Sunday, October 18, 2015

True Love Isn't Conditional

At church, we've been studying the book of Exodus.  Today, we focused on Moses' response to God calling him (from the burning bush, if you remember the story) to go convince the Egyptian king to free the millions of Israelite slaves.

God tells Moses to go AND follows up his command with promises and encouragement:

  • I will lead you.
  • The elders will accept your message.
  • I will raise my hand and strike the Egyptians.
  • He (the king) will let you go.

Moses's response?  "What if they don't believe me?"

God has just said, "The elders will accept your message."  Obviously, Moses doesn't think God is telling the truth.

So God preforms THREE miracles to encourage Moses.  Each miracle proves that nothing is more powerful than God.  No fear, no seemingly-unbeatable enemy, no national superpower. (Read the story in Exodus chapters 3 and 4.)

Moses' response? "Lord, I'm not good with words. I've never been. My words get all messed up."

Does God strike Moses dead for his doubt?  His pride-disguised-as-humility?  His blatant defiance? No.  He keeps encouraging Moses and reminding Moses who HE (God) is and Who is doing the work here.
"Who makes a person's mouth? Who decides who will speak and who won't? Who will hear and who won't? Who will see and who won't?  It's me! Go!   I'll be with you as you speak and I'll tell you what to say."

Surely now, Moses will say, "Okay, God. I got it! Sorry I was slow on the uptake."  Nope.  Moses pleaded, "Lord, please! Send anyone else."

Other places in scripture say God is slow to anger.  (Not "He doesn't get angry"...it's just slow-coming.)  This time, The LORD becomes angry with Moses.  Strike-with-lightning time, right?!  Moses pulled the last straw!  No.  While God is angry, he encourages Moses yet again and even gives him tools to help him obey.  "Okay, your brother Aaron.  He's good at speaking. He's coming this way.  You still have to go talk, but I'll let you tell Aaron what to say and he can be the spokesman."

Why retell this story?  Because it's the perfect picture of grace.  A picture of the Gospel.  A foreshadowing of the Grace we receive through Christ and the Grace we must be offering others.  Notice, in Moses stubborn refusal, God doesn't make a sign that says, "God hates doubters," then goes and waves it in Moses' face. He didn't say, "Whelp, you're not obeying me, so down to hell you go."  He didn't sit back and post on facebook about how messed up Moses was.  He was patient.  He allowed Moses to experience the feelings he was having, even if those feelings were a direct affront to God.  Sinful.  Look back at the story. Moses is basically telling God, "I don't believe You can do anything you just promised me."  Blasphemy!  He's saying God's a liar!  He's arguing with Holy God, right there as physically close as anyone has been to God thus far.

Why is this story SO relevant to my life today?  This Grace supernaturally led me to offer Grace over the past 2 years.  It will sustain me in the future when I want to just follow my anger, my apathy, my pride.

My oldest child came to me with a lot of hurtful statements over the past couple of years.  She shared a lot of scary feelings.  She had a lot of dark thoughts.  She engaged in dangerous behaviors.  She wanted her life to be over.  She saw no reason to live.  She didn't feel loved or worthy.  She didn't want to follow God.  She thought He was a jerk.  She wanted to live life her own way.

Parents, I can encourage you with what I learned over this trial.  And I know I will need to follow my own advice again in the future.  I don't know how people do this without the strength of the Holy Spirit, because none of the "good" things I did were naturally from me.  I messed up a lot!  I said a lot of wrong things.  But I kept remembering God's mercy and grace He gave me when I was running far from Him, living completely contrary to His will AND trying to cover it all up.  Sinning hypocrite.  But He showed me Grace.  He loved me.  He didn't give up on me.  He didn't let me go.

What I learned as a Christian mom with an angry child who engaged in some risky behaviors and felt like she hated God?

Pray.
And when you can't pray, rely on the prayers of others.  My mom and dad prayed a LOT.  I needed to know they were, because honestly, there were days I agreed with my daughter and felt like God was playing some cruel trick on our family.  Days I doubted deeply.
Let me add, don't tell your suffering kid (or parents of suffering kids) to "just pray."  It's trite.  Christians know they are supposed to pray.  They probably are praying and still in the middle of severe suffering.  Prayer doesn't just magically solve everything, so don't speak to someone as if it does.  Instead of telling your kid to pray more,  YOU quietly pray more for them.  If God leads you, pray out loud for them.

Allow your child doubt.
God can handle it!  See the Moses story?  There are more stories like this throughout the Bible.  God doesn't hate doubters.  He embraces them.  Doubt leads to decisions. When your child tells you about their doubt or even unbelief, build your OWN faith by trusting that God will reveal Himself.  I only asked my child to keep questioning, keep telling God she didn't believe or didn't think she believed, or felt like He was mean.  I asked her to keep the dialogue open, to read the Bible for herself, not relying on what society thinks about God or how Christians behaved (which is sometimes heartbreakingly embarrassing), but on the actual Word of God.  I told her that her faith could not be her mom's faith.  It had to be hers.  With God, though, you have to decide.  Saying you're "agnostic" means you've made a decision to not believe.  If your kid is doubting, it means she is thinking.  That's a good thing.  To tell her it was okay to doubt, question, and even express her anger with God TO God, required trust on my part.

Trust the Holy Spirit
Ask the Holy Spirit to guide YOU.  Don't first ask God to change your kid. Ask Him to change YOU. To show you how He wants you to respond.  When He wants you to just be quiet. He will show you.  Do what He leads.  Follow His example from scripture.  Then of course, you can ask God to change her heart.  Just always keep in mind that you aren't God.  You aren't the Holy Spirit.  What you think is right for your kid might not be.  So when you pray for God to change your kid, include the acknowledgement that you want your child to follow God's plan, even if that veers off the path of what you think they should do.

Love your kid where she is, no matter her behaviors.
Are you cutting off love or affection to your kid?  Are you embarrassed by her behavior?  Worried about what others will think of you?  Yeah, that's God trying to teach you something about YOURSELF, not your kid.  LOVE your kid.  Show it, even when she's pushing it away, yelling in your face, refusing love, or even engaging in "embarrassing" behavior.  Keep showing it in whatever ways you can. Ask God to help you with your own pride.  If your child is being destructive to herself or others, there have to be consequences and boundaries, but never withdraw your love, affection, and time from her.

Focus on the heart, not outward behaviors, whether good or bad.
While my child had some severe outward behaviors going on, I could see her heart.  With her mouth (and hands...ASL), she was saying, "If this is who God is, then I hate Him."  In her heart, she was questioning.  Wondering why God allows such bad things to happen.  Don't we ALL do this?  The answer is yes.  With her behavior, she was hurting herself, hating herself.  In her heart, she was asking for help in her despair.  In the moment, it seems nearly impossible to look past the outward behavior, but I beg you just take a breath and think through it.  If you can't understand the motivation for your kids' behavior, seek out people who can help you.

Rely on others.
I had friends who had similar experiences speak into Hannah's life and into mine as her mom.  They helped me understand things that were completely foreign to me.  I had a friend who mentored Hannah, taking her out for coffee every week.  We relied on two weekly counselors, in-patient and out-patient therapies, youth pastors, friends, and school staff.  God made us to be in community.  Let others help you, then be there for others whenever you can.  Again, this requires laying down of pride.  It's worth it!

Today, my questioning, doubting daughter Hannah was baptized, publicly announcing her faith in God and the work Christ did on her behalf.  I have 100% confidence that her faith is her own.  I'm praying for my other 4 kids to develop their own faith.  God is worth it.

Maybe you don't believe in God.  Maybe you're not sure.  Maybe you feel like God is a jerk.  I would ask you to do what I asked Hannah.  Just wonder.  Even if you think you're talking to an empty sky, ask God if He's there.  Ask Him to show Himself to you.  Read some scripture.  Don't look to our American "Christian culture," media portrayal of Christianity, or even popular pastors.  You'll be gravely disappointed.  I'm sorry if you've been hurt by any of these groups in the past.  Read some of the actual Bible.  Maybe John or Philippians.  Question, read, seek.  God already knows your name.  He can handle your questioning.  And He's worth seeking.

6 comments:

  1. Amen and amen. Great, GREAT advice, Sarah. I'd love to share this with our prayer group. There are a lot of hurting parents (including us!) who are struggling in prayer for their kids, unsure of what the outcome will be but desiring to trust God no matter what.

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    1. Yes, of course, share! Hugs and can't wait to catch up when I see you soon.

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  2. This is beautifully said. We had a very very difficult Summer with our 19 year old son and honestly off and on difficulties since he was 14. The struggle is real but our GOD is bigger! He has seen us through many dark days. Hannah is a beautiful soul and I truly enjoy having her as a FB friend. I have been praying for her and all of you for quite a while and will continue <3

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  3. Hi Sarah,
    Thank you for sharing what you have learned for others to glean wisdom from as well as to be encouraged by your words. I believe this is one of the ways God doesn't waste pain. He's using you and your story and will continue to do so. Blessings,

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  4. I've just read through a few of your old posts labeled depression and it's been super encouraging to me. I've now got a few big questions to work through, the biggest one being "Do I believe God's love is unconditional?" Having been raised in the church, I 'know' it is, but... that doesn't seem to change the way I live.

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    1. Josiah, I know what you mean. I, too, was raised in the church. It's easy to believe that God's love depends on our behavior, but scripture shows me that He loves me always, even when I'm a jerk. Even when I don't believe. Even when I'm rebellious or apathetic. "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." We were His enemies. It's supernatural.

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