Becoming a Child of God
originally posted by For the Mama Heart on 3/2/2020
VACATION’S VALUABLE LESSON
Do you have any God-Baggage? Are you mentally answering "No!" hoping it's the right answer and wondering what I'm insinuating? Well, here's the deal: A happy accident occurred while on vacation recently. God's work-in-the-details left me asking this question of myself and now, you, in hopes of bringing us all a little closer to Abba's heart.
My husband grabbed his cell phone and turned to catch a picture of our youngest son elbow deep in the juiciest nectarine I've ever seen when the phone slipped through his hand, landing in the pool. I swear time froze. He wore a wide-eyed little-boy smile and looked at me like "what do I do now?" for what felt like 3 minutes before finally jumping in to retrieve it. It was beyond a rice-repair. My business-owner husband made the decision to go without his phone for the remainder of our two-week trip and it was incredible! I followed suit, neglected responsibility, and used my phone for little more than a camera while we used our time to connect and watch for God to move. (Turns out this is considerably easier to do without a phone.
In place of scrolling or posting pictures on my socials in my downtime, I followed my husband's lead and picked up a book instead. Because it was vacation, I consciously decided to step away from another theologically heavy spiritual formation book and opted for the down-comforter invitation of a good fiction. Before I knew it, I was coasting into a new story, paintbrush-in-hand, to translate what my brain was computing from the words on the page. I'd opened the book's cover with a clean slate, no prior understanding of its setting or characters, and watched the magic happen. I devoured it.
There's something magical in a story's ability to render even the mind of a mother of two toddlers in a foreign country, completely blank. But things got really interesting the next time I packed up for my solitude hour on the beach and grabbed my Bible instead of my fiction and discovered that I'd grabbed it without expectation or obligation, I just wanted to spend time with Abba. So, I sat my umbrella, towel, water, mini heirloom tomatoes, and monster energy drink around me. (I was tired and was eating tomatoes instead of cookies, you can't win them all.) Then, I took a deep breath and reached for my Bible. Ten minutes of reading must've passed before I pulled myself from the story enough to realize I'd been reading and seeing the story in a completely new way.
READING THE BIBLE IN A NEW WAY
The practice of flexing my fiction-muscle must've carried over into how I approached my Bible. I'd read this familiar-to-my-heart story with emotion and connection I'd never experienced before. The caricature I'd drawn of God from this reading was different than the one I've carried into Bible reading for the last 5 years. I couldn't believe how different they were. The God I'd just met was drawn on a blank canvas, based only on the words in the book. The one I'd carried previously was sketched from words on the pages too, but shaded by childhood church experiences, erased by hateful words from hurtful authority figures in my life, and colored in by the video and cartoon versions of God that I've absorbed through life. No wonder we come away from the Bible feeling unseen at times—it could be that the very version God has been trying to draw of Himself within us is muted or smudged by influences totally apart from His heart. Feeling frustrated or confused after reading your Bible is part and parcel for a relationship with God. He desires for us to cast all of our burdens on Him and wrestle with Him through concepts our minds struggle to grasp. But for outside sources to vandalize the face, character, and heart of God …that's a travesty. But what if it's one we can remedy?
You see, out of self-protection and energy conservation, adult brains are machines of efficiency. They work to fill in the blank questions that surface with an answer we've come across somewhere in the past that seems familiar enough to fill in that blank. It's a sort of neurological autocorrect—and we ALL know how frustrating and wrong that can be—so imagine what is subconsciously roped into our conversations with God, our understanding of God, or our ability to read the words on the page as they're intended. Free of baggage, meeting again for the first time.
All that to say, it's hard to let the Bible speak entirely for itself. We walk into an alarm-set quiet-time out of obligation, hoping that we'll check the box adequately enough to move on with our day, all while expecting God to show up as exactly what we need. (No? Just me?) And then we keep score and fall off the wagon if, for too many days in a row, He doesn't show. (For sure just me, right?) But do you ever wonder who and what else is being dragged into that time that might be polluting the air or blocking your view of the show He has for you?
When was the last time you opened what we deem a living, breathing document, but did so without expecting a single thing in return? When was the last time you sketched out a picture of a King and maybe erased some lines drawn from haste, pain, or the distraction of another's God-drawing?
THE ELEMENT OF PLAY
I read a quote in my friend Tara Owens' book in which she describes how much you can tell about a church based on how they treat their child-members, and the implications have stuck with me. Does the church whisk kids away to quiet, separate rooms to contain their distraction? Or are their unashamed, disruptive spirits encouraged to receive the eucharist, hang out during worship, or have a choice of attending big church or kid's church? Reading this helped me see how much I try to clip the wings of my children in the exact ways I resent my wings being clipped as a child. I'm all, "Be quiet! Calm Down!" when one of my most profound childhood wounds is the belief that I have to minimize my needs and make myself small in order to exist safely in a relationship. Over and over in the scriptures, we see God reiterate the kingdom impact of children through stories and the words of Jesus. That day with my Bible on the beach, that's all I did, I read the book as a child. I allowed God to illustrate the picture of Him I'm meant to carry within me. I let Him surprise and swoon me through the flowing poetry of words I've allowed others to debate, divide, and preach into monotony. Rabbi Alan Ullman, a bible teacher, father, and man I deeply revere recently said, "I'm at my best when somewhere, somehow, I can introduce the element of play." But if that's not enough for you, take it from Jesus via his buddy Matt:
“He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’ — Matthew 18:2-3
Jesus' message is continually laced with the reminder that the Kingdom of Heaven is before us—right here, right now. As parents, this picture couldn't be clearer. We're given a front-row seat to the quirky, terrifying, befuddling, and downright exhausting behavior of children every single day. Behavior that God, through Jesus, cherished and encouraged. But instead of celebrating the bold, audacious curiosity, and soul-level creative genius in our kids or the kids of others, we're often the ones who "shoo" these behaviors away.
What if child-like freedom is exactly what we need within our own faith walks? To stop confining God to appropriately deemed compartments and begin to see Him where He is; everywhere, always. The Bible sure seems to think so. Or is it that this verse doesn't paint freedom to you because you're carrying a sketch of God drawn by others? Someone who says that disruptions and neglected responsibilities, audacious curiosity, and no-reason dance parties, tearful fits, and phones at the bottom of pool can't possibly be sacred. Because the child in me hears that, stomps and says, "yes, they are."
If you can grant permission to your inner-child to approach God bright-eyed, too-loud, interrupting, and vulnerable, I believe you'll open your Bible to find an all-together new story; the one He'll resketch every time it's opened, just for you.