My relationship with God is a struggle.
When I was in early elementary school I would pray the sinners pray every night because I believed that it mattered and it would save me. Then, when we moved to Mongolia it became clear to me that God’s Kingdom was paramount over individuals and that my suffering was necessary for the spread of the gospel. Even in college, when I said goodbye to my parents, I was assured that it was a sacrifice that was honored, further shaping my worldview and theology of God.
My God was cruel. He was shrewd, calculated and dogmatic. He didn’t care about me, he cared about his plan and the pain in my life was collateral damage, a necessary sacrifice so that God’s glory could be bright and shiny for the world. His love did not protect.
Every experience in my life, every justification, every sermon, every betrayal or loss served to build a framework for who God is and who I am. So, when David writes about the creation of a pure heart in Psalm 51, I don’t think he is speaking of the sin that we commit but of the pervasive sins of our personal stories that have built a false structure of reality. A structure we may fully believe to be true.
I can see that my heart, my perceptions and my worldview are all contaminated. I had believed I was saved through a prayer. I believed that God’s sovereignty caused my suffering. I believed God cared more for his work than for me. I believed he would turn his back on me and leave me to fumble my way through life alone. I believed he had expectations that I live a life of transition and insecurity and danger. I believed he created me in order to use me. I was his tool, just an object to be utilized to fulfill his great calling. I believed that my treasure would only be accessible in heaven after death. I believed that to follow God was to suffer in silence.
A year ago, just before Covid hit hard, I was having coffee with a friend. I was depressed and I was tired. I expressed to my friend how I longed for safety and security but that I knew that wasn’t what God values. She stopped me and she said, “That is not God’s voice. God is not saying that.” It was a beautiful moment, one that I won’t forget, and it gave me courage to question my theology, my missiology, and my childhood experiences.
I have been living my life under a theology of God that has hurt me. It has led me to places and into relationships I never should have gone but chose to go because I believed it was good and expected. I suffered self-loathing and shame, believing that my needs and desires were selfish and wrong. If God doesn’t love me then how can I love myself?
Facing this truth has not been easy and it requires a certain grit to dig for lies, especially when it begins to dismantle areas of faith and theology that I wholeheartedly believed to be true. But I am happy that I am on this journey of recreating the God I thought I knew so well and as the lies are being dismantled, my struggle with God is subsiding. It’s a gradual ebbing, to be sure, but I can feel the release within my soul the deeper I push into God and contemplate who he is.
This image of God that I am familiarizing myself with is awesome. He is a God who created me to love me and to be loved by me. He has no expectations of service and no demands on me. He sees me and he isn’t disappointed in me. He loves me more than any work and he isn’t a God who uses me. He is a God who wants to sit with me, have coffee with me, dream with me, and care for me. Suffering is not his design and there is a fullness to life he gives in the present. He is a God that I want to know and the more I know the more I want to love him in return.
It’s good to feel conflicted. Just like physical pain, emotional pain informs me that I am hurting. It means that there is something within myself or with my ideas or my beliefs that are wrong and it needs to be sorted out. So, my struggle with God is the best thing for me because from the struggle comes a deep security in God that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
In what ways do you currently feel conflicted? How has God used struggles in your relationship with him to draw you closer?