Some parents of young children (such as, maybe, Brother-Dave or Sister-in-Lu) may take exception to this statement, but I feel that sometimes it takes a pet or a very young child to teach a person something about God. (The exception that I believe might be taken has to do with likening, say, Oscar, to, say, TWCN, but today TWCN announced she was Oscar, so . . . she said it first.)
Yesterday, before I flew back out to visit the Bro-Fam again, I had breakfast with Mentor-Liz, and we were talking about how our dogs teach us about how we should relate to God by the way they are always attuned to their “Person’s” voice and presence. Today I had another glimpse of what my relationship with God should look like when I was at church with TWCN.
I was at church with the rest of the Bro-Fam, too, of course, and we had staked out a slate of seats, but then Sister-in-Lu spent most of the service in the back with Smiley-Guy and TWCN spent most of the song-time with me. First she held onto each of my hands with each of hers, standing in front of me, facing the musicians like the rest of us, and I waved her arms a little bit and we kind of danced together, while the congregation sang of Jesus. We might even have been able to legitimately sing that part in “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever,” (had we been singing that song this morning) that goes, “Oh I feel like dancing–it’s foolishness, I know. But when the world has seen Your light, they will dance with joy like we’re dancing now.” (If you’ve gone to an evangelical church with any consistency in the time between about 1995 and now, you can’t tell me you don’t know what I’m talking about.) I’m not sure I’ve ever honestly been able to sing that part before–even when I was working for and attending a charismatic church.
Anyway, TWCN held my hands tightly for about two songs, and then she turned around and lifted her arms to be picked up. So I picked her up. She essentially clung to my neck for most of the next three songs before the children went out into the other room. Any variation on the neck-hugging took the form of putting her hands on each side of my face and looking at me and sometimes rubbing noses.
I work with young children and youth on a weekly basis. Back when I was . . . a lot younger, I used to work at a daycamp for eight weeks a summer to earn some money between semesters, and I don’t know exactly what the official state rules were, but we the counselors used to give the kids appropriate hugs, or arms around the shoulders, or affectionate punches in the arm. You just can’t do that anymore without incurring a whole lot of trouble; supposedly the child is allowed to initiate hugs still, but even that can be dicey. There is something truly wonderful, however, about having a small child, of her own volition and with implicit trust, come up to you and wrap her arms around your neck, just happy to be held for a while.
I think of this sometimes when people (including, sometimes, myself) ask why God, if there is one, would just let people keep messing up if He really cares. Why did He put that tree in the Garden anyway? This isn’t any kind of new idea, and I don’t think it addresses the whole of that question, but TWCN’s frank and sincere affection kind of put a “face” on the concept–that God isn’t going to force His kids to give Him a hug. But He really wants us to lift up our arms to Him so He can pick us up and hold us for a while. It wouldn’t be the same if He forced us to do it. But the connection that happens when the child comes running for the hug because she wants to, and the beloved adult wraps that love right back around her . . . well, it’s powerful. And I think that’s what worship really is. I tried to sing the songs like that this morning, while my niece hugged me.