Thursday, October 20, 2016

Asking Myself: Who was God for you when you were a child?

This is the 30th post in my series "Asking Myself," in which I weekly ponder one question posed in Teresa Blythe's rich book, 50 Ways to Pray. You can find the start of the series here and last week's post here. The first nine posts focused on theological musings, while posts 10 to 25 prayerfully consider the specific questions Jesus posed in the New Testament. Posts 26 to present focus on Questions on Spirituality.

Q: Who was God for you when you were a child?

Try as I might, I don't have a cogent essay to answer this one. Instead, I present here a hodge podge of memories and impressions.

God as Protector
You know, as a child, I think I always felt pretty safe. I was secure in God's protection. This is surely in part a product of my loving and secure upbringing and the fact that my country was not war-torn or in a state of unrest. But even on a spiritual level, I didn't worry about losing or being lost.

There is a dream I had that seems to speak to this question. I might have been about eight years old. It was realistic in that it seemed ordinary- my house was my house, I was me, the lighting and quiet were all very much they way they were. (I point this out because usually my dreams merge people and places into new composites that are as much fiction as they are nonfiction.) The one strikingly abnormal thing about the dream was that there was a an evil presence against me in some way, perhaps Satan himself. He'd slipped into the normalcy of my house and his intentions were for ill. And in my dream I went to the top of my staircase and belted out a song from Sunday school; it echoed against the vaulted ceiling of the stairwell.

"I love You Lord, love You Lord, love You Lord!
I love You Lord, love You Lord, love You Lord!
I love Him; He loves me. Who can ever separate me
From the love of the Lord?"

Somehow I knew this act of faith would defeat the enemy. I woke up, and no longer felt the lurking power of darkness. Thinking back to it, another youth group song plays in my head. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony...

God in Nature
Another impression I have of my childhood theology comes from a distinct memory of this little copse near our yellow townhouse on Dumont Lane, which dead-ended into a soy field. I think the house is still there, but not the trees or the bush with the huge lacy compound flowers that smelled like anise, nor the soybean field where some of the older kids formed an explorers club and invited me to catch tadpoles with them.

Oh the wonder of those tiny, bare bones memories. Many are just an image even-- nearly faceless, because I can't remember the names or countenances of most of the other children. But I remember the cool green of grass under my bare legs, and the bees and gnats flitting and buzzing like stars in the horizontal light of afternoon sun. I feel the dappled light and shade of the woods, with its hollowed out center--probably where the older kids got into trouble-- but for a 4-year-old, it was more like a hallowed hollow, a secret hide-away for magical thoughts and solitary, sacred moments. These moments in nature were and are in the remembering like God to me. God enfolding me, entrancing me, cherishing some little light within me.

Has my brain edited my memories to make them more romantic? The journalist in me would like a second source to verify what seems so idyllic looking back. But most of my memories involve a little only-child, and I can't ask her now. Perhaps my mom was watching from the living room window on the second floor.  Or maybe she was even there beside me, but I had let my imagination tune her out, just as my three little boys do to me so often now. I am there but invisible, because their little minds have carried them to another planet, another story. But I am there watching and noticing and loving them. In this parable, I see yet another angle of who God has been for me as a child, even though I was completely unaware.

God as Conscience
God was also my conscience. That tiny nagging, niggling voice that would under no circumstances allow me to tell my mom I had brushed my teeth when, in fact, I had not. I learned from an early age it was much easier to tell the simple and accurate truth than to wrestle with heavy heart and gnawing guilt. 

I don't know if I was motivated more to keep a clear sky between myself and God or between myself and my neighbor, but at any rate, for many, many years, conscience was the only way I ever heard God's voice, and it was almost always a negative sensation until I yielded to its instructions.

So there you have it. Three random and nearly unrelated puzzle pieces of who I think God might have been to me as a child. How about you, dear secret readers? Who was God for you in your childhood? How did you perceive Him? How do you now see Him as being for you as a child from your adult vantage point? And what can this question teach us or remind us about Him today?

Next week: Can you recall a time when you felt resentful, angry, or afraid of God?

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