Grappling with God – Introduction

(This is an excerpt from the introduction of my soon to be released book, Grappling with God: The Battle for Authentic Faith. This introduction speaks to the hunger within all of us to make sense of ourselves and seek the unconditional love offered by God. This book gives an account of the life transforming work we do at the Center for Christian Life Enrichment.)


Growing up, I had always felt that I was a bit unusual. On the one hand I was strong and tough, rough and rambunctious. A high-energy child, I loved being active in the outdoors and playing sports. More than one adult would have labeled me as wild. At the same time, there was this other part of me: sympathetic and tender-hearted. I was a natural caretaker and defender of those who were vulnerable and hurting.

Just recently, my ninety-four-year-old mother gave me an end-of-the-year report she had saved from my nursery school teacher, who had this to say about me when I was four-years old. “Richard likes active, outdoor play and is very definitely a leader of his group of friends… Because he is so ‘rough and tough,’ it is surprising to see how easily he becomes crushed when he feels rejected or has to wait too long for a special toy.”

These two sides of me seemed opposed, especially as I got older. How could I play sports fearlessly if I was also inclined to be a caregiver? How could I protect myself behind a macho image if I let with my tender heart show?  This dichotomy was uncomfortable, and I found myself wrestling with who I really was and what it meant to be me. Sometimes my wrestling was of a more literal sort–such as the day I thought I broke my brother Charlie’s ribs.

When I was eight years old, Charlie, who was fourteen years my senior, left for a four-year tour of active duty with the U.S. Navy. The day he left was the saddest day of my life. So imagine my excitement when I was 12 and Charlie came home on leave. I couldn’t contain my exuberance at seeing my brother, who in many ways had been a second father to me, always taking time to play with me when I was a little boy.  I idolized Charlie, who in my eyes was this macho military guy, and I couldn’t wait to show him just how much I had grown.

He hadn’t been home more than ten minutes when we started to roughhouse on the driveway. At one point, I picked him up and threw him on the ground. Charlie didn’t get up right away. The pain in his side was excruciating. He was sure he had broken one of his ribs. Instantly, I felt ashamed for hurting my brother. No matter that Charlie assured me it was an accident, that we were just playing and he was fine, I felt responsible for his pain. As my tender, caregiver side came out, I not only wanted to make Charlie all better, I detested how physical I had been with him. There just had to be something wrong with me.

The tension between being tough and tender has always been a troubling part of my DNA. I was never completely comfortable with either part alone. To be so caring and open toward others was just too vulnerable. To be a real warrior, capable of inflicting punishment on my opponent on the playing field, denied my gentler side. It took me twenty five years and much growth work to unlock another contributing factor to the puzzle that was me: the abuse I had suffered in childhood, the memories of which I had buried deeply within myself.

In order to make peace with all of me–to understand and accept myself just as I am–I needed to experience unconditional love. Long before I could open myself up to that type of experience with another person, I had to allow it to come from the source of my being-ness: God.

Although I had grown up attending church with my mother and always believed in God, it was not until I was in my teens that I was introduced to the possibility of having a personal relationship with God. The idea intrigued me and quickly drew me in. The more I came to know about Jesus, the more I could see parts of myself in him. Jesus, to me, was a hero and a savior, the kind of guy who could really “take it,” whether it was standing up to the bullies who wanted to hurt and even kill him, or lasting forty days in the desert while facing seemingly unbearable temptations.  While Jesus was unquestionably strong, physically and mentally, I also saw in him a huge capacity for tenderness. He offered people safety, security, and rest. He welcomed the little children and forgave the sinners without punishment or shame. At last, I had found someone to whom I could relate, who was tough and tender at the same time. In Jesus, I began to make sense to myself.


One Response to “Grappling with God – Introduction”
  1. Alan 26 October 2011 at 11:22 am #

    As usual, your very personal account of a life experience resonates with my own. I used to believe that courage was diving deep, taking physical risks etc to prove my manliness. Now I have come to see with your support that being a man is looking the truth square, owning up responsibly, and doing the hard work of changing.

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Published: 01.08.2011 / 05:27 AM

Category: Grappling with God,Relationships,Spiritual Growth

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