“I’m no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God,” sings Jonathon David Helser and Melissa Helser, and recently Hillsong’s “Who You Say I am” has resonated with me as I reflect on their song lyrics that also declare our identity as children of God. But what does it really mean to be a child of God and why do people keep singing it and declaring it?
I believe it’s because it’s a truth that not only our church needs to apply to our lives, but that our generation needs to hear and truly believe.
Recently, I watched a documentary called “The Mask You Live In” (you should really give it a watch if you’re interested in learning about the damaging effects of our society’s notion of ‘masculinity’! It’s on Netflix!). In this documentary, there is a striking scene where a man is telling his story of how his father brought him down into his basement and said “this is how you fight. And as a man, you have to fight”. Near the end of the documentary, this same man who remembered his boyhood spent in his father’s basement, learning how to fight, mentioned in tears how forgiveness had a huge role in his life in coming to terms with the real man he was inside.
Although this documentary isn’t Christian, it brings out several Christian notions. In his healing journey, this man imagined himself walking back down those basement steps and calling out to his father “this isn’t right, a boy should be nurtured and loved, not taught to be violent or how to fight for himself”. In order for this healing to take place, this man had to forgive. And in order to come to a place of forgiveness, he had to re-visit his childhood wounds.
So here I am today, urging you to revisit those wounds, the painful childhood memories you wish not to ever go back to. Because they can actually play a profound role in discovering more of Jesus. Before I move on in this blog, I encourage you to pause for a moment and ask God: please reveal to me anything in my childhood that wasn’t of you, that I need to forgive, in order to embrace the free child within me that you made me to be.
Growing up, I heard this “you are God’s child/daughter” phrase a lot. And when I was a teenager, I remember thinking that I didn’t want to be a child anymore and wondering why it should be a privilege for God to see me as an irresponsible, immature little human that couldn’t live without the help of other people.
Not until recently did the true meaning hit my inner core with an unconditional love that shocked me.
It’s definitely true that “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me” as Paul says (1 Corinthians 13:11). But when God calls us his children, he doesn’t mean that he wants us to be childish. I’ve been learning that there’s a difference between being childish and child-like.
Think back to a time in your childhood where you felt safe, warm and held in comfort – a time where you didn’t have a care in the world and that all you felt was content; content in who you were and who God was because you felt like you were exactly where He needed you to be. (Maybe you don’t have any childhood memories like this, maybe you really had a horrible childhood that you don’t want to think about at all – we’ll come back to that). For me, I remember moments when my family did things altogether – went to the beach, went swimming, went to church, etc. I cherished these memories as I felt safe and warm when all my family was together; when we all watched out for each other. I was free – free to be me and dance around and pretend I lived in Ireland, or that I was a teacher to my siblings.
Recently I had a profound encounter with God while driving. I was listening to some old CDs, specifically and old CD by Amy Grant. She was singing an upbeat version of “My Jesus I love Thee” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xkw-Met3c68). In this moment, I remembered how I used to dance as a little girl to this song and how I loved it because the music reminded me of my mother’s Irish tunes. In this moment, I remembered a picture that my minister at an earlier healing retreat had given me of a child in a white dress, dancing in a field. “God says this is how he views you,” she had told me. A vision of me in that white dress as a child, dancing before the Lord, so pure and innocent, came before me. And God said “This is how I view you”. As the words of the song “If ever I loved you, my Jesus tis now” flowed through the atmosphere of the car, I began to get emotional and almost had to pull over (lol). I thanked God for this tidbit of a truth that I so needed to hear. This is how God views us: free, joyful, playful children who rest in Him. A child is vulnerable, trusting and loving.
Some great attributes of children that Jerry and Denise Basel write about in their book The Missing Commandment Love Yourself are:
- Imperfect – children stay imperfect as they learn and grow. “Perfection is who God is and is not something for us to strive to become” (Basel 33).
- Spontaneous and Creative – “made in the very likeness of our Creator Father” (Basel 33). This means there’s room for failure and experimentation!
- Not fully developed – “As children of God, we are always in the process of growth, which our father accepts and understands” (Basel 33).
- Dependent – “with needs and wants that should be recognized and acknowledged – needs such as love, acceptance, and a sense of belonging” (Basel 33). God loves it when we depend on Him; when we give him our weaknesses so that he can step in and make us stronger with his strength.
- Valuable, unique and special – to God, our father and creator himself! He made us (Psalm 139:13-14)
Take a moment to ask yourself: are these attributes I have that I bring to Father God? Do I even see him as a good father? Do you come to the father as a vulnerable child, or do you come to him as an adult who strives for a perfection that you will never reach? Do you recognize your brokenness or do you go to God in self-righteousness, as something you think you have to do in order to be a “good person”? If you struggle with these child-like attributes, ask yourself why. Ask God to reveal where you lack and to come into those areas to restore them.
Sometimes it’s hard to view God as a good father when our own parents failed in so many ways; when we didn’t have a childhood we want to revisit ever.
I’m going to be super honest here and say that I used to think that I had perfect parents. They were the ones who introduced me to Jesus, they never abused me, they always encouraged me, came to my basketball games and play productions even though they had three other kids, they watched my singing competitions, made me amazing food, and most of all, they always said “I’m so proud of you”. What more could I ask for?
But as I grew older, and recognized similar fears and struggles in my siblings’ lives, I wondered what was going on. I thought it was just a part of life, of facing the struggles that God allows us to so that we can become stronger in Him. What I didn’t realize is that God didn’t want me to be carrying around burdens that weren’t mine. And I was carrying burdens that were my parents’, I was believing lies about God that I didn’t realize because of the imperfection rooted in my parents – no human being is perfect. And as much as my parents strived to be perfect parents, there were moments of failure on their behalf as well.
And I’m not writing this to talk or rant about my parents’ failures. I’m not here to point fingers. No one is perfect, and I am especially not perfect. And a lot of what my parents used for good, Satan took and spread lies in my mind that I believed. Something I’ve been learning through the book entitled Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend is that there are areas in my life I need to take responsibility for, in which I need to forgive myself, and areas that I need to recognize were out of my control, in which I need to forgive others.
But something I know I did do that I shouldn’t have is rationalize my parents’ behaviour. My parents were very strict. Abnormally strict than most other parents at my church. I heard many members of the church call them “over-protective”, and I think a lot of members questioned their parenting style. I thought “they must be over-protective and strict because they don’t trust me”, and on more than one occasion, their rules and system of punishment hurt me. But I would rationalize that hurt with “they were just trying to protect me”, or “at least my parents love me enough to want to protect me”. I told myself that I would be the child that my parents wouldn’t have to worry about. These aren’t necessarily “bad” thoughts, but I rationalized my hurt, and pushed it aside without dealing with it – without bringing it to God and asking Him to heal my hurts and wounds. And I made a “vow” that I wouldn’t be a child to worry about, which means I was leaning on my own strength to be a “good” daughter, and was not leaning on God.
I realized that over a period of time, I let my hurt speak lies, telling me I was to blame for everything, that I wasn’t good enough and that I would never live up to being the daughter that God wanted me to be to my parents. I believed that – because it felt like my parents didn’t trust me – that God didn’t trust me either and that He was disappointed in me no matter what I did. I viewed God the way I viewed my parents.
You see, to me, being a child of God meant that I deserved punishment or deep discipline, and I didn’t want that. I ignored my inner child because I didn’t want to be punished like how I remembered being punished as a child and teen. Or I would embrace my inner child and cry out in fear that God would punish me and hate me for not being able to please him.
But God isn’t like that.
God has righteous wrath, it’s true. But in his book The Good and Beautiful God, James Bryan Smith makes an amazing point that I had never thought about before: “wrath is not a permanent attribute of God… [it] is contingent upon human sin” (121). His amazing love and grace are permanent attributes! (And HALLELUJAH to that!!) After reading this, and focusing on Proverbs 3:11-12 “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in”, I still had questions. Okay God, I prayed, I understand that you discipline those you love… but why is this a mark of love? Why can’t something else be a mark of love? Like giving us candy or something? I asked these questions going into a young adults retreat over the summer called “Remnant”.
And oh man, God came through!
One evening, I was sitting at the dinner table and there were markers around to colour on the paper banner they had used as a table cloth. There were already verses written on this banner, and when I sat down, there was a verse right at my spot. It read: “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in” Proverbs 3:11-12. NO WAY, I thought. Okay, God you’re trying to tell me something here.
During a session about hearing God’s voice, the speaker said “we often believe the lie that we deserve punishment. This is a lie”. It struck me in this moment that I was believing that God punishes the way my parents punished. But there’s a difference between punishment and discipline, and God our father does not punish. And he most certainly does not just punish and leave you to figure out the consequences on your own. He disciplines in the most loving manner and is there. Every. Step. Of the way. Every moment, he is with you, teaching you as the most patient and loving teacher and father. I pray that someone will really believe that truth today.
John 14:1-7 reads: “ [Jesus says], ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.’ 5 Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ 6 Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.’”
If you know Jesus’ love, his goodness, his amazing grace given to us through the cross, then you know God the Father, and His amazing promise that He has a place prepared for us! 🙂 I encourage you to come before him as child now, accepting him as the most perfect father and parent you’ll ever have. Connect with your inner child, let them know that you are there to connect the damaged parts of your childhood with the healing God so freely offers. God wants to connect with you and your inner child. He wants to hold you, cuddle you in his lap. He sees you as free, innocent and so unique and amazing. Let God enter those gaps you felt growing up, heal the pain and restore you because that’s honestly His specialty! When I think of this process, I often think of the song “Let it Happen” by United Pursuit (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bvsAV-MgGao.) I pray that God will take you back, back to the beginning, when you were young and running through the fields with Him. Recognize the lies you might be believing about Him and His goodness – pray and trust that God has you in the palm of his hand. Know that being a child of God means freedom in His name! 🙂
I’ll end with the verse a minister gave me at the end of an earlier healing retreat I went on. When she had given me that picture of a little girl dancing in a white dress, attached was a verse about the restoration God wishes to do in me. And I know He wishes to do the same for you <3 :
“Instead of your shame, you shall receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance. And so you will inherit a double portion in your land and an everlasting joy will be yours. For I the Lord love justice; I hate robbery and wrong-doing. In my faithfulness I will reward my people and make an everlasting covenant with them. Their descendants will be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples. All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the Lord has blessed” (Isaiah 61:7-9, also check out Isaiah 54:4-17!)