Years ago, in a troubled time when I was blind and lost and didn’t know how to navigate, God blessed me with a powerful experience that lasted for several days. During that time, I could feel Jesus’ presence and his love for me. This was the first time since I was a young child that I had experienced Jesus’ Presence, and it would be five years before I experienced his Presence again.
The experience began in a way that was hard for me to comprehend. I had been trying very hard to please God for a very long time, and I thought I had failed. Just before I felt Jesus’ presence, I screamed at God that I would never try to please God again. It wasn’t long before I became aware of Jesus’ presence and heard the words, “Stop trying.” The voice was gentle, and I felt loved and comforted, but I couldn’t believe that Jesus would say “stop trying” to someone who had just screamed in anger at God.
For maybe an hour, I experienced an intense inner conflict that felt like a power struggle between two ways of knowing. My head was telling me that Jesus would never comfort someone in my situation, and I was afraid that something evil like Satan was trying to trick me. At the same time, my sensory system was telling me that Jesus was present and was comforting me. It was a war between theology in my head and Jesus’ Presence and love in my sensory receptors. Before long, Presence prevailed, and fear was gone.
Soon after this experience, I noticed that my “faith center” had moved from my head to my body, and that I was feeling stronger. Before this experience, my head had been my faith center because it held my beliefs about God. After the experience, my faith became a “body belief”—less about concepts and more about memory and orientation, like my sense of gravity and sense of equilibrium, or like a young child’s faith in her parents.
Years later, when I was seeing a psychologist-spiritual director, I told her about the experience. Both of us puzzled over why God waited so long to intervene and why Jesus told me to stop trying. Over time, as she heard the details of my exhausting efforts to please God, she realized that I had an anxiety disorder associated with religious beliefs called Scrupulosity. After reading about the disorder, I realized that God’s timing had been perfect and that Jesus’ words and Presence had freed my spirit from a cycle of self-blame, guilt and misguided self-effort that had kept me focused on myself rather than the Light.
These days, I am rarely blind and lost at the same time and rarely overly scrupulous. I think this is because, in my efforts to “stop trying” and to listen instead to my Present Teacher, my focus slowly shifted from myself to the source of my faith. With this new orientation, I was able to rediscover my natural way of navigating.