From the time my son was a toddler, he loved knives. He wanted to look at them, hold them and talk about them all the time. He would have slept with a knife under his pillow if we had let him.
We had a really sharp knife, used to clean fish, that he especially loved. For his own protection, we hid that knife in a cupboard above the refrigerator. One afternoon, I walked into the kitchen and found that Graham had pushed a chair over to the counter, climbed on top of the counter, somehow climbed on top of the refrigerator and retrieved the forbidden knife. When I walked into the kitchen, he was standing on the countertop, holding the knife.
I gasped, "Graham! You know you've not supposed to have that knife!"
Graham look at the knife and then looked at me with mischief in his eyes. I couldn't resist. I uttered the words of mothers throughout the ages: "Graham, even if I had not caught you holding the knife, God would have known!"
The mischief quickly left his eyes as they filled with confusion. He cried out, "Mom, why is God always watching me?"
Why Is God Always Watching Us?
We learn as children that God knows when we lie or pinch our siblings. God knows when we don't listen in church or when we laugh during Communion. When we reach adolescence, we learn that God is especially watching if we even think about sex, drinking or drugs. Why is God always watching us? I'm afraid the impression we've been given is that we are the most important character in our story and God is watching so He can humiliate us, punish us and whip us back into shape with His heavenly paddle.
In the Genesis story of us, after Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden tree, God came to meet them in the morning. They were hiding—afraid of the plot of their stories. God looked at the paradise he created, and on that morning, it was not good. Earlier in the story, God explained the one thing that is always "not good." In Genesis 2:18, God says, "It is not good that the man should be alone."
Whenever we are cut off from God and each other, we are at risk for misunderstanding our stories, making one chapter the whole story and completely missing the plot twist—which means missing the plot entirely.
Examining Our Stories Is Essential
Examining our stories is essential to knowing ourselves because we are a story. Our lives are formed, twisted and broken by a million little stories. Our stories reveal success and struggle, injustice and reward, despair and hope, failure and rescue. Most of us tell a story about ourselves inside our own heads, and seldom do we see ourselves clearly. Novelist and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston wisely warns, "There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside you."
When our stories are buried inside of us, they can fester with shame, pride, anger or despair.
A man who hides his story of being sexually abused may come across as aloof or intimidating because we cannot see redemption of horror in our lives without the mirror of the redemptive stories of others and of God. A woman who lives in the shame of overeating may be telling her story of abandonment in life-swallowing ways, because we were not meant to bear grief alone. An adolescent who gulps down a bottle of pills to end her story may be filled with hopelessness because no one knows she needs to be rescued, and we were never intended to save ourselves. An unexamined life shackles us with a burden of pain, and carrying that burden day after day after day shapes us into men and women smaller, angrier and more false than we were meant to be.
God knew our million little stories and wrote the deepest story so ours could be absorbed into His. Examining our stories of radical pain gives us a glimpse of what Jesus endured when He was crucified for the love of us. Our stories of recovery from addiction or restoration of a marriage from an affair reveal the glorious surprise of Jesus' Resurrection. Our stories of transcendence over a crippling illness or the unspeakable loss of a child reveal Jesus' Ascension, shouting His homecoming after all He suffered.
Without examining our stories honestly—laying them bear before trustworthy companions and God, Himself—we remain stuck in the unthinkable, inexplicable and unredeemable.
We will not grow into our true selves—men and women of clarity, compassion, courage, curiosity and connectedness—if we don't tell the truths of our lives. We tell the stark raving truth, risk the eyes and ears of others on our stories, name the themes written into them and do the hard work to allow our stories to form us into our true selves, because our stories reveal God's story.
When we start to tell our true stories, we sense that everything in the story has meaning. What gives a story its meaning? Not the characters. Not even the plot. The author gives the story meaning. Once you get a hint of what the author is up to, there is meaning in every event in the story. The process of finding the meaning and trusting the author takes time, care and courage.
Adam and Eve spent some time complaining about the author of their story. He wasn't clear enough in His instructions. He left them alone. He was silent. He wasn't fair. Remember, this is our story. We are a paradox. We want God and we want to be god. We are proud and we are ashamed. We act and we throw others under the bus in blame for our actions. We fall down, we rise and we hide.
The result is the dismantling of belonging. Allowing our stories to lay dormant in us because we're afraid of what they might reveal makes us vulnerable to all kinds of traps that keep us away from our true selves, others and God. We get caught in our capacity to deceive and our willingness to be deceived; in our love of power and using of people; in our striving for position and the shrinking of our souls; and in our clamor for privilege and silence at wrongdoing.
This is why God is always watching us: to catch us and show us we are not god, to rescue us from those traps and to reveal His story in our stories. He gracefully uncovers that our choices don't save us from the judgment of God; rather, the judgment of God saves us from our choices.
Sharon Hersh is a licensed professional counselor, an adjunct professor in graduate counseling programs, a sought-after speaker and the author of several books, including the acclaimed The Last Addiction: Why Self Help Is Not Enough, the popular Bravehearts: Unlocking the Courage to Love With Abandon, and the award-winning, Mothering Without Guilt. Sharon lives in Lone Tree, Colorado and is finding freedom and adventure in the empty nest years. Sharon's latest book, Belonging, releases from NavPress in August 2020.
Taken from Belonging: Finding the Way Back to One Another by Sharon Hersh. Copyright © 2020. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries.
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