God is at home, it’s we who have gone out for a walk.Meister Eckhart
The following Monday, the day after having heard the message about being out of place and the need to return to the presence of the Lord, I finally screwed up my courage and decided to see what it would be like to sit in the presence of God the Father.
This wasn’t easy. Like most people today, I was not very comfortable with stillness and quiet. Our culture seems to push us toward things that keep our minds occupied but not usually with things that have lasting value. We come to crave the constant inputs of music, television, podcasts, and so on. I, too, was hooked on distraction; silence and solitude tended to make me anxious. God seeks to break in, and we seek to make enough noise and keep ourselves so “busy” that we won’t notice him. Stillness and contemplation were not yet in my toolbox.
Moreover, I still struggled to conceive of a father who was reliable and safe. Deep down, I didn’t really believe I was worthy of love, certainly not the love of God the Father. I felt weak, flawed, and unworthy. Nonetheless, I didn’t think I had much to lose, so I found a quiet and comfortable place to sit, and I prayed, asking the Father to show me his love. He chose to show me his love in a vision. It was nothing I was seeking or expecting. It would turn out to be the first of many visions that would take me on a months-long journey of healing and transformation.
In the vision, I found myself standing outside an old wooden building. It stood in a clearing in a pine forest. I was standing on level ground, but I was on the side of a mountain. The forest continued up the mountainside behind the building. It looked like the kind of building you might expect to find in a remote corner of the Appalachian Mountains. The exterior was covered with vertical planks, roughly finished and of unequal widths. There were noticeable gaps between the planks. The wood was neither painted nor stained and was aged by years of exposure to the weather. Although this building was not finely finished and certainly not new, it seemed to be quite sturdy. I did not see any windows, but facing me on the left side were floor-to-ceiling double doors that swung outward. They were standing open. I dimly saw an interior with a wooden floor. This certainly didn’t seem to be the kind of place where one would find God. 
Despite the unlikely appearance of the building, I walked in. As I entered, I heard the hollow sound of my steps on the rough planks of the floor and the rhythmic sounds of woodworking: the sounds of handsaws, files, and sandpaper. This building was clearly a workshop; the air was heavy with the smells of freshly cut wood, machine oil, and old leather. In front of me, opposite the door, stood racks full of cut lumber. I stood in the doorway for a moment, drinking it in and trying to understand what I was experiencing.
Meeting My Pops
As I moved further into the workshop, I saw someone off to the right at an old, rough wooden workbench built into the corner of the workshop. He was shaping a piece of wood with a file or rasp. I knew at once that he was my Pops. He looked over at me but said nothing and returned to his work. I sensed that he was waiting for me. It took me a few moments, but eventually, I overcame my nervousness at actually encountering the Father, the person of the Godhead I least understood and perhaps most feared. I said. “Hi, Pops!”
He replied, “Hello, David,” and returned to his work. After a moment or two at his work, he turned to me again. “Did you need something?”
This was not going as I might have expected. I was again being asked what I wanted! I could see myself half reclining on some lumber, leaning back, away from my Pops, my body language betraying reserve and uncertainty. “No, I just wanted to hang out with you.”
“Cool,” he replied.
While Pops continued his work, I sat for a while, wondering what kind of God says “cool” and trying to figure out my next move. I was bold enough to break in again, “I love you, Pops.”
My Pops stopped his work and turned towards me. “I know, David. I love you, too.” This is what I came seeking: an experience of Father’s love. When it came so simply and directly, I was unprepared for the soul-stirring emotion that came with it. The nearest I can come to describe the intensity of the feeling is this. Imagine you had never before felt the warmth of the sun on your face and felt it for the first time. Or imagine if you had never tasted anything sweet before and bit into a ripe peach. Those imagined sensations, new, intense, and perhaps a bit intoxicating, bring to my mind what I felt at that moment.
I could now see that he was wearing a well-worn leather apron that extended from his chest to his knees. It looked like a blacksmith’s apron. I moved toward him, and he moved toward me. We embraced. I expected that would be awkward, I was not a hugger, and my Pops was very large and very strong. Nonetheless, I felt very safe and secure. I think I felt the way a secure child must feel in the arms of his father.
Jesus is here, too
A moment after we embraced, my Pops spoke again, “Jesus is here, too, if you want to see him.”
I had not started out expecting to find Jesus, but emboldened by my Pops’ love, I walked further back into the workshop, which I now could see was L-shaped. As I got to the back, I saw Jesus. He was working too, sanding a piece of wood. It was about the size and shape of a football but more rounded. It reminded me of the body of a duck decoy, and at first, that is what I thought it was. It seemed such an odd thing for Jesus to be sanding.
It was beautifully grained with bands of lighter and darker wood. Jesus’ sanding was light, gentle, and slow. He sanded for a few strokes, then blew the sawdust away. Holding the wood up, he examined it carefully, scrutinizing the beauty being revealed by his labors, and ran his hand over it, gently testing its shape and smoothness.
He turned to me and said, “I love working with wood,” and smiled. He sanded for another moment or two and continued, “You know, if you want something to be perfect, you have to love it.” He returned to his gentle and loving sanding. That was where the vision ended.
Visions were not new to me. The Lord had often spoken to me in visions. But this vision was different in its vividness and intensity. I was used to visions that were indistinct around the edges. Like watching a movie where the “action” is clear, but the background and periphery fade away in a misty blur. This time I didn’t see scenes from a movie. I was in the workshop, I didn’t just see my Pops and Jesus there, and I was experiencing it; it engaged all of my senses. I smelled the workshop: machine oil, leather, and sawdust. I heard my footsteps on the rough wooden floor, and the sound of wood being worked. Where the sunlight came in through cracks in the wall, I saw particles of sawdust hanging in the air. When my Pops hugged me, I heard the creaking of his leather apron and felt the warmth of his embrace. Perhaps “vision” is the wrong word. This wasn’t something I was seeing; it was something I was experiencing.
I wondered why I’d had this vision, this experience at this time. What was different this time? On this day, I didn’t come to God asking for anything. I wasn’t interceding. I wasn’t asking for guidance or direction. I came simply wanting to “be” with my Pops. I wanted to get to know him, to experience his love. I wanted to be where we are meant to be: in his presence. Describing this, even years later, brings fresh reminders of the almost overwhelming power of directly experiencing God’s love. God the Father, the creator of all that is, knows me personally, loves me, and knows that I love him.
Healing and wholeness flow from knowing at our cores that we are known by God, loved by him, and valued by him – personally and individually. It still brings a lump to my throat and a profound peacefulness. It is one thing to know, in an academic sense, that I am loved by God. This was something else altogether: a personal, face-to-face encounter with God, who tells me that he loves me, who enfolds me in the strength and safety of his embrace.
One of the most important books I have read since my time in Pops’ Workshop is Anatomy of the Soul, by Curt Thompson, MD. Dr. Thompson is a practicing psychiatrist who writes on the connections between neuroscience and the human soul. He stresses the primary importance to our spiritual and emotional health of being known.
Our Western world has long emphasized knowledge—factual information and “proof”—over the process of being known by God and others. No wonder, then, that despite all our technological advancements and the proliferation of social media, we are more intra- and interpersonally isolated than ever. Yet it is only when we are known that we are positioned to become conduits of love. And it is love that transforms our minds, makes forgiveness possible, and weaves a community of disparate people into the tapestry of God’s family.(Thompson M.D., Curt. Anatomy of the Soul: Surprising Connections between Neuroscience and Spiritual Practices That Can Transform Your Life and Relationships (Kindle Locations 298-303). Tyndale House Publishers. Kindle Edition.)
Before my encounter with my Pops in his workshop, I knew, as a point of factual information, that he loved me. I could quote scripture to prove that he loved me. However, it is something else altogether to know his love experientially. Imagine, if you can, someone who spent his life in a desert. He has heard about the Pacific Ocean. He has read about it. He has seen it depicted in paintings and has seen photographs of it. He has talked to others who have experienced it. He has experienced small streams and ponds in the rare desert rains. He knows that the Pacific Ocean is a reality. It is quite another thing to experience the Pacific Ocean; to hear the crashing of waves breaking on the shore; to smell and taste the salt spray; to wade in and feel the tug of the waves pushing and pulling you; to sit on the beach and watch the sun disappear into the ocean. The difference between reading about and hearing about the Pacific Ocean and actually experiencing it begins to hint at the difference between knowing about the Father’s love and experiencing it.
I started out seeking an experience of the Father’s love for me. I received that almost as soon as I entered Pops’ workshop. However, there was much more he wanted me to know, much more healing he wanted me to experience. This starting point of experiencing his love was important: it gave me the strength and encouragement to press into the good my Pops wanted to give me.
I have known for years that God desires to be in relationship with us. I had tried to avoid the traps of legalistic religion. I knew that what I did was not the key; my relationship with the triune God is what really mattered. I knew Jesus; we talked frequently. I knew Holy Spirit; I heard him often. However, I did not really know my Pops. Not knowing him, I couldn’t really be sure that he knows me.
This may present a theological problem for you. After all, Jesus told us that seeing him is seeing the Father and knowing him is knowing the Father:
“If you know Me, you will also know My Father. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.” “Lord,” said Philip, “show us the Father, and that’s enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been among you all this time without your knowing Me, Philip? The one who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”John 14:7–9 HCSB
Perhaps, at the root, it wasn’t that I didn’t know the Father. Perhaps it was that I did not know my Pops’ love. More importantly, I didn’t trust the steadfastness of his love. My head knew about the love of the Father, but my heart knew the conditional, temporary love of my earthly father. As is the case for many of us, deficits in my relationship with my earthly father carried over to my relationship with my heavenly father. I didn’t trust the Father’s love for me, and that kept me from really trusting him.
I did not know it at the time, but this vision or experience of the presence of God and experiencing his love for me was just the first step in what has become a long journey.
To be clear, being still is still a challenge. Silence and stillness are in my toolbox, but I do not use them as well or as often as I would like to.
At this point, if you have read or even heard about William Paul Young’s excellent novel, “The Shack,” you may be calling a foul here, thinking that I am just ripping off Young’s work, which I have read – several times. That thought occurred to me as well and even led me to wonder if perhaps my imagination wasn’t running away with me. However, the transformation God worked in me is tangible and unmistakable. My experiences were real, not a work of fiction. I did not set out with the idea that I would meet God in a secluded old wooden building deep in the woods, but I am not surprised that God would take something that he knew would be comforting and accessible to me and use it to finally get me to experience the reality of his love. Yes, there are superficial resemblances between Young’s shack and my Pops’ workshop. It may be a coincidence, or it may be my Pops knowing what imagery would work for me; in the end, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is the powerful, transformative love of God, who graciously met me where I was and showed me his heart.
I am haunted by the idea that I read this analogy somewhere, but I cannot find any reference. If it is familiar to you and you know where I saw it, please let me know so that I can credit it appropriately.