Growing up in the South, your relationship with God is as important as knowing your blood type. There's no question as to whether or not you'll know God. It's just a fact. No one asks if you believe in God, they simply ask what church you go to. In some cases, children even attend preschool at a church (like me).
For many people, they never give a second thought to the idea of religion. Their parents introduce them to church at a young age, they become familiar with the bible, they make friends within their church, and from there their faith in God only grows stronger.
It wasn't that simple for me. When I was growing up, my family was moving a lot. We moved twice in my childhood, which meant a new home and a new school. My parents had trouble finding a church they liked enough to take us every Sunday, so most Sunday's we didn't go to church. My parents also believe in their children making their own decisions and being religious on our terms. So despite going to preschool at a church, I didn't grow up familiar with God. I knew of Him, I knew the Christmas and Easter stories, and I had memorized the nightly prayer that my parents liked for me to say. It never meant anything deeper than that to me, and I never comprehended religion. It was sort of like Santa Claus. Is He real? Do other people actually believe?
On the other hand, my grandparents were very religious. They both sang in the choir at their church, participated in all the cantatas, and left their radios on the gospel station at all times. I often visited their church, I sat through the songs, I listened to the pastor, and I was polite to all of the people. It was fun, and I enjoyed dressing nice and seeing my grandparents sing. A few summers I helped out with vacation bible school, and that's when I started to notice how uncomfortable I was. The truth was I had no idea about this God that everyone else so deeply loved and celebrated.
I started to resent religion, and avoided anything that had to do with church. I refused my parents encouragement to go to church on Wednesday nights, I stopped saying my "prayer" at night, and I wondered every Christmas if it was all made up nonsense.
During my high school years, I went through hell and back with bullying and not fitting in. I have never felt so alone in my life as I did in high school. Some days I wanted to get in bed and stay in bed for the rest of my life. I talked to my mom about it most days, which helped, but I still felt like I needed something, or someone to pull me out. I moped around for months, I wore all black as a "sign of rebellion", and ate lunch in the bathroom somedays to avoid interaction. I knew something had to change, and I knew I needed help.
After months of feeling sorry for myself and being miserable with my life, I prayed. Rather than repeating the words like a robot, I spoke the words directly to God. I felt so incredibly stupid, and I knew it was a last resort. I asked for help, I told Him I felt alone, and I prayed for a change. I cried and cried and realized how much I really wanted to know this God that every claimed made everything better. After I prayed, I felt a tiny glimmer of hope. My heart felt good, and my mind was blown.
I decided to talk to God daily. I decided to talk to Him throughout the day, and not just at night. I thanked Him when something good happened, I asked for strength when I felt anxious or sad, and I asked for guidence when I could feel myself slipping away. It helped so much. I started to feel like someone was with me, like someone had my back, and like things really were getting better. I realized that you really don't need anyone when you have God. He's the best company there is, and is there through your darkest times.
I started to care less about what mean people thought, and more about surrounding myself with nice people. I started to see beauty in everyday things, that used to seem useless. I appreciated blessings more than I ever had. I released all of my stress, anxiety, and worry to God and just left my life completely in His hands. Before I knew it, I had opened a bible, I was writing my prayers down, and I caught myself smiling at little signs of His presence throughout my day.
Knowing God is the most important thing I have ever done with my life, and it is even more special to me that I found Him on my own. I had to crash and burn and fall to my knees to see what I was missing. But after I realized who you can become and what you can accomplish through a relationship with God, I never turned back. I pray at my best, and I pray at my worst, and it makes life sweeter.
Your relationship with God is unique and no one can tell you how it should be. Find Him on your own, not because everyone else has and you think it's necessary. Now that I know Him and I believe on my own, everything else has so much more meaning.