And when's the last time you changed your opinion of Who God is?
When's the last time your perception of God and your relationship with God changed? They should, you know.
Think of your relationship with your best friend since Grammar or High School. Or your parents. Or your spouse. Over the years, these people have changed and grown, as you have. If your relationship hasn't changed as you and your loved ones changed, that relationship probably got stale and boring. It no longer gave you and your loved one life. Change and growth are meant to bring new life. Yet many of us think that our perception of God and our relationship with God shouldn't change. Why not? Isn't our relationship with God the most important one in our lives? Yet all of us, in certain ways, stay emotional "children" in our relationships with God. For example, as Fr. James Martin says,
"Many believers assume that their relationship to God will remain the same - or should remain the same - as it was when they were children. Some adults feel, for instance, that they cannot be angry or disappointed with God, since they did not harbor those sentiments when they were young. Or, more likely, they were told that those feelings were wrong."
Yet think of your adult relationships. Would they have grown over the years if you weren't honest with each other? Truly intimate relationships give people the freedom to express their emotions to each other without fear of rejection or denial. Being honest with God is letting ourselves be known by God. Fr. Martin says
"It's the same with prayer. If you are saying only what you think you should say to God, rather than what you want to say, then your relationship will grow cold, distant, and formal. Honesty in prayer, as in life, is important."
God wants to know you deeply - so reveal yourself to Him. You won't disappoint Him. He loves you! Don't forget that He gave you all your feelings. So talk with God about the things you would talk about with your best friend. Your fear and loneliness. You addictions and failures. Your feelings of competitiveness. Your sexual feelings for someone, maybe someone who belongs to someone else. As you speak to God, you hear yourself - along with experiencing the new subtle feelings and thoughts in yourself that come from God as His response to your prayer to help you know yourself and discern what to do. Sometimes He blesses us with deep peace to calm our emotional storms.
Some of us, when children, were taught that religion - or a relationship with God - basically consisted of following a strict set of rules. But, says Fr. Martin,
"An overreliance on a rules-based religion can lead to an image of God as a stern traffic cop concerned only with enforcing the law or, as one friend said, a parole officer. How many children who studied the Baltimore Catechism concluded that spiritual life was not an invitation to a relationship from a loving God but a series of complicated rules from a tyrant God?
"This style of instruction may be necessary to educate young children, but if that teaching is never deepened it can hinder their ability to relate, as adults to God. It would be as if in your twenties you related to your parents the same way you did in elementary school. The most obvious example of being stuck in a childhood idea of God, which I've heard from almost every person I've directed (in spiritual direction) is the tendency to see God not only as a judge but, worse - to use the image of the French philosopher Rene Descartes - as an 'evil genius.'"
Some of us grow up continuing with an overdependency on the "power" of rules. Yes, rules are important. Boundaries are important. But we can't act in our relationship with God as if obedience to rules is all that God cares about. Jesus taught us that rules were made to be used by human beings, human beings were not made to be "used by" rules. That is why the disciplinary rules of the Church can change over time, as certain rules and procedures were changed by Vatican II. Undoubtedly over the years, other disciplinary rules and Church procedures will continue to change as new generations bring new problems and new insights. God is bigger than we can imagine. No generation has all the answers - or all the "best" rules.
If we choose to take a leap of faith, perhaps a huge risk, and start praying consistently to God, trying to find out how God communicates with us, trying to listen to God, slowly, imperceptibly, the "real" God starts to emerge into our consciousness, along with a more adult relationship.
If we believe that God has a hand in what has happened in our lives, we can search our memories and see and remember what God has already done for us.
Perhaps, for example, we carry a heavy load of bitterness at God in our hearts because of the abominable childhood we've had, and our first failed marriage. Why did God allow all that to happen to us?
I ask - Did you take that anger to God in prayer? Remember, I said earlier that we have to be honest with God for our relationship to be genuine. Often when I talk to people who are angry with God about something that has happened to them, I ask "Did you tell Him? God has broad shoulders." So many people don't talk to God when they're angry at Him. They begin a cold war that they expect will last their lifetime. But - then they're emotionally "stuck" in certain remembered episodes of their lives.
Because if we keep remembering our lives, we will be overwhelmed with God's gift to us of sacred memories that open us to thankfulness. For the children that bless our lives, born perhaps during a marriage or relationship that later failed. For the wonderful spouse whom we have now, or had. For the job that's been fulfilling all of our life. For the gifts of friends and faith communities. For sunshine and snowfall, the taste of apple pie and the smell of lavender. For the ability to be more sensitive to the hurts of others because we understand what pain is.
If we allow our relationship with God to grow, we realize, through the memories that come to us, that human sinfulness and brokenness often cause the painful situations in our lives, and that God, Who is good, has showered us with many blessings. God has given us multiple joys, to balance our afflictions. Can we tentatively start to reach out to God and start to redevelop our relationship with Him?
If you had an abominable childhood, you may find it hard to relate to God as a parent. Yet God is the best possible father or mother. Even if we had loving parents, once we're adults, we have the opportunity to relate to God as Parent in a different, more mature way.
"When preachers speak of God as parent, they often use the image of the parent with a child. Father Barry believes that the 'relationship between an adult child and his or her parent is a better image of the relationship God wants with us as adults." (Fr. James Martin.)
When we're children we think of God as the great Problem Solver, and beg Him to do it all for us. As adults, we can pray "May your Holy Spirit be with me so we can do this together." After all, God gave us all wonderful talents to be used in His service! If we think of God as the God of Surprises, we can picture God saying to us "All right, what great ideas do you have for Me? Surprise Me!" St. Katherine Drexel always said that God wants us to dream BIG!
As adults, we also have the opportunity to relate to Jesus in a new more mature way, not only as Savior and Redeemer, but also as brother and friend. Jesus said to his disciples - and us - "I call you friends." Jesus gives us the best insights into the Person Whom his Father and our Father really is.
Pope Francis tells us that Jesus is the Face of God. And this Face is always and utterly Mercy. Jesus teaches us that God desires mercy, not sacrifice. Jesus shows us by his life and death that God excludes no one from His care. We human beings may talk a lot about coming together in unity, but often enough we cement our unity as groups by excluding others. Our groups are known both by whom we allow in them as well as by whom we say must stay outside of them. This propensity to exclude others, carried from generation to generation, is proof that original sin is real.
Jesus incurred the wrath of the religious leaders of his day by refusing to exclude anyone and by upbraiding them for placing heavy, legalistic burdens on their followers. We can't remain children in faith and in our relationship with God by pretending that Jesus' call to enlightenment and for inclusion was only to the Jewish religious leaders. No, his call continues today because Jesus is resurrected, alive, with us today and until the end of the world.
Growing into a full and mature relationship with God our Parent and Jesus our Brother involves looking into the Face of Jesus, the Face of mercy, and then "growing" more and more tender consciences about whom we exclude from our lives, our politics, our friendships, our Churches.
Who is today's Samaritan woman at the Well, the woman who went to the well at noon so she would not meet any of her neighbors who would revile her for her many husbands? Who is today's Zaccheus the tax collector, whom his fellow Jews excluded because he had a job with the hated Romans? Who is today's Geresene demoniac, thrown out to live among the graves because the townspeople considered him to be possessed by many devils? In every case, Jesus accepted and healed the ones whom society considered expendable and unnecessary. He reunited the excluded ones with their communities who had rejected them. He forgave those who were bound up in sin.
Jesus reminds us that every human being, from womb to tomb, is a thought of God, a heartbeat of God, a person whom God has created to be a unique member of society, and to uniquely continue to create his or her life in freedom and acceptance until that life is brought to fulfillment. We come to a fully mature relationship with Jesus when we make his Face of Mercy our own and walk by his side, looking carefully for those who hunger and thirst for love. When we pray to God "Increase your mercy in us."
Who is God for you? By what Names do you call Him? Do your Names reflect an intimate relationship with God? Do your Names for God tell you that your relationship with God is in need of maturing? Ask God to help you grow your relationship with Him through the power of His Holy Spirit. For God promises us that He will never refuse the Holy Spirit when we ask. Come. Grow. Know your God and mine as One Who has a Face of Love, Mercy, and total acceptance.