God Is Not My Stepdad {www.boldlytanya.com}

And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. (Deut. 6:5 NLT)

When my mom (not the biological one) married my stepdad, I was vehemently opposed to everything about him. From the second I heard that my parents were getting a divorce, I despised him. My whole life was changing. It was out with the old and in with the new – new husband, new “dad,” new rules, new expectations, new ways of doing things.  I knew it was his fault and I resolved to make their new life together nothing less than hell. I was pretty good at it, too.

Mom always told me I should love him. After all, she loved him, and they loved each other. They had a fantastic relationship. He treated her well. He did so much for us. He provided for us. He paid our bills and bought our groceries. He supported us. He came to all of my basketball games and speech tournaments and church events. He took us wherever we wanted to go. He deserved my love because of all the wonderful things he did. He was great and fantastic, while I was a spoiled, selfish brat. I needed to get over myself and choose to love him.

That didn’t stop me from being a selfish brat, and it certainly didn’t make me choose to love him.

If anything, I learned how to manipulate the circumstances to my favor. I could be saccharine when I wanted something. I could be tumultuous when I didn’t. Most of the time, I was indifferent. I treated my stepdad with civility that could not pass for love even to the unknowing eye. While I stopped wishing him bad, I can’t say I ever loved him any more than I love my mailman. (I probably love my mailman more because he brings me nice things from Amazon and doesn’t ruin my life.)

In adulthood, I can see that my mom was listing all the things my stepdad did as evidence of his love. The actions that supported her theory of him being a good, loving man spoke the loudest to her.

But what I heard was I should love my stepdad because of what he did (not why he did them). I don’t think I had the maturity to understand the difference between loving someone because of what they do and looking at the things someone does as evidence of their love.

In retrospect, I responded God the same way I responded to my stepdad. Here was this “father figure” with astronomically high standards trying to change my whole life and tell me what to do. I felt like everyone was telling me to love Him because of all the great things He did, not because of who He was. I believe most people were like my mom; they listed his actions as evidence of who He is. But some only loved God for what He did. That isn’t love. That is obligation.

I don’t believe the people in my life intentionally led me astray. I am not even sure that astray is the right word. I think they were just doing the best they could. They taught me about God’s greatness. They told me of the wonderful relationship they shared with Him. They spoke of His protection. They proclaimed His love. They shared examples of the way He was moving in their life.

But to me, it was just like my mom telling me about my stepdad. It just reinforced how obligated I was to love someone because of their actions.

Worse, I distorted that message. When thinking God deserved our love because of all the things He did, I concluded that God must love us because of what we do. The fact I was raised in a faith which supposed a single misstep would cause you to lose your salvation underscored my mistaken belief. I was in a constant state of sin. Even when I wanted to be good, I was not good enough. Sin still found a way in. Everything I did continually separated me from God and made me feel like an outsider. I didn’t meet the admission requirements of the Jesus club, but I should keep trying because Jesus loves me so much…

I foundered in my faith for a few years before finally leaving. It would be ten years before I ever darkened the door of a church again.

But I did.

I would like to say I found my way back, but the truth is that God led me back to Him. He sought me out. He chased after me. I was the lost sheep. He is a Good Shepherd. He took me back to the gospel. He showed me who He is.

I no longer love God because of what He does. I love Him because of who He is. If that sounds like a picky nuance, you are right. But for me, that distinction was (and is) everything.

See, we are sin. That is the substance from which we are made. It is the world in which we live. But God wants us to be good and righteous. Otherwise, we can never be with Him. So here is the good part:

He gives us His righteousness.

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. (2 Cor 5:21)

We don’t earn it any more than we can become it on our own. God freely gives it to those who accept salvation. That is love. And He loves us so much He made it possible for us to be with Him by erasing our inadequacies and giving us His righteousness. He enables us. He equips us. Him. Not us. All Him.

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. (Eph 2:4-5, 8-9)

I found freedom in that. I found what I had been missing. I don’t have to be anything or do anything because God is everything.