“My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love.” - 1 John 4:7-8 (The Message)
I have the distinct privilege of leading a weekly online small group, focused on inner renewal. We talk a lot about mental, spiritual, and emotional health. It’s a support group of sorts. The conversations we have, lead to some deep and meaningful soul work.
This week was scheduled as an “off week,” but because of the self-isolation that comes with this Coronavirus pandemic, we voted to meet anyways - because we are all craving human connection. I was thrilled to host a bonus session, but this also meant I had to create a new coaching exercise. As I prayed over the session and considered what I know about each group member’s journey, I quickly knew I should do something that focuses on spirituality.
And there’s nothing more important than understanding what we believe about God.
Have you ever sat down and pondered who God is, and equally as important, who God isn’t?
For years, I believed in an angry, egotistical, emotionally unstable, abusive, fear-mongering God. I believed in a Cosmic Santa Claus version of God who was making his list and checking it twice. I was convinced that if I wasn’t a “good little boy,” my name would make it on the Naughty List (the opposite of the Lamb’s Book of Life), and worse than a lump of coal at Christmas, this angry, vindictive God would condemn me to eternal conscious torment.
Growing up with that kind of fear-based God left me in a constant state of shame. I could never live up to the unrealistic expectations of that God. In turn, no one else could ever live up to my unrealistic expectations of them. In that brand of Christianity, we focused merely on outward behavior, to the detriment of genuine faith.
What do you believe about God?
Has your image and understanding of God changed since childhood?
What have you learned is not true about the character and nature of God?
Thankfully, I no longer believe in the angry God. God is not my abuser. God also isn’t some beck-and-call girl, awaiting my every demand (in prayer).
These days, I am convinced that God is an ever-present help in time of need, choosing to love me because of (and sometimes in spite of) myself. I believe God’s very nature is Love (1 John 4:7-8). Because God is involved in my life, and because God is unchanging, I don’t have to fear the egotistical, emotional, angry God of my childhood. I also don’t have to perform, or memorize some formula, or have all the answers all the time, because God is patient with me, His child.
As a result of this view of a loving God, I will do my best to be loving toward myself and others. My understanding of God informs my view and treatment of self and others, compelling me to live from a heart of compassion and empathy, rather than judgment and fear. I will give myself and others the space to breathe and just be, trusting that we all belong to each other, and to God.
Remember that worksheet from earlier? Here’s what mine looks like.
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Steve Austin is an author, speaker, and life coach who is passionate about helping overwhelmed people learn to catch their breath. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers, "Catching Your Breath," and "From Pastor to a Psych Ward." Steve lives with his wife and two children in Birmingham, Alabama.
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