Tuesday, February 24, 2015

God as Father: Lessons I Learned as a Dad (Part 1)

"As G. K. Chesterton has reminded us, the sun rises every morning not only because of the natural laws of science, but because like a small child, God squeals with delight over the routine and tells the sun to 'do it again.' That is what the soul needs to hear in order to find any delight for itself in he routines of another day." ~ M. Craig Barnes, The Pastor as a Minor Poet (p. 35)

A few days ago, my family and I were in our living room having a normal, run-of-the-mill evening at home. At the point where our two couches meet, Erika (my wife) was sitting on one and I on the other, which is our normal fashion for it allows us to be close enough to hold hands and yet to see one another (or the TV) easily and comfortably. Gabriel (my two-year-old son) was standing at our coffee table, which is at the perfect height for him to enjoy it as a regular recreation spot. He was fiddling with a pair of nail clippers and a file, and Erika and I were talking about something, which was probably rather ordinary since I cannot even remember what it was (it could be that or my memory, which is not the best). Then, all of a sudden, Gabriel yelled with delight, "Daddy! Look at this!" And, he had take the finger nail clippers, threaded the file between the blades, and was holding the clippers in the air simply by holding onto the file. He was ecstatic by what he had just done. I looked at him and smiled at the great joy he had taken in something so simple, and I said, "That's awesome, Gabriel!" He thought it was the most amazing thing in the world at the time, and I looked him and thought, "Okay, that is kind of cool--he thinks that simple thing is so amazing. What wonderful, childlike delight." And, it brought a smile to my face because of the delight he had in it, even though it was probably one of the most ordinary things that one could do with a pair of nail clippers and a file (other than perhaps actually using them for their intended purpose).

Then, this morning, I was reading a book that I am thoroughly enjoying called The Pastor as a Minor Poet, and in it, I came across the thought quoted above: that God makes the sun rise not only because He set the physical laws in place that keep the earth rotating on its axis but also because He takes delight in the ordinary things of life. That thought reminded me of the story I just shared with you, which is just about as ordinary as it gets for my family: Gabriel playing; my wife and I talking or doing some work around the house. It reminded me of how much delight Gabriel took in something that my "sophisticated," "grown-up" mind would never find delightful--hanging a pair of nail clippers off of a nail file and then holding it there. To me that is "ordinary" or less than ordinary because it's so simple, and the simple and ordinary does not bring me joy anymore. For Gabriel, so many things are still new that they bring him great delight, and it brings me joy to see him taking delight in the ordinary things, even though to me they are so simple that under normal circumstances I would never give them a moment's thought.

That made me think about God as my Father (as an adopted child in Christ), which is something I ponder a lot more since I became a father. In fact, I've learned a number of lessons about the fatherhood of God from the parallel (albeit, imperfect) picture that my fatherhood of Gabriel has shown me. They're lessons I had already learned from Scripture, but I don't think I really understood them until I could see the shadowy parallels in my life as a father. I may share more of them with you in the future (hence the "part 1" in the title of this post), but for today I want to talk about God and the ordinary, mundane things in life.

To God, the whole universe is "ordinary" in a sense, for He made it and understands it perfectly, and yet the psalmist tells us that it all declares His glory (cf. Ps. 19) and Paul tells us to glorify God in everything we do (cf. 1 Co. 10:31), which shows us that God delights in the things we call "mundane" and wants us to glorify Him in the "ordinary" (remember, the context of Paul's maxim is eating and drinking, which is about as ordinary as it gets for us). God looks at us and smiles like I look at Gabriel and smile when he delights in something simple. But, there's more to it with God. His smile is not just because He's a Father who loves His child who's delighting in something as ordinary hanging nail clippers off a nail file but also because He delights in the ordinary things as well. In Orthodoxy by Chesterton, from which Barnes quotes in the above thought which spawned this whole post, he argues that grown-ups are not strong enough "to exult in monotony" but children and God are. That got me thinking, "How do I develop the strength that Gabriel has to exult in the ordinary? How can I view the ordinary with childlike delight? How do I develop the strength of character (which children have and I've lost as a grown-up) to look at something I have seen a million times and say, 'Hey Dad! Look at this! I know You created it but wow!'? How do I glorify God and give Him delight by taking delight in the ordinary things like hanging a pair of nail clippers on a nail file?" I think we "grown-ups" need to work on developing the strength to take delight in the ordinary because I think God would smile at us like I smiled at Gabriel, and it would give us joy in the normal parts of life.

Now, I must admit, I do not have a complete answer to the question of "How do I do that?" But, let me share a few thoughts with you that occurred to me as I was mulling over this question while driving to meet a friend for lunch. Part of the answer is found in coming back to the fact that the "ordinary" things that we take for granted are not as ordinary as we make them out to be. They seem ordinary because we take them for granted. They seem ordinary because in our own small experience they're the normal parts of life for us, but God, who sees the whole of creation across space and time, knows they are not as ordinary as we think they are.

There is something to the fact that Gabriel can take a pair of nail clippers and hang them off of a nail file, and it is something extraordinary. It makes me almost want to cry when I take a moment to take my selfish eyes off my own little world and think about the fact that some two-year-olds can't do that, and there are parents out there that would give everything they have to see their two-year-old do that. For example, my wife follows the blog of a family whose child was hit in the head by a tree branch and is now trapped in his own body, unable even to make his hands move without great effort. When I take my eyes off my own little life for a moment and think about those parents, I realize how extraordinary it is that Gabriel can hang nail clippers on a nail file. Or, to cite another example, Gabriel loves to run around the house back and forth with Erika and I following him. He takes great delight in it, but for us, it gets really old really fast. Yet, there are many children who can't do that and whose parents would give their lives if it could heal their child's legs. Maybe it's ordinary to me, but it's not ordinary to everyone. God knows that, and when I look at Gabriel hanging nail clippers off a file and have the strength of character to think "God, thank You that he has full use of his fingers, hands, and mind," God gets glory in the mundane and I find joy in it.

We can take this up a notch to our own mundane actions as well. I am not really a patient driver, to put it mildly, and most days I get frustrated driving, which not only makes it seem like a painful, ordinary task but also is not giving glory to God. What if I remembered how others can't drive because of a disability? What if I thought about my sister--whom I love dearly and whose RSD has disabled her leg and keeps her from long rides in the car, much less driving--and instead of getting angry at the image of God driving the car in front of me, I thanked Him for the ability to drive and prayed for my sister? He would be glorified both in that delight in the ordinary and in the prayers for my sister who does not enjoy that "ordinary" anymore. Or, what if I thought about a woman I know who has a disease that weakens the connective tissue in her body, and after having her two girls, she couldn't get even pick them up because she was so weak? Perhaps the next time Gabriel wants me to pick him up and I am tired of doing it, I could think about the blessing it is to be able to hold him, and glorify God in that ordinary part of life.

Some can't take pleasure in the simple act of holding their own baby, of watching their child hang nail clippers off a nail file, of feeding themselves, or even of taking themselves to the bathroom. God has blessed me with incredible use of all my parts, so I can do the things that look ordinary, but there are many people in the world who cannot. God would get more glory out of my life and I would have more joy if I started to look at the world from His perspective--seeing the blessings of the "ordinary" things in my life that others do not enjoy and I don't deserve--and thanked and praised Him for the mundane.

His grace has given me the use of my hands, so I can type this post with ease. His grace has given my son the use of His hands, so that he can hang a nail clipper off of a nail file and say, "Daddy! Look at this!" My life would be more joyful and more glorifying to Him if I lifted my eyes up off my own little world and saw that those things are, in fact, not as ordinary as they seem.

That's what I learned today because God has given me the blessing of being a father and allowed me to understand a little better what it means for Him to be my heavenly Father. May the Lord give me the strength to exult in the mundane and continue to use my son (who has that strength) to teach it to me. May I then give Him glory and be joyful even while sitting on my couch on ordinary evening in my ordinary home.

By His Grace,

No comments: