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God is Not a Disciplinarian

By rythea Lee
March 30, 2010

This article begs the question, does God punish and reward us? Rythea Lee discusses the idea that our spiritual issues are really issues with our parents that we project onto God. She offers a re-framing of a common spiritual quandary.

 It's easy to think that if God loved you, he/she would give you what you want. That's logical, right? Love means getting what you want, what you need, what you deserve, right? How else would God show his/her love? Isn't God a merchandiser? He/she has got access to all these goods and all he/she has to do is give it to you. Then you can know you are loved and cared about by the Big Source itself. That applies to finding the love of your life, having money, having the body you want, the health you want, the job you want, and daily things, like recognition from peers, family, or the public. If God loved you, he/she would give you these, right? It's not so much to ask, it's just the ingredients you need to be happy. That doesn't seem so far fetched.

            I have to admit; I've always secretly felt this was true. God shows his/her love through rewards and punishments. When I want something and I get it, then God really loves me. When I want something and I don't get it, God is punishing me. It's so basic, I think many people feel that way. Even if you don't believe in "God" per se, you probably still have that system going about life, the Universe, or the order of things. It is not just a common religious belief about God but a consumer belief as well. Just look at any advertisement or commercial. The message is clear - the lucky ones get the stuff, the unlucky ones (i.e., those abandoned by a God himself) don't.

            The essential problem with this perspective is it makes your self-worth and peace dependant on getting things outside of yourself. It makes your spiritual life dependent on getting things outside of yourself.  It makes your ability to love yourself dependent on God demonstrating his/her love through getting things outside yourself. It also causes huge amounts of pain because none of us have everything we want. None of us have all elements in place and the fact is, life is messy and nothing stays still. The perfect relationship slowly turns challenging, the great new job gives you a pay cut, your gorgeous physique now doesn't metabolize the way it used to. Even the crème de la crème get plastic surgery. Perfection is an agonizing addiction, especially when it holds the proof of God's love in the balance.

            Do you think that the Ultimate Source of Love would design you to be so unlovable that your lovability would have to proven again and again, day by day, moment by moment? Do you realize if you need external life to prove your lovability, then you are at the mercy of circumstance? Maybe it is obvious, but there are beautiful human beings who have lived through hell. Is God punishing them? There are precious children who suffer from disease, is God punishing them? There are powerful leaders who have died helping the less fortunate, did God punish them? If the answer is no (let’s hope), then why are you any different? Aren't you a beautiful, precious being too? If God hasn't led you to your soul mate, made your stomach flat, given you funding for the movie you are trying to make, or made you pregnant (after 5 years of trying), does that truly mean you are undeserving? Or worse, being punished for something inherently wrong with you?

            I've always thought so. I didn't know it consciously but I've recently unearthed a fear of going for the Gold. I hold myself back from really being big, really taking up space, really trying for what I want, for fear of disappointment. For me, disappointment is not just a sad little bummer of a feeling that flows through me and then is gone. It's proof. It proves that I'm on the outside of life. It proves what all those 7th grade girls teased me for. It proves what my parents said to me when I wouldn't do what they wanted. It proves what all those guys thought when they didn't love me back. It proves what society says about not being good enough. It proves what my abusers said when they told me I'd never win. It proves what those Nazi's said about my people. Yes, really, it's that bad.

            As you might imagine, I don't like to feel disappointed. I'd rather run myself into the ground trying harder while secretly not trying too hard so as to avoid getting rejected, so as not to prove all the things I just said. It has somehow seemed easier to keep trying to be good enough then to sit down and feel my losses. That would have meant feeling the disappointment and as I said, that was a black hole of a choice. The disappointment would have led me to the unworthiness lurking at the bottom of that pit. That feeling would mean that God is, yet again, punishing me.

            How do I make my point here without sounding like a preacher? I don't want to say God forgives all, God loves all, blah blah blah. Those words have been corrupted and have become meaningless. The best I got with this issue is to let you know, it's a parental issue, not a spiritual one. It wasn't God/Spirit/The One, (whatever name you use), that taught you to prove your worthiness. It was your parents or caregivers. If you had been loved, held, cherished for who you are, this wouldn't be an issue. You wouldn't project the scolding parent onto God. If you had internalized an unconditional experience of being enough for your parents, you wouldn't believe there is a damning God who never finds you to be enough. If you had not been controlled through punishment and rewards, you wouldn't run that pattern with God.

            Those needs you think God should supply you with, they are old needs. They are needs of the heart, not the wallet. They are needs to be seen, truly seen. When you think you want God to give you this or that, you are trying to fill something that was unmet a long time ago. It's from your childhood. You are convinced if you could just do what you love, have that car, have that girlfriend, have that respect from so and so, you would feel good again. That need is an old need and now it's in the shape of something you want to hold in your hands. You are sure that if you could just hold it and have it, you would feel satisfied.

            I know, I've been there. Yesterday. Just yesterday, I found out I couldn't get a mortgage on a house I'm DYING to own. For many hours, I felt God had left me, AGAIN. This time, I went into the disappointment and let it in. First, I kicked and screamed, then I let it in. At the bottom of that pain was the little girl I once was, torn and tattered and alone. Very alone. I was telling her that this was proof of her unworthiness, that if God truly loved us, he/she would have found us a way. I told her she had failed again at being good enough. I saw her crumpled in a ball, trying to defend herself, terrified.

            Then, all at once, I saw that it was I who had abandoned her. It was I who was punishing her. It was I, who pointed at her with cruelty, the way so many others had taught me. I went and picked her up and held her. I opened my heart to her and saw her for who she was, a shining, absolutely loveable being.  As soon as I was willing to love her unconditionally, I reconnected to God. Relief and sweetness filled my body. The love was unmistakable and so was the mistake. It was I who was punishing myself, not God.


This article was written by Rythea Lee. Her new book Trauma into Truth: Gutsy Healing and Why It’s Worth It is available at Rythea Lee has a private practice in Northampton, Massachusetts and teaches workshops and classes for healing and self-expression. You can read more about her and her dance theatre company, the Zany Angels, at You can also see Rythea Lee perform on youtube by putting in her name on the youtube site.            


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Truth, love, peace and joy are all words that describe - and are synonymous with - God. To be in love, peace and joy, we need to be in truth - accepting the reality of who we really are and what we can or can't control. Today, focus on opening to learning about Truth.


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Truth, love, peace and joy are all words that describe - and are synonymous with - God. To be in love, peace and joy, we need to be in truth - accepting the reality of who we really are and what we can or can't control. Today, focus on opening to learning about Truth.



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