Looking for God

I sat across from the psychiatrist simmering in angry disbelief. Just one week earlier he had compassionately and appropriately expressed comfort to my wife as we discussed our grown son, who seemed hell-bent on destroying himself. The session had been healthy, as we explored the mechanics and the misfirings of family relationships.

“There’s a psychic bond between a mother and her son,” the psychiatrist had observed that day. He took care to emphasize the powerful description psychic bond. “For nine months, you’re attached to each other through an umbilical cord.” His tone was earnest, loving. “Your child literally draws everything he needs from you. It’s a relationship like no other.” He continued, “Of course it hurts when you see your son making such destructive choices. The relationship between a mother and child is the deepest, most fundamental one we have as human beings!”

But today—well, today was different. Now he was talking to me. And apparently we were no longer discussing anyone’s son. The topic was my vague sense of rootlessness and my own history of bad choices.

“What do you think you’re looking for?” he interrogated. The confrontational edge in his voice should have tipped me off.

“I think I’m looking for my mother,” I said plaintively.

“I think you’re looking for God,” he snapped, much too quickly.

He knew my history as an adopted child. (Or he should have known, because I had told him extensively in writing.) He should have known I’d grown up moving from place to place, changing continents and cultures several times at an early age. He knew I’d been navigating a religious sea of rules and freedoms that seemed in direct conflict with each other, and I couldn’t reconcile them. Such a life brings adventure, but it leaves a guy wondering too. Who am I? What does normal look like?

Where was the acknowledgment of that “psychic bond” between a birth mom and her child? That subject had never been broached with me. Was such a connection of no consequence to me, yet of profound importance to others? How could he miss me so wildly? At $130 an hour!

His answer—“I think you’re looking for God”—was too flippant, too sure of itself. It bordered on defiance of my humanity. I needed something a little less canned. I needed something I could touch. At the very least, I needed to know how to grieve my loss.

Is my former psychiatrist’s assertion valid? Am I looking for God? If so, how does such a search get fulfilled?

If those are life’s big questions, then I’m tempted to think that God is just a cosmic shrink playing games with our emotions. There must be something more. If God is love, then there must be some way to do this. He wouldn’t leave us in the dark, would he?

You should know that I had very good adoptive parents. They were kind and loving and fair-minded, even if they didn’t always understand me. (Who understands anybody completely, anyway?) They gave me a good start in life. My adoptive parents tried to be “God with skin on” to me—and they did a pretty good job of it.

But that isn’t really the point here. Something is missing. I need connection and belonging here in this life that I can’t find in pontifical discussions, well rehearsed answers, or religious musings. And I say this as someone who has faith in Jesus. So in that sense, I’m not looking for God.

Christmas is the time of year when we celebrate the story that God became a baby. If we put any stock at all in that notion, it makes sense to pay attention to what Jesus said about himself when he grew up. If we were going to invent a character who would save the world, he wouldn’t sound at all like this enigmatic man. Jesus’s radical viewpoint and his authority caught the world off-guard. They didn’t know what to make of him.

At one point Jesus told a group of well-educated religious leaders, “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.”

Tellingly, he went on to accuse them harshly: “I know you don’t have God’s love within you.” Those religious leaders, it seems, were missing God.

But if the Scriptures point to Jesus, how are we to explain his darkest hour? How do we explain his great question from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” At the last moment of his life, even Jesus seems to be missing God.

There’s more to the story, of course: both Jesus’s story and mine. Jesus’s story didn’t end with his death, nor did mine start with my mysterious birth. There is so much more to explore here.

Religious answers to our big questions may possess a veneer of confidence and certitude, but in the end they will leave us cold and unfulfilled. That’s why Jesus brought us a relational answer. That’s why he lived as one of us, right up to the point where he questioned his own Father with his dying breath. Yet his whole purpose for visiting us was to bring us to his Father.

In a sense, I’m still “looking for my mother,” even if a far more empathetic counselor and some sympathetic friends are helping me get there. And in another sense, I’m still looking for God, too. He’s left me with a lot of unanswered questions. But through his Son Jesus, I’ve found more than enough hope to face my biggest questions and my most profound loss—even if my deepest longings remain unfulfilled for now. —Tim Gustafson

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