I’ve come to a realization lately that has really rocked my world.
Not only has it completely shifted my paradigm about life and relationships, but it has also exposed many false ideas I had been hanging onto throughout my life.
It’s been one of those spiritual breakthroughs that is bittersweet. Bitter because I have lived most of my life under a false pretense which, for many years, brought some degree of underlying unhappiness. Sweet because I have made a shift in my beliefs that has brought me great deal of peace.
I realized that God is not a supernatural Santa.
You see, for much of my life I ran around trying to escape being put on God’s “Naughty List.” I prayed, I read my scriptures, I went to church, and I checked off all the boxes of my supposed “Spiritual To-Do List” in a exhausting effort to avoid being the recipient of some kind of heavenly coal. But, alas (spoiler alert), none of this ever completely fulfilled me. As I mentioned earlier, there was always an underlying sense that I was a disappointment, a failure, and that I would never be able to attain the level of goodness that “Santa-God” expected in order to end up on his list of good girls and boys.
Recently, my eyes started to open more and more with regards to the true nature of God and His view of me, one of His children. I took to heart this quote by Elder Uchtdorf:
The more I come to know my Heavenly Father, the more I see how He inspires and leads His children. He is not angry, vengeful, or retaliatory. His very purpose—His work and His glory—is to mentor us, exalt us, and lead us to His fulness.
“Perfect Love Casteth Out Fear, “ April 2017 General Conference
God isn’t a merely an omniscient spy, continually looking over our shoulder and recording every misstep. He is a hands-on kind of parent—constantly seeking for ways to help and encourage us.
I used to believe that when I made a mistake, God would punish me by putting me in a proverbial “time-out”. I imagined Him saying, “I’m leaving you here for a while and when you get your act together, you can earn back my presence and my help.”
Nope. Totally wrong. His love and presence is available to us no matter what! That means when we feel like He is to blame for our distance, it is really we who have distanced ourselves from Him. As well-known author C.S. Lewis once said in his book Mere Christianity, “Though our feelings come and go, God’s love for us does not.”
Elder Uchtdorf echoed this sentiment in an October 2009 General Conference talk entitled “The Love of God”:
He loves us because He is filled with an infinite measure of holy, pure, and indescribable love. We are important to God not because of our résumé but because we are His children. He loves every one of us, even those who are flawed, rejected, awkward, sorrowful, or broken…
What this means is that, regardless of our current state, there is hope for us. No matter our distress, no matter our sorrow, no matter our mistakes, our infinitely compassionate Heavenly Father desires that we draw near to Him so that He can draw near to us.
Realizing the kind of love God has for us has been a game-changer for me. Seriously!
When I discovered that God didn’t use relationship (or lack thereof) as a means of manipulation, it totally changed how I interacted with others. I mean, think about how humans, in our weakness, threaten to remove relationship to manipulate one another: “Oh, yeah! Well if you do that to me, then I won’t talk to you anymore.” From the most basic, grade-school level to the complicated husband/wife kind of dysfunction that is rampant among our relationships in today’s society, this type of treatment is completely illogical, not to mention far from Godlike.
Imagine what would happen if, instead of creating a wider rift between ourselves and another person when there is conflict, we tried to do what God would do? What if we reached out even more? What if we showed an increase in love (this scripture comes to mind)? What if we just extended our arms of mercy and didn’t give up?
Now, I know that not every time we do this, the other party will instantly come running back to re-establish the ties that have been broken. But, come on, wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all tried out this kind of conflict management? After all, it is the pattern which our God (an omniscient, perfect being) follows?
So what else has realizing God is not Santa done for my life?
Ultimately, it gave me perspective. It does something to you when you know there is someone out there who loves you. No. Matter. What.
You feel more hope. You feel more compassion. You feel less judgmental. You feel more charity. You focus on what really matters in life.
Elder John Groberg summarized the results of understanding the true nature of God:
When we understand who God is, who we are, how He loves us, and what His plan is for us, fear evaporates. When we get the tiniest glimpse of these truths, our concern over worldly things vanishes.
“The Power of God’s Love,” October 2004 (bold print added)
So the bottom line is, it’s not a checklist that’s going to change you in the end. Just jumping through hoops is meaningless when it comes to spiritual growth. But if your doing leads to feeling, realizing and accepting God’s love for you, that’s what will really cause you to change.
This is exactly what happened to King Benjamin’s people.
They heard King Benjamin teach that when we have “tasted of [God’s] love,” we will be “filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of [our] sins; and [we] shall grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created [us], or in the knowledge of that which is just and true” (Mosiah 4:11-12).
And they believed it.
What happened? Well, when they opened their hearts to really receive God’s love, they went through an amazing transformation! Not only did they have the desire to do good continually, but they experienced exceedingly great joy (Mosiah 5: 2-4)!
I don’t know about you, but I think there are a lot of people out there who are not happy in life and who are looking for the same kind of incredible spiritual transformation that King Benjamin’s people went through. However, instead of building a relationship with God and opening themselves to His love, they attempt to find it in a checklist of religious practices that, however well-intentioned, may actually distract them from seeking a true connection with their Maker.
Little do most people know that the formula is so simple. It boils down to two simple truths found at the core of the story about King Benjamin and his people:
We don’t need to transform ourselves in order to earn God’s love.
We need to accept God’s love and let Him transform us.
Ultimately, it’s not a naughty or nice list that God keeps at all.
It’s a list of who He loves.
And guess what?
We are all on it.