I'm not an art history buff, but there's one painting that's changed my view of God forever—and all because of two hands. In his remarkable painting "The Prodigal Son," Rembrandt captures the full expression of God's character by painting the Father God with two very different hands. One hand is drawn masculine: rugged, protective, and strong. The other is clearly feminine: slender, nurturing, and soft.
There are times in life when God's nurturing qualities are exactly what we need. Our picture of God is only complete when we truly allow his mothering qualities to embrace our hearts. To know his tender love and his mighty power renews our strength to trust in him, no matter what challenges come our way.
Journey with me through four devotional times of exploring and responding to the truth of the nurturing side of God's character:
Explore: Ava Pennington says, "When I overlook all the characteristics God reveals about himself, I lose. I lose the blessing of knowing him as gracious and gentle, compassionate and comforting. I lose the joy of knowing him as encourager and friend, loving and kind."
Respond: Think of the first five words you'd use to describe God. Do you first think of him as holy and powerful or loving and tender? Because of our personalities, circumstances, and upbringing, most of us will lean one way or the other. Psalm 131 is a short reflection that invites us to think of God as loving, kind, and tender. Record these verses in your journal or on a notecard, or post them in your car. Read the psalm several times this week to root the imagery in your mind as you rest your spiritual burdens in the loving arms of God.
Explore: Mary Beth Chapman describes the imagery of wandering through a dense forest as a way to explain the years after her daughter's death. She says she sensed God saying, I know you can't see me, but you've got to trust me.
Respond: Have you experienced your own forest? Where are you in your faith journey right now? Entering or exiting a forest? Deep in the trees? Utterly lost? Imagine where you are right now, and then picture a loving, larger presence holding your hand, leading you forward. Every time you feel discouraged or disoriented, imagine that loving hand holding tightly to yours.
Explore: Have you ever wrestled with the question of God's healing? Are there places in your life that feel sick or diseased? Perhaps you've experienced the sudden interruption of life's plans because of an emotional or physical illness. If so, you may have wondered why God would withhold healing from you. In "His Healing Heart," Holly Vicente Robaina reminds us that we rarely focus on the many healings God has given us from physical sickness, and the many days we've experienced wellness.
Respond: Stop now and record some ways God has healed you and made you well. Some examples might be to remember trials he has brought you through, or even to thank him for healing your cold last winter, for providing you with strong legs to exercise, or for creating you with a beating heart and a thinking brain.
Explore: In "Mother to the Motherless," Amy Simpson details some of God's many nurturing character traits. Here are a few she mentions:
• "He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds."—Psalm 147:3
• "The Sovereign LORD will wipe away all tears."—Isaiah 25:8
• "He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young."—Isaiah 40:11
• "This same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus."—Philippians 4:19
Respond: Which of these verses (or any of the other passages mentioned in Simpson's article) captures an element of God's character that you need to be reminded of? How can you keep that characteristic with you today? Consider recording the verse, imagining you in the image, or drawing a picture. Pray boldly that God would reveal that aspect of himself to you so that you can trust more deeply in who he is.