I'm not an overly emotional person when it comes to my faith. In college, I went to a worship service type thing (not sure what to call it exactly - it wasn't a regular church service, mostly just music) with a couple friends. There were nice things about it, but what didn't resonate with me was all the getting up and throwing your head back as you sang, or lifting your arms up to the heavens. People would, at random, stand and throw their arms skyward in a very emotional display of praise.
Now don't get me wrong, I wasn't put off by it, or feel the need to criticize. But there was an emotional component to it that I didn't get - I didn't feel. I grew up being taught that you're supposed to love God, and I have plenty of friends who would happily sport an "I heart Jesus" bumper sticker, and really mean it. But I've struggled with what it really means to love God. What does that mean? Am I supposed to feel something? I know what love feels like. I love my husband, my kids, my family, my friends. But does loving God feel the same way? And how do you sustain that feeling, once you get it?
Those were questions I grappled with a lot as my husband and I searched for our church home. We spent some time in a small evangelical church. We know the people who essentially started it, so we tried it out. There was a lot of emotion involved. Emotion provoking sermons (either by a pastor, if they had one, or a recorded sermon if they didn't), emotion provoking music. They, and others we know of similar religious persuasion, often talk of what they "get out of the sermon" or "what church does for them" and how they "feel" when they go.
All of this was perpelxing for me, coming from a Catholic upbringing. Not that I found Catholic mass emotionless, but that never seemed to be the purpose of attending. And although I know my mom, who was the primary person in my young life to introduce and teach me the faith, has a deep relationship with God, she's also somewhat private about it. So those open displays of faith-emotion were a little foreign to me.
And it got me thinking - do I really love God? How do I know?
I came to realize, over time, that similarly to the way I choose to love my husband or my family or my friends, I choose to love God. Even though I don't often feel any deep emotion when I think of God, or when I pray - that's ok. Loving God isn't only about feeling something. It's about making a choice.
Having said all that, I had a rather emotional moment at mass this morning. I had just received Communion, and was back at my spot, which happened to be in the front row (for good or ill with three little kids). I closed my eyes to pray and found the words came so easily, it was almost as if I didn't think of them myself. I thanked God for my life, for my family, for our wonderful parish and the community I was surrounded by. I felt more open to God than I have, maybe ever - asking Him to do His will through me. To give me an open heart to do His work in the world while I am here. And I found myself thinking, in my prayer, "Please fill me up with your grace and love, because I love you."
And I felt it.
It took me a little by surprise because I don't normally have moments of such spiritual emotion, especially when I'm hodling my unruly 19 month old daughter, and having to worry about what my boys are doing as they get bored at the end of mass. But I did. I felt a deep and grateful love for God and the sacrifice of Jesus. It was really wonderful.
I don't practice my faith for the sake of those emotion filled moments. But I'm grateful for the one I had today. I feel open to God, to recieve his spirit and live out my faith. I hope I can live up to the challenge.