Reaching gracepoint

gracepoint Reaching gracepoint

One thing that’s missing from the sidebar here at the newly-designed blog is my Why I Believe in God post. I used to keep it up there to give new readers a high-level explanation of what convinced me of God’s existence, thinking that it might even offer fellow seekers insights that could help them walk their own paths of conversion. But when I re-read it in the process of transferring my files over to the new host, I realized that it doesn’t give the full picture of how I came to believe in God.

Back then, I thought of my conversion as 100% my doing: I gathered evidence for God and Christianity based on reason, facts, and experience. I concluded that it was more likely than not that this was all true, and therefore I chose to have faith in God and his Church. The end.

It sounded right. That seemed like what happened from my perspective back in late 2006. But now, a few years later, I see things that I didn’t see back then. In fact, now that I have that objectivity that only time can bring, when I compare my old, atheistic mindset to the vibrant faith I have today, I see that what has happened within me is impossible. Seriously, impossible. It’s not something I could have done on my own.

I’d heard along the way that faith is a gift. I’d even read the part of the catechism that talks about faith, and I’d always feel puzzled about that part where it says:

In faith, the human intellect and will cooperate with divine grace: “Believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by God through grace.”

I didn’t get it. At the time, I thought of experiencing God’s grace as some hugely powerful event that involves lots of drama and weeping, so I figured that that last part somehow didn’t apply to me. I’d done the whole “act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will” part, but God must have forgotten to move me by grace.

It seemed to be something that only happened to other people (like in former atheist Joan Ball’s powerful experience of instant conversion, which she describes here). I chalked it up to spiritual ineptitude on my part: even if God were to try to give me some moment of grace, I’d write it off as emotional experience, analyze it to death, dissect it from every possible angle until any power it may have contained had been killed. I went the safe, boring route that was a better fit for my engineer genes: I simply read and researched and made a purely intellectual decision.

But the more I consider what has happened in my soul (including the occasional “I can’t believe I believe this…but I do!” moments), I see now is that I could never have had the level of belief that I have today without a supernatural force acting within me. Though my beliefs are still — have always been — founded on reason, I believe at a level that surpasses reason. It’s more of an awareness of God that has seeped all the way down into the innermost recesses of my subconscious, rather than a mere conclusion I drew based on analysis. And that’s not something I could have willed my way into.

In other words, just like other converts, my conversion did hinge on the direct action of God in my life — it just looked different for me.

The way I think of it now is that every conversion follows the same basic process: you use your free will to seek God. The way you seek will be totally different than the way someone else seeks: a naturally spiritual person may have only a five-second “seeking” process consisting only of beholding a glorious sunset; a more analytical person might take years to read up on reason-based arguments about God. Whatever the process, at some point you’ve seen enough data that you become open to God. As time goes on you become more and more sincerely open to his presence, and, at some point, you reach a tipping point: a level of openness where you can finally receive an abundance of the grace that God has been trying to give you all along. And only then will you be filled with that deepness of belief that simply would not have been possible through human intellect alone.

I think of it as reaching gracepoint, a word I made up to pinpoint that first moment when a person has opened the doors of their mind and heart enough to have deep communion with God.

Different people will get there different ways, but the two things that I’ve noticed that everyone seems to need in order to reach this “gracepoint” are:

  1. Some reason to consider believing (anything from an unusual experience, inner feeling, compelling data, etc.)
  2. Humility

In my case, for example, my reason to believe came from all my research. After that, I considered myself a “believer” in the sense that I thought it probable that God existed. I figured I’d stay in that lukewarm state forever. But that’s when factor #2 (humility) came in: everything blew up. Our business started failing, our finances tanked, I developed a life-threatening blood clot during pregnancy, then had another (unexpected) pregnancy right after that. It was humbling, to say the least.

I wasn’t so flip about everything. My questions about God and the meaning of life got a lot less petulant and a lot more sincere. My ego was down for the count, and I was able to seek truth without the spiritual racket of pride blaring in the background. And it was there, in one of those moments during that difficult time, that I reached gracepoint — I finally opened my soul to a point that the presence of God could flood in. And that is when I began to believe — I mean to really know that God is real down to the core of my being.

And that’s what my old piece about coming to belief in God was missing: I made it sound like it can be all intellectual. I implied that the solid faith I have now came from me alone. The truth, I see now, is that all my research, effort and experiences simply got me to gracepoint. And the rest was up to God.

————-

UPDATE: Some readers rightly pointed out that conversion is all grace, including the seeking part. I should have clarified that better in the post. Perhaps a better explanation would be to say that the “gracepoint” moment was when the scales tipped for me to actively cooperate with grace at a much bigger level than I had before and, after that, I no longer had to put so much of my own effort into it.

I think I made the mistake in the way I phrased it because, to be honest, I did not feel God’s grace in the slightest in the seeking process. It was there, of course, but it sure didn’t feel like it. But after that tipping point, I was as aware of God as I am of the sun. Faith was just a given after gracepoint, whereas I’d had to struggle through it up to that point.

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Enter the Conversation...

20 Responses to “Reaching gracepoint”
  1. This was beautiful! My husband has fallen away from the church and no longer believes. For me, it seems so crazy that he can’t see the truth, but I suppose he needs to be open and more softened before he will reach grace point. Reading your blog gives me hope for him. Thank you for writing! :-)

  2. Lana says:

    Jen–usually I am right with you. I thought that maybe I was just misunderstanding you, but the final sentences seem to indicate that I am not. The theology here is a little off in the sense that the “seeking” part is also grace. Everything is a gift–we are always on the receiving end. Even from the very start, when we believe we are seeking, we are actually embracing (see Council of Trent).
    When it comes to your growing and deepening understanding of the nature of faith, it is appropriate to call it “gracepoint” in the sense that there are always deeper depths that we can go to. Yes, humility takes us there; and yet having a continuous and ever-growing desire for humility is also a grace! I don’t know how to explain this very well, and I hope other commenters will make a stab at it (SteveG–you still out there?)
    I look forward to reading you more of your thoughts on this. It is all very mysterious and wonderful.

  3. MIchelle says:

    I love this. I’m a cradle Catholic. I had my “fallen away” days, too. These days though, I am truly amazed at my level of belief…and I know that it is all God’s doing. And I find myself wondering why I am worthy at all of this. My heart swells to epic proportions sometimes at Mass. I break down emotionally when receiving absolution. I am filled with Joy…as I live my faith and I don’t feel like it is a chore. And I KNOW…that is only possible because of God’s Grace. It has to be the only way possible.

  4. Jennifer says:

    Love the new design!

    This is funny–I’m just reading about Evelyn Waugh, and he wrote about the conversions of his characters in Brideshead Revisited that grace seeks you out and catches you, usually at the moment of your lowest resistance: like when you are falling down drunk, or sick in bed, or near ruin, or near death.

    The emotional conversion–not the intellectual one–you describe sounds exactly like that!

  5. Ebeth says:

    hey Jen! Love your new bloglift!

    You have been a true blessing to all of us and am glad you are a believer with a passion!!

    Hugs to you and yours!
    Ebeth

  6. Eva says:

    Thanks Jen, that was fascinating, and I’d never read Joan Ball’s blog before- like I need a new bookmark! I’m obviously not at grace point yet, unfortunately. I’m still able to neatly hit every claim down with a deft rational explanation- even though I would rather not.
    Oh well, I suppose it’s all about the waiting…..

  7. Sam says:

    I love that you see this, now. Isn’t it funny, how we think we have it all figured out, things fit neatly in boxes, even something as wild and unbelievable as a living God. How I’ve always heard it – I come from an evangelical background – is that God is continually pursing a relationship with us. He never stops running towards us, or waiting for us to open the door to Him. So, coming to a belief in Him is never just our own idea. Still, I believe it’s wholly a choice of our free will. I just picture God as the father in the Prodigal Son story, watching for us, and running to meet us in the road. We didn’t even have to make it to the front door. So beautiful.

  8. Christine says:

    Amazing how the Holy Spirit works… I love reading your posts… now if only I can convince my best friend to read your blog. Her stubborn excuse..”You can’t prove it, it isn’t there”… 19 years ago as she was giving birth to her daughter, something went wrong & Dayna went without oxygen for several minutes leaving her with moderate to high cerebral palsy. My friend claims that if there is a loving God then He would never have let that happen to her baby. She was a “good” Christian then & didn’t deserve this… her life is so sad & empty yet she refuses to believe in a all loving God… Thank you for your beautiful writings!

  9. Elicia says:

    I loved reading this post. As a revert, I had a similar experience this spring. For a few months, I too felt that I was only making a logical decision, but I began to have these moments during Mass that were completely unexplainable moments of grace and understanding.

  10. Erica says:

    Yes, totally, absolutely, and yet …
    Maybe
    Maybe your original post should stay up.
    Because, for the seeker who lands here, who is in that earlier place, who has not yet reached his or her own gracepoint and who, like you, like me, can not even begin to wrap his or her mind around the concept of God’s grace, God’s reaching out to us, God’s participating and making the search for Him possible at all … maybe for that person, your original post would be more helpful. More of a meeting along their path.

    I don’t know, but, I think it’s worth considering. The longer I walk with Jesus, the more I see how we’re all on a journey, and each stage is precious, and to treat those on an earlier stage of the journey with gentleness and care and respect and to not overwhelm them and demand them to open their minds to everything immediately is to behave very much like God behaves with me, with all of us. He’s so … patient. Doesn’t He just wait and wait and wait on us to get to Him in the speed with which He’s created us to find Him? I don’t know everything, I could be very wrong here, but I think there was great beauty and honesty and truth in your first post too.

    This clarification was lovely, though, and true, and I join you and say yes, yes, yes, and amen!

  11. Rachel says:

    Reading this post made me feel so grateful all over again for my own conversion. You’re absolutely right that it takes humility, and God humbled me, all right. :)

  12. Amy says:

    Wow, Jennifer, you have a whole new look! I made a deal with myself a while back that I would avoid reading your blog, because I had reached a point where I felt like I was basically just arguing with your posts or with commenters, judging you, and using your blog as a place to vent my frustration.

    However, I’m at a healthier, more emotionally stable place in my life now, and even though I don’t know you personally, Conversion Diary once held an important place in my blogging/seeking life, and it sounds strange to write it, but I missed you! So I thought I’d just have a peek. But all it takes is me saying, “Oh, I’ll just have a little peek at what Jennifer is up to,” and I’m hooked again! But there are certainly far worse things I could be hooked on than your writing ;-)

    I suppose it is because we are both from non-religious backgrounds, but you seem to have a knack for zeroing in on topics that grab my attention. And grace was always one of those things I never understood.

    I honestly feel that when I was in the thick of my quest for faith, I was truly seeking God. In my case, I overanalyzed the reason/intellect/logic side of it to the point that, in the end, I realized that I couldn’t accept Christianity based on logic and, and most likely never would, but in spite of that, deep down, I truly did want to believe. Had I been able to turn that side of my personality off, perhaps, but I am the way I am, whether that’s God’s doing or just a toss of the dice.

    It may seem like I’m rambling here, but there is a point. The idea that a person coming to faith is ultimately God’s doing makes me wonder why God doesn’t do more, considering all of the nonbelievers out there. According to Christianity, God is a shepherd who leaves the flock to find the one lost sheep and bring it back to the fold. So here’s my analogy: I was the lost sheep. I wasn’t a runaway sheep or a disillusioned sheep or even an oblivious, ignorant sheep; I wanted to be with the flock, I was actively, desperately looking for it, but I was having trouble finding my way. But my sheepish traits, whatever they were, were holding me back.

    If grace is a gift, if faith is something God wants everyone to have, why wasn’t I, who truly wanted it, and was actually miserably unhappy because I couldn’t find it, able to “receive” it? I was aware of humility being important, and I “tried” to be humble, but apparently didn’t succeed. If I could have figured out a way to humble myself enough to receive the gift of fatih, I most certainly would have done so at the time. But how does one make oneself be humble? And if that requires an act of God, why wouldn’t God take that step for me? I don’t understand why someone like Paul, who hated and persecuted Christians, God helped with bells and whistles, but someone like me, who actually wanted to be a Christian, God didn’t feel the need to bother.

    Now that I’ve given up on the story, I suppose it really doesn’t matter, because I don’t actually believe God did help others while ignoring me, but I would be interested in how Christians interpret my experience. To say that I just haven’t experienced a humbling-enough event in my life… I don’t know that that does it, because there are millions of people who never come to faith, in spite of extremely trying circumstances. Surely God doesn’t require something horrible like the death of one of my children for me to reach the acceptable level of humility (and if so, I would just as soon remain unsaved, thanks). Why does a particular event turn some toward God and others away? And if God created us, wouldn’t he know exactly what we needed to experience to bring us to that “gracepoint?” If so, why would he provide that for some and not for others?

    For now anyway, I am comfortable and contented with simply saying “I have no idea” to the question of God. Whether that will always be the case I don’t know, but I’m not looking for debate; I’m simply curious how you or your readers would interpret my seeming failure. And to emphasize my intentions of goodwill, I will “take my responses off the air” so to speak, reading them with as open a mind as I am capable and not replying with “Yes, but…” arguments, and giving my thank you’s in advance—thank you!!

    Ugh! I didn’t intend to write such a long comment here, but then I never do… feel free not to post it if you don’t feel it adds to the conversation.

    peace,

    amy

    • Hi Amy!

      Always nice to hear from you. It’s a great question, and not only that has a short or easy answer. I guess the most simple response would be to clarify what the possibilities are of what could be going “wrong” from the Christian perspective. It seems to me that the only possible options are:

      1. There’s some lack of openness on your part.

      2. God has chosen not to move in a discernible way in your life because it’s not the right time; it’s part of his larger plan for you to be out in the desert for a little longer.

      3. God has responded to your efforts but it haven’t noticed, perhaps because it looked different than you expected.

      (Again, this is from the Christian perspective, since that’s what you were asking about.) There’s no telling which one is going on, though it sounds like it’s not #1 since you’ve certainly covered a lot of basis in your search.

      As always, I wish you well, wherever your journey leads you.

  13. Young Mom says:

    I always understood salvation and faith through the lense of grace. Now I find myself wondering whether or not God really wants me. I feel like I been from fundamentalism to athiesm to questioning all over again in the last 6 months. It’s frustrating. It’s confusing.

  14. Amy says:

    Is there a way to subscribe to post comments? That would be a nice feature to add–something you had on the old setup, though I frequently forgot to check that little box!

  15. drustee says:

    It has been said that if you think God exists, then begin to live as if He does. Perhaps this is what humility consists of – serving without the consolation of receiving special signs.

  16. I have come to think of it like this, especially in talking through it over and over again with children, mine, and those I teach on Sundays.

    Before God gave you His spirit you were dead. He wanted to make you alive in Him, but you needed to open your mouth to him and let Him breath His life into you. When you were dead you didn’t even know at first that it was possible to be alive. You didn’t know you were dead. But little by little God worked in you and you began to believe that it was possible to become alive, that it was possible for God to breath life into you. It is possible for a (spiritually) dead person to believe that life is possible, it is possible for them to even want and seek this life as they begin to see that they are dead. But they cannot be brought to life until God breathes his Spirit into them. The journey toward life is all about learning to trust God enough to let Him breathe his life into you and stop trying to breath on your own strength anymore but let his life flow through you.

    I find it helpful to tell this story because it leaves out so many easily misunderstood and overly loaded words such as faith, belief, grace, etc. and gets at the heart of the story itself. The Bible says we were dead, but now we are alive in Christ, and that it is He who makes us alive. But we can prevent Him from giving us the spirit. Sometimes we are afraid to trust him and so don’t allow him, sometimes we are too proud and believe we can breath on our own and have to do it our way. Most often I find that we are afraid, especially we are afraid that if we stop breathing on our own he will not meet us with His breath. We are afraid of dying, even though we are already dead.

    This is the story I tell my kids anyway. Hopefully someone else will find it helpful to their understanding?

  17. Chris D says:

    Jen:

    Is there a blog post with a list of some of the reading and research you did leading up to your conversion? Most apologetics seem a little theologically dense for the newcomer.