No, never alone

My mother tells the story of the time when I came to her as a small child with an important question: “Mommy, why does God bother us all the time?”

As you can imagine, this question puzzled her, so she asked me where I’d gotten the idea that God bothers us. It turns out that we had sung the hymn “Never Alone” the previous week in church. The chorus of this song includes the words, “No, never alone! No, never alone! He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone.” And I knew from experience that when my little brother never left me alone, that meant that he was bothering me!

It made perfect sense to assume that if God was never to leave me alone, then God must be bothering me all the time too. I don’t remember what my mother’s answer was that day, but I’m sure she explained that the song was not meaning that God was bothering us. I’m sure she even explained why his constant presence was a good thing that we should be thankful for.

What I do remember is feeling like I was always being watched. Because I grew up with the idea of a God that was always looking for opportunities to discipline me when I didn’t meet the mark (which was pretty much all the time), the idea of God never leaving me alone came to mean that I was always being watched and judged as falling short. There was never an opportunity to relax and just be me. I had to always try to be good enough to minimize the amount of inevitable “discipline” coming my way.

While I have a much better understanding now of how this song would be of comfort to many people, I still struggle with finding it to be a comfort to me personally. I have a much better understanding now of why my introverted self found the idea of someone always being present so repellent as a child. As much as I like many people, the idea of never getting any time alone still sounds miserable to me!

And while I have shifted my view of God away from the one that emphasizes judgment and punishment as primary attributes, there is still enough of that sense of God as a judge who not only never stops watching but also reads my mind that still feels threatening to me. It kicks my perfectionistic tendencies into high gear is a panicky kind of way if I think about it too much.

But I’m also just beginning to comprehend how loving presence—without talking, without doing, without judging—can be a valuable thing to receive from another person. I don’t have personal experience with that kind of loving presence without expectation or need from another person, but I can begin to imagine what that might be like.

And this allows me to begin to imagine how God’s unending presence could be a very good thing. I’m still deeply ambivalent about the idea, but I think I’m slowly coming around to seeing it in a more positive light. I’ll count that as progress for now.

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