He sees you when you’re sleeping.
He knows when you’re awake.
He knows if you’ve been bad or good,
so be good for goodness sake.
The older I get and the longer I walk this road of faith, the more I realize how little I understand about God. The easy answers of my youth no longer suffice, and I now need to find better ones.
Like many Christians, I was unknowingly raised on the idea of God-as-Santa Claus:
God watched me at all times, keeping careful track of my conduct, deciding my reward or rejection. Stay on His good side and He’d bring tidings of great joy, but be placed on the wrong list and I’d be left with tears and sulphur when He came back.
Prayer became a daily, glorified Christmas List; an ever-growing petition for the stuff I wanted from the Big Man, and my job was to do enough to merit those things and to understand that my performance was the key to it all. Good kids got good things.
Like Santa, God was conditionally benevolent. He was prepared to be unfathomably generous with blessings—but I had to earn it. Yes, God had Grace to lavish on us, but we had to do enough to get Him to open His bag.
I no longer have peace with that God.
I no longer believe that God is an invisible, yet ever-present monitor, continually separating the Naughty or Nice and doling out favor or damnation accordingly; that my days are nothing more than a perpetual act of trying to deserve gifts of answered prayers and avoiding the penalty of being found not nice enough.
I think the idea of Santa that was always so disturbing, was that there could be some clearly defined line between Good and Bad girls and boys; that this world was a stark binary split of those who earned reward and those who merited cruelty. You couldn’t be found in both lists. That was where the cracks in that Christmas story began to show for me as a young boy. I knew that two distinct lists of the In and the Out didn’t match my experience of people. I knew it didn’t mesh with my understanding of myself.
I couldn’t imagine life as a pass-fail experience, with people’s worth being determined by the sum total of our every act.
And this is where my adult spiritual journey is meandering away from the kid’s stuff that I once accepted without thinking. I am seeking a better story; one that allows for the nuance and the grey that I find as I live in it. I’m looking for a religion that is as messy as the world around me.
Some will say that God should receive the same fate as Santa Claus, that a Divine Creator should be relegated to childhood myths that we outgrow once we learn to face the difficult paradoxes of this life. But I’m hopeful that there is a way to understand faith and God as an adult; one that doesn’t require perfection or grade performance and that doesn’t reduce Humanity to the Good and the Bad. I’ve seen what that idea does in the world, and how every dangerous it is.
I’m searching for a spirituality that doesn’t revolve around a bearded man with a big book, who’s watching my every move and needs me to get it right or be very disappointed when he returns. I’m praying for a God I don’t need to outgrow.
That’s what’s on my Christmas List this year.