’m not recommending talking to God out loud in public (especially not while aboard airplanes), talking to God like you would have a private conversation with a physical friend not only helps you begin to sort out your thoughts and emotions better, but it also makes God a part of the process. In all honesty, a lot of our prayer is not only meant to express to God how we are feeling, what we’re experiencing, and to ask for assistance — for He already knows these things before we ask. Prayer is also a time where He gets the chance to answer in the form of realizations, feelings of comfort, jubilation, or even much needing mourning when we’re bottling up negative emotions. There is a practice in Judaism called “hitbodedut” (Hebrew for “seclusion”) in which the practitioner secludes themselves, often in nature or anywhere away from where others can hear them, and they speak out loud to God in their own words. They express their thoughts, pour out their hearts, or even sing and make music for the Creator. The spiritual benefits of hitbodedut are immeasurable.

However you choose to maintain your relationship with God while living in a largely Godless world, understanding the following truths:
– There will always be those who will be uncomfortable with the idea of anyone having a relationship with a Higher Power — even if you never mention it to them. That is their problem and there’s nothing you can do about it.
– When you worry too much about what people think about you to the point of that changing you, you are no longer yourself.
– If you truly desire a relationship with God, that means there’s nothing can stop you.
– If you feel distant from God, it wasn’t God who moved.

God Has it Figured Out

As I was headed home from work today and taking my usual exit off of the highway, one of Tulsa’s finest pulled out and changed lanes to end up just behind my car. Any other time there wouldn’t have been any problem, but today…I had expired plates.

I knew it was difficult to see the date on the plates without being right behind the car, so I tried to think of a way to limit the amount of time this officer of the law would be sitting directly behind my car at the red light that was up ahead. I immediately changed lanes to be able to hang a right at the red light. Guess what? So did he.

As I headed down the street, I kept a close watch in my rear-view mirror as the police car passed a car to wind up directly behind me. All but riding my bumper, I knew it was only a matter of time before I saw the inevitable blue and red lights. At the approaching intersection, there was a gas station on the left on the opposite side of the street. If he was following me, he’d just follow me into the parking lot. I got into the left lane just a second before he did as well. I decided to pull off to allow him to hit me with a traffic ticket or at the very least, a warning. I really didn’t feel like receiving either. 
The green left-turn arrow flashed and I turned first left, then immediately right into the gas station parking lot; assuming the squad car would follow me all the way in. As I turned into the parking lot, much to my amazement, the cop kept driving. As he vanished around the corner, I pulled into the nearest parking spot to celebrate my near brush with the law. Not paying attention to where I had pulled in, I found myself looking into the blood-shot eyes of a sweat-covered poor man in a stained and tattered t-shirt standing over the open hood of a car. We locked eyes and my stomach sank. I did my best to shoot him a smile. 
As I got out of the car, I could tell this man was in real trouble besides just having a broken down vehicle. In barely coherent words, he told me that his car needed a jump so he could get “him” home. Before I could ask who he was talking about, he pointed to the backseat of his car. In the backseat sat a little boy slumped over asleep in a car seat not a day older than three. The boy was drenched in sweat and his nose had run completely down his front. The backseat of a non-air conditioned car on a 90 degree day was no place for this little boy. I quickly scurried to my trunk to get out my jumper cables and hooked them up. I didn’t immediately notice that he had been holding up the hood of his car until I got out and he asked me to hold up the hood while he tried to turn the car over. The car started right up, I detached the cables, and the man mumbled a “thank you” as he quickly drove off in his rattling car; the little boy still asleep in the backseat.
From the moment that I saw the little boy, I felt like I was being drop kicked in the chest with the sensation that God is completely in control of everything. Many people ask “Where is God?” in certain situations. Others say “I will wait for God” in other situations. These people desperately need to open their eyes to see that God is not a man in the sky, but rather every molecule screams His existence. God lead me straight to that boy. He could have sent a tzadik (righteous man), but instead He sent someone who avoiding ridicule. He could have whisked the little boy away in the arms of an angel but instead, He chose someone who was trying to outrun responsibility.
I hardly remember pulling out of the parking lot to go home because I was so jazzed on the Oneness of God. May we never forget that God is in complete control.