Do you have a favorite food? Do you have a not so favorite food? We all have foods we like and dislike based on taste or texture or smell or some other sense. Often we have experience to support our assertion that food is good or bad based mostly on our opinion. Sometimes we have foods that have made us sick. We have a reaction like an allergy or it makes us sick like when grandma didn’t cook the stuffing long enough.
I remember a bad episode of the stomach flu. I was only 10 or 11. My mom had to work but my dad could stay home with me. Dads have funny ideas about home remedies. My dad thought I should have cream cheese and ginger snaps to help my tummy feel better. No judgment please. We all have those weird stories. Of course for a ten-year old who has been sleeping on the bathroom floor, cream cheese and ginger snaps are probably not the best choice, but “this is my dad and he knows stuff.” I still don’t like ginger snaps with cream cheese. Imagine that. I’m not blaming my dad. He was doing what made sense to him at the time.
So is cream cheese bad? How about the ginger snaps? What about a Thanksgiving stuffing that gave you a bad day? I can hear your wheels of justification turning and turning. Often the discussion of what is good and bad is based on opinion from personal experience. But what about when it isn’t opinion but factual. There are things we eat that are “bad for us” like peanuts or gluten or dairy. For those cases the “good or bad” of the food is based on facts not opinion, right? If you are allergic to a food you can look me in the eye and say with certainty that “peanuts are bad for me.” That’s not you opinion but instead is a substantiated and proven reality. But did you know I can eat peanuts all day and be OK? Just saying. It isn’t a “law” that peanuts are bad but for the allergic, the reaction to peanuts is bad. If I know that someone has a peanut allergy and I give them peanuts, then I would be doing a bad thing.
I have these dear friends who I love so much. They are my adopted family (or maybe I’m theirs). We really love each other. I was at their house a few days ago and it was time for us to go home. I looked down at their two-year old and I said “Jack, can I have a hug good-by?” Jack is so precious to me. He had a rough start being born into a family that just couldn’t take care of him properly. When he came into our lives he was weak and very small for his age and cried most of the time. After a miraculous God encounter and answers to prayers and lots of love, this little boy has thrived. He is in constant motion and very healthy and absolutely adorable and will eat anything he can get his hands on. So when I asked for a hug, it was more than just that moment. A hug from Jack is filled with experience and history and memories and emotions for me. When he shot his arms up in the air for a hug, the tears just came on their own. I even got bold and asked for a kiss. He didn’t hesitate and gave me the best kiss ever.
I had a moment in that moment. I saw something. I saw love in its pure form. For this child, he just loved me without hesitation or assessment or list management. I thought to myself “wow, but I wonder if he would love me like this when he grows up?” The thought was more of an introspection about me than him. I was wondering if he would be so completely transparent with me if he knew what I was capable of? Don’t let you judger go crazy. We are all capable of some pretty awful and mean and rotten stuff. This little boy saw none of that. To be truthful he is too young to comprehend the deeper stuff of human dysfunction. He just loves like an innocent two-year old.
Then I thought about this family and how they all love me like Jack and how I loved them like Jack. In that reflection I was stunned. I saw a glimpse of something bigger than my understanding. I have a love for them that I can’t explain. They can do nothing to change that. They could tell me to bug off an I would still love them. It is a divine love that I am just beginning to grasp. But when I see that kind of love in their eyes for me…it takes my breath away.
I don’t know what is going on in your head as you read this. Maybe you are thinking “wow this guy really doesn’t like himself” or maybe “what the heck are you talking about?” If you are honest with yourself you know that we all have those inner boundaries where we hide the real us. So when I see and feel and experience such an unconditional love my first thought is “what if they knew this or that? What of they knew what I am capable of?” Are you getting it? There is a point.
And that’s why I talk about peanuts and ginger snaps.
A peanut is just a peanut and a ginger snap is a funny name for a cookie and cream cheese is amazing when you call it cheesecake. None of those things are good or bad, they just are. Experience may reveal they are good or bad for someone but they aren’t good or bad in and of themselves. Recognizing what they can or may do to you or how they might be used by you in a way that can impact another (ginger snaps and cream cheese is not the best remedy for stomach flu) is discernment. The good or bad of the thing is in its relationship to another. Are you following this?
So that’s why I talk about hugs and kisses from Jack.
God loves me like Jack but he knows me better than me. He knows what I am capable of and he still loves me like Jack.
Did you get that? God doesn’t ignore some things about me and embrace others. He loves all of me just like Jack. He loves what I consider the good of me and He loves what I think is the bad of me. He actually doesn’t call it good or bad but just me. He loves just me and He knows everything about me. Nothing of me makes His cringe or step back or grimace or disgust Him or makes Him sick like ginger snaps and cream cheese.
This is profound when you get a glimpse. This revelation will change your heart and mind and life and pretty much everything. Seeing His love for us is our destiny. Seeing His love for all of us, I mean all of our stuff, I mean even the junk we hate about ourselves, is our freedom! We need to embrace who we are just like He embraces who we are. We need to see ourselves like Jack sees me. My eternal life is lived when I can love me like He loves me. My eternal life experienced is when I can see me as He sees me. My transformation is to love me and others just like Jack.
Does that seem strange? It shouldn’t. That’s what we were made for. God is love and his love creates and his love is in every moment giving life to the thoughts in your head as you read. God isn’t just aware of what I am capable of, he empowers it.
OK, pause for effect. Let me say it again. He empowers your dysfunction. He empowers your “bad.” He gives life to you and that life powers every part of you including what you call the “bad” of you. Why do you ask? Jesus told us a story that explains it all.
The story of the Prodigal is so powerful if you can “see” what Jesus is showing us. Before the younger son leaves to seek his ruin, his father gives his son the money to seek his ruin. I hope you can see this. The father knew what would likely happen and he resources the journey. In the same way I am operating from His resources in my journey of discovery. His love and purpose and guiding hand and “karma” like movement on this earth is like a river. In “fighting the current” I talked about this river of love. When we are fighting the river it is “hell” on earth. When we are working against what God is doing we are slopping the pigs and wishing we had a hot bath and a place to sleep in our home with our Father. When we are working in the current and with the current and resting in God’s river of grace and love and goodness, we are operating from the Kingdom of Heaven. We are ourselves producing rivers of living water from our innermost being.
The greater issue in all this is our insistence on good bad logic used in the wrong way. When we judge we are being judged. When we judge ourselves in a religious sense, we are not flowing with the current of the river. When I think in my head that God “hates this of me” or “hates that of them” then I am being judged. Of course if peanuts cause an allergic reaction and I serve up some peanut butter cups because I like them, then I am not living from love am I? That doesn’t mean I judge and bring a giant “or else” from God. That isn’t God but some mythological human expression of desperation. God loves everyone just like Jack loves me. He isn’t trying to modify a bunch of behaviors based on my understanding of good and bad behavior. He is a raging river of love that when I fight against it I will find myself learning from inside myself that a particular behavior is not good for me. It isn’t God punishing me or punishing them. It is Him empowering me to learn and love and listen and go deeper instead of suppressing what needs fixing. I look up from slopping the pigs and think of home.
We have to stop putting our “good and bad” into categories with God in the business of hating the bad and loving the good. He loves everything about us, even our “bad.” Yes, we are capable of good or bad towards others, but we are also on a journey of discovery to learn who we really are. To discover the deepest part of me means I might have to wade through some anaphylactic peanut butter or choke down some cream cheese covered cookies. Still I should leave my judgment in the barn and love me like Jack loves me while I love others like Jack loves me. To deal with the root issues that drive me to go on a journey of ruin, sometimes we have to take the journey of ruin to discover it ends in a pig pen. We have to remember however that God’s love is bigger than my desire and bigger than the pig pen and bigger than my stupid.
I hope you are seeing this truth. I know the first reaction is to scream “chaos and destruction.” I know it likely feels like I am enabling bad behavior but that isn’t it. I know we all want to point to the law or something and say “we have to govern ourselves” and you would be right on some level…however…the “good bad judgment” should never condemn someone into a place of hiding where they can’t be healed of their wounds. Nobody should suppress a dysfunction by hiding it from God instead of embracing God’s restoration from a dysfunction. We should never see God as disgusted or repulsed by our “bad” when He is actually pouring out love into our “bad.” We should never hate ourselves for what we’ve done or could do when we know that God loves us in the middle of all that. Our deliverance and healing and good decisions are born out of his love for us. God’s love is always bigger than our potential badness or our experienced pain. We would like to avoid the pig pen of the prodigal but it has to be our idea from our innermost person born out of our union with the one that loves us even if we went into that pig pen.
I think examples are in order. That usually helps transform an abstract idea from squishy jello to concrete, I hope. So I’ll take a crack at that in the next post. For now embrace the love that God has for you. If all you see of yourself is bad decisions like bad food, then you can’t let love into the place that needs healing the most. Let the picture of Jack hugs get all inside you and free you to let down your guard and let God in. He is already there loving you exactly as you are.