Connecting to God out of Fear
Out of desperation, I imagine, Moses’ mother made a basket out of papyrus, tar, and pitch. Pharaoh wanted her son dead; she wanted to ensure his survival (Exodus 2).
After being placed in the raft-for-one, Moses floated to Pharaoh’s daughter. The irony is uncanny. Moses, a Hebrew-born Israelite, became what we would consider Pharaoh’s adopted grandson. Pharaoh, as you may know, was an Egyptian ruler who enslaved Moses’ people.
I can imagine Pharaoh’s daughter reaching into the basket.
But I wish I could take account of Moses’ experience of being picked up and out of that papyrus basket, or even a newborn’s perspective of being plucked out of a crib. Developmental theorists like Jean Piaget claim that in a sensorimotor stage, wherein an infant has no concept of self or other, it must feel as though parents are God-like figures who swoop down to pick us up when we coo, cry, or need relief from our discomforts. According to psychosocial theorist Erik Erickson, it is when these God-like parental figures develop timely response patterns to infants’ cries that children learn to trust not only the power of their own cries, but also the safety provided by their attentive parents. Crying initiates soothing results. In other words, infants in healthy relationships will grow to trust the God-like figures who swoop in to acknowledge and meet their needs.
In unhealthy circumstances, however, our dependencies may leave us more confined than safe. In this light, those who protect us may very well become the ones who control us.
For example, I spend many hours talking with children of religious parents who negotiate, plan for, and often strategize their coming out processes. As a means of creating tranquility, they describe patterns they have unknowingly fallen into- maintaining their parents’ happiness by hiding their authentic selves. To them, it is beneficial to disguise their genuine selves as a way to preserve their parents’ peace and familial cohesion. To these children—one of which I was—pretending is better than flat-out rejection.
Their hidden pattern directed towards their parents is designed to beguile with self-denial. They either subconsciously or overtly believe they maintain belonging and stability by buffering, filtering, and hiding their genuine personhood. They articulate a profound, yet subtle statement of dependency gone awry: those who protect us often control us.
Truth be told, many LGBTQ+ children have connected to their parents out of fear instead of safety.
As children who were often swooped up by a God-like figure from cribs, bassinets, and car seats, we develop a type of safety (either stable or weak) that extends into adolescence and young adulthood. The coming out process forces us to reckon with, and often assess, the type of safety we have grown to call enough. Some of us come out with complete confidence in our parents’ unwavering love; sadly, many others of us cannot trust our parents because they have shunned us with angry and hardened hearts. Their safety is revealed as limited and condition-based.
I would imagine Moses felt the same way. He was, after all, a Hebrew child growing up in an anti-Israelite Egyptian home. In fact, after killing an Israelite-abusing Egyptian, Moses ran away because Pharaoh wanted him dead. One might assume Moses would receive a royal pardon, especially as a member of Pharaoh’s family. Instead, Moses was forced to flee to Midian for safety. The familiar echo resounds: those who protect us often control us.
Here, many of us may relate with Moses—the man who found refuge in a faraway city and the one who fearfully covered his face from God at the burning bush. He, too, may have had a fickle sense of safety. But unlike Moses, who encountered God directly, we still fear for our worth. We, too, might feel like an outsider living in a tyrant’s home, all the while believing perfection will keep the overlord cool, calm, and collected. When the relational Red Seas part because of the emotional battles we wage, particularly in the process of coming out or living out, you may seriously question if, to God, you are the Israelite being saved or the Egyptian about to drown. In our attempt to play the present-day role of the Israelites, many of us aim for perfection because we fear God’s answer.
Our perfectionism—an idealized litany of standards that rob us of experiencing true safety—will produce shame. Where shame exists, we will find fear. Where fear exists, we will create a durable façade. And when we believe and trust in our façades, we lose the power to connect to others genuinely and intimately. On the most subconscious, foundational level, we will starve to be accepted and perpetually wonder if we’ll ever be good enough.
When life’s circumstances take us down the river of turmoil, we will question whether or not our raft is bound by buoyant love or destined to dissolve in certain conditions. Many of us who have feared coming out, as well as the parents, allies, and clergy who dared to love us unconditionally, question whether or not to trust an Abba parent or fear what feels like the tyranny of an overlord.
Many of us believe God is more pleased by our perfectionism than our fallible humanity.
Trusting God with who we are does not mean we tense up, cross our fingers, close our eyes, and hope that everything turns out just fine. Trusting God means falling in love with the way we are loved by God, and then loving ourselves with the same liberating, radical acceptance.
Questions for this week's devotional:
Are you brave enough to love yourself like God loves you?
Have you connected to God out of fear? If so, are you willing to replace perfectionism with self-love even while you are perfectly imperfect?
Can you support another who might achieve for perfection's sake, particularly to facilitate their journey towards discovering a felt sense of inherent value?