I didn’t grow up in the church. Church was a place to visit on special occasions, like weddings, funerals, or baptisms. As a kid, I wasn’t invited to many of those, which kept church and God off my radar for years.
In a strange twist, it was a TV evangelist of all people who introduced God into my life. I describe it as such because so often we associate TV with popular culture, with noise and distraction, and, because of that, a movement away from the quiet we need to connect with Christ. Not for me. The moment I heard this minister’s sermon, I dropped to my knees and committed myself to a life with God in it.
As a way to convey my intentions and how serious I was about God, I became baptized in the church. I was 26, and I was certain the ceremony would solidify my new path. Parishioners congratulated me, as did my friends, and I knew I had made the right choice. My life, I believed, was about to change in a big way, which was welcome to me.
For the previous decade, I had struggled with an eating disorder, anxiety, and indecision about my education and future career. My mother’s abandonment of my father and me when I was 14, my parents’ resulting divorce, and each of their remarriages to other people had taken their toll. I was due some peace, or so I believed. This was to be my time, and my baptism was sure to be my entrance to automatic salvation.
So, I waited. I waited for the big moment, the moment when my life would be different from what it was, which was tumultuous. Bit by bit, I began to see signs. I decided to become a registered dietitian. I got a great job and moved to a beautiful apartment in a new city. And most poignantly, I met Jim, the man who was destined to become my husband.
These were definite improvements in my situation. I had a promising career and a burgeoning relationship that offered me the chance at a stable family life, including marriage and motherhood, which I desperately craved. However, in secret, I wondered why I didn’t feel more differently inside. I still felt as if I was walking on shaky ground, as if I could lose my footing at any time, despite the beautiful facade I had and was building around me.
As is often the case because the little voice inside us rarely steers us wrong, I was correct to feel insecure. Not long after my new husband and I married and moved into our home, which was grand by most standards, and I gave birth to my son, the cracks appeared as if on cue. As I would learn much later, God knows what we might not. In this case, it was that my baptism was one in name only. It was a ceremony, all right, and a start, but I hadn’t yet connected to God in a way that would effectuate the baptismal experience I thought I had.
As my marriage deteriorated and my husband’s outbursts, which were mostly directed at our young son and me, increased in frequency and intensity, so, too, did my anxiety. Once again, my life had become tumultuous, thrusting me back to a time quite similar to my college days when I was at my worst. Except now, I had a baby to care for and couldn’t afford to fall apart. He was depending on me to take care of him as any child would.
Out of sheer desperation, though I know now it was God who led me to it, I started a meditation practice to quiet my thoughts so I could get done what I needed to during the day without falling apart. At first, I could only sit for five minutes because I was that anxious. Five minutes felt like five hours. That lasted for about a year. In year two, I added a devotional chant to my morning routine, and by year three, I was able to meditate for a full 10 minutes, which I spent sitting in silence, chanting, and eventually, praying.
I prayed for what I needed, which was help. I began with the Lord’s Prayer. It was all I knew, and it was better than not praying at all. I was weak and needed God’s strength, so I asked Him for it. I asked for a number of other things at the time, all of which were for me. I asked for direction, and God provided what I needed to move forward, especially the courage to file for divorce.
Even so, I was still caught up in a vicious cycle of abuse. I was self-righteous. I told everyone who would listen what was going on in my life. I told them my husband was a narcissist. I reported how he hurt me, and as a consequence, our son, who was usually in earshot with his verbal assaults. But what I was really telling them was that I was a victim.
But God had something else in store for me aside from a life of fear, which I masked with my anger and by pointing blame. One morning, while meditating, I heard God’s voice. He told me to pray for Jim instead of praying for myself.
Huh? I should pray for the man who was making my life, and my son’s, miserable? A man who didn’t appreciate me and berated me whenever he felt like it? It didn’t make any sense to me. Of course, I knew enough from my religious studies so far that it was not for me to make sense of God’s will. So, I listened and began to pray for Jim.
What happened was completely amazing and unexpected. I stopped describing Jim as a narcissist and complaining about his behavior. Instead, I exhibited compassion for him, which I never had before. Until this transformation, when my heart of stone turned to flesh, I hadn’t realized how checked out I had become. It was only when I heard God’s voice for the first time that I was able to change and when I believe I truly was baptized.
The moment when I listened to God, when I followed His spoken word, is the moment my human spirit merged with God’s Spirit. From then on, I began praying for other people, not just myself. It was the ultimate irony that once I switched my focus away from me, I was the one to reap the benefits.
The quality of my life changed. I became less angry, more peaceful, and in control of my thoughts, actions, and emotions. I became creative, journaling every day about my hopes and dreams, and eventually started my business. I became a better parent to my son because I saw my life and the lives of others through the eyes of unconditional love, God’s love.
Before my baptism, I was caught up in my own suffering. My failings. After my baptism, my second, that is, my surroundings appeared much different and, most important of all, no longer hopeless. I was born again, seeing the world for the first time and all of the opportunities available to me. Christ had entered my life to share that good news. It was the gospel of His grace.
Today, my ex-husband and I are civil. We no longer argue. We never raise our voices. There’s only one voice I hear as a result, which is God’s. Now, when He tells me I’m the embodiment of possibility, I not only listen, but I also believe Him. Because of God’s love, I live a rich, full life. The best part is I never once had to ask for it.
Tonyah Dee has studied the Bible and wisdom traditions of the world for the last 30 years and teaches about finding ways to increase inner strength, stability, and confidence through practicing spiritual disciplines and healthy habits daily. Tonyah is a nutritionist, registered dietitian (R.D.), and earned her B.S. from Loma Linda University. She also holds certifications in Christ-centered life coaching, equine therapy, and meditation. Tonyah has been published in Scary Mommy, MSN, The Mighty, Mantra Wellness, CoveyClub, Thrive Global. Follow Tonyah on her blog, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Medium.