Thursday, October 24, 2013

My Mother's God

Something happened about a month ago, that I've just now taken the time to process, and think about.  This was about 2 weeks after I was "outed" as being done with the Mormon church.
   About a week before Stef's death, I had a huge breakdown. I went from furiously angry to bawling hysterically in literally 5 minutes. My husband and I are used to my bipolar-swings, but this was crazily intense.  (I later found out it was withdrawal from my meds, I had mixed up the bottles of Seroquel and Loritab from my tooth being pulled).
   During my emotional upheaval, my mom texted and asked how I was doing. She hadn't heard from me in about 3 days, and was concerned. I told her I was having a terrible, horrible day and everything seemed overwhelming and hopeless.
 My mother's response? "You should pray. God wants to bless you, but you need to let him in."
  It really bugged me at the time, and now I have figured out why.

   If that is the God my mother believes in, I don't like him. For a lot of reasons.

First, why does an omniscient being need me to ask for things he should know that I need? My husband and I recently took charge of our first long-term foster kids. We've had them 3 days now. This is my first real experience at being a parent, and I already seeing how I differ from my mom's God. I don't withhold things they need, waiting for them to ask.  For example, the kids didn't have a brush. I noticed that while they were unpacking. Instead of letting them go days without brushing their hair, or making fun of them for being uncombed, I gave them a brush. They didn't have to ask for it, because I saw their need and made it better, before they realised it was a problem.
   In my head, that's one of the points of parenting-to help kids over bridges before they catch on that they have to cross the waters. Especially foster kids, who come into every placement with fear, anger, and baggage.

Second, why is it up to me to "let him in" first, if he's waiting to bless me? Again, I have a parenting reference. We were taught in PS-MAPP (required fostering class) that all kids in the system have experienced trauma and may be slow to warm up. Most -if not all- kids will have behaviours. So we knew that going in, that there would be an adjustment time. But even when the kids were being rather annoying, I never waited for them to behave how I thought they should before I was as kind and as patient as I could be. My...I guess it's affection, because it's really too soon to call it love...isn't conditional. I don't think in the back of my head "If you don't warm up to me, I won't warm up to you." I know that these kids are trying their best, but they have a lot of complicated emotions, and don't know how to deal with them. I don't expect them to conform to my way of thinking or acting before I care about them and want to help them.

Third, the opposite assumption is that God is cursing me because of my non-belief. If I were to take what my mom said at face value, then I have to assume that what she is saying is either God cursing me for my non-belief, or he is waiting for me to "suffer" enough to go back to him. Whichever way I want to believe, it's not a pretty idea.  What kind of a parent (especially one who is billed as loving) deliberately causes harm to their kids, just to get them to do what they want? I grew up in a neglectful/abusive environment, but my parents never hurt me as a form of manipulation. I was hurt because that was the only way they knew how to discipline/deal with heavy emotions. When I am feeling generous, I feel that I was abused out of ignorance.  But never, ever harmed as a precursor to my actions.
  Or, I could choose to feel that God is waiting for me to be humbled enough to crawl back. The sheer arrogance in this makes me sick.  Why would a parent-any parent-be OK with their child feeling pain? And not just being OK with it, but almost hoping for more, just so their child would return?  My sister had made some unhealthy choices in her life. Because of this, she was in constant pain. Emotional, mental, even physical a lot of the time. My mom never said "I hope she suffers enough that she comes back to church." The closest she ever got was "I will be here to support her when she reaches rock bottom. It makes me sad she doesn't believe in God, but I still love her."

Finally, if God wants to bless me, then why doesn't he just do it? I was taught God is infinite, omniscient, all-present, and loving. All of these are reasons why He was fully capable of blessing me, regardless of my belief in Him.  My first thought after I typed that was "Maybe he had been blessing me, and I didn't realise it."  Because that was something I was taught from a very young age. Everything good happens because of God. You found a dollar on the sidewalk? God knew finances were tight, or He knew that you wanted a cookie.  Your colicky baby sleeps through the night? God knew you needed sleep that day.
   So was I not recognizing his blessings? Was I being stubborn and purposely blind? Was I like the 9 lepers, who didn't even bother to say "thank you"?  I'm going to say NO. Because if God is omniscient and all-knowing as I was taught, then wouldn't it best serve His interests to bless me in ways that I could give him credit for? I mean, He wants credit for EVERYTHING, so why not make his blessings so obvious?  A package on my door saying "FROM GOD-Chin up", perhaps?
   Then I hear the voice in the back of my head "God works in mysterious ways".  I'm curious as to why he does that. The Old Testament God wasn't subtle or mysterious at all. BAM! Floods! BANG! Flying fiery serpents! BOOM! Tearing apart a tower and scrambling the languages!  Even the New Testament God was kind of rude. Darkness and earthquakes (for days, according to the Book of Mormon), as punishment for something you knew was going to happen in the first place?  Call me crazy, but that's baiting. Or trap setting. That's not good parenting, or even being a decent person. That is just vindictive.

It's weird how the more I am around kids, and parent, the more I realise how distasteful the God I grew up with is. I was taught that we should read the scriptures to find out about God. I'm honestly considering making up a list of parenting techniques that are counter-productive, that I've found through studying church literature.
   I'm having a hard time merging "God loves you" with "God lets you suffer so you're humble enough to come back to him."  Because the latter almost sounds abusive. And frankly, I've had enough abuse in my life to be OK with taking it from the one guy who should be on my side no matter what.
   Oh wait. That guy is my husband.


  1. Great post. We need to be careful at what we say about "trusting god" to people, or portraying God as something he is not. I don't have a problem with God not behaving as we do with our own children. I think maybe we came to earth to feel that separation from eachother and from god. But I do want to be realistic about it. If god exists, he is staying out of human affairs more than most admit, and so, we should go around setting people's hopes up high.

    1. I see your point. I was taught that "God is like [your] earthly father, but perfect!", so I've always assumed that He would have the same, but better ways of parenting as mortal parents do.
      I want to put your last line on a T-shirt, and wear it everywhere.

  2. Most parents I know actually do try to control their kids behavior by inflicting punishments or rewards which is problematic by itself but not nearly to the extremes that God supposedly takes things. Also what does it say when a parent will take the trouble to help some of his children with things like finding their lost car keys or passing their history exam but ignore others who are starving, in pain, or truly suffering no matter what they've (supposedly) done to deserve it. And yes, I'm aware that Mormons will say that not all trials are punishments but "an invitation to grow" which is even more sick. I can't even imagine starving or abusing my child with the justification "He's a really great kid and has done nothing wrong to deserve this but I'm just hoping it'll be a great learning experience for him."

    That aside, congrats on your new foster parent status. I hope it proves to be a rewarding experience for both you and them. Also, the affection you feel for the kids can certainly be called love. Yes, bonds increase over time but I think that just choosing to take them in was an act of love.

    1. I've wondered that, too. Like why the Friend magazine tells stories of kids finding their toy after praying, but never tells any about kids magically being saved from abusive homes.
      The more I think about it (and the more you point things out to me), the more I realize the God I grew up with is a sick jerk.
      And thanks! We really get on well with these kids. We had them like 2 or 3 days, and the little boy said that he doesn't care if the judge didn't let them go home, he's happy with us.
      I'm trying to tell myself it's not love, because I know it will tear me apart when they leave. It's silly, I know.

  3. Ohhhh, that tore my heart out. That boy's home life must have been absolutely terrible for him to be indifferent about going back to his parents. I'm so glad you're there for them. Also, just a word of caution. The safer kids start to feel with you the more they'll really test you and act out. It's super frustrating but also a sign that you're doing something right and that the kids are still capable of forming attachments.

    1. That's what I thought, too. Like how bad was it that 3 days was all it took?
      And thanks for the tip! I'll try to be prepared.

  4. I read this last week but wanted to take some time to digest it before I commented.

    If one accepts that the stories of the bible are inerrant and divinely dictated, as opposed to inspired, then one creates for oneself the cognitive dissonance that you touch on in this post.

    I offer instead the following: The holy books of the God of Abraham are divinely inspired however, the human body and mind does not have the capacity to hold all that is God and maintain life therefore the holy books were written by men through the coloring of their life experiences. Perhaps the God of the Old Testament and the New Testament are the same god but their stories are told through the lens of different men.

    Moving from that, when someone says to me "God wants to bless you, but you need to let him in" because of my experience and upbringing what I hear is "Make room in your life for blessings by cutting out that which does not serve." In my experience it's a relationship which means there should be love, communication and a willingness to compromise but also an understanding that BOTH parties need to do their part.

    Hope that made any sense.

    1. Thanks! I'm trying to switch my thinking from "ANGRY GOD" to "LOVING GOD".
      I do prefer your interpretation of God wanting to bless me. I'll have to process this for a few days. :)

    2. Not an easy brain switch to make, I know :)

  5. I found your thoughts provoking, in a good way. I also have a problem with some of the ways God is represented.
    My perspective, is a little different I suppose as a mother of 6, and particularly as I now have 2 young adults, and 2 teenagers. Their have been times when you tell them what they should and why they should do it and what the consequences are, they choose to ignore you or even mock you. I believe a good parent would allow an older child to suffer the consequences of their actions for a little. An example would be I have a 19 year old son who is lactose intolerant and gets bad dermatitis when he eats poorly. He has a good paying job and a car, he eats take away all the time, consequently he gets really bad dematitis. I told him how to care for himself I cook nutritious meals, he doesn't eat them. Eventually he got so run down that he got an infection in his arm. We took him straight to the Doctors. A lot of pain and still no change in behaviour. Then two weeks later he got a second boil in his leg, 4 days off work and excruciating pain he has finally started to eat a little healthier, and to treat his dermatitis.
    The main difference is I am not all powerful or all seeing, but if I was all powerful and I protected him from all consequence would he learn to take care of himself would he learn respect for my wisdom and advice. When he showed me the second boil. I didn't rush him straight to the doctors I presented him with treatment options, then let him decide and ask me for help.
    In summary I think a loving God just like a loving parent has to let us make our own choice and deal with the consequences till we are ready to accept his help and advice. Obviously I don't let my baby touch the stove or go hungry because they can't ask for food but with older children, sometimes this is how they continue to grow.

    1. You make excellent points! And I'm glad that your son is finally learning! (I know there are instances in my life where I stubbornly refuse to do things.)