IT WAS 7 A.M. AND I WAS SITTING ON A HILL over 4,000 miles from home feeling completely lost. Physically, I knew where I was, but mentally—well, I was feeling pretty bleak. Two weeks previously, I'd left the United States for a five-week art study abroad trip to France. I should have been really excited, but the joy of this experience was being drowned in wave after wave of self-pity, confusion, and sadness.
The previous summer before my trip, I'd had some challenges involving illness, relationships, and school. I was feeling depressed about these past events, and was very impressed with how big they seemed. I'd held on to these past events, magnifying them, and then tried to make them disappear by praying with spiritual truths I had learned in my study of Christian Science. While I was grateful to be on this study abroad, and hoped that the change of scenery would help make the mental darkness disappear, I quickly discovered that because I had made such a big deal out of the depression, it was very hard to climb back out of this hole. Even when some inspiration came to me, I was so quick to counter it with something negative that I was actually regressing instead of progressing in my mental state.
I saw that there had never been a time where I had been hurt or separated from God. I stopped basing my life on sad moments in the past and started basing my life on Love, now.
After we arrived in Honfleur, France, and after a long day of touring the area, I just wanted to be by myself. The next morning I woke up early and walked out to a broad meadow from which I could see the harbor stretching out toward the English Channel in the distance. I was all set to try and sketch a masterpiece, but then depressing thoughts hit me again and I couldn't concentrate on drawing. At this point, I couldn't remember any spiritual ideas that I usually prayed with when I was feeling alone. The morning mist was gathering around me and the valley was getting darker. I tried to think of something a Christian Science practitioner might tell me, but when I got nothing, I closed my eyes—and for the first time since these challenges had started, I talked to God. I didn't do it nicely, either. I silently yelled at Him, "Where are you? I need you. I need something. I can't do this on my own."
As I spoke, all the reasons that I thought my life was terrible spilled out of me. I spat this all out to God and after a couple minutes, I felt empty. I'd gone through everything I could think of: I'd shown God my past year and even my fears about the future. Suddenly, the words, "I love you," flooded my consciousness. That was it. No complicated phrases, no theories, no promises of a happy future some day, but just Love's love, right then.
I opened my eyes, and the scene reflected my mental awakening. The mist was disappearing and sunbeams were bouncing off every spot of dew, making the whole valley glow. Even a nearby herd of cows, wandering around and mooing, sounded awake. Everything looked brighter—was brighter! I realized I was seeing what the valley truly looked like. I let this awakening wash over me for a moment, expecting some vast, complex spiritual insight to come to thought, but I soon discovered that this feeling of divine Love's presence was enough. I was loved, and this Love truly wipes away anything unlike itself.
I stayed on that hillside for the rest of the morning, just listening. I never did get any drawing done, but it didn't matter. For the first time, I was basking in God's love.
Before I'd left for this trip, I'd asked friends for advice about traveling. They offered some tips, such as staying in a hostel that had a kitchen and taking the time to explore the local scene. The last friend I asked, though, didn't give me a travel tip like I was expecting. He said, "Think about what you can give; then you'll be able to see what's being given to you. But if you only think about what you can get, then you'll only see what seems to be taken from you." This was no mere travel tip, this was a rock to build on.
Back at the Honfleur hillside, I thought about my friend's words. I had been so full of self-pity that I'd been blind to the amazing good around me. Not only was I blessed to be studying in France, but we also had an amazing teacher, friends all around, and the sheer joy of broadening our understanding of art and life—the good was endless. I had been so focused on what I thought I lacked that I'd missed what was being freely given to me. I resolved to not only remember this sense of full, divine Love, but to acknowledge it in my actions and thoughts from then on. I knew that this defining moment of the consciousness of Love was the truth, but I had to demonstrate it and I had to spread it. Sometimes sadness still tried to overtake me, but now I was able to keep moving forward because I knew that I was loved by God.
I didn't know this line from Science and Health at the time, but I've since discovered that I was learning to demonstrate something Mary Baker Eddy wrote: "Mortals must look beyond fading, finite forms, if they would gain the true sense of things. Where shall the gaze rest but in the unsearchable realm of Mind? We must look where we would walk, and we must act as possessing all power from Him in whom we have our being" (p. 264). I couldn't let my joy, hope, or health be informed by circumstances around me, however bad or good they seemed. My security and peace depended only on the fact that God loves me. I'd seen the promise of present heaven—the reign of Love, here and now—and nothing was going to persuade me that there was anything more powerful.
Since that trip, new experiences have profoundly deepened my understanding of the intensely individualized, focused love that God has for all His children. Something unexpected happened as well: I had complete healings of the memories of past events that had made me so upset. Instead of fixating on the past, I was learning to focus on the present and what I could give or appreciate every moment. If I'm truly living in Love, and living because of Love, then everything must be defined and informed by Love alone. As I committed more of my time to outward giving and recognizing what was being given to me, I saw that there had never been a time where I had been hurt or separated from God. I stopped basing my life on sad moments in the past, or on fears (or hopes) for the future, and started basing my life on Love, now.
I'm grateful to have discovered more of what Christ Jesus was talking about when he spoke of the harvest: "Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest" (John 4:35).
Goodness isn't waiting for a cue before it appears in our lives. God's love is here and now, and I've been so glad to learn (and keep on learning!) that I can go forward confidently, always trusting in this all-encompassing, comforting Love.
John Biggs is a Christian Science practitioner. He lives in Bend, Oregon.
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