Tuesday, 3:30 PM, Forest Falls, California, by the side of the swimming pool.
I’m spending an hour lazing in the sun, making up for the last three hundred days in the raincity. It’s glorious. When I’m warm I dive in, and then lay down again, reading and chatting with guests until I’m dry, and then I dive in again. This is ministry? Yes. I’m teaching this week, but am happy to report that I’m learning as well.
This is a family conference, which means that there are hundreds of small children roaming around all the time, including here at the pool. There’s something about being so far removed from the “small children” phase that causes me to watch them all, with great delight.
There’s a little boy of about 2 running around on the cement by the side of the pool screaming with glee because there’s a butterfly floating through the air, occasionally landing for a break. The child is following him everywhere, and when the butterfly stops, he points and squeals, eager to share it’s beauty with all of us. When the butterfly leaves, the little boy leaves too – he’s headed for the diving board! His dad is out of his hammock like a shot, saving him from himself. The kid protests, but not too much. Soon his laying on a towel in the sun with his older sister.
“Unless you have faith like a little child….” is what the Bible says, and I think about this little kid and all that he’s teaching me about how a mature faith is childlike:
1. He sees stuff. As we grow older we go through life in a fog. Sunrises and soil, music and the subtle flavors of food, animals and art – when did we stop paying attention? I think we stopped paying attention when we thought it was up to us to care for ourselves, protect ourselves, provide for ourselves. Of course, those are all lies, and the lies keep us in a fog.
2. He’s fearless. As we grow older we become careful people, afraid of failure, afraid of what other people will think, afraid of slipping. All this is too bad, because the truth of it is that we have a good father who will yank us off the diving board, at least metaphorically, if it’s beyond our capacities. I know that we’re called to wisdom, but I’m not convinced that all prudence exercised in the prudence of God. Maybe we need to get up early once in a while, or learn a language, or meet our neighbors, or take an art class.
3. He complains, but doesn’t run away. That’s a lot like King David. He was a “man after God’s own heart” but that doesn’t mean he always loved everything God did. To the contrary, he cried out, lamented, asked questions, and struggled, just like all kids do with their parents at times. But he never gave God the finger and walked away. He stayed engaged in relationship, just like 99.999% of all little kids do with their parents.
Of course, all of this is only good metaphor if we’re talking about good parents. The parents I’m watching this weekend, though are remarkable. I watch them hauling big bags of stuff around so that, for any contingency, they’re ready for their kids. When Donna was with me earlier in the week I leaned over and said, “I don’t remember hauling a big bag around like that” to which she replied, “that’s because you didn’t… I did”. Maybe I’ll carry the bag for the grandkids, now that I’ve learned a little?
Good parents though, are a shadow of our good God. I often say to people, “Look, if you want to talk about post-modernity, existentialism, Russian literature, philosophy of art, or the challenges of epistemology in the 21st century, I’ll go there with you. But at the root of my faith is this: I’m a little kid with the best dad in the universe, and he’s giving me blessings every day, right in the midst of this broken world – sunrises, the capacity to forgive, good conversations, a nudge towards generosity, the chance to stick my feet in a stream, forgiveness when I’ve blown it big time. I wouldn’t trade that kind of relationship for anything.”
The picture of Donna and I in our convertible smart car is a reminder that we’re still kids too, at least when it comes to cars. Now if only I can apply the truths to my walk with God!