Good Fathers

baby-203048__340What is a father? The variety of answers that this question elicits are almost unlimited. The possible replies are limited only by the number of human fathers that have existed. The description may incite joy or fear, hope or despair depending upon your personal experience. I have been blessed to have been raised by a loving human father. My concept of a father is one of unconditional love. This has made my relationship with our Heavenly Father easy to learn.

Despite this there are pronounced differences between my earthly father and my Heavenly Father, and I recognized many of them early. My earthly father could build anything, but he could not make other people do what he asked. My Heavenly Father could make people do what He wanted but chose to let us have free will.
Good fathers sometimes allow children to experience difficult things if it is needed to help them grow. Fathers who bail their kids out of every problem and buy their kids every gadget raise kids who have no ability to care for themselves. They become selfish, needy adults who take rather than give.

france-85871_960_720My Heavenly Father has been teaching me about humility and trust quite a bit lately. If God did what I wanted He would simply heal me. But, God knows far more than I do, and He clearly believes that I need to learn to submit to His will sometimes without fretting. I am reasonably good at giving my worries to God. I have a great deal of difficulty in letting go of the problems that I have given to God. I continue to fret and worry. Wisely, God my Heavenly Father is putting me through a training course on humility and submission. The world calls this course chronic illness; God calls it teaching His child.

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I faint, and nearly faint. The nearly comes from the fact that after many years I figured out that it is much less embarrassing to put your head between your knees in public than it is to fall on the floor unconscious. After a good blood test at the doctor, who is treating my anemia, I nearly fainted while standing in line to make my follow-up appointment. This could be the definitive description of embarrassing. They had to move another patient out of a treatment room to get me into a room with a recliner so that I could lie down with my feet up to recover. That is only a piece of the inconvenience that I inadvertently caused. All of the ordeal was only to find out that my anemia is still under control! I told my fiancé that it felt humiliating. He wisely told me it was a gift.
God, my Heavenly Father, is teaching me humility. That is what my fiancé pointed out. Humility comes from the same root as humiliating.

All too often we ask why God allows suffering and difficulty in the world if He is good. The question assumes that we know what the good is.

Often we know good, sometime we miss the point. Some hardship exists to teach us how to grow up into the kind of people we are made to be. We are made in the image of God. That fact usually causes us to expect greatness and power, but Jesus is God’s Son and true God. What we are trying to grow up into is Christ-like. Our Father knows that we will never become who we were made to be as long as we call good only the things that feel good to us.

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Good fathers don’t give us whatever we ask for. They do not solve all our problems, nor do they remove all our challenges. They would if it actually made our lives better. They would lay down their own lives for us if it would really help us.

The truth is they sometimes are required to love us through the hard places. Good fathers want us to learn and grow. Helping us grow means that they may walk through a fear or embarrassment with us rather than for us.

Our God is a Good Father. We see the evidence in all the blessings we so easily call good. If we look carefully we can also see the traces in the gifts that don’t look good at first. Then we may trace the trail of Jesus’ suffering through the tears or feel the Holy Spirit’s groans that are too deep for words and then the Father’s seeming inaction may make sense–good sense.

 

This post is a reflection on God as our Heavenly Father from the Nicene Creed. It is linked to If:Gathering app and the study on the Nicene Creed.

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Growing Up Into My Three-Year-Old Self

Three-year-old joy

Three-year-old joy

At the end of each of the hardest physical crashes of my life, I realized that I had been pretending to be someone I am not. I was pretending to be strong. Perhaps it was an unconscious attempt to fool myself into ignoring the physical symptoms of the fatigue. At any rate, I had to do some soul-searching each time and recovery included not only rest but a deliberate attempt to reconnect with my gentle, authentic nature.

Right now I have a picture of myself at age three on my inspiration wall. She had such an enthusiastic smile that little girl. What became of her? At that age I radiated joy because I still knew pure love. I had experienced cruelty from the neighbors, but I was so young that I didn’t know it would continue. I loved everyone and I still believed that everyone loved me. All people and all of God’s beautiful creation was filled with love. My Mommie told me that Love (that was God Himself) made the world go around. I believed it. I thought everyone knew God was all loving. I thought everyone knew Agape love. I could not have articulated these beliefs at three, but that was the world that I knew then.

My life is a process of growing back into that innocence. God is love. He has made everything good. All creations will one day be restored to what it was meant to be. We are here in this brokenness to learn to be our three-year-old selves in spite of the evil still prowling the world.

Leaning into JESUS, not our own strength, is the only way to grow a strong spirit. Meekness is the opposite of weakness. We can only be meek when we learn to let love grow stronger than fear. No one can be meek when they are operating out of fear. It requires the option of retaliation and we choose forgiveness instead. When our response is based on fear we are listening to the evil in the world not the love that comes from God.

Actual strength and wisdom only seem to occur when we go through the fires and the floods of this life and remain our gentle, loving, authentic selves and survive to reach the other side of one adversity after another. We spend so much time relying upon ourselves that we can lose touch with who we really are along the way. Learning to trust God enough to be our original selves in a harsh world usually involves much physical suffering and loss of strength. I wish I knew an easy way to reconnect with that three-year-old joy again. I will keep the picture up for a while as a reminder that the world is a glorious place full of wonder and awe. Love made the world. He is all good and we are His children.

The Cart

imageI had a dream that I was going down a lonely road in an old, rattle-trap cart. It was a very bumpy ride, which was frequently brought to an abrupt halt when one of the wheels fell off. In addition to being small and uncomfortable to ride in the cart was old and shabby to look at. Though it was foggy I could see many ugly patches on the cart. I was filled with self-pity. How had I come to be riding in such a pathetic, old cart? Why was I slowly bumping along an empty, dirt road in the middle of nowhere? I envied those who were fortunate enough to be swiftly riding down well paved interstates in luxurious speed. Oh, how I wished I had the Mercedes and smooth road.

I was so cramped in my little cart that when the wheel fell off, as it frequently did, I could not get out of the cart to put it back on myself. The wretched cart held me fast. I had to sit still until someone came to help put the wheel back on my cart. My impatience to be off, along with my shame over having ridden in such a wretched cart caused me to be less than courteous to my assistants.

After the wheel was fixed off I went, rattling along again. I regret to say that on more that one occasion, being in such a hurry, I whipped at the front of the cart, For though the fog hid the beast, I was sure from the slow pace and the condition of the cart that it must be a pathetic, old mule, or some such dismal creature that was pulling my broken old cart.

After a time, I noticed that it was often the same people who came up from behind to fix the broken wheel. Being in a more appreciative mood on day I asked my helper why they didn’t just get into the cart and ride with me since we seemed to be going the same way. My offer was graciously declined. The poor souls preferred to walk. My progress was so often halted that the walkers were always catching up with the cart when the wheel fell off. Though I had a sometimes lonely ride I considered myself better off than the walkers, Unfortunately, I was frequently loosing a wheel or getting stuck in the mud. The walkers pushed with all their might to get me out of one bog, yet they never gave up or passed me by.

After spending a long, cold night with a broken wheel, one of my fellow pilgrims came up to help me again. “If you don’t want a ride, that’s fine. It’s cramped in here anyway, but why are you following along behind me?, I asked. My assistant looked surprised at the question and replied, “I’m not following you. I’m following Him.” I looked at the front of the cart as he pointed and for the first time the fog cleared enough that I could see it was not a mule harnessed to my cart but a man. Here was a tired looking, ragged man, with sweat and blood running down his face, holes in his hands, feet and side, and a crown of thorns upon his head. Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God was pulling my broken cart!I wept with tears of guilt and remorse at how bitterly I had complained about being in such a broken, old cart. I had taken out my frustration on the slow speed and inhospitable road on the one who had never left me despite my ill-usage and self pity.

Now freed from my folly I was able to climb out of the cart and worship at his feet. “My child,” he said, “Can you take up your own cross and follow me?” I fell into walking with the other pilgrims as we followed him down the narrow, ill-kept, dirt road.

He never walks unharnessed. He is always finding someone in a broken down cart to pull. It is much easier to walk than it was to ride in my old cart. We walkers help to pull carts out of the mud and repair their broken parts. All the while we keep our eyes on the Master, the humblest and most broken looking one on the road, Yet he alone has the strength to pull a cart. He can and does. And we follow the humble Master who leads us home.

Sometimes I am in the broken cart. Sometimes you are the one creaking along. We all ride in its’ miserable confines at one time or another. When we are strong enough we get out of the cart and follow on foot. When you’re stuck in the cart remember you’re never alone. Christ is pulling you.