Jesus made known to us what the Father God made known to him. He calls us “friends” because we are the Father’s friends. The way Jesus loves us reveals to us what Abba-Father is like. We long to be embraced by and protected by his fatherhood, but there’s a disconnect we need to overcome. So Jesus wants to give us healing from the wrong images we have of God’s Fatherhood.
No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. (Luke 10:22 NIV)
Which Person of the Holy Trinity feels closest to you? Who has the deepest relationship with you? Whom do you turn to first?
For most of us, it’s not the Father.
Jesus is our Friend, our Brother, our Savior. He’s the center of our worship during Mass. He’s the one we receive in the Eucharist. We can easily visualize him by reading the Gospels. We’re reminded of what he did for us every time we gaze upon crucifixes in church and at home. Jesus has been the subject of artwork far more often than any other Person of the Trinity – he was so human!
Perhaps it’s the Holy Spirit who’s the most difficult to feel close to. The Holy Spirit is, after all, called a spirit, which sounds so ethereal, so other-worldly, so intangible. And yet, if we’ve been through a Life in the Spirit Seminar or if we’ve had other experiences of good faith formation about the Third Person of the Trinity, he is the one we rely on for understanding and wisdom, for the right words to speak as Jesus promised (see Luke 12:12), and for help in our efforts to grow in holiness. The Holy Spirit is known as The Helper – how nice!
God the Father is the scary one. We think of his fatherhood as something to fear. He’s the one who punishes us when we sin. We believe that he expects perfection from us. And he’s too far away up there in heaven to help us with our little daily problems. Right?
I had a wonderful relationship with Jesus since my earliest childhood, as far back as I can recall. I grew up believing that Jesus was my Best Friend. When I felt lonely, I turned to Jesus. When I felt misunderstood by my father, Jesus sat with me in my room while I cried on my bed. When I forgot a homework deadline and felt panicked and sick to my stomach about it, I knew that Jesus loved me anyway and he was at my side encouraging me to do better, building my confidence (not my guilt).
God the Father, on the other hand, could increase my guilt (a mistaken idea that we’ll cover more fully in future chapters). I thought of him as The Big Disciplinarian. He loved me, of course, in the same way that all parents who discipline their children are loving them when they scold and dole out punishments. I reasoned that, because I got enough discipline from my dad, why should I spend any time with God the Father? My parents didn’t offer me friendship, so it never occurred to me that I could have a friendship with God as my Father. Jesus was the one for that.
I learned early on that Jesus said in John 15:15, “From now on, I call you my friends. You did not choose Me; I chose you!” This meant a lot to me because (for example) in gym class I was usually the last kid to be chosen for sports teams. I was sure that the team captains would have preferred to not choose me at all. But Jesus, the God who came to save the world, chose me. ME! Jesus wanted me for a friend. Wow!
However, this was a very limited understanding of John 15:15. I missed the point that Jesus was making about the Father. Read the whole verse:
“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (NIV, emphasis mine).
The reason why Jesus calls us “friends” is because he learned this from his Father. In fact, everything he taught he learned from the Father. Jesus made known to us what the Father had made known to him – because we are the Father’s friends.
Let me put this another way. Jesus had a friendship with his Father – not just a sonship. And what Jesus had, Jesus gave. If we are a friend of Jesus, it should be easy to experience friendship with the Father. But this was unimaginable to me.
Like many who are reading this, I never experienced a close friendship with my dad. The idea of confiding in him, and feeling heard and understood like I experienced with my true friends – this was a concept that was so foreign to me, I didn’t even imagine it.
So, neither could I imagine that God the Father could be a friend.
The spiritual director I had when I became an adult recognized the importance of this problem. She led me through a visualization in which Jesus introduced me to the True Father. In my prayer-imagination, I “saw” Jesus greet me at the door to the throne room of God. He opened the door and invited me in. I walked on a red carpet crossing over a vast, shiny floor. Then I arrived at the base of an enormous throne.
Sitting on the throne was a very big Father. I expected a stern expression. But he was smiling at me! Then, with the gentlest of voices, he invited me to sit on his lap. How could I? He was too large. He offered to lift me up, and when I gave him my hand, suddenly he seemed very reachable. The next moment, I was cuddled by him like a beloved child. I could feel the fabric of his kingly garments. I could feel the warmth of his chest against my cheek. I could feel the love in his heart. No question about it: I was loved. I was his beloved little girl.
That experience was the beginning of a Father-daughter friendship that has deepened ever since. It was the first step in the healing of my image of God’s Fatherhood. There have been many other milestones along the way. I’ll share them with you as we proceed through this book.
Right now the Father wants you to know that you are his beloved child and he is favoring you with an opportunity for true friendship. He says to you, “You are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you. Do not be afraid, for I am with you” (adapted from Isaiah 43:4-5).
The Father is giving you total love and kindness and mercy. “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them” (1 John 4:16 NIV). Love isn’t love apart from God. Love is God actively giving himself to us. Even the love we have for others is God loving them through us.
It’s impossible for God to be untrue to himself. Therefore, he loves us even when we don’t deserve it. “He makes his sun to rise on the bad and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). As Bishop Robert Barron points out: “The sun doesn’t ask who deserves its warmth or its light before it shines. It just shines, and both good and bad people receive it. Neither does the rain inquire as to the moral rectitude of those upon whom it showers its life-giving goodness. It just pours – and both just and unjust people receive it.”
The Father gave us Jesus so we won’t have to face punishment for our sins. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:17 NIV).
The Father cares about us so much that he gave us a way to escape from the punishment we deserve. “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10 NIV).
“The Father of Jesus Christ is love, right through. That’s all God is; that’s all he knows how to do. He is not like us: unstable, changing, moving from one attitude to another. No, God simply is love.” (Bishop Robert Barron)
He is completely patient with us regardless of how imperfect we are. Scripture tells us to think often of his kindness, tolerance and patience, because the kindness of God leads us to repentance (see Romans 2:4). God knows that we overcome sin much more easily through his kindness than through punishments.
He’s intimately and infinitely concerned about our daily trials. “Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation” (Psalm 68:19 ESV). And “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials” (2 Peter 2:9 NIV).
So why doesn’t it feel like he’s this wonderful? It’s because our image of his Fatherhood has been tainted. We see him through eyes that first saw the imperfections of human parents. We need to differentiate human traits from divine traits. We need to stop projecting onto God that which is not godly. We need to make ourselves available to the truth so we can let God heal our image of him.
God can only be known by our hearts, the center of our soul, where love resides. He cannot be known by the mind because he is much more than we could ever imagine: much better, much more caring, much more available to fill in the gaps left by insufficient human love. To grasp the “more” of him requires that we abandon all of our incorrect ideas, images and concepts of God. To enter into his healing embrace, we must overcome misconceptions. We must stop projecting human images onto the Abba-Father.
God is not your enemy
“I blame God for being stuck where I am spiritually,” Felisha told me. “He gives me as much as I deserve, which in my mind isn’t much.” Insight into why she thinks this way is found in understanding her childhood: “I struggled to make my parents proud of me, and God is even harder to please than they were! I have loads of experiences from my past that I am sure contributed to this idea that I won’t receive much from God. I pray daily, but always as a beggar at God’s feet, expecting little help from him – obviously the damage from my childhood is real.”
Felisha received her first images of what God the Father is like from parents who were hard to please. They loved her, but – like all parents and every other human being – insufficiently.
She felt loved but conditionally. She heard the message, whether it was intended or not, that she should always “do as we say or else….” The “or else” was a discipline that made her feel crushed and stripped of her self-esteem.
“The damage began in my childhood,” she continued, “but certain other experiences also helped reinforce the idea that I couldn’t be special to anyone. The same is true of God. I must obey or else. Since I am far from perfect and fail him hundreds of times a day, how could he possibly love me very much when I don’t love myself very much either?”
This happens all over the world. Gift Nyirenda in Malawi (central Africa) said, “My father was the least person I liked in our family. I thought he was always watching out for new mistakes from me so that he could give out proper punishment. That blinded my image of who God the Father really is, and even after my father’s death it is still hard to reconcile my life with the reality [of who God is].”
Every person has injuries and scars from being loved incompletely during childhood – even if our fathers completely earned the “Best Dad” trophies that we gave them for Father’s Day and even if our mothers were saints who stayed on the pedestals we hoisted them onto during early childhood.
At the very least, they punished us (we were imperfect, too!) and this didn’t feel good. It’s nearly impossible for a child to understand that punishment is not a withdrawal of love. We were disciplined for our own good, but at the time it happened, we focused on how good it would feel to continue doing whatever the punishment was trying to stop. The person punishing us was, at that moment, our enemy (because he or she was “against” us). Thus we unwittingly developed an unholy fear of God as Father: The implication is that he’s our enemy when we sin. Not a benefactor.
No wonder people stay away from the Sacrament of Confession! And yet, there is no shame in this sacrament. There is healing – reconciliation – with God. There is power. There is a very special gift from God: the supernatural grace to grow stronger in resisting the sins we confess.
“You have been my help … my father and my mother have forsaken me, But the LORD will take me up. Teach me Your way, O LORD, And lead me…” (Psalm 27:9-11 NASB).
God becomes our enemy only if we become his enemy first, deliberately opposing him, doing whatever we want to do, following our own idea of what is right and wrong, knowing full well that God has a different idea. And since enemies are to be feared, thinking of God as the enemy explains why so many people who prefer the ways of the world are so hard to evangelize. They don’t want to have a relationship with God. They fear him and so they get angry at anyone who represents God and his ways.
It’s true that God does get angry. We see it in the Old Testament. We see it in the New Testament when Jesus drove the greedy merchants out of the temple. God gets angry when others hurt us without remorse. God gets angry when he watches his children suffering from the terrible repercussions of sin.
However, if we want to be holy, even when we sin God is for us, not against us (see Romans 8:31). He appreciates the remorse we feel and our determination to do better. This is the true Father. And so we need to heal our image of God as a father who gets angry at us or pulls away from us whenever we fail to be his perfect child. If the father-figures in our lives were unhappy with us because we failed to live up to their expectations, our tainted image of God tells us that he, too, is unhappy with us.
Likewise, if our dads died during our childhood or left the family or traveled often for his job, we unconsciously assume that Father God, too, won’t be close when we need his help. Lyra grew up without a father. He had died when she was two years old. How do you suppose this affected her relationship with God? As you read her story, look for the imperfect traits of the humans in her life that became a false image of God’s fatherhood:
My mother became our 2-in-1 parent, providing for all our needs. Because my mother was not home most of the time, she would warn us to be good always or else God would get angry. That was how I have perceived God: a punitive one. I thought we’re supposed to earn God’s favor. For me then, God was a distant Father who would grant my prayers when I’m good and punish me when I failed.
Imperfect trait #1: Her father was absent. The image of God that this implied: The Father is distant. God is not the doting Father she needs and longs for.
Imperfect trait #2: Her mother could not be home whenever Lyra needed her. The implication: God the Loving Parent is not closely involved in our lives, not available to reassure us when times get tough, and not aware of all our needs.
Imperfect trait #3: Her mother described God as a Father who watches for his children to fail at being good and gets angry as soon as they do. Implication: God only answers our prayers when we earn his approval by being perfectly good, and if our prayers are not answered, then that’s proof that we’re bad. Since Lyra was imperfect, she could never be good enough for God. She could not rely on his help, which is a false image that was reinforced by imperfect trait #2 above.
Have you ever thought something like this? “God is a good Father, all powerful and all understanding, but what if I am in this mess is because it’s me who is at fault. I’m not good enough in his eyes. I miss all his blessings because I am lazy, pleasure-seeking, greedy, envious, selfish, etc. And worst of all, now it’s too late and no prayer can change the situation.”
Lyra says, “I blamed my father for dying early. I blamed God for letting all the unfortunate things happen to us, and I blamed myself for being inadequate. It took me forty-four years to discover God’s unlimited and unconditional love. I had limited him by locking him in a bottle: I treated him like a magic genie who grants my wishes if I’ve been good.”
She continues, “Now that I have finally found a relationship with him, the desire to know him more gets greater every day. Now when I cry to him, it’s not because I want to blame but because I need rest and healing. Although sometimes I still fail to trust him fully, when I cry my heart out to him, he makes his presence felt in various ways that I could never have imagined. He truly is a loving Father.”
The first step in the healing process is to see yourself the way God sees you: with perfect love. Keep in mind that the Devil does not want you to know the truth. We have an enemy who uses our wounds and traumas and brokenness to do all he can to obscure the Lord’s goodness and the Divine Love that’s flowing — already flowing! — into your life in a deeper way. Our enemy wants us to doubt God’s goodness and love. But God gave us the Divine Word (the Bible) to make the truth clear. For example:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
In other words, God is saying to you right now:
I love you so much that I’m happy to be patient with you! No matter what you’ve done wrong, I long to give you My kindness. I am not like those who rejected you because they envied you. I do not boastfully lord it over you like others have done, but as your Lord I do boast to the angels and saints about how wonderful you are. Yes, I know how messed up you still are, but when I look at you, I look through the sacrifice that My Son made for you. Your sins were nailed to that Cross, and because you love My Son, that makes all the difference. On My Son is what is ugly about you. I see what is beautiful in you.
I am humble of heart in all of my dealings with you. I will never dishonor you before others, regardless of what you have done. When you fail to see Me as I really am, I am dishonored by it but I am not self-seeking; I am you-seeking. When you sin, instead of becoming quickly angered, I consider how much you want to be holy and I smile about the future because you will conquer this sin with the help of My Holy Spirit. When you ask Me to forgive you, your sin is wiped from the Book of Life; I no longer keep a record of what you did wrong. And before you repented, remember that trouble you got into that felt like a punishment? I did not delight in that. And when you realized the truth, I rejoiced.
No matter what you’ve done wrong, as long as you humbly turn to Me now and surrender your will to My Divine Will, I am at your side to protect you. I trust you far more than you trust yourself. And no matter what you’re still doing wrong without yet repenting, I always have hope in you. My love for you will pursue you all the way, if necessary, to the moment when we meet at the gates of Heaven and we can finally and fully embrace in that perfect love for which you have been deeply longing.
The second step in the healing process is to realize that we are all loved incompletely, insufficiently, imperfectly by the humans who are called by God to love us as much as he loves us. And we love them incompletely, insufficiently, imperfectly, too. To find the joy and peace and healing that comes from God’s perfect love, we need to identify the imperfections of humans and turn them into a powerful reminder that Father God is better and bigger than all that. They are, in fact, evidence that he is reaching out to us. He is using them to invite us to realize that only he can give us the fullness of love and goodness and help for which we long. Abba-Father wants us to depend only on God (and here I speak of the fullness of God, the entire Trinity).
We long for the fullness of God’s love because we instinctively know that we’re supposed to have it. “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3). He designed us to know and receive his love. He created us because he has been loving us everlastingly, timelessly, desiring to have a precious Father-child relationship with us ever since and before we were conceived in our mother’s womb. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13 NIV).
Our Divine Father brought us into existence so that he could love us with his whole heart, his whole soul, his whole mind, and his whole strength. Jesus told us to “love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (see Mark 12:30) because this is the nature of God! This is the kind of love he has for us. For you!
Father God wants to heal your wounded heart. As he says in Jeremiah 31:3-4 (adapted for this moment): “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you close to Me with unfailing kindness. I will build you up again, my precious child.”
He is with you right now to correct the bad messages that have cut you down. Let him point out your goodness and your giftedness. He sees your goodness even when you cannot. Yes, he sees your sins, too. Yes, he sees your every flaw. But because you have allowed Jesus to be your Savior, when the Father looks at you, he sees you through the filter of the Son’s sacrifice on the Cross. He sees your sins nailed to the Cross. He sees you as the cleansed saint that the Sacraments have re-created you to be.
Psalm 139:14 (NIV) is a prayer you might want to say every day if you need healing from a bad self-image: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful….”
Why is it hard to imagine that Father God sees us as so wonderful? Because childhood punishments and the imperfect views of us that came from parents and other father-figures have tainted not only our image of God but also our image of ourselves. True, we sin and make plenty of mistakes and fail in other ways. But we are much more than that, and God knows this better than we do.
So if the first step toward healing our image of God’s Fatherhood is to embrace the imperfections of others as a reminder to expect perfection only from God, then the second step is to embrace our own imperfections as learning experiences, realizing that God is delighted to help us become who he designed us to be: wonderful masterpieces made in his image.
The third step is to distrust our memories. They are not giving us an accurate picture of God.
Memories are unreliable. They are tainted by our emotions and desires and fears. For example, children usually remember only part of what the parents did or said. And what they do remember is tainted by their partial understanding of their parents’ motives. So it’s not surprising that my son remembers trying to get my attention and being pushed away.
The reality is: I worked from home as a freelance writer so that I could be readily available to the children. Ralph and I sacrificed expensive vacations and other big purchases for this. But my son was too young to understand this. In his thinking, if he could see me, he could get attention from me. However, we had rules about interruptions. Whenever I got writing assignments, I had deadlines to keep and I tried to teach my children to respect this.
Thus, when a child needed my attention, if the interruption would disrespect my work, I would say, “No, not right now”, and I would give him or her my undivided attention as soon as possible. My son only remembered me saying, “No”. His emotional needs were not met fast enough to satisfy his youthful impatience, and so his emotions highlighted the part of the conversation that he disliked the most. As time passed, this emotional highlighting became what psychologists call “implicit” memory.
We all have implicit memories that differ from reality. The problem is, our implicit memories not only affect our relationship with our parents (or whomever triggered the emotional reaction), they also interfere with our relationship with Father God. Accurate or not, what we remember is what we project onto God.
Therefore, the fourth step toward healing is to consciously differentiate our human parents from God the Perfect Parent. Ask yourself: What is my image of God the Father? Who is he to me?
On Day 23 of this journey into the Father’s heart, we will go a lot deeper into healing. But it starts here. And each day between now and then will lay the groundwork for the healing that you’ve been praying for.
Today’s Exercise: The Box of Differentiation
Here’s an exercise that will introduce you to God the Father as he really is. Take a sheet of paper (this is your “box”) and draw a line down the middle. In the left column, list every imperfect trait that you’ve experienced from your human father. You can also do this with regards to your mother, a boss, or any other person in authority over you.
The traits could be long-term personality traits or short-term, temporary traits that were triggered by unusual circumstances. Add it to the list if it got stuck in your memory, because anything that has not been forgotten is very likely affecting your relationship with the Father
For example, words you might choose are: absent, not a good listener, abusive, fast-tempered, too demanding, liar, or undependable.
If you have trouble getting started because you had wonderful parents and were never hurt or disappointed by any authority figure, follow Bill’s example:
I sat in front of my divided “list” page in order to write down my late father’s imperfect traits – not that he was overweight, etc., but significant ones. I looked at that page, and looked, and thought: He was a good Dad, a great Dad. He was strict with us four boys and he smoked, but I couldn’t think of anything to write. He developed some new traits as he neared his final 85th year, but I didn’t hold him as responsible as I do frailty and senility. But then I thought: I ought to put myself in that left column and re-think the exercise. I did and found several items to list.
So feel free to think outside the box when writing inside the box of your writing exercise. What are the quick answers that come to mind when you read these questions?
- Recall a time when you suffered because of someone’s behavior. Name that behavior.
- Think of a time when you felt disappointed, let down, or discouraged. What negative trait(s) caused that problem?
- What traits in yourself or in others have worked against hope?
- Did/do you live with anyone who made promises that were insincere?
- Who made/makes you feel inferior? What trait(s) caused that feeling?
- Who has been deceitfully charming or manipulative in order to get his own way?
- Did any authority figure in your life demand respect without earning it?
- Have your plans or dreams been squashed by a bully or control freak?
- Were you frequently criticized and belittled?
- Did you have to “walk on eggshells” when talking to a parent because you were unable to be open and share yourself freely?
- Was a parent so lost in alcohol or other addictions that you didn’t get the attention you needed?
- Did a parent have unpredictable mood swings, one minute happy and sweet and the next minute throwing a temper tantrum, thus making the gentle side unreliable?
- Did anyone show cruelty, inflicting physical harm on you or someone else in your family or pets?
- Which of the following traits were missing from your relationship with your dad? If he was absent from your life, apply these questions to the closest father substitute.
- Was he your hero? A man of courage, perseverance, and integrity?
- Did you feel secure and safe?
- Did he live humbly?
- Did he teach you how to pray and have faith in God?
- Did he teach you the truth about the wrong messages of the world?
- Did he provide you with a moral compass and teach you how to exhibit high moral values with courage?
- Was he the voice of reason when you had problems, offering solutions or a new perspective?
After pondering these questions and any others that come to mind, use the left column of your paper to write a list (each five words or less) of everything that describes your father’s human imperfections. You may expand this to include any important parental figure. And don’t get stalled by your emotions. As difficult and sad as this exercise might feel now, forge ahead. By the end of this chapter, your healing will begin. Do this exercise now – before reading the remainder of this chapter.
When finished, in the right column next to each imperfect trait, list the opposite trait. For example, next to “absent” write “always with me”. Next to “abusive” you might choose to put “safe”. In the example that Bill gave about his dad’s old age senility, he wrote, “God is ageless and changeless in all his traits.”
Do this now and then continue reading. Trust me, it will be more effective if you don’t read ahead.
* * *
After filling in the right column, read out loud the list you put there, beginning with “God is….” For example, “God is always with me. God is safe.”
What you’ve just accomplished is the very important therapy of differentiating humans from God and earthly parents from your Divine Father. You’ve stopped projecting onto God what humans have modeled.
Use this list as a meditation and repeatedly mull over each trait that you named in the column on the right. One at a time, ask yourself: How fully do I believe that God the Father is like this? Mark which ones you need to understand more fully. Then ask Jesus to introduce you to this Perfect Daddy. Visualize it with your imagination during prayer. Invent your own divine throne room or any other scene where it feels good, safe, and friendly to meet the Father. And remember this place! Revisit it whenever you want to feel close to your Divine Daddy.
The final step toward healing is to let God fill in the gaps left by human imperfections. This began for me during a major crisis of faith. I was certain that God had abandoned me and my family.
God, why have You abandoned me?
Ralph and I wanted to move to a better neighborhood so our two young children could grow up in a safe environment. We prayed confidently for our house to sell quickly. Eight months later, our house was still on the market. I wondered: Why is God ignoring us? I couldn’t shake the sense that he had abandoned us.
Surely God could see what this long wait was doing to our family.
One Sunday on the way to church, I pointed out a house that had sold in just two weeks. I said, “Our house is at least as good. Why do all the other houses sell except ours? We asked for God’s help from the very beginning. But did that make any difference?”
Ralph shook his head. “The guys at work never ask for his help and everything seems to work out great for them.”
I replied, “I feel like if we had never asked for God’s help, we would have sold our house a long time ago.” Our faith was eroding fast.
When we arrived at the church parking lot, I stared at the doors. What would I do if I couldn’t find God in there? The feeling of being abandoned had been growing over the past several weeks.
We entered the building and were greeted by Sister Cathy, who had been praying for us. She asked, “Have you sold your house yet?”
“No,” I answered and hurried on before the tears could flow. Taking a seat, I prayed, Oh God, let me know You haven’t abandoned us. Show me that You’re going to answer our prayers.
Then the Mass began. The congregation sang, “I am your God. No longer be afraid. I know your every need; My love will never end.”
My voice cracked and my eyes blurred with tears. My soul cried out, But I am afraid, Lord! I’m afraid what I want isn’t important to You. In all this waiting I feel only torment. Your love never ends for everyone else. God, why have You abandoned me?
I barely managed to stay in church. To keep from weeping, I thought about a needlepoint project I was designing at home.
Finally, Mass ended. On the way home I told Ralph, “I don’t know if I’ll be able to go back next week. This feeling that God is ignoring us is destroying my faith, maybe beyond repair. If God doesn’t do something soon, I can’t see how I’ll ever be able to trust him again.”
Ralph silently gripped the wheel.
I continued. “Intellectually, I believe God is holding up the sale of our house for some good reason that only he knows. But spiritually, I feel abandoned. If only I could hear God assuring us that it’s all for the best.”
That afternoon two couples came by to look at the house, but again, no one wanted to buy it. The next day we got a call from the woman who owned the house that we hoped to buy after selling the old one.
“Any interest on your house yet?” she asked.
“A family came through here yesterday. They really like the place. They’ll probably draw up a contract this week. You know I’d rather sell it to you, but I’ll have to take the first good offer I get.”
“Well,” I tried to laugh. “If your house really is the one God thinks is best for us, they won’t buy it.” I said it more out of habit than belief. Inside, I was panicking. We were going to lose the house we wanted because God was ignoring our prayers.
After I hung up, my heart thumped forlornly while my hand still cradled the receiver. I needed someone to talk to. I needed help overcoming this crisis of faith. But whom could I call? Who had enough faith and was willing to listen to me?
I remembered my brief encounter with Sister Cathy. She had seemed genuinely interested and she had counseling skills. I called her and set up an appointment for Tuesday afternoon.
Another wait. Tuesday afternoon came slowly and I spent the time wondering what my faith would be like when all this waiting was finally over.
As we sat together at the kitchen table in her convent, I told Sister Cathy why I felt so discouraged.
“Depression is anger turned inward,” she said. “Who do you really feel angry toward?”
I shrugged. “God, I guess. But I know I shouldn’t. It’s just that, well, it seems like he answers everyone’s prayers but mine.”
“Sometimes we project toward God images or feelings we have toward friends. For example, a son who’s never known his father’s love often finds it hard to understand God’s love.”
That made sense, but I couldn’t see how it applied to me. It wasn’t my family or friends who were interfering with the selling of our house. It was God.
Driving home, I thought about what she’d said. I wondered, Have I ever felt abandoned by friends? Yes. There were times when I’d been hurt because my friends had let me down.
“But God’s not like that!” I exclaimed. “He’s a Friend with a capital F, the only true Friend!” The real source of my problem became clear. Because friends had abandoned me, I expected God to do the same. But God is not like human friends!
As if a switch had been thrown, I saw God in a whole new light. Joy flooded in and replaced months of depression. It was still another month before we sold our house, but for the first time, I was able to wait without worry. In the end, we got our proof that God had never abandoned us. We sold our house for a better price, God saved for us the house we wanted, and mortgage rates had dropped.
More than that, the timing was also perfect for the family who bought our old house and for the one who sold us our new home. In the end, my faith was stronger than ever.
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© 2020 by Terry A. Modica
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