The path to heaven is the journey of becoming a little child who sleeps without fear in the Father’s arms. How safe do you feel with God the Father? Are you able to climb up onto his lap and into his arms to feel his protective concern for you? He wants you to feel his powerful arms wrapping around you and creating a zone of extreme peace with you at the center.
The proof of our existence is that God – somebody who is higher, somebody who is greater – is holding us, protecting us. (St. Teresa of Calcutta)
No one is loved fully in any human relationship. This is a normal flaw of the human condition. And it’s the source of much of our anguish. It’s why Jesus told us to forgive seventy times seven times (Matthew 18:22); in other words: more than we think is enough. And sometimes we have to do this every day with the same person!
Therefore, due to the fact that we project onto God what we’ve learned from humans, it’s difficult (though not impossible) to fully believe that God loves us completely in every possible way despite our own flaws. It’s especially difficult if we hold within us any misconceptions about how safe God is.
If we fear him at all (speaking not in the biblical sense of the word “fear”, which by definition is a very humbling awe of God) – if we fear God for any reason, at any moment, this is a red flag alerting us to our need to discover more about how safe God really is. If we’re afraid of being disappointed by his handling of our prayer requests or if we’re afraid we’re not good enough to receive his doting, fatherly love, we need to open ourselves to what it means to be “safe in God”.
For Nancy whose dad has abandoned the family through mental illness, leaving her unprotected from the abuse of her brothers, feeling safe with God seemed impossible. However, her traumatic childhood was not the only reason why she felt unsafe with the Father. It’s the same with us: There are multiple reasons that were layered on top of each other throughout our lives. Healing requires identifying them and turning each of them over to Jesus, one at a time.
Nancy says, “One of the big reasons why I struggled to believe that Father God loved me was because I had asked him to heal my six-year old niece Shelley, my Mom, and even my ex-husband Buck. I yearned for them to be healed and live. But all three times, God said, “No”, at best, but worse, I thought he didn’t even care enough to hear my cries. They all died! I was devastated.”
But then one day as she turned this over to Jesus, he impressed upon her: “Nancy, the goal of life isn’t about living a long life on this side of Heaven. The goal is to get on the inside of Heaven’s gate. Your loved ones were each asked and all gave me their yes to coming Home. They all knew you wanted them to live, and they did live and are alive here and now. Remember, the Kingdom of Heaven is here and now. They are still with you.”
Nancy explains how this healed her: “Since I believe in life after death, the sting of their death was healed by this realization. Of course, it didn’t happen in a day. But over time it did help the healing process.”
Let’s look at how safe you feel with Father God. Are you able to imagine yourself sitting on Abba-Father’s lap? When you pray, are you able to imagine being warmly embraced by him? If not, then the goal of this chapter is to make it possible. Otherwise, the goal of this chapter is to identify any remnants of fear, because perfect love casts out all fear, and God wants you to know that he loves you that much.
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:18 NIV)
This scripture explains that God, because his love is perfect, drives out fear. He drives it out! He does not use the fear of punishment to convince us to change from sin to saintliness. Let that sink in. This is not what we instinctively believe because every good parent punishes their children when they misbehave.
It’s true that we do deserve to be punished for our sins, but Jesus took our punishment for us when he allowed himself to be crucified for our salvation. If we accept his sacrifice as a gift, then we need to realize what Jesus hopes we’ll do with the gift. He wants us to live in the freedom that his sufferings obtained for us: freedom to be fully loved, freedom from the fear of punishment, and freedom to enjoy Abba as the wonderful Father that he truly is.
If instead we don’t feel safe with God, it’s because we have not yet been made perfect in love. Notice that I did not say, “… because we have not yet become perfect in love.” We cannot achieve this for ourselves. God is the one who perfects us. How? By filling us to overflowing with his prefect love. (Scripturally speaking, the word “perfect” means “complete, full, whole”.)
So if fear controls us in any unhealthy, unholy way, it’s a big red warning flag alerting us to the fact that we have not yet allowed God to fill us with his perfect love. He is completely, fully, whole-heartedly in love with us, and we have to choose to open ourselves fully to it. That’s why you’re reading this book. (God is very pleased!) Every time we go to the Sacrament of Confession, we open ourselves more fully to God’s perfect love. And it happens in countless other ways too.
By the way, loving others is a lot easier when we first know that we are deeply and totally loved by God.
Abba-Father desires that we go straight to him for the love we seek. No human parent, spouse or friend will ever love us completely, not until they have entered into the fullness of God’s love in Heaven. So our Perfect Father wants to fill in the gaps. In the Old Testament, he said, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. I will build you up again…” (Jeremiah 31:3b-4a NIV).
But wait. I detect a contradiction. Jesus said that whatever we ask for in his name, the Father will give it to us (see John 16:23.) That means we must go through Jesus to reach the Father, right? Is this because the Father is too fearsome for the direct approach?
For some of us, it might mean exactly that. We feel safer when Jesus is our Mediator. The root of this feeling probably comes from learning that a good mediator can protect us from someone’s anger or punishment or disapproval or injustice. My dad was a good mediator when he fielded that late-night phone call from Ralph’s impatient father. I’m sure you can think of several mediators during your life who made you feel protected.
Gifford remembers his mother as a mediator. He says, “I used to look at my father as someone to fear, a person I could not request something from unless I reached him through my mother.” This indirect approach caused delays that led young Gifford to feel disappointed and depressed. Later, he learned that, during the delays, his parents had discussed his needs. And so he learned that good comes from waiting patiently, because their discussions were based on their love for him.
In other words, by asking his mother to mediate for him, he learned that his father loved him very much. This is what happens when Jesus serves as our Mediator. It brings us closer to the Father. We discover how very much Abba-Father cares about us.
A very healing meditation is to visualize Jesus mediating for you. Start by recalling an incident from your childhood in which you felt unloved. Close your eyes and return to the scene. How old are you? Where are you? How do you feel? What happened that made you feel this way?
Then invite Jesus to come into the scene. What does he say to you? For example, a common punishment is to send children to their rooms. When my parents scolded me for a wrong-doing and banished me to my room, I felt rejected, ignored, and abandoned. I understood where I had erred, but at that moment the only thing on my mind was a deep yearning for at least one of my parents to come to my room and hug me, reassure me that they still loved me, and discuss calmly how I needed to change. And, most of all, I wanted them to affirm what I did right. In other words, I needed Abba-Father’s perfect love.
Years later when I brought this into a healing meditation with Jesus, he listened closely to my needs. (By the way, before beginning any healing meditation, pray and ask the Holy Spirit to anoint your imagination. That’s key. I’ll guide you through this in today’s exercise at the end of this chapter. And if what you visualize or hear makes you feel uncomfortable, or if you just can’t “see” Jesus because you’re not a visual person or for any other reason, quit trying and meet with a spiritual director, or a mature Christian who has an inner healing ministry, or a Christ-centered therapist.)
After I told Jesus what I had needed from my parents when they sent me to my room, I visualized him leaving my bedroom (after asking my permission – God is such a respectful gentleman!) to fetch my parents. He brought them in, one by one, and asked me to tell them what I needed. In this imaginary encounter, my parents listened and then asked for my forgiveness. I gave it to them, we hugged, and I asked God to forgive them too. Afterward, the little girl in me no longer felt like crying about being sent to my room. Jesus had truly healed me through the meditation. And most importantly, I no longer feared that Father God might “send me to my room”, a.k.a., punish me by rejecting me and abandoning me.
Today I don’t need to bring Jesus into the meditation. When someone disturbs me or a situation frightens me, I close my eyes and visualize Abba-Father sitting on that blanket in the field of flowers that I described earlier. I run to him, plop myself next to him, and snuggle into his side while he wraps his protective arms around me, smiling at me all the while. I tell him what’s bothering me and I don’t leave until he has comforted me with wisdom, reassurance, or simply his wonderful embrace.
Sadly, traumatic experiences make the healing process much harder. If your relationship with the Father has been damaged by trauma, until you work through the healing process, you will probably always feel unsafe with him and you will need Jesus to continue being your Mediator. If you get stuck there, ironically Jesus is separating you from the Father. You have unintentionally placed him between you and the Father. The good news is: Since Jesus and the Father are one God, there really is no such separation.
To feel closer to the Father’s heart of parental love for you, it’s very healing to see Jesus as not only a Mediator but as your pathway to the Father.
Jesus wants to help you go straight to the Father’s parental heart so you will know how very dear you are to him. Jesus knows that this will fill in the gaps of your human parents’ imperfect, insufficient love. He wants you to be able to climb up onto Abba’s lap and feel the safety and security of his concern for you. He wants you to feel his powerful arms wrapping around you and creating a zone of extreme peace with you at the center.
Make straight the safe path to Abba’s Heart
John the Baptizer preached, “Make straight the way of the Lord” (see John 1:23). To anyone living in Israel at the time, this was a message of safety. Today, we tend to see it only as a call to take no detours on our journey of faith.
In John’s time, as it was for Isaiah whom he quoted (“make straight in the desert a highway for our God”, Isaiah 40:3), the roads or highways were paths that had been forged by previous generations. They were not straight because travelers had to wend their way around hills and dunes. (See the photo at the top of this webpage.) However, danger lurked behind every mound because they might be hiding a thief or an enemy ready to pounce. So travelers made wide sweeps through potentially dangerous areas, keeping always in view the far side of the hills, allowing themselves room for evasive action.
They took the safest route. Not the shortest route. Heading straight through the area could have been disastrous. So, when Isaiah and John declared that people should make a straight way to the Lord, they were declaring that the Lord was safe.
As mentioned previously, those who were abused during childhood have more to overcome and re-learn about who Abba-Father really is and what his love is truly like. The visualization that worked so well for me, when Jesus introduced me to the Father and the Father pulled me up onto his lap, usually does not work for those who experienced trauma, especially when it was physical abuse.
The woman whose brothers began to abuse her when her father was taken from the home (Nancy) had been so traumatized that she could not even go to the Sacrament of Confession. It required being alone with a man, and this triggered severe panic attacks. After many inner healing sessions coupled with weekly counseling by a professional therapist, and by getting to know my husband Ralph as a friend in social outings, she gradually felt safer and safer around men. She returned to Confession and even began to enjoy this sacrament.
Abuse is but one way that a person might be violated. Any behavior from others that disrespects our personal dignity is a violation of who we are as children of God. We’re violated when a thief steals from us. And when anyone wrongly condemns us by false accusations, we are violated just as much as the truth itself is violated.
Many years ago, in the front yard of my New Jersey home was a row of evergreen trees that I cultivated. They had reached the height of about seven feet when a car careened around the corner and drove directly into them, knocking two of them down. The driver backed off of them and quickly drove away. The trees survived and are now quite tall and beautiful, but I felt surprisingly very violated.
The car was red, and for days I watched for a red car to pass by my house so that I could track down the driver. I don’t know what I would have done had I found him, but it became an obsession. I took walks nearly every day in the hope of finding this car parked in a neighbor’s driveway. Although the physical exercise was good for me, the mental exercise was not.
I asked Jesus to help me find this car. He answered the prayer by asking me to forgive the driver. He sternly but gently told me to let go of my need to find him. That was not easy for me. I had to force myself to obey him, but when I did, I received a healing. I no longer felt violated.
Why did tree damage disturb me so much? The damage was not permanent. I only needed to prop the trees up with supports to give them time to recover. What made me feel violated was the unwillingness of the driver to stop and apologize. I wanted him to show me that he cared.
When it seems like God doesn’t care about you, what feels violated?
In a subconscious way, the tree incident connected to times when my personal dignity felt violated because someone didn’t care about me. It reopened an old wound from the time my dad forgot to pick me up at the shopping mall. I was a young teenager alone, waiting, feeling abandoned and a little scared. My mother didn’t drive; I had to depend on my father who was very preoccupied with his work. We had no cell phones in those days, and I did not want to go off in search for a pay phone in case my father showed up while I was away from the predetermined pickup location.
He finally remembered me after he came home from work at the end of the afternoon and realized that I was not there. Undoubtedly he felt bad about forgetting me, but by then I was feeling too frightened, hurt and mad to realize it. My importance as his daughter had been violated. It felt like he didn’t care. Of course he really did care, but being forgotten is a form of personal violation.
When we feel violated, we feel very unsafe. Although my dad never again forgot about me after promising to pick me up, I continued to feel unsafe. Eventually, I matured enough to forgive him so that I could heal. I can now wait for a ride without the fear of abandonment if the driver is late. I’ve even had other tree incidents (damage of one sort or another done to my property) without wanting to track down the perpetrator to make them apologize. But in my relationship with Father God, I needed to do more than forgive my father before I could feel totally safe.
Keep in mind that forgiving is not only for the benefit of others. It’s a gift that you give to yourself. It’s the gift of freedom: You will no longer be chained to the source of the hurt. The more difficult giving forgiveness is, the bigger the gift will be because your new-found freedom will be that much more meaningful. But don’t try it by yourself. The Holy Spirit will empower you to forgive if you ask for help.
Also keep in mind that forgiving does not mean forgetting. Remember enough to stay safe without dwelling on what happened. By forgiving you will become free to remember without anger, fear, and stress. Then you will be able to find a new pathway to a new place of peace and joy. You will be able to persist in reaching this new place despite what happened to you.
Learning to feel safe with Abba-Father
Have you noticed that it’s easier to feel closer to God outdoors in the beauty of nature? It happens this way because creation is an expression of the beauty of God himself. God is more beautiful than we can imagine. Any image of him that makes him seem ugly in any way (such as a grumpy, frowning old man) is a lie from Satan who wants to take over as your father.
To conquer Satan’s tricks, find an image of fatherhood that makes you feel safe, and project that onto Father God.
When Nancy was struggling to feel safe with Father God, I asked her if she knew any kind-hearted old man. She thought about this for a while. Unable to identify anyone from her life who fit this description and made her feel safe, she considered her favorite TV shows. She remembered “The Waltons” and Grandpa Walton (played by actor Will Geer). “To this day,” she says, “Father God looks like Will Geer to me.”
Feeling unsafe with Abba comes in many forms, often without an obvious connection to safety. For example, when we feel frustrated about a lack of opportunities to make our dreams come true, deep down we might be feeling unsafe with God. In my own experiences, it seemed like God gave me talents, training, desires, goals and dreams and then refused to give me opportunities to use them! At best, he let me use them only partially and only in small ways. I felt like a caged bird prevented from flying with the wings that God had given me.
Here’s how feeling unsafe leads to feeling caged: When we’ve been violated, someone else has taken control – to our detriment. We are imprisoned by the demands they make on us when they force us to do something against our will. They have stolen our freedom to be who we really are and do what we prefer to do.
Forgiving the perpetrators puts us back in control. Regardless of whether or not they are actually remorseful, forgiving them frees us from the control they’ve had over our thoughts and emotions. And it frees us to heal the damage they’ve done to our relationship with Abba-Father.
However, to enter into the healing process, we must first identify the wrong perceptions about God that were generated by the lack of safety.
What makes you feel unsafe with God? Has he seemed uncaring? Has he asked you to do something that led to trouble and misery? Did you put into his hands a job interview or house sale or a travel opportunity and then suffer dashed hopes? Did you entrust a loved one to him but he/she died or abandoned the relationship anyway?
Let’s look at the proof that God is safe and is always safe.
- Abba-Father never violates our freedom; he never tries to control us. Proof of this is the free will that he’s given us. He never interferes with our freedom to choose sin instead of holiness, even though he wants more than anything for us to be holy like him. Whatever we do, he lets us do it because he has no desire to control us.
- Abba-Father has no desire to invade us nor force himself upon us. Consider the lost souls who remain far from God. He could easily break them in order to humble them, but he waits for them to realize how broken they have made themselves.
- Abba-Father never violates our personhood. Consider how Jesus treated the woman caught in adultery (see John 8:1-11). He protected her from being stoned, which was what the law prescribed for her sin. And then he gently, tenderly asked her, “Where are your accusers now?” After pointing out that none of them had condemned her, he said, “Neither do I. You are free to go; stop sinning.” He acknowledged that she had sinned without disrespecting her dignity.
- Abba-Father makes no demands against our will. Consider the last time the Lord asked you to do something and you opted not to do it. He might have asked through the priest who requested larger donations, or through a call for more catechists that awakened a desire in your heart until you reasoned that you had no time for it, or through an aging parent who needs more help from you. God did not punish you when you said “no”. Problems were caused by your “no”, but it was not God who caused them. And when you changed your mind and did what he asked, it was not because he forced it. It was because you went through some sort of process that shed new light or convicted you with a genuine desire to say yes. Right?
God does put pressure on us to do things his way. He did issue those ten commandments. Jesus did give a whole sermon about rules (see Matthew 5, 6 and 7). But every rule and every commandment is for our own good. We benefit from behaving the way God tells us to live. Never does he coerce us, though. We are safe with him. Completely safe.
The caged feeling I suffered was not caused by God. I needed to deprogram my misconceptions about God. So I gave focused on the truth: Abba-Father never inspires in me desires, goals and dreams in order to torture me by frustrating me with closed doors. Other forces are at work: the free will decisions and prejudices of people who failed to believe in my dreams.
Some of the blockages were indeed God’s “fault” – a happy fault, a blessing, because the timing was not right yet. I had to learn to see Abba-Father not as a father violating my right to use my talents and training but as a father who cares so much that he protected me from situations that I was not ready to handle. He also protected me from being exposed to what others were not ready to handle, for if I had freely proceeded, they would have caused problems that I could not have foreseen.
My cage door finally swung wide open one day during daily Mass. Actually, it felt more like the cage bars dissolved away. This book is one of the results. And although there are still people in my life who are not yet cooperating with God’s plans for me, I am safely resting in Abba’s lap while we wait together for their progress. It’s an active waiting that has kept me joyfully on an adventure of using my talents and training in other ways.
Today’s Exercise: Create a visualization
When you do today’s spiritual exercise, start with the idea that, to the Father, you are the only person in the world. Put aside the reality that there are billions of other people seeking his attention. God does not have the limitations that parents have when too many people and tasks and responsibilities prevent them from giving undivided attention to their children.
Nancy says, “I used to pray to God thinking that if my prayers made it to the office in Heaven, my message was laying in an in-basket on an angel’s desk. Or, if God did get it, that it was in a stack under more important prayers like praying for a war to end or praying for a loved one who was dying. I just didn’t think my prayers were his top priority. But when someone told me that, to God, I am the only person he’s focused on, then my prayers became more fervent because now I knew he indeed heard them and has put them on the top of his list of priorities.”
Early in this book I shared the story of how I met the True Father by visualizing Jesus taking me to the Father in his throne room. I also shared with you the imaginary field where I often go to sit with the Father on a blanket in a peaceful field. These are sacred spaces where I am alone with Abba-Father and he is giving me his undivided attention. Do you have a sacred space in your imagination yet? Let’s go there now. We’ll design one if you don’t have it yet.
1. Pray the following or something like it.
In the name of Jesus Christ, I offer my imagination to You, Holy Spirit. Anoint my imagination to receive inspired ideas. Help me to visualize a place where I can safely sit with God the Father and feel his love and realize how very precious I am to him.
Jesus said: “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:27-29 NIV)
Lord Jesus, reveal the Father to me.
2. After reading this paragraph, close your eyes and think about a beautiful place where you feel peaceful. You can use my imagery of the throne room or come up with your own scene. Notice that Jesus is standing next to you. He is smiling at you. He is happy that he can now introduce the Father to you in a new and more truth-filled way. What is he saying to you?
3. Imagine that Jesus is pointing out the Father to you. What do you see? If you have trouble seeing the Father or if the visualization becomes disturbing, say the name of Jesus over and over again until you feel peaceful. If the peacefulness never comes, stop and set up an appointment with a spiritual director or a Christian therapist who can lead you through this.
4. Go to the Father. Take your time. Take as much time as you need to approach him and hug him or climb up onto his lap or sit next to him. What do you see? Details are important because they help make the experience more real. (And it is real because you asked the Holy Spirit to anoint your imagination.) How bright is the scene? What else do you see? What is the Father wearing? Does he have a beard? Are his eyes sparkling? Is he smiling? Keep adding details to the scene.
5. Talk to Abba-Father about the fears you still have. Do this within the visualization. Afterward, write down everything you remember saying.
6. Here’s what Abba-Father says in response to you (adapted from Hosea 11:3,8,9).
It was I who taught you, [insert your name], to walk,
taking you by the arms;
though you did not realize
it was I who healed you.
How can I give you up, [insert your name]?
How can I hand you over to those who mistreat you?
My heart is overwhelmed;
my compassion is stirred up.
I will not give vent to my anger,
nor will I destroy [insert your name];
For I am God and not a man,
the Holy One who is with you.
Be Satisfied With Me (attributed to St. Anthony of Padua)
Everyone longs to give themselves completely to someone,
To have a deep soul relationship with another,
To be loved thoroughly and exclusively.
But God, to a Christian, says,
“No, not until you are satisfied, fulfilled and content
With being loved by Me alone,
With giving yourself totally and unreservedly to Me,
With having an intensely personal and unique relationship
With Me alone.
Discovering that only in Me is your satisfaction to be found,
Will you be capable of the perfect human relationship
That I have planned for you.
You will never be united with another until you are united
With Me alone,
Exclusive of anyone or anything else,
Exclusive of any other desires or longings.
I want you to stop planning,
And allow Me to give you the most thrilling plan existing,
One that you cannot imagine.
Please allow Me to bring it to you.
You just keep watching Me, expecting the greatest things.
Keep experiencing the satisfaction that I Am.
Keep listening and learning the things I tell you.
You just wait.
Don’t be anxious.
Don’t look at the things you think you want;
You just keep looking off and away up to Me,
Or you’ll miss what I want to show you.
And then when you are ready,
I’ll surprise you with a love far more wonderful than any
You could dream of.
You see, until you are ready and until
The one I have for you is ready
(I am working even at this moment to have you both ready at the same time),
Until you are both satisfied exclusively with Me
And the life I prepared for you,
You won’t be able to experience the love that
Exemplified your relationship with Me.
And this is the perfect love.
And dear one, I want you to have this most wonderful love,
I want you to see in the flesh a picture of your
Relationship with Me,
And to enjoy materially and concretely
The everlasting union of beauty, perfection and love
That I offer you with Myself.
Know that I love utterly.
I Am God.
Believe it and be satisfied.
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© 2020 by Terry A. Modica
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