Wondrous Love: Being a Child of God

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One of my favorite pasttimes is eavesdropping on my children.

Of course, opportunities to do so arise rarely. I’m usually in close contact with my kids, and when I’m not, it’s because I’m trying to fend them off so I can accomplish something productive (or eat chocolate in secret). Every so often, though, I manage to observe them undetected. I peek through the windows of their Sunday School rooms; listen outside the door while they’re playing nicely together at home (did I mention that this happens rarely?); or sneak into their bedrooms after dark to marvel, once again, at how beautiful they are when they sleep.

On one of these occasions, as I gazed intently at my precious little girl, it suddenly hit me: They really have no idea how much I love them. 

In fact, they probably suspect, sometimes, that I don’t love them. Frankly, it’s not always easy. They often resent my interference with their goals; they take much more than they give; when I do something special with them, they complain when it’s over instead of thanking me for a fun time; and, on the whole, they don’t truly believe that I have their best interests in mind.

None of this, however, alters the fact that I am head over heels for these baffling little creatures. Why? Sure, they’re cute — and sometimes they’re fun — but factoring in both the good and the bad, I can’t say they’ve earned it. The truth is: I love them because they are mine.

Only as adults will they truly begin to grasp this. I know, because the same is true for me. Although young adulthood taught me to appreciate my parents more and more, I had yet to recognize the depth and self-sacrificial nature of their love for me…to realize that this love didn’t reflect how lovable and charming I was, but how faithful and selfless they were.

Who else displays this depth of devotion — this boundless love, undeserved yet freely bestowed? Only one Person — and I, like a child, am not only undeserving of His love, but am wholly incapable of grasping its immensity. When I think on the vast difference between my children’s love and mine, it stuns me to consider the immeasurably greater difference between my love and God’s.

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In truth, my confidence in God’s love sometimes wavers. I occasionally question His plans. I act out of selfishness and pride instead of gratitude and trust. In fact — let me be perfectly honest — I can be a real ingrate. And yet He loves me with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3), not because of my character…but because of His. This assurance quells my fears and puts my doubts to rest…and the longer I know Him, the more deeply I experience and believe in His love for me.

Whether you have children or not…whether your relationship with your own parents brings joy or frustration…you can be assured that our Father’s love is perfect. He is the Parent in whose image every parent was created; we are the children who bear that same image, and with whom He desires an intimate relationship…whom He pursues passionately, even when, like the prodigal son, we stray far from home in search of our own foolish desires. As time passes, I marvel more and more at the awesome truth expressed in 1 John 3:1:

“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!”

 

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Forty Days of Reflection

A few months ago, I shared my thoughts on the widespread dismissal of seasons such as Advent and Lent by Protestants. The two differ mainly in that, while many Protestants have never even heard of Advent, everybody knows about Lent. When the topic arises, many Evangelicals shut down faster than a Southern Baptist being offered a cold beer.

“Lent,” to many, conjures up one of two images: either the pious, somber Pharasaical types who, like those Jesus described in Matthew 6:16, “put on a gloomy face…so that they will be noticed by men”; or the sporadic church attenders who flippantly give up something for Lent, complain about it whenever possible, and look forward to Easter solely because it means they’ll be done putting in their time for God.

Both approaches, of course, miss the point — essentially, because they fail to account for grace. Consequently, it has fallen out of favor in Evangelical circles. In my humble and very personal opinion, however, this may be a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Several years ago, I quietly took a forty-day break from Facebook. I don’t like to consider myself an addict, but…well…wasting time on it is far too easy. Furthermore, I, for one, tend to spend too much emotional energy on hoping that something I wrote would be as witty as I thought it was and lots of people would “like” it. Which, let’s face it, is very self-serving.

Not long into the Lenten season, I realized that I did actually have more time for devotions than I thought…that I hadn’t always been truly present with my children when spending time with them…and that I had been in danger of getting too wrapped up in needing “the approval of men rather than the approval of God” (John 12:43). When Easter morning arrived, I was more fully prepared to revel deeply in the celebration of Christ’s resurrection. Not because my self-denial had gained me one ounce of God’s favor — again, to believe thus would fail to acknowledge God’s grace — but because I had consciously taken time to lay aside what encumbered me so I could fix my eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Giving something up isn’t about earning points with God. It isn’t about proving your worthiness to Him. It’s about taking the time to re-evaluate the ways you spend your time, and to examine the areas in your life in which you have gradually allowed something to become more important than God. Very few things — even Facebook — are inherently wrong; almost anything, however, can become an idol, distracting us from the only One who truly deserves honor and praise.

People are Fatal

Mark-Twain-Travel-Quote

To be honest, I haven’t actually done much international travel. My husband and I took an extended “babymoon” in Europe the year before we had our first child, and I’ve since been to El Salvador a couple of times in order to hobnob with my husband’s extended family. Not too shabby, I guess…but plenty of my acquaintances have traveled more than I. Then again, a few of my friends have never been out of the country, and several of them have yet to venture west of Pennsylvania.

If this description fits you, fear not: traveling is not the only way to expand your your horizons. After all, not all of us can afford to go globetrotting. Travel, however, is not the point. (Fooled you, didn’t I?)

I’ve recently been considering the above quote by Mr. Twain, and have decided something: People, even more than travel, can destroy our prejudices and broaden our minds much more effectively than a few trips abroad.

Counterintuitive, you say? If I harbor predispositions against various people for reason A, B, or C — sometimes unconsciously — then how can those very people change my feelings? Well, you make a good point…but stay with me: I believe they can.

As with any reputable program, the first step toward acquiring “broad, wholesome, and charitable views of men and things” is to admit that one has a problem. I’m going to be even more transparent than usual here and give you some examples from my own life. Let me tell you about some…mental blocks (yeah, let’s call them that)…that I carry with me as I come into contact with other people:

  • Anyone who doesn’t listen to classical music is unlikely to be intellectual.
  • Super-friendly people are probably ingenuine.
  • Athletic types are usually kind of conceited.
  • Only very careless people use bad grammar.

…and, well, you get the idea. (Don’t hate me. Please?)

When we’re honest, we realize that our preconceived notions say much more about ourselves than about those we keep at arm’s length. For instance, the above generalizations suggest that I’m an esoteric snob who feels threatened by people who do a number of things much better than I ever can. (Ouch). Did I mention that Step One might be rather painful?

Difficult though that is, the next step…I’m sorry, but I’m just doing my job here…is excruciating if you’re an introvert. Because — you guessed it — you’re going to have to talk to people you don’t already know. Sometimes even initiate conversations with them. Daunting? Yes…but most of the things that make us better people aren’t things that come easily to us.

For much of your life, you’re surrounded by people who more or less resemble you. Even if your siblings and parents seem totally different from you, chances are that you all look pretty alike to non-family members. (Don’t deny it). So: you spend about eighteen years in that setting, then go to college and spend one to ten more years (give or take) with people who probably share quite a few similarities: age, choice of major, extracurricular interests, etc. By the time you graduate (or not), it’s probable that you’ve unconsciously developed a concept of what kind of person is tolerable, interesting, and worthy of your time.

Adulthood, however, has a way of shaking things up.

I won’t pretend that I live in a culturally diverse neighborhood; as enriching as that would be, it’s just not where life has taken us. Nonetheless, it contains numerous non-musicians, quite a few friendly people, and even some athletes. Then, of course, there’s my church…and there are my in-laws. So many people, so many of them NOT EXACTLY LIKE ME.*

It’s tempting to write off all those weirdos, hunt down a few like-minded individuals who complement your personality, and hunker down in your comfortable corner of the earth as long as they let you. If you’re honest, though (see above), you might start to realize that Others have something to offer to the world. And that the only way to truly appreciate their unique personalities, gifts, and interests…is to get to know them.

Since we moved into our current home twelve years ago, I’ve made friends with people who wouldn’t have even been on my radar when I was young and foolish. Not that I would have shunned them (I’m not an ogre, for goodness’ sake), but I wouldn’t have thought we had enough in common to pursue a deep friendship. Yet, through various circumstances, and through a conscious effort to appreciate the different things that make us all tick, I’ve formed lasting friendships with people who, at first glance, seemed to have very little in common with me. People who have helped me to grow in spite of myself.

And that brings us to the last step. (Only three — isn’t that great? It’s a very efficient program). We started by acknowledging our own biases; we now finish by acknowledging that other people — different people — are actually okay. That they might, in fact, enrich our lives and change our perspective on things. And that, by the way, “changing our perspective” can actually be a very good thing.

We don’t all have the travel opportunities that Mark Twain did. (Or his writing ability…or his wit…but I digress). We all, however, have amazing opportunities all around us in the form of people…potential friends who can teach us something if we let them. Only, however, if we’re willing to take that first step.

 

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*For those of you who know me, and are freaking out about the bad grammar, rest assured that it was intentional. Artistic license or whatever.

Falling Into Grace: or, Why Parents Don’t Have to be Perfect

You may have heard of the “Mommy Wars.”

Perhaps some single people in the world of professional sports, or international politics, or Wall Street, are so deeply embroiled in their careers that only faint echoes of this term have ever reached their ears. Maybe a few tribal peoples residing deep in the remote jungles of Africa are unaware of its existence. For most of us, though — even those of us fortunate enough to be surrounded by non-judgmental, non-competitive mom friends — the Mommy Wars are as familiar as the Golden Arches or “Let it Go.”

Many of us recoil at the phrase — yet, if we dare to brave any Internet forum or Facebook comment section related to parenting, we quickly discover that a frighteningly large percentage of mothers are eager to join the fray.

Obviously, as depicted touchingly (or perhaps nauseatingly – you decide) in a recent video that flooded Facebook for days, even the most militant mothers (and fathers, by the way) really just want the best for their children. Co-sleep or cry it out? Stay at home or maintain a career? Two kids or seven? Homeschool or public school? Parents weigh the various options, sometimes agonizing over them, sometimes adjusting them, and ultimately making their choices with the belief that these choices will best serve the young humans in their care.

Why all the hostility, then? If we really believe in every parent’s good intentions, whence comes the nastiness that characterizes most conversations on parenting issues ranging from the monumental to the miniscule?

Well…probably a number of things. I sense, however, that the intensity of the disagreements — the terrier-like tenacity that leads total strangers to argue online for hours with a devotion they probably never showed when assigned to write persuasive papers in college — springs from the belief that our parenting choices will settle the fate of our children irrevocably. In our hands, we hold our children’s destiny…or…their DOOM.

Now, I freely admit that I have views of my own. Strong views, in several instances. I believe that our parenting choices make a difference, and I want to do the best I can with the children God has entrusted to me.

However

I am only human. You are only human. Think about this: If we control our children’s fates, and our well-intentioned choices are the sole determinants of whether or not they will grow into well-adjusted and successful adults…is there any hope at all?

Maybe you have enough confidence in your abilities, your research, and your problem-solving skills to answer that question with a “yes.” If you’re like every mom I’ve ever talked to, though, you probably second-guess yourself occasionally. You probably have bad days. And maybe…just maybe…you’re hoping for some grace to overcome those areas in which you’re not sure of being all you wish you could be.

In general, I consider myself ill-equipped to dole out parenting tips, and therefore avoid doing so. However, seven years of parenting have taught me to have absolute confidence in one thing…and I want to share it with you. God’s grace means you don’t have to be perfect.

That’s right. Even if somehow, against all odds, you do everything exactly wrong (whatever that even means), God is bigger than our failures. In fact, our failures are often where we see Him most clearly, if we have the courage to look beyond ourselves…beyond our worries…beyond our stubborn self-reliance…to see the God who tells us, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” He loves our children even more than we do, and is “able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think” regarding His precious creations.

Kind of scary, isn’t it? To acknowledge that we might not have complete control over how our children will turn out? I won’t deny that, in my pride, I sometimes like to imagine that I can craft my kids to be “just right” if only I try hard enough. That is not, however, the message of the Gospel — for ourselves, for our children, or for other people’s children.

Whenever I move past my insistence that my way is the only way…and my sinful tendency to look askance at parents whose decisions don’t line up with my ideals…I rejoice that ultimately, my kids (and everybody else’s kids) are in much more capable hands than my own. That none of my failures are beyond the reach of God’s grace. That I am not really in control after all. And that, my friends, is a beautiful thing.