It happened again last week. Another client sat across from me in my counseling office, and with panic flashing in his eyes, said, “I feel like I’ve let God down. I’m terrified that I’ll get to the other side and He’ll turn me away because I wasn’t enough. Because I failed Him.”
Different forms of this fear have become increasingly frequent disclosures from my clients. I see their heads bow in shame as they share these concerns. I feel their hurt; their feelings of unworthiness; and I’m left wondering how and when our image of God became so warped. When did He become this figure of disapproval, of condemnation- someone waiting to catch us in our shortcomings and cast us out? This is not the God I know.
But perhaps this is all WE know. Perhaps we’ve become so accustomed to disappointment, that we can’t fathom any different. We’re so used to judgment from others and judgment toward ourselves, that this is what feels comfortable and normal. Letting others down, while extremely painful, is what we’ve come to expect.
And so we project our human experiences with mankind onto God.
But God is not mortal man. Imagine a God who knows you; really knows you. He knows your strengths, your weaknesses, your potential. He knows you and loves you so perfectly that there’s little you could do that would surprise Him. Could a God that knows you that perfectly be disappointed in you?
Disappointment is rooted in expectations. And as humans, we’re full of expectations for ourselves and for others. These expectations are rarely met to our satisfaction, and because of this, out comes the shame, blame, and resentment. But these expectations often come from our own immaturity, lack of understanding, and lack of patience with ourselves and others.
I spent some time with my 4 year old niece a few weeks ago. She’s the youngest in her family and she wants so badly to be able to do all of the things that her older siblings can do. I saw her become frustrated with herself when she couldn’t figure out how to read a story that her older sister was reading. She tried and tried to figure it out, and then finally threw her little arms up in the air in frustration and gave an exasperated sigh of defeat. Did we all pounce on her with scoldings of disappointment and send her to her room for failing us? Of course not! We hugged her and told her that it was okay that she couldn’t figure it out yet, and that she’d get there eventually.
She was disappointed and frustrated in herself, but there was no disappointment from us.
I believe that instead of a condemning God, He is an encouraging and compassionate God. A loving Father who knows you and will welcome you home with an embrace of, “Well done. It was hard, and messy, and confusing down there, and you tried your best. I’m proud of you.”
I believe in a God who weeps with us in our own feelings of frustration and disappointment with ourselves, but does not embody these feelings Himself.
A God who sees our potential and gives us every opportunity He can to push us toward it, but is incredibly patient with us in our process of learning and growth. This is the God I know.