What we believe about God impacts every part of us, shaping every aspect of our lives. Whether consciously or unconsciously, our mental picture of God influences our thoughts, feelings, decisions, and actions. Our assessments about God’s character—even if they’re false—form the foundation from which we build our self-identity and determine how we relate to God, others, and the world. A.W. Tozer writes,
What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us…. the most portentous fact about any man (or woman) is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God.
Growing up in church, I knew the basics of the Bible, and thought I had a pretty good idea of who God was. Yet when I became a mother, my mental image of God exploded from a two-dimensional cardboard cutout to a full-bodied incarnational three-dimensional being. The truths I knew in my head about God came alive in the daily process of parenting. God’s attributes as a loving father, sacrificial savior, steadfast provider, wise leader, fierce protector, relentless redeemer, gentle comforter, and constant companion became undeniably real as I experienced similar emotions as a mother on an infinitesimally smaller scale.
Motherhood Changed My Understanding of Love
As a new mom, I spent countless hours gazing adoringly at my baby girl, marveling at her for no apparent reason other than she was my daughter. Emily had done absolutely nothing to make me love her. In fact, she caused me much discomfort for nine months, pain at childbirth, constant exhaustion, and nonstop work. Yet, my heart was full of irrepressible love for her. Like most new parents, I couldn’t stop talking about my baby, sharing her pictures, and bragging about how remarkable she was. When she was sick, I stayed up nights tending to her, praying for her, and gladly would have changed places with her. There was nothing I wouldn’t sacrifice for my child. Even when I was apart from her, she was never far from my thoughts. It was as if there was a new track in my brain that kept constant vigil on her wellbeing so that I could anticipate and meet all her needs.
When Emily was a few months old, I was struck by how this incredible love I felt was but a glimpse of how much God loved me. I remember journaling in awe and wonder with tears running down my face, “God, is this true? Is this how you feel about me? Do you really adore me?” Of course I knew Jesus loved me, for the Bible told me so. But as I encountered new depths of my own love and willingness to sacrifice for my child, I experienced God’s love in a visceral way as never before. This impacted not just my relationship with Jesus, but also my ministry. Growing secure in God’s love gave me increasing confidence to step forward, take risks, and care less about others’ approval. His amazing love anchored me and set me free!