Can you let yourself be loved?

Remember this, my friends: God is love, God cannot not love. Peter van Breeman says it much better than I can.

If we think God is a person who can divide his love, then we are thinking not of God but ourselves. God is perfectly one, the perfect unity. We have love, but God is love. His love is not an activity. It is his whole self.

It takes a lifetime to let ourselves be loved by such a fierce and tender God. God, though is a patient lover. We resist, we throw out the reasons we are not worthy of such a love and these excuses are swatted away by God’s gracious hand.

I was totally taken by surprise when my husband, Jack, proposed to me. I was still dating other men at the time, so obviously, he was much further along the relationship road than I was. In my shock, I asked him why he was proposing to me at this early stage of our relationship. He answered, “You’ve told me that you hold back your heart because you are afraid of rejection. I just want you to know that if and when you are ready to let your heart venture out, I will be there waiting for you.” Wow.

I had dated other men and had friends who had told me I was attractive, or had gifts to offer the world, but in my heart I thought, ‘Yeah, you don’t really know me, I’m actually quite ugly and selfish inside.’ But when Jack told me these things, I believed him. His love for me helped me believe God’s truth about myself. I decided I needed to let myself be loved by such a man. I agreed to marry him and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Such is God’s love for us. God knows we’ve been convinced through any number of circumstances and relationships that we are fundamentally unloveable. Yet God never forgets our true self, the beautiful soul he had in mind when he created us. He calls, invites and woos us into daring to believe his image of us is possible. Slowly, his love wins us over.

Anthony de Mello is quoted in Father Gregory Boyle’s book, Tattoos on the Heart,

‘Behold the One beholding you and smiling.’ It is precisely because we have such an overactive disapproval gland ourselves that we tend to create God in our own image. It is truly hard for us to see the truth that disapproval does not seem to be part of God’s DNA. God is just too busy loving us to have any time left for disappointment.

and again, Fr. Boyle,

God, I guess, is more expansive than every image we think rhymes with God. How much greater is the God we have than the one we think we have. More than anything else, the truth of God seems to be about a joy that is a foreigner to disappointment and disapproval. This joy just doesn’t know what we’re talking about when we focus on the restriction of not measuring up.

We need to let ourselves be loved by such a God.

With you on the journey,

Debby

This is part of a series entitled  The New Old, a look at familiar things God wants to make new. It begins here.

God’s Autobiography (cont)

Sorry about a lack of post last week. As I’m sure you can relate, I had a bit of a crazy week. Please read, comment and share these posts as you like. We’re in the middle of a series on the ways God wants to make old, familiar things new and fresh. Today we’re looking at part two of God’s self description. See part one here.

With you on the journey,

Debby

God With Us Matthew 1:23

By choice, God dwells within you. You are God’s home. No one picks a place to live that has no value, no redeeming qualities. People pick places to live they love. God wants to build a home in you, one built on a solid foundation. You may experience your foundation as weak, shaky, slapped together, and maybe this is so. Yet, God alone, the great engineer, architect and builder, will design, redeem, get rid of, build, furnish his home. God has a vision for God’s home. God will build his dream house within you. You point out the flaws, condemn and reject. God does not. God’s plan is to build a beautiful, showplace of a home within you, one God can joyfully inhabit and invite others to enjoy.

Helper Hebrews 13:6

It’s funny to think about God being our helper. I usually think of a helper as one who is paid minimum wage to do the busy work, so that the expert can focus on the important stuff. Yet God says he is our helper. What does this mean? How is God our helper? Well, God has an important assignment for you in this life. It is yours to accomplish. God comes along side, handling the details, clearing the way for you to walk in the good works prepared for you. Leave off worrying about the small stuff, trust your handy helper. You don’t need to micro-manage your life. But don’t forget that it is God’s quiet work that allows your success, give your helper glory and proper credit for the great life you’ve been given.

Husband Hosea 2:16

God invites Israel (read you and me) to relate to him as a husband. Whether you are a man or a woman, you can understand what a perfect husband would be and how he would treat his wife. This is the kind of relationship God wants us to experience. A husband cherishes, respects, protects, provides…the list goes on. This is a picture of God’s love for you.

Mother Eagle Deuteronomy 32:10-11

God is also feminine. A mother eagle is majestic. She feeds her young from her own mouth. She guards them against threats with her strong body. When they are ready, she stirs up the nest, encouraging them to try their wings. When their untrained wings haven’t yet figured out how to manage this flying business, she catches them when they fall. She makes sure they succeed. God is your mother eagle.

God’s brief autobiography

Fotolia_7105853_XSHere are just a few images of God’s self-description. I will list a few more next Monday.

Comforter 2 Corinthians 1:3,4

From the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: “To comfort is to cheer and encourage. It has a positive force as it indicates the dispelling of grief by the impartation of strength.” The comfort God gives does more than just honor and recognize your grief. God comes along side you in your pain (sorrow, sadness, loss) and gives you strength to bear it and hope for a good future.

Counselor Isaiah 9:6

God is wise and gives the best advice about what to do in life’s situations. (And you don’t have to pay $100/session.) Sit still. Quiet your anxious mind. Ignore pestering thoughts. Tell God all about your situation, include the specific details and your emotional reactions to the situation, pour it all out. When you are empty of words and your feelings are neutral, listen to the nudges of the Holy Spirit within you. Prayerfully explore the option. Ask for and look for confirmation, test it with scripture, trusted mentors. Be patient.

Deliverer Psalm 18

After David was rescued from the hands of his enemy, Saul, he sang a song of praise to God. The song included various names that described the relationship between God and David. He called the Lord my strength, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer, my God, my refuge, my shield, my salvation, my stronghold. Obviously David knew a powerful and caring God. Have you ever felt like David? Up against a powerful force that threatens your well being, your security? Afraid you will not have the strength or resilience to withstand the emotional assault? Like David, call on the Lord in the midst of your distress. He wants to deliver you.

Father of the fatherless Psalm 68:5

You were created to be loved perfectly. And even though your parents loved you the best they could, they fell short of perfection. God loves you with the love of an ideal parent. Your father may have been a wonderful parent, leaving you with an image of a heavenly father’s love; or he may have been a lousy one, creating a hunger for a perfect  parent, either way we are all in need of a spiritual parent that loves and accepts, teaches and corrects, respects and encourages us. We have been adopted into God’s family. God fathers (and mothers) our yearning soul.

To be continued in next Monday’s post.

The series of posts The NEW Old begins here. Join me each Monday as we explore how God wants to make old things new.

Unseating the gut god

empty throneMany of us live under the tyranny of a god we’ve created in our own image, a god who is cruel, punishing, aloof or uncaring. How do we unseat this false god and let God’s true character be our master?

Honesty

Our distorted image of God begins to change when we admit our fear, even hatred of this made-up being we’ve named God.

We’ve kept ourselves distant from God because we believed God was not trustworthy, or interested, or whatever. The Psalmist says, “God desires truth in the inner being.” Authentically voicing the reasons for our distance is valid prayer. Even if the emotional tone of your prayer is angry or accusing, you are bringing your truth into the presence of the God of Truth who has invited you, who wants you to be honest with him.

“God I don’t trust you because I believe you are mean. I’ve experienced enough meanness in my life. I’m not going to let you close enough to me to hurt me too.”

Switcharoo

Ask God to replace your gut god image with a biblical and corrective one. Cooperate with this request by getting into the scriptures with an open mind. Forget everything you’ve learned about God and let the word speak for itself. Do a word study on the attributes of God. If your god is aloof, meditate on God’s nearness. Uncaring? Look for the pictures of God as compassionate. Memorize the passages that capture the heart of the true God.

Look around

Consider common relationships as a means to correct your image of God. Think about the ways a perfect parent respond to a hurt child; the way lovers greet one another; the way friends esteem each other. We are created in God’s image and we are loving, kind and respectful. If we, imperfect creatures that we are do these things, the perfect God must do them even better.

Imagine

Use your prayerful imagination to invite the true God into the wounded places where a false god has set up shop.

Our head knows God is good. Our gut, where our feelings live, isn’t quite convinced.  This can be addressed by praying the scriptures with our imagination. Putting ourselves into the scripture.

Be Zaccheus in the tree…what do you feel up there? Why are you up there? How do you feel about the crowds below you? What do they think about you? What is it like for you when Jesus stops and looks up into your face? When Jesus wants to come home with you, how do you respond?

Let your spirit guided imagination take you to the places the Lord wants to touch, heal and correct.

Finally

Remind yourself of what your head does know…God is on your side. Literally speak to the gut god who subtly demands your obedience. “No. God is for me, I am God’s beloved child, God is pleased with me. I will listen to this God.”

Be patient. These distortions are deeply rooted; deep healing will be take time. But remember God is not slow, God is thorough.

With you on the journey,

Debby

This is part of a series of posts, The NEW Old. We’re exploring the old familiar things of the spiritual life that God wants to make new. The series begins here. Please join us. When you subscribe to my blog you’ll be notified by email when a new installment is posted. 

God, the bully

judge

 

 

vs

prodigal

 

 

 

 

 

Ok, so there’s the true God we love and honor and then there’s the false god, the invisible, yet powerful god that lives in our gut and often dictates our lives.  There is quite a gap and a vast difference between these two G(g)ods. Our allegiance is given to either one or the other: the true God who has earned our love and given us the freedom to obey or the bullying gut god who demands our obedience, falsely promising that we can earn love and acceptance.

Identifying our gut god is essential; doing so illuminates the conflict we face as we pursue a life of discipleship. Maybe you’ve realized your gut god is cruel, or demanding, or unsatisfiable. If so you must ask yourself, “Why in the world would I want to be close to such a god? Why should I trust such an unpredictable god? Do I even like this god? And yet, I’m supposed to love and obey…” Naming our gut god, seeing it for the lie it is, explains the reasons we are not as close to God as our true self desires.

Family history, painful experiences, traumatic events and cultural dictates (even teaching we received in church) has formed this god of ours. We have fashioned a god based on what our history and our culture has taught us god “must be like.” The problem with this is our history is imperfect and our culture is tainted with evil, therefore, our ideas about God are imperfect and tainted. God’s image has been distorted.

We need to let God answer for God’s self about who God is….and he has, he sent Jesus, the fulfillment of the law and the prophets.

  • Is your god distant and aloof? Meet Jesus, who used his own saliva to heal the blind man.
  • Is your god ready to abandon you when you disappoint him? Meet the father Jesus describes who gives all he has to his prodigal son and eagerly awaits his return.
  • Is your god punishing? Meet Jesus, who stayed near the woman caught in adultery when the crowd threatened her with judgment and stoning.

Jesus said, if you want to know what God is like…look at me. We’ve exchanged the truth about God for a lie, we have worshipped the creature we created rather than the Creator. This, my friends, leads to a slow, agonizing death.

Next post we’ll talk about how to return to the truth.

With you on the journey,

Debby

Who is your Gut god?

head vs heartThe God of our heart is not always the God of our head. Our minds may agree with the scriptures that declare God is love and God forgives; but our gut doesn’t necessarily trust these statements. Doubts about our value, our inability to forgive ourselves (just to name a few) evidence our disbelief. In our best moments, we know that God is indeed love; his presence is palpable. But in our worst moments, down in our gut, these truths become translucent, we question and doubt.

The proverb says, “a chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link” and our faith is only as strong as our greatest doubt. In the light, we can believe God is love, in times of crises or darkness a different god rules our thinking and actions. The ‘god of our gut’ more frequently than not, determines our identity. We need to figure out the nature of this god. Toward this end, I’m going to ask you to reflect on some questions I pose. They are worded to help you identify ‘the god of your gut.’

I’d love to read your responses in a comment, if you feel comfortable sharing them publicly, or email me for a more private exchange. My responses are written in italics below the questions.

Please, spend a few minutes recording your responses to the following questions, try not to overanalyze your responses, just let your answers flow.

  1. What are my worst fears about God?
  2. When I find myself avoiding God, what thoughts and feelings about God are causing me to pull away?
  3. At my worst moments, how do I think God feels about me? or relates to me?
  4. What pictures come to mind when I think about God?
  5. What do my behaviors and feelings tell me about how I see God (who is your gut god)?

1. I am afraid it is all a joke, that Jesus isn’t the savior, that I’ve built my life on a sham. 

2. I avoid God when I am doing something that is unhealthy (emotionally, physically). God wouldn’t approve of what I’m doing/thinking/feeling, and I want to keep doing/thinking/feeling this so I ignore God. Deep down, in my better self, I want to quit these unhealthy actions, and I know God’s power could carry me away from them and that’s the very reason I avoid him. I want to be healthy and whole, but not today; today I want to hang on to these unhealthy, but satisfying habits.

3. I think God sees me as his beloved, screwed-up daughter; the one who is never going to get it together, and needs to be constantly rescued. God willingly does the rescue, but with a tsk-tsk in his demeanor. “When are you going to learn, Debby?” Secondly, the Psalmist felt forsaken by God (Ps. 22). I have never felt deserted or abandoned by God, but often, I feel set aside, or put on a shelf. I’m sure this is born of my own neurosis. I fear I am unneeded by God, useless; like an old pair of shoes, I am kept but never worn. I am inconsequential to God’s plan. I fear I am like an item purchased because it was on sale, an un-resistable bargain, but not really needed or useful.

4. When I think about God I see Jesus – loving, accessible, truth-telling, righteous and requiring righteousness of me. When I’m in my dark place, I see God chuckling over my failed attempts at righteousness. God doesn’t take me seriously, I’m an amusing anecdote to the Trinity. (Again with the tsk-tsking.) 

5. My gut god is loving, yet detached. Loves me because he has to (it is his character after all) but probably wouldn’t choose me. My gut god condescends toward me and my “cute” little attempts at pleasing him.

Who is your gut god? One who…

…minimizes you
…tolerates you
…punishes you
…doesn’t get involved
…is indifferent toward you
…demands perfection?

This is an interactive post, let me know your response. Next Monday we’ll begin to let God speak for God’s self.

Our Questions, God’s Answers

…I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903 in Letters to a Young Poet

question markQuestions are good. They bring life, release energy, they cause us to explore and to gain knowledge. But living our questions as Rilke suggests, without a guaranteed answer, is not an easy life. In fact, it is a messy, open-ended uncertain life. We prefer neat, settled and identified. Some areas of life offer sure answers, two plus two always equals four, water and oxygen are necessary to sustain life. But when it comes to the big questions, the existential, universal ones, the ones that only God can answer we can come up empty and confused. We come with our important questions and God’s answers often seem to not satisfy.

Have you noticed that Jesus rarely answered people’s questions of him in a neat, packaged way? Usually he responded with a question back to the one inquiring or with a parable that often seemed to confuse the matter even further.

Jesus’ spirit-guided intuition helped him to know the heart and the motivation of the people who sought him out with questions. He answered accordingly. His answers revealed their hearts; his responses exposed their real questions.

  • The Pharisees trying to trick him – How can we eliminate your threat?
  • The rich young ruler wanting to display his righteousness – How can I bolster my ego?
  • Nicodemus seeking a second birth – How can I get in on this good news?
  • The dying thief’s request to be remembered in Christ’s kingdom – Is there hope for me? Even after all I’ve done?

God’s answers lead us to our real questions. Listening to the answers God gives leads us to know our true self.

It all begins with daring to approach God with a question.

So we’re going to ask God some pretty significant questions over the next few posts.  And we’ll do our best to listen for God’s answers. These answers can lead us to a transformed life.

Our first question is,  “Who is God?” We’ll talk about this question in my next post.

The NEW OLD

wineskinsDoes this sound familiar?

You’ve walked with the Lord for a while now. You’ve learned and practiced the disciplines that foster growth in Christ and your faith has matured. But now your spiritual life feels dry. Maybe your soul has become calloused to the Spirit, nothing seems to penetrate and touch your heart. You know about prayer and scripture reading, but it’s all so familiar, so routine. You almost have a “been there, done that” attitude when it comes to the spiritual practices that once gave you energy. You’ve become accustomed to living a muted, humdrum spiritual life. It’s a little boring, but it is what it is…

Yet, within you, a voice that will not be silenced whispers, “there must be more.” It questions the status quo, it suggests the hope of a return to a dynamic, enjoyable spiritual life.

But how, you wonder? Can what is old and familiar be made new and interesting? Can new life enter dead habits?

Yes and no. Or maybe I should say no and yes.

No…The preacher in the book of Ecclesiates is right when he says, “there is nothing new under the sun.” Most likely, there are no new methods or techniques that will revitalize your life with God. As Jesus taught, “you don’t mend an old garment with an unshrunk piece of cloth.”

and Yes…Jesus again, “Don’t pour new wine into an old wineskin.” You are the new wine, created to ferment and expand, you need a new wineskin. Old wineskins are the answers that satisfied us as new believers, knowledge gained and disciplines practiced that defined and informed our spiritual understanding. They held us as we grew, but now they constrict our continued growth. We still need a wineskin to contain our process, that doesn’t change. What changes is our relationship to the wineskin.

We are bored and stunted in our spiritual life, because we have the answers. We know how to pray, we know the importance of a quiet time and corporate worship. There is no mystery left to discover. Old wineskins are made of answers; new wineskins consist of questions.

The NEW Old is not intended to be an information-filled, answer-packed series of posts. It is an exploration of some important questions, questions of great significance.

Here’s what we will do, we will take our important questions and address them, not to ourselves or to each other, but to God. And in this process we will allow God to address us with a few questions of God’s own.

…I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903 in Letters to a Young Poet

Please come along, let’s ferment together!

With you on the journey,

Debby