• Rowan Evans

Her Story: Joanne Bradford on Spirituality

It is no secret to those that know me, that I am a fan of the 'self help' genre. I love the sense that I will learn the secret to happiness, success, eternal youth by reading the words of others. So far its been a mixed bag, but when I read the Inner Fix, co-authored by Joanne Bradford, in 2017, I was so moved by its brilliant and accessible approach to self-healing, that I just hard to reach out to Joanne and tell her what I thought. She is an amazing voice, that I have been following ever since. Joanne now runs her own emotional consultancy, Motherheart, where among other things, she focuses on spirituality, and the role religion plays in modern life. Religion is a tricky subject for many, but Joanne shares her faith in an open-minded and accessible way, so when she agreed to speak to Storytellhers about her spiritual journey I knew we were in for a treat.  Read on for Joanne's take on Finding a Love Beyond Self-Love 

Have you ever wondered why people so often gasp “oh my god” at the point of orgasm? I certainly have. More on that later.

Up until my mid-20s, I was very much in pursuit of happiness outside of myself - seeking external recognition and success, validation through romance, soothing via alcohol, self-esteem from shopping purchases… You get the picture. 

A lot has changed over the past 6 years. I’ve been abstinent from alcohol and drugs. I married a great human being. We bought and renovated a house. I co-wrote a book with a major publisher. Yet something was still missing. My soul was seeking something… more. It seemed that the more I gained externally, the more this void became apparent.

My day-to-day work is running ‘Motherheart’. This consists of me offering counselling, EFT (emotional freedom technique) and sound healing. I’m a big advocate of learning to ‘mother’ and nurture oneself - hence the name. I’ve also been documenting my unfolding spiritual journey over the past few years on @motherheart’s Instagram feed. My intention has been to be as honest as possible about my process (and it really has been, and is, a process). I by no means have all the answers. I’m not sure anyone ever does.

Spirituality and faith is funny (as in funny-odd) because it isn’t a tangible, physical thing. It’s often conditioned by our upbringing, surroundings and the extent to which we’re truly willing to be open - with no caveats. And by caveats I mean not just embracing what’s ‘cool’ and in vogue, but genuinely seeking and listening for answers.

Everybody’s journey of faith (or lack there-of) is different and in this article I’m only sharing what I’ve experienced and what feels true for me. My encouragement would be to take what resonates - even if it feels challenging - and discard the rest. Personally, remaining open and teachable has been key to my growth.

Here’s what I know about the past 6 years of my life: the single thing that has helped and healed me most is my evolving relationship with God.

NB. The word ‘God’ used to make my toes curl, so apologies if you’re experiencing the same right now. Some call it Source, Spirit, Light, the Universe… but I’ve grown to be ok with calling this force greater than us, ‘God’. Hopefully you’ll be able to run with that for the next few minutes.

It appears that I’ve reached a point where I no longer desire to withhold what works for me for fear of alienating or causing discomfort to others. It would be telling a half-truth about how I got to where I am today and that would be doing all of us here a disservice.

We live in a time of Instagram gurus, when everything and anything gets promoted under the guise of ‘wellness and spirituality’… and pretty much none of it is free. I’ve been both bemused and intrigued to see the self-love movement grow in popularity over the past few years - an ideology that means well, for the most part. It’s not to say that there’s no useful information to be gleaned from it but, for me, the problem comes when we rely too heavily on other people as the source of our guidance.

It seems that ‘self-love’ all too often equates to narcissism - usually under the guise of endless selfies, celebration of ‘self’ and either selling or being sold to. More often than not, the gurus we follow point to themselves as figures to be worshipped and that just doesn’t sit well with me anymore.

Can any one trend or person consistently provide us with the guidance we seek? Personally, I’m not able to consistently be there for myself, never mind having the hopes of others’ pinned upon me. This, for me, is where a spiritual relationship comes in and why my work is increasingly pointing not to me, but to God.

I’ve had many questions when it comes to the possible existence of God over the last decade. For starters, why do so many of us utter “oh my god” whilst in a state of climax? Why do we lift our arms to the sky when we go to music festivals or nightclubs - almost like a form a worship? Also, what state of connection are we trying to reach when we use alcohol, drugs and all the things that (seemingly) lift us higher?

But my main question when it comes to God is this: Why, if he/ she/ it really exists, has he /she / it never revealed his/ her/ itself to us? Like why hasn’t this force come down and written in eyeliner on my bedroom mirror before my very eyes, “I exist - God.” That would’ve made me believe. I imagine it might be enough to convince you, too.

The advice I got as a result of all this questioning was simple:

Ask, in prayer, to be shown the truth about who God is.

So I did. Here’s what I got:

God kind of did do that - reveal himself, I mean - through the person of Jesus. According to Jesus, God sent Himself in human form to tell us who He was and how we could have a relationship with Him.

Now. Before the word ‘Jesus’ gives you the heebie jeebies, let me just say that I know… I know. I get it, a million times over. Human beings have done a royally shitty job of tarnishing God’s reputation via the human construct of ‘religion’. But Jesus wasn’t religious; he despised religious leaders.

Although, to be fair, bar the few I’ve met who find his name unfathomably offensive, my experience has actually been that a lot of people don’t actually mind Jesus too much. He seems - for many - to represent love, peace and purity. Even most spiritual thought-leaders (the guru types, on Instagram) speak respectfully of him. Almost all historians agree he existed and many people affirm that he was clearly a “very enlightened man”. The problem is… that isn’t who Jesus claimed to be.

C.S. Lewis makes the point far better than I can:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

And so I’ve been doing a lot of reading, listening and learning about Jesus and his teachings - and I don’t appear to be the only one. Justin Bieber is all in for Jesus. Selena Gomez says she had a profound encounter with Jesus on her 23rd birthday. Russell Brand was recently quoted saying, “My personal feeling is the teachings of Christ are more relevant now than they’ve ever been.”

What’s interesting to me is that over the years I’ve happily read many spiritual texts, but I’ve always avoided the Bible. My whole life, I’ve held strong opinions about (and resistance towards) a book that I hadn’t actually read. So, eventually, I decided to see what the holy book had to offer.

I’ll keep my observations to two brief points: 1) It wasn’t at all what I expected. 2) I was surprised to find that vast amounts of the inspirational quotes we see online these days are of biblical origin - they just aren’t attributed to it. Wisdom such as; ’this too shall pass’, ‘love of money is the root of all evil’, ’as you sow so shall you reap’, ‘charity begins at home’, ‘for everything there is a season’, ‘pride goes before a fall’… you get the gist.

But celebrities and anecdotes aside, what did Jesus say about who he was? *Warning*, I’m going to drop in some biblical scripture here, so get ready. It might feel like we’re back in an R.E. lesson in high school but I promise I’ll keep it short.

 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

(John 3:16-17, NIV)

I have many unanswered questions and gripes with God. But in spite of this, I have an evolving understanding that maybe we’re not supposed to be doing this thing called ‘life’ disconnected from source, from our creator. To live in this way is to unplug an electrical appliance and still expect it to function. The appliance might be able to run on battery power alone for a time but, sooner or later, it’ll need connecting to the mains.

I feel the need to caveat all of the above with the following: these realisations have brought up confusion and a lot of soul-searching for me over the past few years. It hasn’t been plain sailing, at all. There’s a degree of discomfort that comes with questioning or dismantling what we think we know; it can feel unsettling. But fear shouldn’t be a reason to leave these things unexplored.

The reassuring news is that if you feel the nudge to explore who God might be, you absolutely shouldn’t take my word for it. Ask; you have a direct line. It’s literally that simple.

Jesus said:

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye. shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh. findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

(Matthew 7:7-8, NIV)

In layman terms, it’s been said that God is a gentleman. He will knock but won’t enter uninvited; he’ll wait until you to open the door.

That’s exactly what happened for me. I asked to be shown the truth and I meant it. Everything sprung from there. God moves when we mean it, I believe.

Besides, I kind of feel like…. in asking, what’ve you got to lose?

With all that’s going on in this crazy world of ours, I’ll close with this quote by Lecrae:

“If you really want to be a rebel, read the Bible. ‘Cause no one’s doing that. That’s rebellion, that’s the only rebellion left.”

You can follow Joanne on Instagram @motherheart, for a mix cats, spirituality, emotional wellbeing and sobriety. Or contact her motherheart.co for more info on her emotional consultancy.