There’s a good chance every person has had some feeling of God / the gods / the universe / the force is not happy with them. A sense that you’re not trying hard enough, not accomplishing enough, not obeying well enough, not making enough sacrifices – or whatever.
A feeling that you just don’t measure up. No matter where we are, no matter what we do to fill our days, there is a strong temptation to think about who we truly are, the things we do, the websites we look at, the ways we spend our time, the thoughts we have that no one knows – we think about all this and are crushed by a tsunami of “I’m not good enough.”
Many times this gets referred to as “Catholic-guilt” – but that’s not entirely fair as many other traditions have jumped head-first into this and taken it on as if it were their own. I was brought up in a fairly conservative Scandinavian Lutheran setting, and I have some sense of what this feels like. I know that my parents, my church, those around me actually knew what Jesus really said and what really mattered, but somehow that didn’t always get through to me. I think it was something that so many of them inherited from those who came before them, this deep and profound sense of ‘you better do the right thing.’ This idea can sneak into ‘God expects us to clean up our act’ which is a very strange belief for those who want to follow Jesus. As one reads through the record of who Jesus was and what he did and what he said, you find the exact opposite. We have somehow made this idea of judgemental-Jesus sitting up in heaven, watching us, keeping track of our mistakes, and full of criticism and contempt, waiting for the day when we clean up our act enough to be counted among his people. This idea of sitting in judgement, keeping track of wrong and right sounds more like Santa – it’s certainly not who Jesus showed himself to be.
This approach means that we are either arrogantly proud of ourselves (like we’ve already looked at) – in those times when we are successful in managing our outward actions (when tempted to lie, cheat and we don’t) but utterly crushed when we don’t manage our actions and give in. We create a transactional relationship with God where we think he is happy with us, loves and accepts us when we do (or don’t do) certain things, and he is not and will not ever be when we fail.
In any case, when we take the attitude that we are only acceptable, lovable, or worthy when we somehow do whatever it is that we think we should do – then we will live most of our life with a discontentment that is driven by our disappointment in ourselves as we feel that we have failed God.
If a child constantly thinks that they need to earn their parents approval, to prove their worth, and is constantly faced with the reality that no matter what they do, they can never achieve that – imagine the heartache. You would be crushed if you thought that your good behaviour alone is what made your father love you -and then you realized that you hadn’t done enough, so now you have to live with the realization that not only are you not loved, but it’s your own fault. This is what we do to ourselves in our relationship to God when we think that we have to measure up to some external standard in order to be acceptable to Him.
This sense that we dont’ measure up kills any hope of contentment. If we are stuck in a belief that God is not happy with us either we are crushed by that knowledge, or feel he’s right and are disappointed in ourselves. Either way we don’t have contentment.
For a moment imagine that you can sit down with God. Face to face. What is the first thing he says to you?
This probably says a lot about how you view God.
If your first thought is God says something like: “I’m disappointed in you” or “you seem to keep screwing up” or anything along those lines, you’ve moved far from a God who constantly says: I love you.
Father of unconditional love,
You have made me the way I am,
You know my faults,
Yet you still love me.
You know my weaknesses more than I do,
Yet you still want to use me.
You see how I’ve failed you, how I’ve abandoned you,
how I’ve ignored and denied you,
Yet you still call me your child.