Holding on For Dear Life

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Dwight Edwards, of the Grace School of Theology in Texas, recalls the time that he and his family attended a church social event.
As they walked into the crowded community room, Edwards’ youngest son – who was then about four – was holding on to his dad’s pants leg.  By the time they had made their way through the crowd, however, he had somehow taken hold of another man’s pants leg without knowing it.
Edwards describes what happened next: “I watched for a moment as my son stood there looking around, clutching confidently.  Soon I went closer, got down on one knee, looked him in the eyes, and asked how he was doing.
“He stared back with great surprise, shot a glance upward to see whom he was holding on to, then quickly let go and ran to me.  Whoops, wrong dad!
Sometimes people who believe in God take hold of the wrong spiritual Father. 
We may be calm and confident that the idea of God we’re clutching with all our might represents the God who is really there.  But then comes a jolting experience or an illuminating discovery.  Eyes are opened.  Everything changes.  And suddenly we have an opportunity to cling to the one who is in fact our real Father.
Where do our ideas of God come from in the first place? 
They might be a patchwork quilt of old Sunday School lessons; stray comments that we heard years ago from kids on the playground; somebody’s Facebook rant about God letting them down; perspectives from books and movies and retreats; the exhilaration of an answered prayer; the extraordinary experience of being present at the birth of a child; or perhaps the special gift of extended personal study with others who are farther down the path of spiritual maturity. 
One thing is clear, however.  The way we think about our Father in heaven, for better or worse, is almost always related to how we have experienced our fathers here on earth.
Our earthly fathers may have been encouraging and available – the kind of dads who knew how to balance toughness and tenderness.  Or they may have passed along legacies of perfectionism instead of grace, irritation instead of understanding, abuse instead of sacrificial love.
Or we may have had a father who for one reason or another was simply absent from our lives.
Each of those realities helped form our picture of God.  Is he a Father we can always trust, or someone whose very existence is up for grabs?
It matters what picture of God we cling to.
Which is why we might begin every day with a prayer like this: 
“Lord, I don’t know exactly how this day is going to turn out.  But whatever happens and wherever I go, I know that I won’t be alone.  Help me release my grip on anything that isn’t really You.  And teach me how to hang on for dear life to the Real You.”