Our three-year old son watched me in wide-eyed terror as I stood in front of the kitchen sink.
We were talking about our plans for that afternoon while his younger sister napped upstairs. I was washing dishes. He was finishing lunch. As we spoke, I absentmindedly dried my coffee thermos with a tea towel, gesticulating madly with my hands as my wife tells me that I do, and that’s when the look crossed his face.
I stopped in my tracks, as you do when your child looks at you as if you’ve just caught fire but hadn’t yet noticed.
One time, more than a decade ago, I saw a similar look.
My wife and I, along with another couple, were on an East Coast road trip. We went in April, before the busy season began in the tourist towns of Eastern Canada, and it was incredible. We hiked deserted trails. Drove winding, empty roads. And were generally the only people around for miles at each stop we made. We loved it; the beautiful, isolated landscape made even more tranquil by the absence of any other human beings.
But, that look.
I was setting up our camera tripod for a group picture on a beautiful mountain pass overlooking the scenic Bay of Fundy. I’d set the camera timer and was walking quickly across the road to join my wife and our friends when suddenly they gave me that look. A look of what I interpreted to be sheer terror. A look which could, in my mind, only mean one thing: an axe murderer had just emerged from the woods behind me and was about to lop my head off.
This was, naturally, the first thought to cross my mind when I saw the look on their faces.
I ran as fast as I could away from the woods and camera behind me and towards the group. I think I probably screamed. When I finally turned around what I saw wasn’t, of course, an axe murderer but our expensive camera, on its tripod, slowly tipping over on the mossy ground where I thought it was firmly set.
I ran back across the road and fixed it before setting up the picture again and never, to this day, living down my phobia of axe murderers emerging from the woods on deserted roads.
Back in our quiet domestic kitchen I was once again confronted with the look. This time from the face of an innocent child.
“What’s wrong?!” I asked making sure a tiny axe murderer hadn’t somehow emerged from the kitchen sink behind me.
He stared at me, gobsmacked, and pointed to the coffee thermos in my hand.
“Dad!” he yelled, exasperated, “You’re going to spill your coffee!”
I laughed out loud in relief.
God can teach us about ourselves in a million different ways but our children—and parents know this deeply—are some of the most profound vessels for this kind of learning, right?
My son, drawing on what he knows about the world, thought my coffee thermos would be full of hot coffee. I love my thermos, in fact, and as my wife likes to remind me it’s far too often the topic of conversation. It’s really good at keeping coffee hot and I like to tell everyone I know. So, naturally, our son has heard his father wax poetic on this particular topic on more than one occasion. Naturally, then, when our son sees his sometimes absent-minded father waving around his thermos his first thought isn’t an overly ridiculous one: dad’s gonna spill hot coffee everywhere.
The look on my son’s face was a look of concern, a look of terror, and it wasn’t altogether misplaced. But he lacked perspective.
I knew, of course, that my thermos wasn’t full. It was empty, sadly, and I’d just finished washing it. I was waving it around with no fear of scalding burns because I knew it was empty. Because I had emptied it. I had washed it.
I had a perspective that he didn’t, and couldn’t possibly at that moment.
How true is this in our relationship with our Creator?
Peter Kreeft, a Catholic convert and professor of philosophy at Boston College, has written reflectively on God’s will for our lives. Any seasoned Christian knows the Bible verses that talk about God’s will for our lives. God intends good things we’re told; God feeds the birds in the air and the flowers in the fields so how much more will he feed us; we know these things but Kreeft goes a step further. Philosophically, he says, God intends our individual goods.
When a bad thing happens, says Kreeft, it’s not for some cosmic greater good; it’s not for the greater good of all but for our own personal, individual, greater good. It is a bad thing which God will use for good for us, individually.
It’s an amazing reassurance. He intends our good. He is that active in our tiny little lives.
But what we often fail to see, because of our limited perspective, is the how. And the why.
I am waving my admittedly fantastic coffee thermos around the kitchen while I talk with my hands because I know that it is empty. And because I am an unrepentant hand talker. But our son had no idea, at least about the coffee thing. His expression of terror was a genuine one: he didn’t want his dad to melt his face off. Seriously, that thermos keeps coffee hot.
As we wait on God, as we trust in the promise that He intends good for us, we won’t always benefit from perspective. But we have to trust nonetheless. Just like I knew that I wasn’t about to get scalded by a thermos full of coffee God knows exactly what He’s doing even when we don’t have the perspective to see exactly what it is.
And, actually, it’s those times—that trusting without knowing, without seeing—that builds up the kind of foundation-level faith that helps us to move mountains. And helps us to be more and more formed into genuine disciples of Christ. Even when we can’t see.