My honey and I were talking just this week about how our childhood, our life experiences, and yes, even church, can warp our perception of God, how we relate to Him, what we expect of Him (or don't), when we approach Him and whether we really believe that He loves us.
Over the last 18 months my understanding of who God really is, has undergone a transformation. I used to think that God was sort of aloof from me, vaguely interested in my life but not having the time or the desire to intervene in my life, except when I was really, really up against it. I guess it was the idea of "whoever needs me the most at the time is my favorite" that I heard come from my mother when people asked her which one of her kids she favored.
Church kind of put barriers between me and God. If I didn't toe the line, if I didn't witness, if I didn't read the Bible enough, or pray enough, or say the right "spiritual words", or didn't "speak in faith" - and if I didn't do the don'ts - don't smoke, don't swear, don't go to movies, don't wear jeans to church, don't ... don't ... don't ... then I would be accepted and my prayers would be heard.
Well that didn't work. All it did was ostracize me and make me feel ashamed for not living up to the standards that were placed upon me. Most of them weren't even what God required of me.
I cried out in desperation, "Will the real God please stand up?" I wanted to know Him, not about Him. I wanted to sense His presence, not some warm fuzzy feeling of being brushed by an angel's wing, or anything less than the REAL presence of God. I wanted to be rid of all the superficial, pitiful, and hypocritical nonsense that I heard all the time, and get to His heart. I didn't want to wait until the sweet bye and bye.
I had to deconstruct a lot of my perceptions about Him and ask Him humbly to reveal Himself to me personally. Not just what I read in Scripture, which is needed of course. But on a one-to-one basis. Personal. Intimate. Passionate.
And you know, He did. I had to learn to let go of a LOT of stuff. I had to go through a process of ferreting out all those false beliefs I had about Him, extricating myself from them, and countering them with the truth as He revealed it: through His Word, through prayer, through meditation, through worship.
Slowly I began to see a God who loved me UNCONDITIONALLY. Wow. Not IF I did the right things, not IF I didn't do the wrong things. NO MATTER WHAT. He extended an open invitation for me to let Him into those places I had been afraid to open to Him, and transform me on the inside, where it counts the most. Not because He's a control freak or a killjoy, but because He has my best interests at heart and He actually wants me to enjoy my life. Now.
Not starting in the afterlife, but RIGHT NOW.
There were some very hard decisions, the most important of which was this dyad :
1.) Can I trust Him? (i.e., is He trustworthy?)
2.) DO I trust Him? (i.e., will I give Him my whole being, my will, and my daily life, over to His management?)
Those are the questions that I face in every circumstance. As He proves Himself faithful in every situation, I learn to trust more, and hesitate less.
As R.W. Emerson said once, "All that I have seen leads me to trust my Creator for all that I have not seen."