When I was a kid, I loved to wrap kite string around a pencil, tip up a shoebox in our front lawn with my contraption, and then put a piece of bread inside the box. I’d hold the string several feet away, hoping a bird would fly into my homemade trap. If a bird flew into the box, I planned to pull the string to drop the shoebox so I could bring the feathered friend inside and make it a pet.
The birds were too smart to fall for my trap. But I kept trying.
Over the years, I’ve realized I attempt to put God in a box too. I wrap my brain around words, images, and theologies about the Creator to explain or understand the Source of our Being. Sometimes I even want others to understand God as “I think you should understand him.”
But, like trying to trap a wild bird and make it a pet, you can’t put our relationship with God into a box. Our efforts to put God in a box stops us from experiencing the endless beauty and vastness of the Divine. It gets us stuck in our heads.
Helped by the wisdom of Richard Hauser, I discovered my image of God was too small, so I gave up God-catching.
What’s Your Image of God?
Richard Hauser, S.J., in his book Moving in the Spirit, says the Western world has created a false narrative about God. We always want to make God happy. We aspire to gain the favor of a grumpy ol’ white-bearded Divine Guy who sits up in heaven ready to send thunderbolts on us if we mess up. As a result, we’re afraid of God.
Hauser states there are two models for our relationship with the Creator. One model suggests We initiate—God rewards. The other states, God initiates—we respond.
A Pinocchio god?
Hauser calls the first model the “Western model.” It’s the pattern most of us follow.
The Western model suggests we’re in control. When we do good, God rewards us. We initiate the relationship by striving to be perfect, and when we “are good,” God is supposed to respond by giving us what we desire—wealth, good health, a happy family.
As I read Hauser’s explanation, it reminded me of Pinocchio. We pretend we’re Geppetto and God is Pinocchio. We attempt to pull God’s strings by doing good stuff and expect the Creator will then shower us with blessings. Because we’re always seeking to please God and gain the Creator’s favor, we may think we’re in charge, but we’re not. Bad things happen even when we do good—which frustrates us and distances us from God.
Hauser helped me understand the Western model I’d been following was wrong because it prevented me from listening for God with my heart. I was too busy trying to pull his strings. I wanted to earn God’s favor by being the perfect altar boy—the perfect, flawless adult.
But God is not a puppet-god. And hard as I try, I’m never going to reach perfection.
With Hauser’s inspiration, I realized it was time to let go of the false beliefs I’d developed. It was time to discover who God really is.
The In-to-me-see God
The second model is the scriptural one, according to Hauser. It’s consistent with how the bible describes our relationship with God.
It suggests God is always initiating and moving in our lives, his Divine love drawing us closer toward wholeness, inner peace, and balance. Our job is to listen and determine where and how God is guiding us, and then respond by following the Spirit’s lead.
The scriptural model reminds us we’re God’s Beloved. The Creator is the One who made us and wants what’s best for us. Because we’re unconditionally loved by our Creator, we’ve been gifted with discernment.
Hauser describes discernment as: “My effort with God’s grace to respond always to the movement of the Spirit within myself.” According to Vocabulary.com, the word comes from the French root discerner—to separate by sifting; to distinguish between; to perceive; to learn wisdom.
I like to think of my relationship with God as one of intimacy—“in-to-me-see.” When I trust God—when I know he’s got my back and wants me to be happy—I let God see my innermost self. I open my heart and let him see-into-me. And I can then see-into-God’s heart too.
After reading Hauser’s book, I came to understand there’s a hidden presence within each of us that constantly works to bring us into deeper intimacy with God—to bring about good in our lives because God wants us to be happy.
This hidden presence is the Holy Spirit. The more we learn about him, the more we can respond to his guidance in our lives.
By listening for “God nudges,” we can recognize the Spirit’s movement in our lives. And since the language of God can only be heard in is silence, when we listen with our hearts, we strengthen the spiritual muscle of discernment. We respond to the inner movement of the Holy Spirit.
Reading Hauser’s book unlocked a key to one of life’s mysteries. I realized my perspective about God was all wrong. Because of Hauser’s wisdom, I’ve stopped trying to be a perfect altar boy—the adult-kid trying to please Daddy—and, instead, I set aside daily quiet time to stop and listen for Divine directions. I open my heart each morning to let God love me and teach me how to live.
My image of God changes occasionally. Sometimes the Creator is Mysterious Wonder. Other times, God is as close as my skin. He’s the “in-to-me-see God” who desires to guide us with Divine Wisdom.
Take time this week to consider your image of God. Who or what is the Creator to you?
Let your image of the Divine be big enough to embrace you with Infinite Love.
—brian j plachta
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