Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Sibling Theology

Seminary is not like medical school. I’m not, for example, going to be like a doctor when I graduate— the person expected to think scientifically and biologically— so that the rest of the population can afford not to. In seminary, I’m studying theology—and that makes me no different from anyone else.  Everyone, whether they know it or not, is a theologian. Everyone operates out of beliefs they have about God and His interaction in the world. Whether atheist, agnostic, nominally Christian or in seminary, we are all theologians. We all do theology.

This past week I’ve been learning about some of the theology I brought with me to seminary- some of the beliefs I held about God, His character, and His interaction with His world. This past week, I’ve been realizing it needs some correcting.

I grew up in a big family, with five siblings who knew how to hold their own. So I looked for methods of survival— ways to be noticed. I looked at how Mom and Dad were treating Big Brother or Baby Sister, for example, and made conclusions. Dad takes Big Brother hunting with him. Conclusion- I’m not as special.  Mom takes Baby Sister shopping with her. Conclusion- I’m not as loved.  Baby Sister gets praised for some achievement, Big Brother gets admired for an outstanding talent of his, Baby Brother is complimented for his social skills. Conclusion, I’m an underachiever, a waste of space, a lack of talent, a loser. Conclusion- I’m as loved and as valuable only as well as I "measure up" to my brothers and sisters. Growing up in a family with outstanding siblings, this was a tiring aspiration!

Well, in God’s family, my siblings are no less outstanding. I have incredibly gifted sisters in the Lord at seminary, and their spiritual-giftedness shines brightly. They are praised and admired. I have brothers in the Lord who are dearly loved by the Father, and He lavishes His blessings of provision and grace upon them.  They beam with thanksgiving and excitement, and their stories of God’s miraculous care are spread and enjoyed. It’s easy to glow with pride and admiration for my friends when they shine or when God blesses them, and to want to tell the amazing works of God in their lives—but every now and then, I find myself drawing an old conclusion. If God gave them such great talents and gifts, and if He provides for them in such extraordinary ways, He must love me less. He must see me as less. I must be a waste of space compared to these people.

This is theology, a way of seeing God’s character, and I didn't learn it in a classroom in graduate school. I learned it at age eleven at my dinner table. Completely unaware, I was operating out of these beliefs about God and His interaction with His children before I knew what "theology" was. And He is so good to dig it up, point it out, and discard it. Slowly, painfully, He’s both showing me His affection toward me and His affection for all of His children. He’s showing me I can’t compare what He does in my life with what He does in another’s life, because He’s telling a different story in mine than He is in theirs. He delights in me, and that’s not threatened by His delight in another one of His children. This means I don't need to be competitive or shrink back from fear of not measuring up. 

He’s not like an earthly father, whose attention and capacity to love is limited or spread too thin. He’s not like an earthly mother, who picks favorites or glories in one child’s gifts over another’s.  His love is not like the potatoes on the dinner table (back to my big family pathology for a moment), that I need to worry about there not being enough for me if Baby Brother gets a second helping. I can be secure in His love— so secure that I can truly delight in the good He pours out in the lives of others— without feeling threatened. 

With God, there are enough potatoes to go around. That's good news for this sibling. 


Anonymous said...

it's so interesting to me that that shopping trip had such a big affect on you. the only reason they took me shopping was because they felt like I had been neglected and didn't know they loved me, and then I was humiliated the whole time. all of the pictures from that day are an enthusiastic mom and dad and a shy Ruth shrinking away from the camera. (I'm not bashing your story or discarding any of it or anything like that, I'm just saying it's just crazy to me how differently each of the siblings interpreted everything growing up.)


Michelle Nicole said...

As always, so beautifully and poignantly said. You have (and you are!) such a gift! The Lord consistently uses your story and your insights to minister to me. Grateful for you, and for the things the Lord shows me about Himself through your Words.