By Charles W. Sidoti, BCC

As a child growing up in a Christian family, I had a belief in Santa Claus that was a fun and exciting part of the Christmas holiday.  When I had children of my own, I enjoyed seeing the excitement on their faces as they heard the story of magical jolly fellow who lived at the North Pole and delivered gifts on Christmas Eve to all of the good little children.  All of this he did while riding on his magic sleigh with eight tiny reindeer!  What could be better?  One day my eight-year-old son, Charles, and I were taking a walk with our dog when he asked me, “Dad, is God like Santa Claus?” I had to pause for a moment.  The last thing I wanted to was explain away the wonderful childhood fantasy of Santa Claus for him.

The reasoning that led Charles to ask this question is very easy to understand. To him, it seemed completely logical that God should exist in exactly the same way as a character like Santa Claus.  Think about it.  A child never actually sees Santa, although children do see Santa’s “helpers” at the department store. Children are told that Santa Claus lives at the North Pole and keeps a close eye on kid’s behavior, rewarding the ones who are good and disappointing the ones who are bad.  As the words of the ever-popular children’s Christmas song, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, say:

He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!”

At approximately the same age that children are told about Santa, they also begin to learn about God.  To a child, God is also explained as someone with seemingly magical powers.  Children are told that God is watching over us from heaven, a place that seems as remote as the North Pole. They learn that God is also someone who cares about hem, knows everything about them, and wants them to be good.  Children learn that God’s helpers are called angels, who are all around but never seen.  Santa’s workers are called “elves,” and we can’t see them, either!  And just as with Santa, we never see God.  It is little wonder why Charles asked me if God was the same as Santa.

At some point, we need to grow beyond a child’s understanding God. Our relationship with God must grow and evolve with us into adulthood or it will cease to contain meaning, just like our relationship with Santa.  Every meaningful relationship grows and changes or it simply dissolves.  Our relationship with our parents is a good example.  A small child sees his or her parents as all-knowing, all powerful beings.  If our relationship with our parents is a healthy one, it evolves as we grow into adulthood.  It is then that we are able to see and appreciate our parents for what they really are, human beings.

What determines if a relationship grows or ends?  The difference is communication.  With Santa there is no real two-way communication, because there is no real Santa.  With God it is different.  Growing in the awareness of God’s presence in our life and becoming aware of God’s constant communication are what is meant by learning to live a contemplative life.  For our relationship with God to be meaningful and real as adults, we need this awareness of God’s presence and recognition of the many ways  that God communicates with us.

The transition from believing in a magical, Santa-like God to growing in relationship with the Living God happens in ways that are as individual as we are.  Each person’s relationship with God is different.  Personally, my exposure to the monastic tradition, especially the writings of Thomas Merton and other contemplative authors, has had a profound impact on my own spiritual development.

One of the greatest gifts that the monastic tradition can bestow upon a person is what I refer to as the development of a contemplative mindset.  By a contemplative mindset, I am referring to the realization that God comes to us from within creation, indeed from within our very selves.  God isn’t “up there” somewhere, removed from this world.  God is present within the context, the events, of our everyday lives.  It is within the events of our everyday life that God desires to meet us, guide us and heal us.  The awareness that all of life is Sacred, that all of God’s creation is good and the place where God dwells, is a profoundly healing realization.  It is the fruit of attentively waiting upon the Lord through the events and the circumstances of our lives.  When you see God in this way, it is impossible to think of God as Santa Claus like figure, somewhere far removed from us and looking down.  No, God is very close, indeed an in-dwelling presence.

Connecting Point:  Your image, the way you think of (or see) God, should grow and evolve as you journey through life.  Do you think yours has?  Ask God in your own words to place in your heart the desire to grow in that relationship.

Prayer:  Lord, help me to grow in relationship with you, the “Living God.” Direct my heart that I may wait patiently upon you to reveal yourself to me.  May I become increasingly aware of the many ways that you communicate your love and presence to me every day.  May I respond sincerely through my life with others and in the solitude of prayer. Amen.

______________

This article is from my book “Living at God’s Speed, Healing in God’s Time

  Buy it on Amazon.com only $14.95!  http://www.amazon.com/Living-Gods-Speed-Healing-Time/dp/158595831X

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