Alison Marie Smith

Life, Leadership & Spiritual Formation in Lonely Places

Category: Sabbath Experiments

Sabbath Experiments: Is God Good?

This post is part of a blog series: Sabbath Experiments

Is God really, truly good?

This question reverberated in my mind. A year ago, I attended a regional conference for InterVarsity. We had a guest teacher who led us through an Old Testament survey, starting with Genesis 1-3, the creation of the world and the fall of humanity. In Genesis 1 &2, the word “good” is repeated over and over- roughly 12 times. God created the world to be good. Yet in Genesis 3, humankind begins to doubt God’s goodness. They wonder Is God holding out on us? They eat the fruit, I’d rather be the god of my own life than allow God to call the shots and disappoint.

Again, that question, Is God really, truly good? haunted me.

Cognitively, I knew that God’s goodness is one of the key attributes that Christians believe. Yet I had trouble believing it at the heart level. Sure, God had been good in the past, but someday he’s going to get tired of being good to me, right? If he was so good, why had our move and subsequent years in Utah been so difficult? Why was I still struggling with anxiety? What about the suffering in the world?

During a debrief session at the conference, I shared this struggle with my small group and found that I was not alone. A co-worker shared that she also struggled with this but found that keeping a journal about God’s goodness- the ways she witnessed him in her daily life- helped resolve her doubts about his character.

Maybe this was what I needed. I’d heard the apologetic arguments for God’s goodness, I didn’t need to be convinced by logic. I needed physical evidence. Maybe my disbelief in God’s goodness had something to do with paying attention? In response, I planned to start a journal where I documented God’s goodness- things I observed in my life and in the world around me.

First Things First

Before I began with the present, I needed to reflect on where I had seen God’s goodness in the past. I set aside about an hour to reflect on the span of my life. I broke my life into segments, limiting myself to about 10 minutes per segment. It was important that I had structure and boundaries so that I didn’t get overwhelmed. Reflecting on 28 years of life is a little intense. Here are the segments:

Ages 5-11 (Kindergarten-5th grade)

Ages 12-14 (Middle School)

Ages 15-18 (High School)

Ages 19-22 (College)

Ages 23-24 (First year out of college)

Ages 24-Present (Previous 4 years in Utah)

I left a few lines open after each segment in case something came to my mind later. When I finished, I realized that each segment revealed poignant experiences of God’s goodness.

There were events that I wanted to ignore and not remember:

Age 12: Hearing God’s voice when I was so lonely in middle school

Age 15: Awareness of God’s presence when Shadow died (my first dog)

Age 24: God leading me to a gifted therapist who helped me deal with anxiety

But there were also events filled with joy and contentment:

Age 22: When I got hired by InterVarsity! God clearly called me to IV and I could sense his pride in me during my interview.

Age 23: The day Sean & I got engaged- it was so much fun and my family was so supportive. I’ll always remember the surprise champagne and dinner that my brother-in-law treated us to.

My life and its experiences were a tapestry; God’s goodness was a shimmering thread that wove throughout. When my life seemed out of control, God was constant. When my life seemed too good to be true, God was unchanging. When life was boring and when life was exciting, God was really, truly good.

A Sabbath Ritual Journal

Every Sabbath, I find a comfortable spot- usually the living room couch, sometimes the adirondack chair outside in the shade. I grab a hot cup of tea or a cold diet coke and open the journal I bought just for this occasion. I quiet my mind, saying a few breath prayers. Father, help me to see your goodness.

For 20 minutes or so, I reflect on my week and jot down ways I have seen God’s goodness.

Our church small group, I see your goodness in meaningful conversation and caring community.

Prayer ministry with a good friend. You knew my need and spoke through her to me.

The good book I’m reading. I see your goodness in beautiful words, fascinating plots, and compelling characters. Meeting random students this week from schools across the country. God, you clearly care for college students.

When I finish, I say a few more breath prayers. Father, thank you for your goodness.

This has become an important part of my Sabbath; a discipline in paying attention. When I don’t pay attention, it is all too easy for me to doubt him, like my ancestors in Genesis 3. He must be holding out on me. By paying attention, I remember that he sees me, that he loves me, that he loves the world. I see his goodness. I want to know it deeply. Yes, God is really, truly good.


Do you struggle with believing God is good? What has helped you become more aware of God’s goodness?

Sabbath Experiments: Creating with the Creator

IMG_3670Starting about a year ago, I have attempted to incorporate a weekly Sabbath into my life. Setting aside a day of rest and without work requires intentionality and forethought but, so far, the benefits have been wonderful. Each month I will share some of my attempts- some successful and some awkward- at engaging in this discipline. 

One of my favorite things to do on the Sabbath is bake and cook. I love the ritual of making something with my hands. Chopping fresh vegetables, the curls of butternut squash skin piling up, rolling out dough on my floured butcher block counter- all of these rituals help me to slow down and pay attention.

I love my kitchen; it’s filled with natural light that delicately falls on my countertops, which can be good or bad depending on how clean my kitchen is!  I connect to God through my senses. The smell, sight, and feel of cooking is restful to me, not to mention the *hopefully* delicious tastes that follow.

This past Sabbath, I made a strawberry rhubarb pie, which happens to be my husband’s favorite type of pie. We have rhubarb that grows wildly in our backyard. I enjoy the time it takes to wash and chop the rhubarb, I even like how it stains my hands red. My least favorite part is making the crust, mostly because it requires a lot of concentration and precision to make it look pretty. But even this is a part of the ritual that I love. I love that it forces me to slow, to breathe, to take my time.

Once the top of the crust is carefully placed, I use a sharp knife to cut away the excess. I cut 4 small slits on the top and finish it with an egg wash and a dusting of sugar.  Once I place it in the oven, I begin to feel the contentment of creating. The hard part is over, the oven does the rest. I made something and it was good.

The finished product, voila!

Creating gives us a glimpse into the pleasure that God must feel as the Creator. Whether it’s a piece of art, a set of blueprints, a garden bed, or a science experiment, it is an act of creation. The patience, the precision, the care, the creativity, it is good. 

Creating can be refreshing but it can also be frustrating. Images that come to mind are the half-finished projects that pile up in the basement or the birdhouse that doesn’t turn out quite right. Last fall I attempted to make caramel apples. I read the recipe incorrectly and the proportion of caramel to cream was off; I was left with caramel goo that wouldn’t harden. I was irritated that it didn’t turn out the way I expected and frustrated that I wasted ingredients. However, the experiment actually worked out. I used the caramel sauce as a dip for the apples and other fruits instead, salvaging the ingredients, even though it was not the outcome I would have preferred.

As I thought about it, even if I couldn’t have eaten the finished product, it wouldn’t have cancelled out the enjoyment I felt in the process of creating. In our failed attempts at creating, we still get a glimpse of our Creator. Even if the outcome is not what we hope or expect, even if my pie catches fire in the oven, the process itself connects us with God, it is good.


 

How have you connected to God through creating something? Share your experiences below.

 

 

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