Moving forward to our next Missionary Objective, we are encouraged “to teach people to see how God sees us, and how God sees those around us.” Good linguistic nitpickers that we are, the question crossed our minds as to how to interpret this objective. Are we to consider the character in which we are perceived by God, or the process itself by which God views us? We find value in both. So, let’s examine both!
This week, we will tackle the first interpretation, the character in which God perceives us. It is a daunting task to presume we have any capability of deciding how God does anything, we know, and so we state at the outset that our teachings are not definitive or complete. They are one aspect of a study that for many is not complete even after an entire lifetime. Our charism, our angle, if you will, is consistent with our entire Mission. Our suggestions are based on evidence of relationship. We are confident enough to put them forward as the core of our teaching, and comfortable enough to say that, in our humility, we do not intend to limit God.
How do we appear to God?
We could dive into Scriptural evidence, of which there is plenty, referring to God’s imagining us (Psalm 139), calling us each by name (Isaiah 43), and loving us powerfully (Romans 8). Yet, we choose a verse which gives a sense of the relationship God intends with us, 1 John 3:1: “See what kind of love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God.”
Of all the manners in which God perceives us, Missionaries of Saint Thorlak emphasize that God sees us as children. This theme is reiterated several times in Scripture: John 1, Matthew 19, Galatians 3 and 4, Romans 8, and 2 Corinthians 6, to name a few.
What do we know about children as a cultural concept?
God sees us in many ways, but the particular way we emphasize is His seeing each one of us as His child. When God sees you and me today, He sees us as we were when He first imagined us into being. He sees our innocence, potential and hope. He sees our most vulnerable needs. He sees the wishes of our hearts. He sees what frustrates us, what delights us, what confuses us. He sees our talents and applauds them as any proud parent applauds our tiniest achievements. He sees where we have been misled, hurt, betrayed and conned, and aches for the hurt we feel. He accepts each crumpled daisy we pick for Him as though it were a majestic bouquet fit for royalty, and He is not exaggerating. He loves us and delights in us and longs for the best for us… each one of us.
Those of us who have had difficult and ugly childhoods struggle greatly with this concept, of God seeing us as children. It triggers our impulse to flee or fight. It triggers hostilities and shame. It makes it no less true. It means that the ugly reality of the world has damaged our ability to believe that God is any different than those who violated our trust.
It makes us ask: If You, God, see me as a child, why didn’t You step in and shield that child from being violated? The answer is not simple. God can’t limit people in what they choose to do. God is the Father Who Loves Perfectly but exists in a different plane and is not a human hero who beats back evil with a sword. God conquers evil with love, and that takes much longer to bear out than intent to harm.
It makes us wonder: Do those among us who have not fully experienced childhood have difficulty comprehending a God who sees us as children? There are many who do not connect well with children, or enjoy play, or tolerate depending on others, or enjoy others depending on us. Anxiety and precocious academic interest are two things which quickly short-circuit childhood. Some have coined autism as a condition of “premature adulthood,” and that description fits in many ways. Some of us have had to grow up in a hurry when disaster, tragedy or family hardship preoccupies what would have been our innocence and our formative time to learn to trust well. It does not change how God sees us, but it significantly alters our ability to comprehend why that is important.
We encourage readers to ponder these thoughts in anticipation of next week, when we continue the discussion from the other sense of the statement: By what manner, or process, does God view us?
Pray: Heavenly Father! You are a Father to me, and You love me as your own child! Help me understand this relationship more fully!
Contemplate: How easily do I imagine God seeing me as a child? Do I feel at ease with this idea, or uneasy?
Relate: How would our relationships be different if we recalled each person before us as the child they once were?
May the power of Divine Love shine in and through my weakness, so that He might be glorified in and through me, and that in my weakness, His power may reach perfection. Through Christ Our Lord, AMEN.
Fr. Mark P. Nolette - Spiritual Director for the Mission of Saint Thorlak