Who is God? How do we define God? How do we define ourselves or the world in relation to God? Each of us has a theology, a belief about God’s existence, character, and view of humankind. Each and every one of us.
Our view of God matters. It seems to shape everything we do. It is the basis for how we relate to people, God, and even ourselves. If we view God as harsh, we can tend to either reject God or treat others and ourselves harshly. The same goes for other character traits we assign to God. Doctrine, life experiences, family of origin, all shape our understanding. What do you hold true about God? How does that shape the way you treat yourself and interact with those around you?
Usually, an experience of great pain, loss, or love bring us to a place to recognize what we believe. Some of it is probably beneath our awareness. It can feel like shifting sand beneath our feet. This is where our beliefs about God, our theology, and our experience of God, do not match up. We can notice it in many contexts; often, within relationships, emotions, reactions, even our reluctance to engage.
Recognizing this dissonance offers an invitation for God to expand our view. A picture that has been helpful for me is a box representing our view of God. We all have this theological box and it seems God enters into our box and gently expands it. God is bigger than we can fully comprehend and seems to gently bring us to a deeper understanding. This expansion may be gentle but sometimes can be quite painful; yet, offers a bigger view of God.
It takes a quietness in our own minds to notice these places of dissonance. Learning to be quiet enough to notice this discomfort in our lives, takes practice. For me, it has been through quieting my own mind through contemplative prayer. This has opened my ability to pay attention and notice. It doesn’t seem to be during my prayer as much as it is in the rest of my life.
Through the last few years, I have worked through a place of deep loss in my life. I discovered I believed that everything, both good and bad, came directly from God. This view of God made it difficult to fully trust God.
My pattern was striving forward and making my own way in the world. I didn’t understand how to rest in God. As I worked and pushed through life, I protected myself from anything that could come at me with self-imposed barriers. I worked hard to provide for myself, falsely thinking I could protect myself from tragedy or heartache. These barriers pushed out God’s love as well as the love of those around me. Even in this perceived place of self-protection, the sand shifted and I felt like I lost all I had built up for myself.
Imagine believing in a God who blesses us with good things and punishes us with bad things, dependent on our behavior or lessons to be learned. This perception of God brings us to having to earn love and safety. I had previously believed God loved me. Yet, I found it didn’t seem to impact my life or heart in tangible ways. This was something I knew to be true, rationally, but I hadn’t allowed myself to experience it as reality. So, I remained unchanged and kept the world divided into those who were “good” and those who were “bad.”
In this experience of loss, I couldn’t hold this view any longer. You see, I didn’t do anything so wrong, as to deserve what happened. We tend to think in a cause and effect understanding. If something bad happens, we feel the need to define it by behavior. I suppose that it makes us feel like we have a bit of control over things. This loss didn’t make sense in my old way of thinking. So who is God? What is love? How does any of this make sense?
These are good questions and offered the space for my journey of transformation during this time. I came to realize I was unable to provide or more importantly, to protect myself. The shifting sand experience, which brought my own efforts to a halt, revealed to me a God whose depth of love reached down to embrace my very existence, the core of who I am.
As I have learned to recognize the dissonance in my own heart and bring those discoveries for God’s view through contemplative prayer practices, God has met me with gentleness and grace. This gentleness and grace often takes my breath away because it seems to be beyond my own expectations. Learning to treat myself with the same gentleness and grace, as counter-cultural as that is, has been a gift and a process.
The gift was not the shifting sand situation. The gift was being invited to experience a loving God through noticing the dissonance. Painful things do happen in our lives and how we define those is shaped by the lens we use for our image of God. Embracing my pain and realizing my inability to control the things around me, offered a place to discover a God I had never really experientially known deeply.
It can feel very disloyal to leave the god we created. The gift is discovering the God who created us. Along the journey, we begin to realize this God, we are coming to know, has actually been with us the whole time. (1)
This is the gift of transformation, learning more about ourselves and God. As we become more aware of who we are and more aware of who God is, we grow more deeply in both. We can let go of our desire for control and our barriers of self-protection, knowing we are loved and belong. It is a beautiful gift and the journey of transformation is lifelong, as we begin to rest in God and to surrender to our own belovedness.
(1) Jeff VanVonderen, Dale Ryan, and Juanita Ryan, Soul Repair: Rebuilding Your Spiritual Life (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 115-122.
Hello, I'm Kathi Gatlin. Thanks for stopping by!