From a young age I arrived at the conclusion that God was not part of my life.
Even though my church schooling and regular Sunday church visits secured my belief that God existed, the idea that he was far too busy to help with the problems my family faced consumed me at the start of every prayer. To me, my prayers were empty words fuelled by a combination of doing what I was told and getting the words right.
God was just another unused name in my contacts, saved only for the comforting thought that he just might pick up if I called in an unlikely time of danger. Life itself was far more real than God was.
As I grew up I was obsessed with upholding the image that I was effortlessly keeping up with life’s rat race. Avoiding the shame of falling behind by immediately suppressing the ever-growing feelings of regret, anger and anxiety was all that kept me going.
A religious debate with my twin brother, who always had a strong faith, left me feeling even more frustrated than I did before. I wanted phrases like ‘God loves you’ and ‘God is great’ to be more than just vague or hollow words. Seeing how much sense it made to my brother and other Christians I knew left me feeling like I was being left out of some big secret. I needed to know what all the fuss was about.
The debate ended with my brother recommending I try Alpha. Visions of a Bible waving priest hijacking my free time to self-righteously rant about God’s ‘love’ and ‘greatness’ immediately popped up in my head, and initially made me averse to the idea.
Deep down, however, I knew that I needed a fearless, non-judgemental and trustworthy companion to help me deal with my past, present and future. According to my brother, God was the man for the job, but I didn’t really know or understand him.
I decided that Alpha was the way that God would be vetted for this position in my life. When I first walked through the door, it was completely different to what I expected. My group consisted of men and women from different backgrounds who, behind the shield of agonisingly awkward small talk, seemed to be fighting the same urge as I was to stand up and scream, ‘What on Earth am I doing here?’
Nothing, from the friendly group leaders and helpers to the free food, felt natural. The idea that something so well organised was a seemingly selfless act was ludicrous to me, and I was determined to find a crack in the welcoming façade.
The challenging debate topics of Alpha kept me keen on returning to the meetings. Every week I gained a clearer understanding of the role God wanted to play in our lives, as well as a hunger for more answers. The consistency with which the hosts listened and accepted everyone’s views was incredibly disarming, and, though I was still sceptical about Alpha, I couldn’t ignore the notion that all they wanted from me was to turn up, speak my mind and be myself.
We all came from different walks of life, but during our discussions my group connected to each other’s minds instead of our jobs, achievements or backgrounds. Soon I felt like I was among close friends instead of distant strangers, and this gradually gave me the confidence to let my guard down and be myself.
Alpha didn’t affect me immediately, but it was the start of a journey and I feel like I have become who I truly am because of it. My priorities changed for the better and the strong friendships I’ve built from the course are ones I’ll always treasure.