I cannot remember a time when the Lord was not a part of my life. I was saved at a very young age and church was central in our lives. I heard the familiar stories from the Word over and over again. I knew the books of the Bible and was a real competitor in those Sunday School Sword Drills. I memorized scripture and sang the familiar songs - "Jesus Loves Me". I was blessed with priceless treasure and yet, even with all of that, my picture of who God was somehow became skewed.
I'm not sure how it happened or what all the subtle influences were, but somewhere along the line I dressed the Father in a Judge's flowing robe and put a gavel in His hand. There He was, high above me watching to see how I was doing.
If I was a good girl, all was right in my world, and between me and God. If I messed up, I crouched down waiting for the blow to fall. I would withdraw, overwhelmed with guilt and too ashamed to even pray. Intellectually I knew that God is a loving God, but I couldn't seem to get away from that works mentality. I just felt I had to be deserving of love or it simply wouldn't be there.
I was a grown woman when we moved and began attending church that was vastly different from the church of my childhood. Through the worship and teaching my picture of the Father began to change. I finally began to truly understand unconditional love - a love that doesn't keep score or judge, but rather extends mercy, forgiveness and grace. The understanding slowly worked its way from my head to my heart, and I knew that He loved me - no matter what. I no longer saw Him as a harsh Judge but rather as a loving Father who desired nothing more than to draw me close to His heart. I could never have imagined myself hugging that Judge, but this tender Father was so different.
As is so often the case, He sealed that truth with something I could see and hold.
There was an elderly man at that church, the Pastor's father, who was everything I had ever thought a true believer would be. Wise, loving and gentle - I sensed the Spirit within him whenever I was in his presence. The first time he ever extended his arms and drew me into a tender hug I thought, "This is what it feels like to rest in the Father's arms." There was such a sense of peace and love within that embrace.
It is, perhaps, easier to imagine stepping into the arms of Jesus, but He said, "If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him... Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father."
He invites us to snuggle up close, even on those days when we feel anything but spiritual, and rest in Him. His love never changes. We have such a precious gift.