If you want to embark on an interesting exercise, write the story of your life. Write it quickly, without thinking about it much. And write only for about 15 or 20 minutes. This will force you to hit the highlights only—the events that are most important to you.
Then, go back and read your story, and ask at each turn, Where was God in this event, or this conversation, or this internal experience?
The fact is, God is present to us throughout our lives, regardless of whether we recognize God at the time. God is in the person with whom you felt safe during a chaotic or violent childhood. God was in the recurring dream, in the job that taught you how to speak up for yourself, in the friendship that revealed your emotional minefields, in the accidental meeting that bloomed into a marriage or a new career.
If we believe that God exists, then we must grapple with the question of how God relates to us. Is the Divine wonderful and yet distant from us? Is God around only when we’re behaving like good people—and does God leave the scene when we’re misbehaving and showing our worst side? We’ve all known people who rewarded and punished us by staying with us or by withdrawing their presence—do we see God as relating to us in that way?
St. Ignatius Loyola—and many other spiritual pilgrims before us—discovered that God’s love and presence are constant and unchanging. No matter what we are going through, and no matter how we’re responding to what we’re going through, God is with us. And as we gradually come to believe in God’s enduring care, our view of everything will be transformed. We will be able to see our life histories as having multiple layers. There’s the experience we went through, but there’s also the interior growth of understanding, patience, wisdom, and so forth. And sometimes we go through something so difficult and painful that possibly the only “benefit” we see is the fact that we survived at all. Still, God has been with us in the enduring and the survival.
Also, we can look back on relationships and ask, How was God present in that person? We believe that people are made in God’s image, although in some people that image is more evident than in others. Even in people we don’t like there is some remnant of God’s image—are we willing to see it? If we do see God’s image in people, we can’t simply write off people as hopeless or no good.
Are you willing to see God’s history intertwined in your own?