This article expresses thoughts from mothers and their daughters. It is not supposed to be coherent. No blending effort is involved. Mothers state things as they see them, and so do their daughters. This way we experience the reward of honesty, and the prize of astonishing differences and similarities shared across generations of humanity—in this case, across generations of Adventist women. The ideas, expressions, and beliefs of these women are their own, and the inclusion of their viewpoints doesn’t imply the endorsement of the Adventist Review. Reflecting on these benefits, we wonder: whatever the pain of truth and honesty, if these moms and daughters can be honest with each other, then why can’t we?
What is God like?” I do not have to look far for the answer. I have long known about the omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, and all-conquering God who writes rules in stone. But the God I know as “our Father which art in heaven” has been demonstrated by a loving human being, my earthly father.
James Walwyn would lay my sleeping little form on his shoulder and walk home from a Wednesday night prayer meeting. He signed my failing school report cards with the same calm spirit that he did when I later brought home report cards that showed “considerable promise.” He believed in me. He loved me. That’s what God is like.
Dad “parted the Red Sea” to ensure that both of his daughters could pursue their higher education at the university of their choice to become a London-trained musician and an English teacher. For me, thinking about God is thinking of my father.
I see God in my 6-year-old son, talking to his friend, God, on our way to the zoo; in the room of my hospice patient taking her last breath after a long battle with breast cancer; walking into the room with me as I offer words of comfort to the mother whose African American son is incarcerated without cause. I see Him too in Friday evening sunset’s last rays, as my exhaustion happily welcomes the Sabbath. I’ve found Him in my children’s smiles and laughter as we harvest from our strawberry patch.
God is with me as I teach my medical student principles of health through the NEWSTART program, and in those innocent faces excited about the kindergarten Sabbath program. He’s my friend, my Savior, my treasured confidant. He is my guide when I don’t know what to do with a patient; my healer when a patient improves without intervention. He’s found in the kindness of my virtuous mother, and the wisdom of my father. God, as I see Him, is love.
The church, as I see it, has been rudderless in handling today’s significant issues. The undergirding support that I felt as a young adult seems to be eroding. We seem to be losing our purpose and drifting into dangerous territory, forgetting that the issues that broke Christ’s heart should propel us to supportive action.
I have been surprised and disappointed by the lack of Seventh-day Adventist Christian support my young adult children have faced in the different parts of the United States. I thought that as they left our nest, the church would be a source of guidance and leadership, and that they would have opportunities to do as Christ would. Sadly, they have not found this so, even as they are doggedly determined not to walk away! We, their church, should be out in front on the issues of social justice, pandemic response as it pertains to taking care of others, immigration issues as they pertain to taking care of those who need our help! These should be issues of our heart as they are His, for He cares for the orphans and widows (Ps. 146:9). Shouldn’t we too?
I have to look at the church in snippets, like looking through a curtain poked with holes. When I do that, I see a lot of beauty, especially in the quiet moments of small groups, of individual worship, of large and swelling corporate song. I see beauty in the eyes of youth in my Sabbath School group as they understand a new concept, and the joy of worshipping with friends. When I look at it as a whole, though, especially in the last year, I see disconnection from who we are and why we exist. I see a body far too tethered to a building; a body that never needed a building. We are the church, each one of us. So I see both the beauty and the ugliness inherent in people.
I feel as though the church is so close to what we could be, the body of Christ with all of our different gifts on display. But it seems we’re enamored, instead, with the status quo of our social club. I can hear a sermon from anywhere, but I need my local church body to be Jesus’ hands and feet in my community.
God is the unseen pillar I lean on and my guiding light on even the darkest paths. I moved with family to the United States when I was 15 years old. An activity we did at school to assess our teenage anxiety level showed how high mine was compared to my classmates. Some pointed it out or stared at me, unaware of the tough year my family had endured. Still, I didn’t feel anxious. I had a sense of calm as I trusted the Lord. “I am with you always,” Jesus promises, “even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).
As I grew older, major events still spiked my anxiety level: my father’s death at a young age, my daughter’s unexpected surgery. But I think the secret is how I see God. Although I don’t see Him physically, I always seek His presence, conversing with Him throughout the day about small things and big things. I know I’m never alone: He’s always there by my side.
I see God as my guide. Sometimes my path is lit, and I can see each step clearly. But sometimes it’s dark and narrow. Either way, He is there to lead me. When confused about decisions, when worried about situations, I have peace.
In my early 20s I thought all I had to think about was doing well in school, learning how to be a new professional, and taking a stab at “adulting,” such as keeping track of my credit card. Little did I know that I was in for a whirlwind of events—major surgery for an unexpected, rare health condition. I had just been accepted into a dual master’s program and received a Dean’s Award. But my academic future seemed to be jeopardized the summer before my senior year.
I was crushed at first. But God guided me through my life’s most difficult challenge. Not only did I recover within the summer and finish my senior year, but I was given my university’s most prestigious honor. God’s promises are true: even in the desert He promises, “You shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail” (Isa. 58:11).
Irrelevant” was the first word I thought of.
When I was growing up, the church’s relevancy, faith in God, the church’s authority, were givens. The Bible and prayer answered all of life’s problems. If you “kept” the Sabbath, “paid” your tithe and offering, believed the unique doctrines of the church, “refrained” from tobacco and alcohol, and ate only clean meats; and if you kept the Ten Commandments, you were on your way spiritually. The Dorcas Society helped the needy, and Saturday night games and “marches” helped entertain us.
Now God’s existence is no longer a given. Doubt about Him, the Bible, and th
e church are more commonplace. The church no longer wields its earlier authority.
It also seems unable to address the issues of the day, except with stale words and repackaged ideas. I posit a few reasons young and old leave: (1) the church seems to be more concerned about belief than behavior; (2) Jesus is not truly at the center of its discourse or actions; (3) it refuses to address gender issues; (4) it is afraid or unable to dismantle racism and gender inequality within the church; (5) God and science seem to be at odds.
I am a third-generation Seventh-day Adventist, baptized at the age of 9, and Adventist-educated. I live and thrive with the tension of what I understand and don’t; I speak out for justice—for Black lives, immigrants, the imprisoned, the LGBTQ community, and women within our church. I long for the day my church will do the same.
Well, my family is Seventh-day Adventist. Do you know what that means?”I am conflicted when I offer this aside about my heritage. I am proud of how my parents raised me in the church, but I am estranged from the church. I struggle with this dissonance between what I sometimes hear from the pew and what I read in the Bible or hear from God. Are we reading the same Bible, listening to the same God? I cannot cosign all 28 Fundamental Beliefs. I am a liberal progressive Millennial: some argue that that is my problem. I believe in women’s rights, gender rights, that the church should be a mobilizer for justice but has often been too comfortable with the status quo regarding racism or climate change. I believe in evolution. I am uncomfortable with most approaches to missions. And I have complicated feelings about my student missionary experience.
I still believe in God. I am not alone. Others like me in the pew disagree with me, but are beautifully Christlike in their love. Despite this, I struggle with participation in institutions in which what I value is believed wrong or unimportant. I miss community, but I no longer want to be seen as a problem to fix. I am grateful I was raised SDA, but I am forging my own path.
I don’t think of God in terms of seeing. Perhaps I’m not really a visual type, but I have experienced Him. He is intricately involved with every aspect of my history—even from before my birth. He is the central part of my life. I know Him as an absolute. I know that He is constant when He seems further away or when He feels as close as my breath. The moments of closeness can be tremendously comforting when life is raw and painful. At other times He can be uncomfortably close when I’m intent on wanting my own way. I am sometimes overwhelmed by His kindness and goodness to me in the wonderful, beautiful things that happen to me. Perhaps the closest I come to seeing God is in the glimpses I see of Him in the people He’s placed in my life—especially those who know me best and still unconditionally love me. God gives meaning and purpose to my life. Without Him I’d be extremely afraid and hopeless. Every now and again I touch on this ocean of love that is God. It leaves me longing for more—a better, clearer, deeper experience.
Before I was 5, God was my laughter. In games, the wonder of His creation, and the joy of my childhood, He gave me laughter.
When I was 5, God was my constant one. As we packed up cardboard boxes, waved goodbye to childhood friends, and moved into the unknown, He gave me His presence.
When I was 7, God was my teacher. The world was ripe with discovery. In numbers, letters, the science projects, and the history posters, He gave me wisdom.
When I was 12, my God became my friend. Through our whispered conversations, I opened my heart. On a crisp November Sabbath when I was baptized, I declared to the world that God gave me His friendship.
When I went off to boarding school, my God was my comforter. I learned to thrive in His comfort. When I felt alone, isolated, and far from home, He gave me His peace.
I’m in college now, and my God is everything He was and so much more. He is my strength, hope, mentor, and the lifeguard of my soul.
He instructs, holds, rebukes, and comforts me. Life with my God is never dull. The journey we walk together is full of mistakes, twists, and turns, but it is also marked with growth, joy, discovery, and trust.
He gives me purpose. He gives me life!