As a child I could never find God in his house. Sitting in Mass I felt like a machine that could not manage to function properly. I had all the right parts and pieces, but together they would not produce the desired outcome. Looking around, it seemed as if everyone else was automatically filled with God’s grace as soon at they walked in the church doors.
This was especially true of my mother. She found God at a young age and never lost sight of him. She was then, and is now, an inspiration to me, but I felt isolated from her because I could never experience God in the same way she did. Church did not feel like a spiritual place to me. I felt judged within its walls and like I did not belong, because I could not feel what everyone else around me appeared to be feeling.
Following my confirmation, I stopped going to church. I had lost my faith almost entirely; I no longer prayed, and I disregarded all that I had learned in my youth. This was an extremely dark time in my life. I felt alone, like a stranger in my own skin. I stopped spending time with my family and friends and retreated into myself. I rarely left my room.
Though my friends expressed their concern for me, my reply was always, “No, I’m fine.” And after a while, that reply seemed true. It had been so long since I had felt or experienced any kind of feeling other than a lost loneliness that I became numb to it. I began to wonder: Had I always felt nothing? There was a drought of joy in my life, a void where happiness and a sense of purpose used to be. At the time, though, I could not grasp what was missing in my life.
Months later, I was on a trip to Istanbul with my mother. It was my 17th birthday, and we were on a boat going from the Asian side of Turkey to the European side. There was a single moment, and I remember it as clear as day, when I stood looking out at the Bosporus. The wind was blowing and the golden sun was shining on my face. An intense feeling of safety and comfort washed over me. I saw before me birds flying low over the water. I saw trees blowing in the wind, moving with the flow of the universe. The sky was cloudless and the kind of ideal blue one sees only in paintings.
I had never witnessed such beauty. I felt so small in comparison to these fantastic forces, yet I was not afraid because I knew I was a part of them, too. In an instant, the void that I had been struggling to comprehend—struggling to fill with materials that would never, could never satisfy—was suddenly set ablaze. And even as I looked out at the water and took in this completely new vision, a certain familiarity overtook me. I had felt this before; I had felt this happiness and excitement for life before. I believe that God was calling me back through nature in that moment.
There have been many before me who have found God in nature, and there will be many after, but I cannot express enough the way nature has truly opened my eyes to God and has brought me closer to his embrace. I will not pretend there are not still times when I falter and fail in faith; but when I lose sight of God, he always calls me back through the wind in the trees or a flower growing through the cracks in the cement.
Everyone has his or her own way of connecting with God, and mine is through nature. I feel that God wanted his creation to be a way for his children to come back to him. We will all stumble and fall in our journeys of faith, but it is hard for me to deny God when I look around and see such wondrous, awesome works of his hand. Only someone who loves me unconditionally would bless me with the ability and opportunity to see such beauty.
To see life end and begin again, to watch the seasons change and to witness creatures of every shape and size living with a content knowledge of their purpose and place—whenever I feel lost, I need only look to these gifts to be reminded of how to live a simple existence that consists of loving God, my neighbor and myself. I am now happier, healthier and less alone. I spend time with my family and friends; I try to connect with the world around me; and I take every opportunity I can to be with nature. I have begun attending church again, and it no longer feels like a place of judgment.
Finding God is a very personal experience. No one can be sure of when or where this discovery will take place. But if we listen closely, we will find that God is always calling his children home. There is nowhere I can go that God’s love cannot find me. And now, when I walk into his house, I seek God there, too.