When I (Cyd) was twenty-seven, I lost my mother suddenly to a brain hemorrhage caused by an aneurysm. Just a few short months later, Geoff and I got married and moved to Chicago. Only then did I begin to grieve my mother’s death.
My mom and I had our fair share of disagreements, even some all-out battles. Her ideal future for me wasn’t always the same one I dreamed of. Her intensely practical advice often felt dream-crushing to me. Her insistence that I check in with her once a week, even as an adult, made me feel like she didn’t think I could handle living on my own. She was sometimes skeptical about my choices in life, sometimes concerned, and sometimes disapproving. But she was also my biggest fan. She was always on my side. She loved me, no matter what. When she was taken from my life so suddenly, her absence became an emotional black hole, sucking my entire life into its gravity. I found myself paralyzed by sorrow and consumed by regret.
Even though I was going to leave my job in a month to move to Chicago, I had to quit two weeks sooner than I’d planned because I simply couldn’t think or interact with other human beings any more. Getting out of bed in the morning became a monumental task, a mountain I couldn’t climb.
Questions of worth and value haunt us all. Divorced from the work we do, the roles we carry, the services we offer, the relationships we have, and the stuff we own, we wonder, Am I worthy? Am I valuable? What good am I?
Questions of worth, value, and identity have plagued humanity forever. Ever since the fall.
Adam and Eve were created to live in God’s house and to bear God’s image, to dwell in the presence of God and to extend the purposes of God in the world. But it was also in the garden that everything fell apart and caused humanity to forever question who we are and what we are worth. It is here that humanity lost faith and began to ask, Does God really like me?
Think of a balloon. When you pull a balloon out of the package, it is super stretchy. As you blow it up, it seems that it can always hold one more breath. It just keeps getting bigger and bigger. But an old balloon that has been exposed to air for a while (or a whole lot of saliva) loses that stretchiness and will break if you blow it up too much.
Before the fall, Adam and Eve were like enormously stretchy balloons. They were filled with God’s breath and wouldn’t break. God had “breathed into his (Adam’s) nostrils the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7).
Humanity was full of the fullness of God’s life.
But, separated from God by sin and shame, Adam and Eve became like old, dried-out balloons—tight, unyielding, and rigid—no longer able to hold the full breath of life. Their capacity for God’s presence (and ours along with them) was diminished. Sin and shame stole their elasticity. They could no longer handle the fullness of God’s presence.
It would break them.
So God removed the intensity of his presence by sending Adam and Eve away. They could no longer believe or receive God’s love and joy. They had become disconnected from God. And so God had to tie off the balloon and let them float away for a time.
Leaving God’s Family
God won’t force us into his family. He won’t force us to remain in his presence. He won’t force us to pursue his purposes. And if we insist on leaving, God won’t force us to stay.
Adam and Eve chose to leave God’s house. As a good Father, God’s heart broke. But as a loving Father, he let them go. The intensity of Adam and Eve’s sin and shame wouldn’t allow them to live within the intensity of God’s love. It would overwhelm them.
They needed more space. Not because God was abandoning humanity or was sick of them. They needed more space because by disconnecting from God—who is the source of all life—all of humanity became weak and brittle. Humanity walked away from the path of life and entered into the slow, suffocating realm of death: spiritually, relationally, and physically. By sending them away from his presence, God was respecting their choice.
God’s decision to do this had nothing to do with anger, hate, disgust, or disappointment. Sure, Adam and Eve probably felt like God was angry and disappointed with them. They probably felt that God didn’t even like them anymore.
But God removed his presence as an act of love and mercy. God didn’t want them to be utterly destroyed. God didn’t want humanity to be lost forever. His mercy allowed their old and rigid balloon skin to remain intact by giving them safe distance from his living breath. If he had not stopped breathing his fullness into them, they would have been destroyed.
When Adam and Eve lost God’s presence, they also lost God’s purposes for their lives. They were supposed to be a conduit of God’s blessing in the world. Through humanity the world would receive God’s kingdom and flourish in his life. But now, in their shame, they lost access to God and the ability to bless the world.
This is the story of how sin spiraled into shame, producing more sin, causing more shame, and on and on. If only Adam and Eve had allowed the shame of disconnection to drive them back to the relationship, they could have sought restoration.
Loss of Presence and Purpose
When I (Cyd) experienced disconnection from my mom, I realized just how much her presence had meant in my life. I still longed for her blessing. I wanted her to see me, to know me—not just as her daughter but as a woman who had something to contribute to the world. Her voice had become my magnetic north, and I had found my direction by alternating between aligning with her and resisting her pull. When she was suddenly gone, I was completely disoriented. My sense of who I was and what I was doing was destroyed by her absence.
Likewise, the death caused by Adam and Eve made all of us lose our way. God didn’t die; we did. Our sin and shame sucked the life right out of us. And now, in the absence of God’s presence, we don’t know who to be or what to do.
And so we doubt: Am I enough? Am I worthy? Does God see me? Does God like me? And as we wrestle with those doubts, we fall into distress. We believe we are defective: either too much or not enough. And feeling defective, we begin to believe that God couldn’t possibly want to be with us. In our shame we distance ourselves from God, preferring the absence of God to the outright rejection of God. We reject God before God can reject us.
This is the spiral of sin and shame we’ve all inherited. Doubt, distress, deficiency, and distance are the background of our lives. We seek to cover up the pain and the death that came from losing God’s presence and purposes. The spiral of sin and shame is as powerful today as it was for Adam and Eve.
But don’t lose hope. God didn’t give up after the Garden. He wasn’t content to allow this separation to become the status quo. He is not finished yet!
Adapted from Does God Really Like Me? by Cyd Holsclaw and Geoff Holsclaw. Copyright © 2020 by Geoffrey J.D. and Cynthia J. Jolsclaw. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
Order a copy of Does God Really Like Me?: Discovering the God Who Wants to Be With Us by Cyd Holsclaw and Geoff Holsclaw
Geoff Holsclaw (Ph.D., Marquette University) is also co-pastor of youth and families at Vineyard North, as well as affiliate professor of theology at Northern Seminary in Lisle, Illinois, and coauthor of Prodigal Christianity. Learn more at geoffreyholsclaw.net
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