Pages 98-102 of, God Is Just Love

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What do we tell our children about all of this? On an initial hearing of Psalm 78, which opens this chapter, it seems reasonable to assume that telling our children the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord is much easier than telling them of dark and the hidden things. However, that depends on your operational image of God. When the going gets tough, do you trust that the love of God will remain an ever-present force?

It took me many years to reach that point. I was in my late 30s before I confronted the truth that my own operational image of God was that, when circumstances got really bad, God would be absent. I was on my own. No help was forthcoming. The dreadful feeling that defined my life was a fear of abandonment. The root of that fear was my childhood experience of my father disappearing repeatedly because of a deadly condition. More than once, he went off to the hospital with my mother at his side to die. My brothers and I were sent to stay with grandparents.

As my parents struggled with this health crisis, they must have been exhausted with fright. Given the emotional boundaries in the mid-1950s, there was little attention paid to helping me process my terrors. I only came to fully face them many years later when they erupted in my life in the form of endless nights of weeping too deep for words. Yet, that eruption of pain from the past was the beginning of a new future wherein I eventually came to know, “God is Just Love.”

On the day you know that God is Just Love you will stop wishing, hoping, praying, pleading, or crying out, “God, do something!” You will know that God is always doing everything that Love can do. You, too, will then want to do everything that love can do to transform the world. You will also know that you can act to empower your children to know God’s present love.

When the Presence of God Surprises Us:  As a pastor and spiritual director, I know the huge obstacles that lay between most of us and that kind of deep faith that God loves us unconditionally. For many years, I have sat with men and women who came to tell their stories honestly—stories that sometimes include terrible experiences and horrendous family secrets. I am always amazed at how these adults have survived, often courageously and against all odds. Often, the people telling me these stories say they are convinced that a loving God would never have tolerated such trauma. As I listen, I grieve with them. Eventually, the moment arrives when I respond with questions like:

  • How did you survive?
  • What did you hold on to?
  • With all that pain, how did you get through to tomorrow?

I have heard answers like:

  • I lay in bed crying, holding onto my doll. Her name was Susie. I cried again and again, “At least you love me, Susie.”
  • My kitty, Persimmon. We curled up in a corner and we held on to each other. I petted, she purred.
  • Mrs. Tindley. She seemed to know. I walked by her house coming home from school. She always smiled and waved and many days we had cookies together.
  • I would pretend that Miss Jane, from TV’s Ding Dong School, was my mother. I drew pictures for her. She always loved them; but I hid them from my parents.
  • My bed was covered with stuffed animals. My favorite was Floppy Ears; one Christmas my Sunday school teacher gave him to me. I was not alone at night and less afraid.
  • One summer, my aunt, who lived far away, came for a visit. She gave me a book, Owly.  It’s tattered, but I still have that book. She hugged me and said that she had more hugs for me than there were stars in the sky.
  • My dog, Bison, he looked like a buffalo. He always knew when I needed a friend. Wherever I hid, Bison found me. He died when I was 17. I cried for days.

A doll named Susie? A kitty named Persimmon? A book called Owly? The list goes on and on. There was something that each child held tight. Each doll, pet, book, person, was how God’s presence was experienced at the time. When adults, who must learn to care for their inner wounded children, remember and make the connection—they discover a reason for considering that God may not have been absent, uncaring, or even raging, as a human father had been experienced. It becomes possible for the adult to give God another chance and convince the wounded child that she/he will be safe. Suddenly it becomes possible for that adult to be Just Love to a vulnerable child.

The point is simply this: You and I cannot convincingly tell our children the stories of “the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, the power of God and the wonders God has done” unless the stories jive with our own life stories. We can never trust an image of God we see as absent, angry, judgmental, aloof, uncaring, violent or legalistic. In fact, maybe the most damaging image of God in a time of crisis is the assumption that God is in control of everything and, thus, has caused this catastrophe and is responsible for suffering. In this image of God, devastation is our just deserts. God is the great punisher and we have run out of time.

That’s why I urge people not to waste another minute. The time is now to seek Truth—God as love and only love.

That’s when people ask me: Where do I start? Often, I refer them to a book, like Philip Yancey’s Disappointment with God, which is terrific for helping readers to re-form their destructive images of God. I also like to give copies of Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling. She speaks to the reader as the voice of God, helping us to feel God up close and personal. She must personally know this God of love very well to write this way.

Nearly always I encourage people to find a safe place to connect with others on the journey. I often say things like:

  • There is a place, a community, where you can share your struggle to trust God, to really know God as Just Love. Look for that place until you find it.
  • Stay away from people, including many Christians, who feel they are empowered to judge you.
  • Just start. Decide that knowing God’s love and being love to others is the foremost priority of your life.
  • Be honest about your idols and tell them to, “Get out!”
  • Tell God, “Come on in!” Once you invite God into your life, one good next step is to pay attention to the words of the Lord that are always coming your way, like invisible radio waves that surround you.  
  • Become available to God by spending time in creation, in silence, in the Bible or a devotional book and especially in prayer.

In spiritual-life retreats, I often share a devotional practice “Listening to God in Scripture” through four steps:

  1. In reverence, take the Bible in your hands. Ask God to be present in your reading and in your day.
  2. Read and listen for 10 minutes. Notice when a word or phrase captures your attention.
  3. Write that word down. Take it with you into your day. Notice when that word of God connects to your life experience.
  4. Thank God, at the end of the day, for being with you. People who practice this discipline for many days begin to notice God’s presence in the ordinary events of life. Their relationships with God begins to grow. Remember that God speaks every language, even the language of your “clumsy attempts.” Keep your antennas up.

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