Reflections on the Christian Life
Lauren Mcneese, Managing Editor
Do you ever wonder how your relationship with one or both of your parents has impacted the way that you view God? Do we carry these views with us as we mature? Can they stick with us even into adulthood? Stephanie Hayes, intervention teacher, and Barton Stone, high school Bible teacher, gave their thoughts on the matter.
Hayes did not have a relationship with her mother until she was about nineteen or twenty years old. She says that while her parents provided, her grandmother raised her. She relates her lack of communication with her parents to a struggle to communicate with God. While she talked to him, she often only said what she thought he would like to hear instead of speaking from her heart. She admitted that she has a hard time with the fact that God could love someone like her, unconditionally. She explained that a hard season of her life eventually led her to talk to God about it. She expressed, “I remember one time in particular I cried over the thought of having to have this deep conversation with God. I just felt him being like I’m not your dad, I’m not your mom, I’m not any human to use it against you or where you feel like you have to hide it. Like, I am the safest person for you to talk to about anything.” Hayes said that while her parents loved her, she did not feel as though they loved her at times, and she had put that on God. She shared that someone once told her that her problem wasn’t with God, it was with her parents. Hayes suggested that the first father figure you have is your earthly father, and whatever he does well or does not do well you can put on God at an early age. These were the revelations that led her to realize that she was acting like God was a regular human when he wasn’t.
Similarly, Stone shared that he believes that his parents impact his view of God. He believes that everyone’s parents impact their views of authority, love, and discipline. Naturally, the way in which we experience those things growing up will play a role in how we expect God to treat and interact with us. He said that while his parents were phenomenal, one thing that stuck out to him was the impact that his relationship with his father had on him. He shared, “I would say that he just wasn’t very emotionally engaged with his children. When we were growing up, he was great in the sense that he took care of us and loved us, but I don’t remember him seeking us out and asking us intentional questions about our passions and our loves or asking us questions to be thoughtful about the things that we were doing and so it felt like he was very removed from our personal lives.” He observed that that has impacted him greatly in his view of God because while he saw God as King, Savior, protector, and provider, he didn’t really see him as a friend. His grandfather never hugged his father or told him that he loved him very often, and as a result his dad wasn’t very physically affectionate. While his dad was much better than that, he explained that you can only do so much better than what your parents give you.
Stone also reflected on his relationship with his mother and the conclusions that it led him to make about God. His mother came from a family that was very emotionally volatile, meaning that there were lots of big feelings all of the time and lots of shouting and yelling which caused her to see herself as unstable and out of control since no one had affirmed in her the ability to express big emotions. This affected Stone because as he was growing up he was taught to see those who were very emotionally expressive as people who were not in control, and control was something that was good and admirable and out of control was something that you did not want to be. “When you think about those emotions or states of being in positive or negative lights something that is emotionally expressive is not something that I associate with God,” he says. “God has always been very stoic, very distant, even mechanical, robotical if you will. And that has impacted my relationship with him because it was more of a machine where you input a program and you get something out of it. Like, you pray and you get something out of it, or will act a certain way and get something out of it, or act a certain way and get a negative result. So, if I’m acting good I’ll get something good and if I’m acting bad I’ll get something bad.” We get a lot of that from our parents, in that if you act out you will get punished. Mr. Stone says that this view is referred to as legalistic today, and it took him a long time to turn away from it.
Hayes and Stone also shared things that they knew to be true about God that they did not always feel to be true.
Hayes places emphasis on the idea that when someone says that they have you, they have you. When someone says that they have you, that means that you are one hundred percent secure. That person will stand by you when they say that they will and they will remain true to their word. She admits that she has to remember that God has her in every single thing. Not just financially, not just relationally, not just socially, but in every single thing. Anything that she could ever need, God has her. She has a tendency to compartmentalize and struggles to say that she needs God’s help in all areas. She puts it this way: “And for me I think that’s the biggest thing, to make sure that I don’t put up walls to feel like I got something and then I’m like Lord why did this not work? And he’s like because you didn’t let me get it. And so I think that’s the biggest thing for me, is keeping that in mind, he really do got me.”
Stone relates this question back to the problem of pain and suffering. He says that if what we know to be true about God is that he is good and loves us then it doesn’t feel true when things happen to us that are not good, that are painful. “I know it’s true because I trust in the person of Jesus and through his death and resurrection he has demonstrated his love for us,” he says. “That is something that grounds my understanding of what I know to be true about God’s character, especially in the moments that I do not feel it.” He continued, saying that it is similar to when we do not feel loved by our parents, yet we still understand that they love us because they have demonstrated it to us. When things don’t work out and we are tempted to ask God, ‘if you loved me, why would you let this happen?’ Stone said that is okay, and God can handle it. He reminds himself at those times that he is not omnipotent or omniscient, and he continues to go back to the person of Jesus and his demonstration of his love for us. It is then that he can trust that he is in control and in charge, that he does know what is going on and that it is not behind him.
We know that God listens to us, but it doesn’t always feel that way. Stone, however, trusts that he is listening. Stone connects this back to the way that we interact with others, and says that because we do not hear an audible response from God, it is easy to fall into the trap that he is then not listening to us, because that is how we interact with people. “If God is a person, if he is a being that listens, then we would expect to hear a response,” he explains. “But that comparison can only go so far because God is not a human being and it may just be that I am limited in my understanding of my expectation of his response. So maybe he is responding constantly to me. I am just expecting only one kind of response and therefore can’t hear how he is actually responding to me, so I may need to adjust my understanding of what it looks like for God to respond to us when we are talking to him.”