Friday, September 18, 2015

From Behavior to Beloved

Here is Day 5 of my 30-day Faith Challenge for work....

Sept 18
Write down your feelings about God's love for yourself. 

Romans 8:39
"No power in the sky above or in the earth below - indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord."

God thinks you're special. Does that make a difference in what you think about yourself or others? Write down your thoughts to reflect on later for a reminder of God's love.

Keller has a Jesus Loves Me book given to him by his godparents. This book not only plays the song when you push the button but features illustrations of children playing and eating with Jesus faint in the background looking over the children and participating in their activities. 

I love these images. I always point out Jesus to Keller as we read the book (and he pushes the music button over and over and over….). I say, “Jesus loves Keller. See, Jesus loves His children. Jesus loves Keller.”

As children I think it’s easier to believe the foundational truths of Jesus made me and He loves me. There isn’t really a doubt until the hard things of life come our way to cause questions. 

For me, that time came in the transition from sixth grade into seventh grade. That was a hard year for me. That’s when things like shame and feeling put down over my choices—whether good or bad—became the main thing. Through Jr High and High School I was constantly judged and questioned for every little thing I did or liked. What you like that Babysitter’s Club book? Don’t you know it has a storyline about divorced parents in it? It’s bad to read. Or a better interpretation: You are bad for reading it and even liking that. Over time these feelings seeped into how I believed God felt about me.

When my parents separated during my junior year of high school, I used to read Psalms for hours and hours in my room. I cried out to God for help and that book in the Bible gave me words filled with emotion when I had none to offer. Yet, I was told I “wasn’t having enough faith” by youth leaders during that tumultuous time in my life. I was so confused. I’m pretty sure that if I had shared about my Psalm reading, it would have been doubted and questioned and I would have been asked to prove it. 

And so, during that time in my life, behavior and morals became the main thing and I began to believe that was the main thing God cared about too. Jesus loves me? Well, I prove my love by what I do for Him. He gave His life for me so I am supposed to give everything for Him, even to the point of risking my own health and well-being. I was also told what that should look like in my life, dictated by the leaders in my faith community. I operated this way a lot through college as well. 

Now, I got by living this way for a while but then I had children of my own. Taking it a step further, I got a job writing for children. 

Upon being hired, I was ready to roll up my sleeves and teach the basics. I had learned how to help others be good followers of God by that time. There was memorization of Scripture to teach and morals like the Ten Commandments to help them learn. 

As I began my writing job, I discovered this would not work. In fact it was the exact opposite of the foundation of my curriculum. I was tasked with reading a couple books to get an idea of this new philosophy of leading children to a place where they could encounter God—not teaching facts and information that would make them good little children in society.

I also discovered this was in the power of the Holy Spirit, not my power. In meetings I was forced to look at Scripture according to what God is doing, not what I was supposed to take away and do. This….this changed my life forever. Have you ever looked at a passage of Scripture just to see what God is doing and what it says about Him? I sure hadn’t and I found a bunch of stuff in the Bible I had never, ever seen before. 

We began with Old Testament passages. It was a rough started because I began on the Genesis 3. Yeah…try teaching about sin and the curse to 6 year olds. But as I found my groove, more emerged. For example, let’s look at Jacob. Jacob means “deceiver” and deceive he did. He worked such a number on his family that he was forced to run away for fear that his own brother would kill him. After running for a bit, he finally stopped to rest. (This account is found in Genesis 28:10–22, by the way, if you want to read it.) 

Until this point Jacob had done all the wrong things. Yet, God came to Him. (Via a ladder extending from the sky—what?!) He assured Jacob of His presence with these words: “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” This is all God. All God! And Jacob knew it. See his response in verse 16: “Surely, the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” Yeah, man, I can relate.

Now, we can argue that Jacob was in the lineage of Abraham (someone else God came to and made a promise to even though he was a pagan worshipper prior to Genesis 12) and that is why Jacob received special treatment. But, aren’t we His children? Haven’t we been given promises by God that He will be with us (Matthew 28:20)? Haven’t we been “grafted in” to the promises given to Abraham’s family (Romans 11:11–24)? If so, how could I believe that what I do makes a difference in how God treats me, in how He loves me and what He thinks of me?

This is possibly where it all started for me, at least that’s one point I remember well. (Around that time I also read some pointed thoughts about my Identity via Chapter 4 in Spiritual Parenting by Michelle Anthony.)

After getting through Jacob and then Joseph’s part in the Bible, I jumped into New Testament passages for lessons. I wrote a little about my experience with the Gospels in a post called “God Sees” found here. This is where I began to see Jesus—God in human form—and His love in tangible form. Look at how He treats those around Him—including women and children. There is nothing and no One like Him.

Slowly I began to believe that God felt that way about me. In times when I had nothing to offer Him or had disobeyed, He was still there. He was comforting me, loving me just for being me. Just as I was.

I spent two and a half years writing curriculum and wrestling with these concepts. I was committed to helping young minds grasp these concepts too, not just during those elementary years but for lifelong faith. So that when shame hit them in middle school and beyond, this was there identity: Beloved of God. Always and forever the Beloved of God.

Along the line, God changed me and showed me the same things.

When the project ended, I was a different person. Toward the end of creating the lessons, our team didn’t know if the project would end or morph, but one day, I got a call from HR. Just before the phone rang, I got a text from a coworker and friend saying, “I’m in a meeting. It’s not good.” And I knew. I knew that particular season of writing and wrestling was over. 

As soon as I got off the phone with HR, I opened my computer and sent a message to those people who had been praying and grappling alongside me as I wrote lessons. Here’s a portion of the e-mail I wrote on that day in 2011:

I am grateful for my time at Cook because I believe it served as a strong stepping stone in my journey. I had wanted to work for Cook for almost 10 years, and that was accomplished. I made a ton of great friends there and found a love for all things related to spiritual formation. Also, I got to spend a LOT of time reading and studying the Bible. I learned incredible things about who God is because of that, things I never knew about Him before and how much He loves me. I AM His beloved. I am seen.

I was thinking last week about how I worked on this project with the leaders, kids, churches, and families in mind. But I wonder if God didn't create the project just to shape and grow me. Would He do something like that? Move an entire ministry to fund a project just for my spiritual growth or just the members of my team? I don't know for sure. However, I think it is possible. I will not take that for granted.

My pastor’s wife responded:

Yes, dear Becca, your God would move an entire ministry to fund a project just for you. He loves you that much!

And I believed her.

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