Being present to life, to loved ones, and especially to God all ends up being connected to deeper issues inside of us. How do we see and know God as God really is? What do we understand about ourselves and who we really are? I’m so excited to invite you in on a conversation with a fabulous writer, Margot Starbuck. Margot is the author of several books, including her brand new title: Not Who I Imagined: Surprised by a Loving God.
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Sure. I’m a word nerd; I’m the author of five books and love speaking to audiences around the country. I live in Durham, North Carolina, where I’m a mama to three fabulous kiddos—ages 12, 13, 15. So when I’m not inspiring audiences, I’m yelling at them to pick their stinky socks up off the floor and to stop leaving Flaming Hot Cheetohs wrappers in the den. I can also be found cheering at soccer games, baseball games & volleyball matches.
I love the title and subtitle of your new book: Not Who I Imagined: Surprised by a Loving God. What is it now that most surprises you about God or God’s love?
I’d say the biggest surprise is the way in which God’s love is different than our human experiences of it.
We catch glimpses of God’s gracious face, God’s steadfast listening ear, in the faces of those around us but, by nature, no human being can love us perfectly.
Still, we learn what it means to be in relationship with an “other”—in God’s case, a holy other—from the faces around us. We learn whether we’re worth showing up for and sticking around for. And, unwittingly I think, we project that onto God.
My biggest surprise was discovering—in my BONES—that God’s gracious face, God’s love, is categorically different than what I’d received from humans. It doesn’t mean I don’t see those peeks of God’s face in others, but it does mean that I’ve encountered a reliable presence who does not fail.
This month on my blog we’re looking at the theme “be present”—at how we can live more attentively to God’s presence in our lives and, more broadly, at how we can really be rather than just skate through life. How do you most naturally connect with or experience God’s faithful, loving presence in your life?
Hands down, during this tricky season of my life, I experience God’s steadfast loving presence through the faces around me. It sound corny, cliché, to my ear, but it’s true.
I see it in the face of a friend who just delights in me, warts and all. I see it in the angry face of a friend who’s outraged when bad things happen to me. I recognize God’s face in the tears of a friend who weeps alongside me.
Recently, one of these wonderful faces has been the face of my grandmother—who lives near you, in Indianapolis! She lives with dementia, but what her face communicates to me is, “I see you. I hear you. You matter to me. And, there’s nothing I would change about who you are.” That’s a good face, right there.
In your book, you discuss different views people have of God, including the “authoritarian God” and the “distant God.” I think that even those of us who hold a theology the embraces God’s closeness, God’s presence, God’ intimacy still often struggle with relegating God to “distant” status. It can be difficult for us to really meet God in a level of engagement that’s part of our every day, our every moment. Why do you think we so often view God as distant? And how can we overcome that tendency?
Great question. And, I think you’re right. Even those of us who want to feel God’s nearness can experience God as being distant.
Honestly, I think the reason we view God as being distant is complicated formula. It’s this unwieldy mix of our experience, our natural temperaments, and more—and theology might not even be the biggest piece of the pie! If, as children, we didn’t encounter the real loving presence of a steadfast adult who was with us and for us, I believe that does make it harder to experience God’s nearness. It’s like we don’t have the sticky Velcro.
But of course, God is gracious. And God longs to be known and encountered by us.
I encourage people to pay attention to the “face” they’ve given to God. Yes, God is invisible. And, no, He doesn’t have blonde hair and blue eyes. But, he can also be seen and known and loved in the fleshy face of Jesus. So one way we can bridge the gap is to read the gospels with an eye for the actual expressions on Jesus’ face. When people labeled as “sinners” flock to him, it’s because he received them. Can you see that gracious face that receives you?
Shame, a drive to be perfect, or deep wounds from one’s past can all drive us away from God’s presence. Distance seems safer when we’re hurting or ashamed. But in your book’s introduction, you post a beautiful series of questions:
“What if Jesus came to forgive our sins and also to liberate us from so much more? What if Jesus really wanted us to know, in our very deepest places, that we were entirely and irrevocably accepted as we are and not as we should be? Not just at the moment that we prayed the Sinner’s Prayer and at the moment we breathe our last breath and are jettisoned off toward heaven, but in every single moment in between?”
So, “what if?” When we really begin to realize and dwell in the accepting, grace-filled love of God, how does it change “every single moment in between”?
Girl, it is a good way to live! It changes everything.
When I’m stuck in shame, my eyes are sort of fixed on…me. When I’m worrying that I’m not worth showing up for, not worth sticking around for, not worth loving, then it’s all about me.
But, as I choose for the truth that God accepts me as I am and not as I should be, then I’m set free to be for others. C.S. Lewis doesn’t use the word “shame” for it, but he describes the humble man—who I believe is living “shame free.”
“Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him…He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.”
Bam! That’s freedom from shame—being present to others.
Your book deals significantly with the idea of seeing the true face of God rather than viewing him through a lens distorted by our upbringing, our hurts, our failings. What do you most want people to learn about God and what God is truly like through your book? Why?
So glad you asked, Kelli. I would be delighted if readers would notice the masks they’ve given to God. If the face you’ve given to God has sort of a disappointed expression, is a little put out by your humanity, is constantly wishing you were other than you actually are, that may not be God’s face! My hope in writing Not Who I Imagined: Surprised by a Loving God is that readers would catch new glimpses of a face that delights in who they are. Who sees all that we are and, in the words of Frank Lake, “keeps on looking in kindliness and welcome.”
Margot, thanks for swinging by to join my readers. Friends, I highly recommend Margot’s books as well as her fantastic articles at Today’s Christian Woman where she joins me as a regular contributor. Connect with Margot at MargotStarbuck.com or on facebook.