To tell the truth, whenever I hear someone say they have found Jesus I groan inside, put a forced smile on my face, and say something non-committal like, “Gee, that’s nice!” Internally, a very large part of me wants to say, “I didn’t even realize he was missing!” It’s not that I doubt the sincerity of their discovery, it’s that I doubt the reality and permanence of their discovery. It’s even worse when they “have the Holy Spirit come into [their] life!” In my experience, it’s wonderful that the Holy Spirit is often described as a bird because, quite often, when the Holy Spirit descends upon someone it turns out it is only making a refueling stop and, often as not, is cleared for take off within a week or two.
The truth is that sudden-onset, dramatic and lasting conversion experiences are few and far between. In my experience, when a sudden conversion is closely tied to a major life crisis it is more often a case of wishful thinking – especially when the crisis related to addictions, loss of child custody, or legal problems – than actual conversion. At such times, well intended but severely misguided religious types who believe that our emotions are reliable measures of spiritual experience often stumble upon these God-craving, crisis-laden, temporary converts-in-waiting and inform them with great joy that they have found the Lord. Believe it or not, our emotions are a pretty poor indicator of the presence of God or the Holy Spirit – though they can be a pretty good indicator of gastrointestinal distress.
Ultimately, the spiritual journey is a long-term undertaking. Sudden changes must be evaluated over time before they can be considered authentic. Micro-managing, or micro-evaluating, the spiritual journey is a recipe for becoming entangled in a maze of distraction and discouragement. Instead of looking for God, or one of God’s associates, a far safer and more productive task would be to look for our authentic self. When we succeed in finding, accessing, and learning to love our authentic self, we can be sure we will have found God.
Perhaps counter-intuitively, the journey to authenticity can be messy business. We will discover layer upon layer of ego, self-deception, distorted beliefs and perceptions, denial, and a host of other less than flattering qualities that “feel” very different that orgiastic pseudo-conversion experiences. The reward for that work is the lasting joy of discovering underneath all the layers we thought we needed to be acceptable a completely acceptable, lovable, Divine self that has been there all along just waiting to be found. Ironically, if we give up searching for God and look instead for ourselves, we will find both, together. That’s something worth getting excited about, although it probably won’t impress your parole officer.