The past couple of weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about God. Not just in the abstract sense of “oh, there’s an all-powerful, omnipotent being out there running the universe”, but rather in the sense of who He is. Who He is as our Father in Heaven, who He is to me as an individual, why He asks us to do what He does, all of it.
I’ve had a lot of time to think, clearly.
I’ve got a lot of friends going through a phase in their lives where they’re angry at God, or they’re feeling like He doesn’t hear them or care about them, let alone love them. I’ve got several who were raised Christian, and over the years they’ve stopped believing in Him altogether.
It’s not my place to judge. That’s not what I’m doing here. I’m not planning on climbing up on my soapbox and preaching repentance because people don’t believe in God. Because, honestly, I don’t think that’s the way to go about it.
But it really has kept me thinking.
Belief in and a relationship with God is intensely personal, one of the most personal things a person can pursue, and one of the most sacred relationships we can cultivate here on the earth.
We focus a lot on Christ as Christians, which is incredibly important – Christ is the core of Christianity. We pray to God (in Christ’s name), but sometimes I feel like it’s just a pit stop during the day, a twice-a-day and at meal times sort of relationship. We don’t really focus on who He is, other than to acknowledge His power and His role in our lives. We leave it as “God is our Heavenly Father, who loves us and we love Him,” and we talk about how He is our creator and holder of the blessings, giver of commandments, enforcer of obedience. We don’t try to know Him as well He knows us. We seek His hand well before we seek His face.
And when we think about who He is, it tends to be the bigger picture, not the detailed one that answers the question of who He is to us as individuals.
Maybe it’s just me?
Some of the most powerful revelations I’ve received while studying the scriptures have been about who God is. Most of it has come as I study the relationships He’s had with His people in the Old and New Testaments, and from what I’ve learned from the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine & Covenants.
Over the past couple months (and years), these are the six lessons that have been the most profound and have changed my relationship with my Father in Heaven:
1. The God of the Old and New Testaments are the same God.
This is a lesson I learned as I spent late nights and early mornings preparing seminary lessons last year, finding cross-references to bolster the New Testament stories I was studying with my young men and young women. Growing up, I think I tended to see Heavenly Father in one of two roles: the role of the angry God of the Old Testament, and the role of the benevolent God who sacrificed His Son of the New Testament. How could what seemed to be two totally different modes of Godhood be deemed the same? After all, the scriptures teach that God is unchanging and immutable, from everlasting to everlasting.
God has always asked the same things of His people. That’s why He’s unchanging. He’s never faltered in what He asks, only how He asks us to do it. He asks us to be obedient, to have faith, to be diligent, to keep the commandments He gives. He tells us that He is bound by our obedience. His response is in response to our response to His commandments (did you get that? Read it again.). Thus, we see that the Israelites in the Old Testament often veered into disobedience, which required a firmer hand than the disciples of the New Testament might have needed.
That leads us to a second lesson.
2. God is the God we need – not necessarily the God we want.
A lot of times, we get caught up on what we want from God – blessings, knowledge, answers, etc. But if we were to receive what we wanted all the time, we’d have very little growth, and growth is exactly the purpose of mortality. Instead, God often gives us what we need for our growth and eternal progression, even if some of those needs are trials or hardships. This isn’t to say that God deals out hardships left and right, but He does allow us to go through certain things that will strengthen us and help us in the long run. We might not want to go through hard things, but we need to go through them in order to become more like Him.
I realized how integral this understanding has become in the past few months when I noticed the internal conversations I would have with myself when things got tough. I’d catch myself asking God for a miracle, and then a few moments later telling Him, “but I realize I don’t need a miracle for my faith to be strengthened” or “I don’t need to know what the plan is right now.” I’ll ask for something, some proof of something or a sign, and the Spirit will gently ask, “but do you really need that?”
Understanding the difference between spiritual needs and wants has drawn me so much closer to the Lord, and has given me a greater appreciation for who He is and what He wants for each of us as His children. What He wants for us is tenfold more glorious for us than what we want for ourselves, because He has the bigger picture, the perfect understanding, the infinite wisdom.
This leads to the next lesson, one that is defining where I’m at in life right now.
3. God wants us to be comforted – not comfortable.
This is a hard one, but one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in the past few years. Towards the end of my senior year at SVU, I realized I had hit a plateau in terms of spiritual growth.
I loved my calling, I was faithfully attending my Church meetings (except FHE – I fail at FHE), I spent time in the scriptures every day, I sought service opportunities, I was reading books and talks and lectures given by General Authorities, and I was taking multiple Institute courses.
But I felt like I was in a spiritual rut. I felt like I wasn’t growing or progressing, despite how much time I was investing into it all.
It took a lot of prayer and study, as well as counseling with a teacher I loved and admired, to connect the dots. I was too comfortable. I was sitting on my laurels and wasn’t stretching myself, stepping outside my comfort zone. I grew spiritually when I was uncomfortable, when I was having to rely on God minute to minute to get through the day, when I was tackling new challenges and working with different people. In Buena Vista, at Southern Virginia, in that Institute building, I was safe. I was comfortable. I knew what was expected of me, what I expected of myself.
This isn’t to say that I go out and find hard things to put myself through! I promise, I’m not that much of a masochist.
But it is about recognizing when you’re too comfortable, when you’ve settled into so much of a routine that the Lord can’t get your attention.
God wants to comfort us in our lives, but He doesn’t want us to get too comfortable. He wants to climb a mountain with us, not sit beside us safe and sound by the hearth day in and day out. He’s asking us to leave port, to get out into the open seas to learn things, to sort out our potential, and figure out just who He is to us.
4. God is infinite in every detail of our lives.
This is something that’s really gotten me through the past several months, because to be entirely honest, this move to Utah has been painfully hard. But knowing that the Lord is in the details, even when I don’t know what those details even are, has been the one thing keeping me moving ahead. It’s been that knowledge that everything He does is motivated by His love for us that gives me perspective and courage.
And the details that I do see Him in are so precious, these reminders that He knows me, knows what I need (even when I don’t). They appear in the form of a friend, perfect timing, or even in the stillness at the end of the day. I see Him in the little tender mercies that don’t mean much to others, but mean the world to me. He orchestrates things to help us along the way, little love notes that remind us that we aren’t alone, that there are no coincidences in this mortality, especially not in our relationships with others.
He’s just waiting for us to see Him in those details.
5. Our God is a God who weeps – for us and with us.
I think this is one of the most personal aspects of the relationship we have with our Father in Heaven. He knows our hearts, He knows our shortcomings, doubts, and struggles. He’s not distant – He’s right there with us as we struggle, as we fight against temptation, and even as we give in. He’s there weeping with us and for us – when our hearts break, so does His. When our tears fall, so do His. He is a god of compassion, of ultimate empathy and unending love.
I think I drilled this principle into my seminary student’s heads more than any other, because it is so crucial to understanding our Father in Heaven: we love Him because He first loved us, and we call Him Father because He first called us sons and daughters.
Say it with me:
We call Him Father because He first called us sons and daughters.
Because of that love, He’s with us for the long haul, through the sorrow and through the sweetness of life, when we are in the depths of despair, and when we are lifted by the wings of joy. He’s with us when we are broken, when we are lost, when we are feeling so far from love that there’s little hope left.
When we weep, HE weeps. Our pain is HIS pain. Our joy is His joy, and our triumphs are His triumphs (because He doesn’t just weep with us when we are filled with sorrow).
And He weeps for us – when we are caught up in the midst of our struggles, when we are feeling alone, and especially when we think He’s not there. He is a God of infinite, perfect compassion, who wants us to know that He is beside us every step of the way, that He is a God of grace and mercy who wants nothing more than for His children to turn to Him in every hour.
Every time I read the news or turn on the television, seeing the reports of violence, discord, and the continual degradation of moral society, I am reminded [and given hope by the fact that] God weeps with and for us. And that gives me peace and hope, no matter what’s going on in the world.
(This is a principle that has been particularly precious to me over the past few months, something He reminds me of often as I struggle to settle here in Utah and sort out what’s ahead)
6. His plans are bigger and more beautiful than ours could possibly be.
I would say that 75% of my waking hours, I’m thinking about what my plans are, and forget entirely that God’s plans are bigger and better than mine ever could be. I get so caught up in the details, the stress of it all, that I forget that God’s plans for me are larger and more beautiful than any I could dream up on my own. He wants us to be instruments in His hand, to be a person that makes a difference in the lives of others, in way s that we don’t always comprehend or see at that moment.
Our plans must seem so simplistic and colorless to the Lord at times, with our narrow mortal scope of seeing the world. We get caught up on the day to day, on the week by week, which is important, but it’s not the only way to see things. I’ve always imagined Him watching us, shaking His head (lovingly), all while seeing our eternities open up in front of us, while we stare at the ground at our feet instead of the view ahead. Every once in a while we look up, but it’s only for a few moments, before we return to the study the gravel before us.
Sometimes I think we are better suited to the plans He has for us than the plans we make for ourselves – our struggle comes from our stubbornness, and our desire to do it all on our own, instead of asking Him to widen our vision, to fix our eyes, and to train our hearts to be lifted for an eternity rather than burned by mortality.
(Insert an iconic Prince of Egypt reference here)
Is it not so incredible that our Father sees our shortcomings and our struggles, our heartbreaks and our temptations, and still sets us on a path for a beautiful greatness? That says just as much about Him as it does about us – that He has faith beyond measure in our capacity and our ability, and that He’s willing to walk right beside us as He shows us what He has in store.
These lessons are ones that have entirely changed my relationship with my Heavenly Father. They are lessons that drawn me closer to Him, that has deepened my understanding of the connection we have to Him – we call Him Father because He first called us sons and daughters. We are the prodigals in every sense of the word, and He is the Papa God who doesn’t just stand at the door, or even at the gate, waiting for us to return. He’s running down that path, arms outstretched, waiting for us to understand exactly who He is and who we are to Him. He never stops running, never stops calling, never stops loving.