I can almost remember the exact moment when I realized he wasn’t who I thought he was.  I was alone in my home, a childless woman yearning to be a mother, and reading 1st Samuel, as I did again and again and again for comfort, for answers, for confirmation, for hope, for some peace that would let me accept that, according to the doctors, I was one of the 10% who for no reason whatsoever couldn’t have children.  It’s not something most little girls grow up thinking about themselves.  Our dreams are usually littered (remember, I’m the cat lady) with visions of babies and baby things and toddlers who are adorable on chubby little legs and being the homeroom mother and seeing them off to prom and blessing their marriage and, someday, being a grandmother.  Nope, said the fertility doctors.  Not gonna happen.

So on this night after a long day of work when I was home and reading my Bible, words I had read many times seemed to leap at me.  In verse 15, Hannah explains to Eli that she isn’t drunk, and says “I was pouring out my soul to the Lord”.  For some reason that hit me in a way that reading about David’s life hadn’t, and David is who we think about when we think about someone pouring out their soul to the Lord, right?  Maybe it was the woman to woman connection, but whatever it was, I recall thinking that maybe I wasn’t seeing God for who he is.  Maybe instead of being like a mafia godfather who wanted to control me with fear and scare, or a benevolent grandfather we only visited on Sundays in the nursing home and forgot about the rest of the week, there might be more to him.  I realized Hannah was talking about a relationship with a God to whom she could pour out her soul.  Hmmm.  Really?

I had been raised with religion and though people I knew used the term relationship it appeared it meant they had accepted salvation.  The relationship part I was familiar with was laden with burdens and rules and threats that made me feel bad, condemned, and shamed for even saying I was a Christian because who in the world could live up to all that. The relationship demonstrated by those I knew meant that you would go to hell if you didn’t read your Bible every day, you would go to hell if you didn’t make it to church every Sunday, you would go to hell if you cussed, you would go to hell if you danced, drank, or sinned at all and since everything seemed to be a sin…bring on the fire.  The religion I was raised with said better act like a saint on Sunday, utter the magic religion words, take on a holier than thou voice when you pray, and don’t you be seen in church with a run in your hose or a missing button.  It was big on performance, big on production, big on doctrines and weekly rededicate-your-life altar calls because every week you’d lose your salvation, disappoint God, cause him to frown and hate you.  It was big on guilt, shame, comparisons, old ladies who wore a constant mouth pucker of disapproval, and old men who looked absolutely broken.  I’m not sure there were many smiles at church.  It was solemn and somber and depressing.  The laughter was reserved for before or after church when God was no longer looking.

Then came Hannah’s words.  At that time I attended a large church and grace had been introduced but I was stuck in what I’d been raised with.  I played the part like everyone else I knew but there was nothing real about it for me until I read Hannah poured out her soul.  I wanted that.  I wanted there to be a God to whom I could stop pretending to be what I wasn’t and just pour out my soul, all the yuck, all the hurt, all the whatever there was and just know that no matter what, he loved me.  Was that who God really was?  Would he love me unconditionally?

I wouldn’t find out for a few more years because life came at us with one slam after another and I reverted back to what I was raised with but longed for what I felt was more.  Then it happened.

I became part of a group of people who met weekly for a home Bible study and through that began my search for the character of God.  I attended classes and seminars that used the Bible as reference, pulled in the history and Hebrew view, to learn what the Bible said about God, his son, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.  I researched on my own and bought books that were not only references but described life application.  I found a church with a pastoral staff that actually taught the Bible.  And somewhere along the way I discovered what I always wanted – a relationship with the Lord.

A wonderful pastor/teacher said that when you know God loves you as much on your worst day as on your best, you get a glimpse of the unconditional love and relationship you were created to have with him.  I have more worst days than best ones.  I am so thankful for that unconditional love, for the relationship that lets me come to him and pour out my soul and know I am safe in doing so.  I’m thankful that I understand, finally, that obedience to God isn’t based on rules and regulations and fire and brimstone, but on a desire to please him, a desire to show love back to him, a desire to make him proud, and a desire to say thank you.  It’s not a have to…it’s a want to.  It’s not who we are or what we do; it’s who he is and what’s he’s done.  It’s grace, his for us.  It’s love, his for us.  And it’s a relationship built on trust in him, the one who gives us life and breath, and has the right to take life and breath, and knowing that no matter what, he is good, he is God.  He’s the Keeper of my soul.

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